The Tesla Model 3 has a serious problem with the most important part of the car

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderThe Tesla Model 3.

  • Consumer Reports found a braking problem with the Tesla Model 3.
  • Brakes and tires are the most important parts of a vehicle.
  • TeslaCEO Elon Musk said Tesla figured out the problem and could execute a quick fix.

On Monday, Consumer Reports declined to recommend the Tesla Model 3 after testing several vehicles and detecting a serious problem with their braking distances.

As my colleague Mark Matousek reported, “Consumer Reports said it took 152 feet for the vehicle to go from 60 mph to a complete stop, which is ‘far worse than any contemporary car we’ve tested,’ the publication wrote,” adding that a “Tesla representative told Business Insider the company recorded an average stopping distance from 60 mph of 133 feet and said stopping distance results can vary based on multiple factors.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, fresh off announcing a nearly $US80,000 high-performance version of the Model 3, then revealed on Twitter that the carmaker would fix the problem via a “firmware update.”

“Will be rolling that out in a few days,” he wrote. “With further refinement, we can improve braking distance beyond initial specs. Tesla won’t stop until Model 3 has better braking than any remotely comparable car.”

It can be easy to assume that most important part of a car is the motor or infotainment system, but in fact, nothing matters more than the brakes and tires. That’s where the rubber quite literally meets the road.

Why good brakes matter

Ford GT BremboFordHigh-performance brakes, like those made by Brembo, are critical for high-performance cars.

Tires have gotten to the point where reliability is superb (as long as they’re well maintained), so that leaves brakes as something to focus on. Electric cars can make use of something called regenerative braking, in which the braking process sends otherwise lost energy back to the battery. The Tesla Model 3 does this – it feels sort of like engine braking if you can a stickshift/manual transmission traditional car.

“Regen” somewhat mitigates the need to brake a car conventionally, and Tesla points out that this helps prolong the life of its brakes (traditional cars require periodic replacement of brakes pads, rotors, or drums).

I’ve driven every Tesla that the company has made, starting with the original Roadster right up to the Model 3, and I’ve never noticed anything off about the braking. But I don’t subject the cars to the type of rigorous testing that Consumer Reports does.

The question really is whether Tesla has any awareness that the Model 3 took, by it’s own analysis, over 30 feet longer to stop than industry-leading vehicles, which can drop from 60 mph to 0 in 100 feet or less (many of these are high-performance cars that carry powerful high-performance brake calipers and rotors).

The CR result of 152 feet is indeed stunningly bad. The whole point of shorter stopping distances is to prevent collisions. Tesla said that the issue with Model 3 was in the antilock-braking-system algorithm, but from teardowns of the Model 3, we also know that the car is rather heavy for its segment. So beefier and more expensive brakes could be in order.

The thing about iffy brakes is that you tend to notice them right away. Anybody who’s in the market for a high-ticket performance car is going to especially sensitive, if only because they’re likely to push their vehicles harder than someone who might be satisfied with a pokier mass-market car.

With the much more expensive and sportier all-wheel-drive Model 3 en route, braking problems should be an extremely high priority for Tesla right now.

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