Home » My Neighbor’s Tesla Model Y Shattered Its Window Because Of A Bafflingly Bad Design

My Neighbor’s Tesla Model Y Shattered Its Window Because Of A Bafflingly Bad Design

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I’m very fortunate to have interesting and kind people living next door to me. I haven’t always had that; my old neighbors in Los Angeles used to yell at my wife and me if we were being, um, intimate in our own bedroom, and the neighbor on the other side of us wanted to pick fights over trash can placement. My current neighbors are, especially by comparison, saints. They also are Tesla Model Y owners, and today their Model Y – which has been quite trouble-free up until now, they assure me, and I believe them – had a really confusing failure that indirectly caused the driver’s side window to shatter, because of what I think is a really terrible bit of design. I’ll explain.

So, when they tried to use the car today, they found the driver’s side door would not open. They went to the other side, which did open, and got in, and found that there were a number of warnings and alerts on the display.

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The warnings seemed to suggest some issue with the 12V battery, which caused a whole cascade of issues. But the bigger issue came as a consequence of the car’s strange power situation; some aspects of the car seemed to have power, some didn’t. Wanting to investigate more, my neighbor wanted to get into the driver’s seat, so she would have access to all the controls, etc. It makes sense, I’d want that, too.

So, she tried to open the door from the outside, and had no luck. She remembered there was an emergency door release, so she pulled that reaching over from the passenger’s side to get the door open, and was rewarded with a sickening crack as the driver’s side window cracked. Alarmed, she closed the door, which just made the cracks even bigger, effectively shattering the window, though for now it’s still holding together. But it’s very boned:

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At this point she called me to come take a look. I brought a battery analyzer/charger to see how the 12V battery was doing, and it checked out okay, just with 50% charge. Not great, but not dead-dead. The bigger issues seemed to be that, for some reason, the doors on the driver’s side of the car had no power, the tailgate only had partial power (latch seemed to work, but the power struts to lift/close it were dead) and the lights were strange. The DRL on the left worked, but not the right, and the turn indicators worked only on the right up front and the left rear.

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Looking on the internet, the power issue could be one of the body controllers, which seem to be named VCLeft, VCRight, VCFront, etc. That’s definitely annoying, but if that is what’s going on, that’s a module that can be swapped out and fixed. The bigger and more maddening issue here is the shattered window.

What I find absurd is that opening a door – even in an “emergency” context – could cause so much damage to the car. What happened is pretty clear, once you see it: for a Tesla Model Y’s doors to safely open, the window must drop down about an inch to clear the weatherstripping and molding on the body. If it doesn’t, the window gets caught, gets torqued, and shatters, just like what happened to my neighbor.

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Now, this is something of a known problem. In fact, Tesla had a sort-of fix for this, where they made sure that when the emergency door release was activated, the window would drop down, just like if the normal latch had been used. That’s great for preventing people from accidentally using the emergency release in normal circumstances (which seems to happen a fair amount, from chatter on the forums, and the fact that people sell these stickers) but if the car has no power, or, like in my neighbor’s situation, partial power, then it doesn’t matter, since that window can’t go down without power.

Even Tesla’s own Model Y owner’s manual says to use the emergency release in situations where there is no power, but no mention is made of the fact that it’s very likely the window will shatter if you use it:

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I suppose if you open the door really slowly and carefully, you can maybe get by without cracking the window, but this is specifically for emergencies, when slowly and carefully just isn’t really on the menu. Also, the way my neighbor opened the car wasn’t exactly panicked; it was just normal door-opening effort. If that window doesn’t drop down, it’s going to break.

Tesla suggests that in the case of getting out of a Model Y with no power, you use the rear seat doors instead, which don’t need to drop their windows. So, that means Tesla wants you to climb over the seats into the back, then go through this simple procedure to open the doors:

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Teslamanual Emeropen Rear

See! It’s a simple three-step process that just asks you to remove the mat from the inside of the rear door pocket. Easy!

Power issues aside, this is absolutely maddening, I think. Is there any good reason that the doors should work like this? I get that frameless doors are cool, but they’re not that cool, especially not cool enough to justify broken window glass. And other cars with frameless doors somehow manage to avoid this problem. Here’s some people talking about just this issue – where the window normally drops a bit to open the door, but for some reason, can’t – on a Volkswagen Arteon forum, and the Arteon’s frameless door design manages to avoid shattering the window:

“You are still able to open the door even without power. The glass will just bend past the seal. For closing the door without power you just have to tuck it underneath the seal. This is what might happen if you forget to add a silicone lubricant at the bottom of the window after a car wash in the winter. My experience is from living in Norway with it.”

This is how I’ve seen most frameless doors work, where they just press the glass against a rubber weatherstripping seal and sometimes have a flexible seal in front of the glass, too. But never a rigid bezel that can get in the way and, you know, break the damn window. The only other car I could find evidence of a similar problem was the McLaren MP4-12C. The owner’s manual for that car even has a sort of warning about this:

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That’s a McLaren, though, not a best-selling mass-market EV. Still sucks, of course.

Really, the whole powered latch for a door is a bit ridiculous as it is; opening car doors was a pretty solved problem, even without power assists. It’s just not needed. Did anyone want these?

The fact that my neighbors had a problem with their car, and through no fault of their own ended up with an entirely unrelated and expensive other problem just because of what is really a deeply stupid design just feels maddening. It’s such an unforced error, and if there’s a good reason it’s like this, I can’t figure out what it would be. I know there are other cars that lower their windows a bit when opening/closing the doors, but I’ve not heard of any that will actually shatter their own windows when the battery is dead.

Why was this ever considered okay? After seeing how easily this happens firsthand, I’m sort of appalled. Having the power issues is enough of a pain; the power issues leading to a whole window being shattered just feels like being kicked when you’re down. Who needs that?

Hopefully, this will all be fixed; I’ll try and report back on what the fixes are and how expensive, and, ideally, what Tesla service has to say about breaking windows to open doors.

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Horizontally Opposed
Horizontally Opposed
12 days ago

This is something that can be life threatening in a flood. Car is dead, can’t lower windows, and fiddling with a 5-step process to unlatch a door can cost precious time. Ugh.

Douglas Bolingbroke
Douglas Bolingbroke
13 days ago

I had a BMW330 convertible that dropped the windows when you (manually) opened the doors to disengage from the window from the seal in the hood.
When I was looking at cars to buy from Carmax I noticed that every 3 series convertible they had in stock had paint chips in the top of the door. It became apparent that this was caused by the metal box they kept the keys in hooked to the top of the window – which fell off and smashed into the top of the door every time someone opened the door to look inside. Did not buy from Carmax!

Space
Space
14 days ago

So if your window regulator breaks your door will shatter power or not?
This and electric door handles are dumb.
Can we just get an EV with the same tech level as a 00’s Ford Ranger?

Doug Schaefer
Doug Schaefer
15 days ago

Am I the only one who is alarmed that this Model Y side glass doesn’t seem to be tempered? It should break into a thousand harmless little marbles, not long, pointy, knife like shards. I thought that was a safety requirement.

MrLM002
MrLM002
15 days ago
Reply to  Doug Schaefer

It may be laminated, which would explain why it didn’t break into little pieces and instead seemed to crack in one direction likely due to the glass being flexed beyond its breaking point in said direction.

Racer Esq.
Racer Esq.
15 days ago

It’s not a car company, it’s an AI company having its AI chips diverted to the company we used to call Twitter.

Naterator
Naterator
16 days ago

My 2006 MINI R53 drops the window ever so slightly when the door handle is pulled, but it still opens and closes without shattering if there’s no power. BMW- one of the least reliable car companies, was able to figure this out in 2002.

Racer Esq.
Racer Esq.
15 days ago
Reply to  Naterator

I believe BMW pioneered dropping windows with the e36 coupe, but they and everyone else, except for maybe Macca, have figured out how to make the seal flexible.

Jesus Helicoptering Christ
Jesus Helicoptering Christ
14 days ago
Reply to  Racer Esq.

Yup, I have an E36 coupe.
I’ve opened and closed the doors many times with the battery disconnected and haven’t broken any windows.

Church
Church
16 days ago

Forgive my ignorance here, but is there a benefit to frameless doors? Other than aesthetics, anyway? Looks wise, I get it on a convertible, but on a model Y here, do you really even notice they are frameless?

Myk El
Myk El
16 days ago

My ’03 Mini had trouble with the window dip off and on the entire 15 years I had it (coupe of under warranty repairs, but it never fully stopped happening). But never did a single thing to the glass the times it didn’t dip. So I know it can be done where the glass isn’t really at risk. Not sure what Tesla did wrong that Mini was able to manage over a decade earlier.

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