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A Tesla model S car with an electric vehicle charging station is displayed during a media preview day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) Sept. 10, 2013. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach) A Tesla model S car with an electric vehicle charging station is displayed during a media preview day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) Sept. 10, 2013. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)  

Tesla recalls Model S vehicles due to fire-related safety hazards

Things are heating up for Tesla’s Model S vehicle.

According to a letter sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors will recall up to 29,222 of its Model S vehicles due to a potential fire hazard with the car’s charging adapter.

Although Tesla has decided to voluntarily recall many of its Model S cars, it was reluctant to take responsibility for the fire-related incidents that have led some to question the safety of the vehicle.

The company explained in the statement, “initial analysis demonstrated that defective or improperly installed wall receptacles that the NEMA 14-50 adapter plugged into could cause problems including melted adapters and, in a worst-case scenario, fire. While the number of incidents remains small, and Tesla’s review to date points to the building receptacle or wiring as the primary cause of failed NEMA 14-50 adapters, the company has determined that a voluntary recall is appropriate as a precautionary measure.”

The adapter associated with the fires is used to connect the car’s charging plug to a 240-volt household receptacle.

Tesla says that in late 2012 around 2.7 percent of the chargers were being returned by customers because they overheated and blocked electricity from flowing into the car. At the time Tesla did not believe this defect to be a safety hazard because the heat seemed to remain within the charger.

However, in 2013 the car company alerted safety officials of a few incidents where damage due to overheating went beyond the adapter. This included a garage fire in Irvine, Calif., which attracted significant media attention.

The Model S has also been involved in three fires that were not related to the car’s charging adapter. Crashes in Washington State, Tennessee, and Mexico all caused the car’s undercarriage to catch fire.

In a recent online statement to its customers, Tesla promised that it was addressing the concerns regarding the charging adapter’s tendency to overheat by updating the car’s software. The company wrote, “Tesla released an over-the-air software update to address this issue, enabling the Model S onboard charging system to automatically reduce the charging current by 25 percent if it detects unexpected fluctuations in the input power to the vehicle. This fully addresses the issue by substantially reducing the heat generated in any high resistance connections outside the vehicle.”

In a letter addressed to the NHTSA, the company said that it would design a new adapter: “In addition, above and beyond the software update, which fully addresses the issue, Tesla is providing an additional layer of assurance by engineering a new NEMA 14-50 adapter plug that includes an internal thermal fuse.”

On the company’s website, Tesla gave further details regarding the redeveloped adapter, “Even if the circuit breakers on the house side and car side don’t trip, the thermal fuse will prevent current from flowing if the wall socket region heats up for any reason.”

Since the beginning of the electric car’s fire-related troubles, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has consistently repeated that a recall was not necessary.

Even now he refuses to say that the Model S is being recalled.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Musk wrote, “The word ‘recall’ needs to be recalled.”

Despite news of the recall, Tesla’s shares were up ten percent on Tuesday afternoon due to an announcement that the company delivered 20 percent more vehicles in the fourth-quarter than expected.

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