Model S

Air Suspension failure with very unpleasant results

edited July 2015 in Model S
First the good part: Tesla 1-800 roadside folks were very good, the tow-truck driver was very good, and the service center was very good in repairing my Tesla in one day and then delivering it back in the evening. All very good, and I am enjoying the car again.

Now for the bad part: The right front air strut failed due to a leak which caused the whole front of the car to drop so much that the wheels were rubbing against the inside of the wheel well, and the front of the car was rubbing on the ground. The car became absolutely not drivable. Luckily I was parked when this happened. The tow truck driver could only do inch-by-inch turns to orient the car to face the tow truck, and then had to move it up again inch-by-inch using wooden blocks just so the wheel well and the bottom would not get damaged.

Why doesn’t Tesla air-suspension design incorporate some sort of a stopper to stop the car from going lower than the lowest functional air-suspension setting? The service center tech had the same idea!!!! At least it would be drivable when the system failed. I am very concerned how the car would handle if this air suspension failure occurred while driving 70 mph.

I hope a retrofit kit comes out soon for all of us with air suspension. Given my experience, I can't recommend getting the air suspension feature to anyone buying the car until there is some sort of a mechanism to allow for a controlled safe system degradation when it fails.
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Comments

  • edited November -1
    Why didn't the tow truck driver use speed dollies or wheel dollies instead of a wood block hack job?
  • edited November -1
    This is a common issue with air suspension design. We had a similar unpleasant experience with an Audi A8... 3 times in 1 year. This was both very expensive out of warranty and disabling when on the road. I vowed never to get air again after that.
  • edited November -1
    After reading this, I'll stop whining about not having my car. I'll be happy the factory is fixing it before I pick it up.
  • edited November -1
    Air Suspension works really well and this is no reason to not get one but the OP is absolutely correct in that the system should have a fail safe that prevents the suspension from going any lower than the lowest setting.

    We've had Airmatic fail once on a Mercedes and it got very low but not so low that the front of the car touched the ground.

    I'd never get a car without Airmatic but the system should not be designed so that if you have a strut failure it does not destroy the front of the car,
  • edited November -1
    They cannot put in stop bumpers at the lowest suspension setting because that would eliminate all suspension compliance - the wheel does go up further than the lowest suspension setting while in motion. This is the first reported suspension service issue on this forum, so it does not indicate a trend as far as we can tell. Sorry for your experience, but it is likely a one time thing.
  • edited November -1
    This has been a known problem with air suspensions for decades with all car makes. (after all they come from the same suppliers) It is not common place for them to fail but when they do the car is not drive-able. However it is easy to fix.
  • edited November -1
    Could they do something to put a stop somewhere between the lowest setting for the suspension and when the front end of the car would hit the ground?
  • edited November -1
    Maybe not a stop but a stiff spring that starts to engage at the lowest point. Yes, if you're on the lowest setting, there will be some air and spring overlap but if you lose a bag, the car can deflate all the other bags and your riding on coils at the lowest setting, but not low enough to rub.
  • edited November -1
    So Tesla air suspension components are the same as other cars? I've heard absolute horror stories related to cost and reliability of air suspension systems. On one of my test drives, my friend went off on their Audi's air suspension system reliability (terrible) and repair cost (even more terrible), asking if Tesla would be any better than an Audi.

    I'm watching this thread closely...
  • edited November -1
    I would wager the horror stories about the cost of air suspension repair is mostly because the cars mentioned are German. Exorbitant repair costs is not information that salesmen for German cars would ever volunteer.
  • edited November -1
    We've had multiple cars with air suspension and the ride is definitely worth it and they have been pretty reliable. One of our car's is 8 years old and the air suspension is still performing extremely well *knock on wood.*

    This is about the only story I remember reading on the forums that has to do with an issue with the air suspension so any issues it seems are extremely rare.

    Like I said earlier I would never buy a car without air suspension or similar technology that dynamically adjusts the suspension. Having said that I really like @Sorka's idea as I think what we need is some type of a limp home mode. A stiff spring at the lowest point would offer limited suspension travel while ensuring you can limp back home or to a service center.
  • edited November -1
    I had a poor air leveling suspension on a 1979 Buick Riviera which could never be fixed by the dealer and the car always sagged in the rear.

    Several cars later, I had a 2001 Mercedes S-class with Active Body Control (their advanced hydraulic suspension). While it never failed outright, it did frequently send error messages indicating suspension failure and advising me to pull over immediately. I could then restart the car and the message would go away. It took several attempts for the dealer to fix the problem under warranty and I was advised that the repair would approach $20k if it were out of warranty due to the fact that the engine had to be pulled to access the sensor which was the problem.

    My last car was a 2004 Audi A8l with an air suspension which worked flawlessly for the 10 years and nearly 200k miles I had the car.

    I'm hopeful that my MS will be like my Audi in that regard.
  • edited November -1
    I guess I can also add that I have a 1976 GMC Motorhome with an air suspension which frequently needs repair, but in that instance I can jack it up and put a block of wood where the air bag goes and limp home that way. ;-))
  • edited November -1
    Everyone telling a good air suspension story is a shill from Audi. I do believe the motor home story, having owned one. Do all you Audi folks cash your checks in the same bank, or do direct deposit?
  • edited November -1
    @Panoz
    All I know for sure is my DES called and said there was/is a problem with the Smart Air Suspension on my MS. I am happy they caught it there and not after I drove off.
  • edited November -1
    I have Tesla air suspension, albeit for only a couple of months, but is is worth getting in my view, as I have seen no major complaints other than people who talk about how expensive it is to fix.
    I have had two Mercedes for many years without one single problem, so I am confident that problems in Tesla will be minimal.
  • edited November -1
    @panoz, actually the Audi feedback is balanced. Notice the negative points including mine above. $7500 out of pocket when my 2004 A8 hit around 85,000 miles.
  • prpprp
    edited November -1
    Agree douglasstuckey, in any case its at tesla's full cost for the very long warraty period. I figured the car will be upgraded before the warranty expires.
  • edited November -1
    What Panoz said is true. I have heard of high cost of repair for Audi, Merc., Lincoln and others. But this was not a common repair. It is not like cars have not made it past 100,000 miles before any failure. However, when others have tried to restore older cars they often replace the Air Ride with less costly standard types. There is an after market company who specializes in making kits for many makes of cars to do just that. Their name escapes me but it is easy to find them online.

    In any case I am confident that it will last as long as I have the car. Also I do like the ride. I have had two Model S with and without Air. The Air is only slightly better but a very nice ride. Plus the no more bottoming out as I leave my sisters drive way is great! I do feel low aerodynamic cars need height adjustable suspensions be able to everywhere. There are many steep drive ways in NYC and other places.
  • edited November -1
    Pungoteague_Dave,
    You are right but it is not that different than the ones they have done in the past for others.
  • prpprp
    edited November -1
    Its (sorry did it again "it's") a bit like the autopilot sensors, same brand, just slightly different.
  • edited November -1
    Given the experience of the air suspension failing when the car was parked, it seems to be a very high risk safety issue if the air suspension fails while driving at 70 mph.

    As others have commented on this thread, some sort of stopper engineered/retrofitted into the system may keep the car drivable and safe at normal speeds.
  • edited November -1
    @Panoz, Quote: "I've heard absolute horror stories related to cost and reliability of air suspension systems."

    Yeah, hence why I was very glad not to get it, since I do plan to keep the car for a very long time.

    @LizzieG, Quote: "This is about the only story I remember reading on the forums that has to do with an issue with the air suspension so any issues it seems are extremely rare."

    and

    @Pungoteague_Dave, Quote: " This is the first reported suspension service issue on this forum, so it does not indicate a trend as far as we can tell."

    I wouldn't call it extremely rare. I've seen a few threads on air suspension failures/problems in this forum, and I thought you would have seen them too, P_D. True that this is the first I've read that was a complete failure, where the car rested on the ground. Most of the others were ones where the car just settled several inches and came to rest on a parking barrier and then scraped or broke off a bumper section when the person backed out. Also, there was one where one of the back corners was riding much lower than all of the others, to where the car looked crooked.
  • edited November -1
    Yet another thread that makes me feel good about skipping the air suspension option
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