Why Tesla Remotely Removing Features from Used Vehicles Won’t Matter to Private Sellers and Buyers, But Should Be a Concern for Dealers

Tesla has been in the news recently for remotely removing Autopilot features from a Model S that was sold with them by a third-party dealer. We break down the full story, and why private sellers and buyers generally don’t have to worry about this.

Jalopnik broke the story of Alec, who had purchased a 2017 Model S from a third-party dealer in December of last year. While the car’s sticker stated that it had Enhanced Autopilot as well as Full Self-Driving Capability, Tesla silently removed both features via an update to the car shortly after the dealer purchased it at auction from Tesla as a lemon buyback. Assuming that the removal of the features was a glitch, the dealer sold it to Alec with Full Self-Driving Capability advertised as an included option. Tesla later confirmed that they had conducted an audit and found that the features weren’t actually paid for by the vehicle’s original owner, causing them to remove it from a car that already had them active. Upon contacting Tesla’s customer support, Alec was informed that he would have to pay for those additional features to add them back to his vehicle.

To recap, a third-party dealer purchased a 2017 Model S from Tesla at auction with a sticker that stated the vehicle has Enhanced Autopilot and Full-Self Driving Capability. Tesla completely removed both features from the vehicle remotely without notice.

This is an extraordinary circumstance. While the company hasn’t provided an explanation beyond Full-Self Driving not being “paid for,” it’s likely Tesla decided to remove both features from the vehicle when they purchased it back as a lemon. Either way, this isn’t right for the end buyer; in this case, the dealership then subsequently their customer who purchased the car at a price that had assumedly already factored in the Autopilot/Full-Self Driving features.

Similarly, when vehicles are traded in to Tesla the company reserves the right to remove or add Autopilot features for resale on its own site. If they decide the vehicle isn’t up to their conditioning standards and send it to auction, the features on the sticker typically remain with the vehicle. However, over the past few months there have been numerous instances that prove that may not always be the case.

In our opinion, this is a clerical oversight that Tesla should rectify. The vehicle was sold with both features, then bought back by Tesla under a Lemon Law. While it is technically Tesla’s decision whether to remove the features from the vehicle once it’s back in their possession, they were negligent in noting that would be the case when the vehicle was sold. Thus, the audit itself is frivolous and will only cause buyer disdain.

This sets a negative precedent that the company should avoid continuing in the future. In the past, a car that was sold would retain all of the features it was sold with — the manufacturer wouldn’t come to the customer’s house to remove active cruise control. Software features are a more tricky area. All that a buyer can do when purchasing from a third-party dealer is make note of the configuration of the vehicle and Autopilot features available on the vehicle’s display. Dealers and prospective buyers can go an extra step in contacting Tesla, but that may not be enough to prevent this from occurring should the company decide to do another audit.

Regardless, this really only raises a concern for buyers purchasing Tesla’s from third-party dealers. Since there isn’t a system to verify whether paid software updates on vehicles sold at auction are supposed to be on that specific vehicle, there is a possibility that Tesla will find out the options weren’t actually paid for and will remotely remove them at any point after delivery. Unless Tesla refrains from conducting audits on the matter.

Private sellers and buyers don’t need to worry about this, as long as the features can be verified as purchased via the current owner’s Tesla account. In fact, the only way to verify that the features were actually paid for and active is to check the Tesla account that the car is assigned to. Once Autopilot, Full Self-Driving Capability, or Acceleration Boost upgrades are paid for, they are fully transferable to subsequent buyers and will remain active for the life of the car.

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