Yoke or not, some Teslas might have the wrong airbag

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Tesla may have installed the wrong airbag for Model S and Model X owners who opted to switch from the available steering yoke back to the steering wheel, or vice versa. 

That’s according to recall documents posted late last week by the federal government and dated November 3. 

The frontal airbag itself is different between the two steering setups, and Tesla lays out the hazard: “An air bag that is not designed to function with the replacement steering yoke or wheel may deploy incorrectly, increasing the risk of injury during a crash.” Tesla says it’s not aware of any injuries related to the switcheroo, though.

2022 Tesla Model S Plaid

2022 Tesla Model S Plaid

The pool of potential vehicles made part of this recall is small. Tesla will need to physically inspect 159 vehicles in the U.S., according to recall documents, and it will notify owners by January 2, 2024. 

The recall started with instances noted in Europe by Tesla Service in October. There, at least 12 vehicles with round steering wheels were retrofitted with yokes but not with the new airbag version designed for the yoke. An engineering study of vehicles in the U.S. and U.K. later determined that at least two steering-wheel vehicles had received the airbag intended for the yoke. 

2022 Tesla Model S Plaid

2022 Tesla Model S Plaid

Tesla delivered its first yoke-equipped Model S Plaid in June 2021. While it and the Model X are the first regular-production vehicles to incorporate one, Tesla wasn’t the first automaker to entertain the possibility of a yoke. As Green Car Reports pointed out last year, GM had considered a steering yoke in the 1980s in concepts.

But there may have been good reason why other automakers hadn’t made the leap. Those who took the earliest deliveries of cars with the yoke appeared to lay on the praise of the setup, but Consumer Reports then evaluated a Model S with the yoke early on and called it not just a pain to use but a possible safety concern, suggested more challenging accident avoidance and livability issues at parking speeds. 

Toyota bZ4X yoke layout

Toyota bZ4X yoke layout

Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand may have found a way to do the yoke better, though. As Green Car Reports sampled last year, a Lexus RX 450e yoke (not yet for the U.S.) combines steer-by-wire tech with a variable-ratio system allowing just 150 degrees of rotation lock-to-lock—likely avoiding many of the issues CR pointed to.

The yoke isn’t the only steering-wheel issue Tesla has had to face in recent months. The NHTSA in March announced an investigation of several alleged instances in which Model Y steering wheels fell off while the vehicle was in motion. That issue, related to a loose fastener, prompted a small recall this past June.

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