Tesla Boombox Feature Leads to Massive Recall

The nation’s dominant EV company is struggling to meet U.S. safety standards. Why would a speaker system cause a recall of over half a million Teslas?
Written by Elaine Duvet
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Mar 6, 2022
Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.
We all want to feel safe when we’re crossing the street and galavanting around the city. But what was set to be a fun
Tesla
gimmick, turned out to be an unexpected safety hazard. 
What’s so bad about a boombox? And why did it catch the attention of the
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)
? Check out why Tesla issued a recall for 578,000 Model S, X, Y, and 3 vehicles.

The novelty function that violates U.S. safety laws

The
color of your car
can express your style and personality, but Tesla took it a step further by allowing drivers to blast the music of their choice to the outside world.
In 2020, an update made it possible for owners to play sounds outside their vehicle—like fart noises or bleating goats. However, letting drivers play preset or custom sounds while the car is moving hinders their ability to hear the Pedestrian Warning System (PWS).
With Tesla’s Boombox function, drivers can “delight pedestrians with a variety of sounds from your vehicle’s external speaker,” explains the automaker. But according to
Consumer Reports
, the “novelty function may drown out or interrupt pedestrian warning sounds that are required by federal regulations.” At least the website warns owners to check their local city laws before blasting
Taylor Swift
’s latest hit.
Since electric and hybrid vehicles’ internal combustion engines are so quiet, in 2018 federal safety regulations started to require them to notify pedestrians of their presence (when driving at slow speeds) by playing warning sounds. Therefore, Tesla’s external speaker can only play sounds that meet the NHTSA’s standards. If not, it violates the
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 141
.
Shortly after its debut in 2021, the NHTSA opened an investigation. Tesla and the safety regulator argued back and forth until the company voluntarily recalled the feature at the beginning of this year.

Elon Musk blames the ‘fun police’ 

Luckily, most of Tesla’s recalls can be addressed using the vehicle’s operating system. According to
Jalopnik
, “Tesla is going to perform an over-the-air software update that will disable the Boombox’s functionality while the vehicle is in drive, neutral or reverse.”
As usual, Tesla CEO
Elon Musk
went to Twitter to express his frustration. According to
Business Insider
, “[he] took a dig at safety regulators on Saturday night, when he said ‘the fun police’ forced [this] latest safety recall.”
Is Musk pushing the envelope a little too far? Did he really think the NHTSA would let drivers play video games on the touchscreen while the car is moving? That, too, was disabled.

Tesla is pushing the boundaries of safety

Though the Boombox feature wasn’t linked to any
accidents
, Tesla has bigger fish to fry. The automaker issued 11 recalls in early 2022. Yikes.
In February 2022, the company recalled 817,143 of their cars because when the driver’s seat belt was unbuckled, the chime failed to sound. 
The Texas-based company’s “full self-driving” mode was also recalled. The feature allowed rolling stops at stop signs, which could increase the risk of a car crash. Musk argued that because the vehicle slowed all the way down to 2 mph, and would only advance with a clear view, there were no safety issues.
It doesn’t stop there. According to
CNN
, “Tesla's driver-assist system
Autopilot
and its in-vehicle video game feature have also been under NHTSA scrutiny.” If you own a Tesla, you can check out
NHTSA’s website
to see if your car has any recalls that are currently open.
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