Hacker Raises Fundamental Question Once Again: Who Owns Tesla Cars?

Tesla Hacker Demands Tesla to Respect His Property 7 photos
Photo: Jason Hughes
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Jason Hughes is one of the most trustworthy sources when it comes to anything related to Tesla. He was the man that said that SUA (Sudden Unintended Acceleration) episodes in the company’s EVs were not possible. He also said that allegations that coolant leaks in the battery packs could catch fire were ridiculous.
At the same time, Hughes was very vocal about the eMMC flash memory card on the MCUv1 – the infotainment computer on the Model S and Model X until very recently – and Tesla blocking fast charging to salvage cars. Now, the “Tesla Hacker” is pretty mad with Tesla, as you can see below.
Hughes did not disclose right away what the issue was, but Tesla erased fast charging capability from his Model S. Not only in a Tesla Supercharging station or third parties fast-charging stations, but at his home. Hughes created a supercharger on his own, as you can see below. He actually has two supercharger stalls at home and managed to charge his cars at 120 kW once.

That is what led Rich Benoit to give his famous Model S, Delores, to his daughter. Benoit rebuilt it and created his YouTube channel, Rich Rebuilds, primarily based on that work on Delores. After Tesla blocked supercharging, alleging safety concerns, Benoit decided he would work with other things as well.

Tesla changed its Unsupported Vehicle Policy a while after a Model S spontaneously caught fire in Shanghai. That blocked all owners of cars with salvage titles to ever supercharge again and more: it also forbade these vehicles to fast charge anywhere. The problem is that insurance companies can write-off a car simply based on cost, not on how safe they would still be if repaired.

That brought up the suspicion that Tesla would be trying to cover up battery pack issues just like it would have done with the OTA (over-the-air) software updates 2019.16.1 or 2019.16.2. David Rasmussen is suing Tesla in the US for that, Tesla supporters brought this up in the discussion, and Hughes tweeted that, "if a dented front fender and fascia could cause a battery fire, I think Tesla would have bigger problems on their hands."

As someone with good connections inside the company, Hughes does not think that Tesla has any safety concerns with salvage vehicles. In another tweet, he said that ex-internal folks told him that the move is "100% to drive people away from repairs/salvage/etc and drive new sales when accidents occur ("free" sales!)." Still according to him, it has "nothing whatsoever to do with safety, and they get away with it because people are crazy and defend this."

It is understandable that a company wants to sell new cars, but Tesla claims to be a company with a mission: to offer clean transportation to the world. In that sense, preventing vehicles that would be perfectly drivable to fast charge – making them way less valuable and prone to end up in a junkyard – goes against what the carmaker claims to defend.

However, the main point of the discussion is not what Tesla did: it is that the company thinks it is ok to do that. Hughes spares no words to frame the situation.

For the Tesla Hacker, the question is pretty simple and he also did not shy away from putting it in a tweet. To be honest, he did that in more than one tweet and told the ones that wanted to discuss the matter that Tesla can control whoever wants to use the Supercharging network. After all, Tesla owns that charging structure. Following the same principle, and after Tesla having sold any vehicle, it is not "allowed to prevent my car from using my own supercharger (yes, I built one), nor are they allowed to modify MY property for their purposes without my consent."

Some Twitter users asked him why he just did not make the car get offline from Tesla and prevent the company from messing around with his Model S. He replied that this was exactly what he did a while ago – deleting the vehicles carkeys.tar file. The issue is that he was "unaware of a new backup mechanism for them... so the car managed to reconnect, and when it did Tesla reached in and modified my vehicle."

Anyway, this would not solve the situation. As someone worthy of the title "Tesla Hacker," Hughes said he is capable of making his car do whatever he wants. But then he asked: "What happens when I want to sell this car? The new owner shouldn't have to rely on me to do this. The car has lost thousands in value because Tesla decided to remotely modify it without consent."

Hughes said he went public to give Tesla a chance to do the right thing.

If the company doesn’t, he’ll sue Tesla for changing aspects of his car with which it should have no say at all for a simple reason: Tesla sold him that Model S. That means it is none of Tesla’s business if he wants to fast charge it at home or not.

Hughes is now considering a class-action against the company because many more owners are involved and not happy with Tesla changing their cars without their consent. Some of them even answered his tweets, such as Robert F. Coffman and Matthew Baldry.

What seems to have frustrated him more is to debate something that should be so obvious – and which probably would be if any other company did it.

Hughes joked that Idiocracy is "becoming more and more real by the minute" with the replies he received about the situation. Most of them came from Tesla supporters that think the company is entitled to do whatever it wants with the cars because they are salvaged. One of these guys even said Tesla could brick every vehicle reported as such as if it was no big deal.

It is not unusual to see the same folks argue that the people complaining about Tesla's attitude should just get "over it" and buy a new Tesla. That's the sort of blind faith or hidden agenda (most of them have Tesla shares and don't want them to lose value) that the Tesla Hacker seems to despise.

Hughes summed up his tweets and how he feels about Tesla’s attitude in this message.

Tesla backers often claim that OTA updates are a fantastic tool and that its EVs are ahead of the competition due to that capacity. Yet, using that ability to restrict functionalities or modify a car without its owner’s consent deserves to be discussed thoroughly.

As everything Tesla does, it may be seen by its fans as a new ownership model, one in which customers just have to pay for their cars but just have to watch whatever the company decides to do with them. For everybody else, it is just not acceptable, as Hughes clearly stated.
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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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