By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Wednesday it is opening a preliminary investigation into 120,000 Tesla Model Y vehicles after two reports of steering wheels falling off while driving.
The U.S. auto safety regulator said the steering wheels in both 2023 model year vehicles, which had a low mileage, completely detached. The vehicles were delivered to owners missing the retaining bolt that attaches the steering wheel to the steering column.
Tesla shares were down 3.3% in morning trading to $181.77 a share.
The agency is opening a preliminary investigation to assess the “scope, frequency, and manufacturing processes associated with this condition.”
The investigation is a first step before NHTSA could demand a recall.
The agency said it received a complaint from a parent who had bought a new Model Y five days earlier and was on Route 1 South in Woodbridge, New Jersey on Jan. 29 “and all the sudden steering wheel” fell off. “Was lucky there was no car behind and able to pull on divider.”
NHTSA posted a link to a tweet as part of the complaint filing. The tweet has received more than 2.4 million views on Twitter.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NHTSA said “both vehicles received an end of line repair requiring removal and re-installation of the steering wheel.”
The agency said a “friction fit maintained the connection between the steering wheel and the column splines during operation until separation. Sudden separation occurred when the force exerted on the steering wheel overcame the resistance of the friction fit while the vehicles were in motion.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Louise Heavens, Kirsten Donovan)