The US road safety authority says wear and tear in the units can lead to the failure of key functions.
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Tesla has responded to a United States recall of failing touchscreens in 134,951 of its cars by arguing the units were only ever expected to last five to six years in the first place.

The unusual defence came after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – the US federal government's road safety agency – requested the electric car maker recall the 17-inch touchscreens found in its Model S sedan and Model X SUV.

According to the recall notice, when the flash memory device for the centre display reaches "lifetime wear", it will "no longer be able to maintain the integrity of the filesystem, causing a failure in some of the center display functions".

These crucial functions include the rear-view camera display, the defrost and defog control settings and the exterior turn signal lighting, thereby "reducing visibility and increasing the risk of a crash".

The affected units can be found in a total of 134,951 2012-2018 Tesla Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles that are equipped with NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor.

While Tesla accepted the recall, it disputed the notion the screens were defective in the first place, suggesting that "lifetime wear" actually only constituted about five or six years.

In a letter sighted by The Drive, Tesla Vice President of Legal Al Prescott acknowledged the flash memory device was "inherently subject to wear, has a finite life (as NHTSA itself acknowledges), and may need replacement during the useful life of the vehicle".

However, he added, "while the wear rate is heavily influenced by the active use of the center display system, even more so when the vehicle is in drive or charging, given a reasonable average daily use of 1.4 cycles, the expected life would be 5-6 years".

"NHTSA has not presented any evidence to suggest that this expected life is outside industry norms," he added.

According to 2020 research conducted by data firm IHS Markit, the average age of vehicles on US roads has risen to 11.9 years, meaning Tesla's infotainment units may only last half the length of the average car's life.

Mr Prescott also said it was "infeasible" to expect "state of the art" components like the memory drive in question to outlast the cars that house them.

"[E]lectronic components are becoming increasingly more complex while, at the same time, the expected useful life of vehicles has grown substantially. It is economically, if not technologically, infeasible to expect that such components can or should be designed to last the vehicle’s entire useful life," he argued.

The US recall will commence on March 30, 2021, and NHTSA states that Tesla will notify owners of the affected vehicles to provide free replacement of the affected unit.