How Was the Build Quality on Our Model Y?

tesla-model-y-2022-05-blue-exterior-profile-sedan 2022 Tesla Model Y | photo by Christian Lantry

When the Tesla Model Y first went on sale in early 2020, it was plagued by reports of poor build quality. But with a delivery late in the 2021 calendar year, how good or bad was our Model Y? Perhaps somewhere in the middle. Our car had to return to a Tesla service center for paint repair and inspection of a few issues, but we didn’t find a car with severely misaligned body panels or detached second-row seat cushions.

Related: Our First Tesla Model Y Road Trip Started With a Flat Tire

Here’s where our Model Y landed:

Paint Blemish


The Model Y’s exterior body panels, doors, hood and liftgate fit together within spec compared with what we see from other new cars. It doesn’t look like that was always the case with our Model Y, however: We found a blemish that looked like the edge of the driver’s door had swung into the body at some point and nicked the paint down to the metal on both the door and the car.

We scheduled a service appointment to have the paint corrected, but the Model Y returned afterward with only one side of the defect painted. A subsequent appointment fixed the other side, and the paint correction looks good enough for where it’s located — low on the door — though signs of the original blemish persist.

Taillight Condensation

tesla-model-y-2021-06-blue-detail-exterior-sedan 2021 Tesla Model Y | photo by Joe Bruzek

Condensation in both taillight housings has come and gone since the first day with our Model Y. Tesla claims it’s normal, according to the service messaging on the mobile app:

“Occasional condensation within the exterior light lenses may be present in any vehicle due to changes in atmospheric conditions, and can be intermittent. Condensation is normal and clears over time. The clearing process is accelerated when the lights are in dry, high temperature environments, and when the vehicle is moving.”

The message goes on to say environmental factors like high humidity or temperature fluctuations can increase the likelihood of normal condensation, and it can remain longer because there’s less heat emitted from the LEDs employed by the Model Y. (We should add that LED technology for exterior lighting is widespread.) Tesla’s message also adds that the Model Y’s lights use clear outer lenses, which “can result in condensation being more visible” than the red lenses used in other cars. Other automakers also stipulate a normal level of condensation, typically communicated through technical service bulletins that alert service technicians of potential common problems or complaints that aren’t safety recalls. Audi, BMW, General Motors, Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen all have bulletins that explain what level of condensation is normal and what isn’t.

Though lens condensation may be considered normal, the frequent occurrences on our Model Y is an unsightly look to live with. Knowing other cars also deal with it doesn’t make it appear any less broken.

Window Alignment

tesla-model-y-2021-13-blue-exterior-sedan 2021 Tesla Model Y | photo by Joe Bruzek

The driver’s window sometimes defaults to a lower position versus closing all the way into the upper groove, like the other windows do. We mentioned the seemingly random positioning during a service appointment, where Tesla deemed it normal operation. Representatives gave us instructions on how to recalibrate the windows, but that didn’t seem to address the issue.

Initially thinking something was broken, we dug around the owner’s manual and surmised this might be a feature for cold-weather driving rather than a malfunction. The “Model Y automatically makes a slight adjustment to the position of the windows to make it easier to open doors in cold temperature,” the owner’s manual says.

The Model Y uses frameless windows that close into the body of the car, like a traditional coupe. By contrast, a framed door surrounds the window, and the whole assembly moves together when you open or close the door. In the winter, ice may build up at the Model Y’s windows, which could prevent the window from lowering slightly out of its seal and allowing the door to open. In cold weather, it’s lowered slightly away from the door seal, which might explain the intermittency of the window height. The window was fully seated on a rare 65-degree December day in the Chicago area. We’ll also be taking note if we have any issues opening the door in cold weather.

tesla-model-y-2021-14-blue-detail-exterior-sedan 2021 Tesla Model Y | photo by Joe Bruzek

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Blank Screen

Three times in less than 400 miles, the Model Y’s large 15-inch touchscreen refused to start. It remained blank for minutes while the rest of the car was drivable. Slow screens and those that randomly reboot aren’t uncommon on new cars — we observed it recently with Lexus’ revamped touchscreen in the redesigned NX — but unlike other cars, the Model Y’s speedometer, climate and important vehicle controls exist only in the screen. The service center sent instructions on how to restart the screen and said it benefits from periodic restarts, like a smartphone. Three times in under 400 miles is excessive, however, and Tesla’s service team discovered nothing unusual during a diagnostic check when we gave the exact date and time the problem occurred. (It’s a good idea to log so you have a record to report for diagnoses.) We observed these delayed starts on operating system version 2021.35.102, and we’ve since updated to 11.0, 2021.44.30. We’ll monitor blank-screen startups to see if the screen is improved or equally finicky.

Camera Condensation

tesla-model-y-2021-25-blue-detail-exterior-sedan 2021 Tesla Model Y | photo by Joe Bruzek

More recently, the camera on the passenger-side door pillar (one of eight cameras) accumulated condensation inside the enclosure, triggering a warning message: “Right door pillar camera blocked or blinded. Clean camera or wait for it to regain visibility.”

The visibility obstruction was enough to limit Tesla’s Autopilot features intermittently for a 30-minute drive during which the condensation remained. We haven’t taken the car into service for this issue because Tesla already recognizes condensation in the camera enclosure. The owner’s manual lists a workaround: Point the climate vents at the door pillars.

“Condensation can form inside the camera enclosures, especially if you park your vehicle outside in cold or wet conditions,” the manual says. “The touchscreen may display an alert stating that a camera is blocked and that some or all Autopilot features may be temporarily restricted until the camera vision is clear. To proactively dry the condensation, precondition the cabin by setting it to a warm temperature, turning the windshield defroster on, and directing the front air vents toward the door pillars (see Mobile App).”


tesla-model-y-2021-15-blue-detail-exterior-rear-angle-sedan 2021 Tesla Model Y | photo by Joe Bruzek

Many of these occurrences lack remedies or are considered part of normal operation. We’ll try the air-vent technique the next time the camera condensation happens, but we’re a little discouraged by some of the issues we’ve detailed above. What’s more, some of them will likely persist while we drive where it’s cold and humid (we’re based in the Midwest, after all).

The big question, though, is whether living with these quirks (or just plain problems, depending how you see it) is worth it, considering the other things the Model Y does well. Two months in, and we still have a long way to go to answer that with our long-term Model Y.

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Managing Editor Joe Bruzek’s 22 years of automotive experience doesn’t count the lifelong obsession that started as a kid admiring his dad’s 1964 Chevrolet Corvette — and continues to this day. Joe’s been an automotive journalist with for 16 years, writing shopper-focused car reviews, news and research content. As Managing Editor, one of his favorite areas of focus is helping shoppers understand electric cars and how to determine whether going electric is right for them. In his free time, Joe maintains a love-hate relationship with his 1998 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that he wishes would fix itself. LinkedIn: Email Joe Bruzek

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