I could understand the rust on my old Subaru’s hitch. Like most ICE vehicles, it’s slung under the rear bumper and it’s completely exposed to the elements churned up by the winter roads. Not a single bit of it is protected. Debris and road grit impact the paint, the paint is compromised and slowly but surely, rust takes hold and soon coats the entire assembly. But on the Tesla, the Torklift Ecohitch is completely encased by the bumper and I even had the optional cover on to seal it the rest of the way. Nothing EVER touches the hitch as it is completely protected by various aero shields and the bumper itself.
You don’t have to be a metallurgy expert to understand the potential insidiousness of galvanic corrosion. Essentially, two dissimilar metals will have different electrode potentials. These potentials result in one of the metals corroding the other, much like rust, but it can happen without any other outside elements. As the ions migrate from one metal to the other, the corrosion can be aggressive and catastrophic. It's the basic principle behind the anode rods in your hot water heater, except on the Tesla nothing is sacrificial and certainly not the aluminum structure of the car itself!
Hardware that was too far gone was replaced with new pieces and they created insulators to keep the hitch from ever touching the body again.
UPDATE: After this review was posted on Teslarati, Torklift investigated the problems described and is changing their product as a result. You can find their full response below:
I hope you enjoyed your weekend. I have outlined below some information that we think could be useful for your readers to see and encourage you to share this message with them. Without our customers, we are nothing and our goal is to provide useful products that are not only safe, but can also enhance our customer’s lives. When we read your article about your experience, we took this to heart as we often do, and began methodically looking at the information before us. In addition to the actual product we manufacture, you also pointed out your experience with our customer service department -- that has inclined us to make a modification to our email support response.
Something we are known for is customer service that goes above expectations. This is because we have real live people that pick up the phone and who respond to our customers via email. We believe the human touch is critical when serving people and have previously shied away from automated customer service as a result. By doing so, each of our customer service team members is more of a caseworker. They take care of each customer from start to finish before moving onto the next customer who needs help. This simple but extremely valuable action allows us to listen to our customers and help them according to their needs, however it does require additional time to take care of the customer. You had indicated our response time to you was not satisfactory. Based on your experience, we agree and have implemented an automated response system to let our customers know we have received their email. This message lets them know they are in a queue and that an actual person will be reaching out to them. We also provide a phone number for customers with urgent needs that must be addressed immediately. There are some days of the week where response time typically takes longer due to call volume or email volume, and that is outlined in the automated response. We believe that initial acknowledgment will help tremendously. We will continue to have our customer service folks act as a caseworker for each customer from start to finish.
When you had initially reached out to us, based on the information we had at the time, the photos provided did not show the extent of the corrosion that was later learned. Neither of us would have known that information at the time and we appreciate and understand the timeline you were under to get this taken care. We do want you to know that had we had all the information, we would have taken care of you just as we take care of all our customers - from start to finish. Based on the information you shared in your article, we dove further into the subject of corrosion and found many interesting examples of Tesla Model S without a hitch installed or other aftermarket parts installed that also showed corrosion. One example was extreme enough that the vehicle was deemed unsafe for use.
Upon our recent review of this situation, this type corrosion is often found where the factory bumper is attached to the aluminum underbody using factory steel bolts. When the factory steel bolts are in contact with the aluminum underbody, you have two different types of metals coming into direct contact with each other in the absence of a thick powder coat finish. The bolts do have a coating on them, but it appears to be a thin layer that wears down somewhat quickly. This begins to be problematic when you add the catalyst for corrosion. The catalyst occurs when driving through caustic environments such as the area of the United States commonly referred to as the rust belt, as well as coastal and mountain regions. The common denominator is road salt and water. It is important to note that none of the Tesla Model S variants have their bumper covers sealed and although the space is enclosed, what we are seeing on unaltered cars in our research is significant debris and signs of water intrusion in this area. Obviously, water is a key catalyst. This leads to corrosion.
Based on this research as well as your experience with the solution you used, we have decided to adopt it and have an action plan moving forward. This week we will have a simple kit and installation instructions for insulation pads - similar to what you have installed on your Tesla Model S. We are going to include this kit in all Tesla kits moving forward, as well as contact customers who have recently purchased. See figure 18 below:
We’ve made a change to the powder coating of our products several years ago but before we go into that, it is important to talk about the quality of powder coat that is currently on hitches produced in recent years and how we are going to be inspecting a cross section of hitches across the country as a precautionary method.
It’s important to note that we have a lifetime warranty on our hitch, however the powder coat/finish is not warrantied and that is very common. An example would be to consider the finish on under-vehicle accessory components. They are subject to road salts or just plain debris on the road that can affect the finish. We are not aware of an underbody accessory manufacturer that would replace parts if it results in problems with the finish. We believe that is a true statement for nearly all under body accessory manufacturers.
When this hitch was first developed in 2013, they were sent to third party powder coating company that was local to our community. This is a very common practice. Upon reviewing the finish on the hitch and other aftermarket parts we produced, we opted to make an investment in our own powder coat facility. Later we purchased the machinery and moved powder coating in-house. We believed that our people could do it better and have better judgment about rejecting and passing our product through various levels of inspection in the powder coat process. We did not have that level of inspection before because previously we only saw the end result.
Even though finish is not covered by our warranty, we still wanted to improve it because our customers matter to us. That is the only way to stay in business for more than four decades as we have - by truly caring. This led us to begin investigating different types of powder coating/finishing methods. What we learned is that sand blasting is critical. Many items you might see at an automotive retailer have a powder coated finish but are not sand blasted first in preparation for the powder coat application. We made the multimillion dollar investment into purchasing our own powder coating facility to have control over our finish quality. This transition began in 2013. Because the transition from outsourced powder coat to in-house powder coat began in 2013 and extended through part of 2014 when the hitch was first introduced, we believe few hitches will be similar to your hitch experience. Even though there is indication that very few hitches would be affected will not matter as we are still going to further research this occurrence.
We’d like to talk about the method to making a great finish. The sand blast step allows for the surface of the hitch to become abraded. An easy way to think of this process is to consider what happens to a surface when you rub sandpaper on it. However, our method involves a high intensity gun that blasts several pounds of sand per minute onto each hitch. This method is done by hand. An actual person is crafting each hitch and blasting it with sand to breach all nooks and crannies, ensuring the surface is not smooth. All impurities like oil and dirt residue are completely removed before powder coat is applied. Powder coat prep is much like paint prep for a car.
From there, the sand blasted hitch is washed in an eco-friendly cleaning solution, rinsed, dried, then pre-heated to a specific temperature for the particular powder coat being administered. Finally, a specific (non-conductive) powder coat is applied by hand to ensure full coverage of the part. Once coated, it is once again baked at a certain temperature in a specialized oven for a predetermined time depending on the powder coat type. The main factors in a quality powder coat finish is the sandblasting, pre-bake temperature and final bake temperature and time.
We are currently working with dealers who install aftermarket parts on Tesla in corrosive regions as well as non-corrosive regions to inspect Tesla Model S with hitches from 2013 to 2017. What we expect to find is that hitches manufactured in 2014 and newer will not have corrosion signs, and hitches manufactured in 2013 through part of 2014 could have signs of corrosion IF they are used in highly corrosive driving conditions. We aim to have our research findings completed during the first part of the new year and will provide an update at the conclusion of the investigation.
Matt, even though we are actively investigating the information you have brought forward, we hope that you can share this email in its entirety with your readers as soon as you are able. The last thing we want is for customers and future customers to be worried. We have received a few emails and phone calls so far. We want our customers to know we are working on this now. Future customers will have the insulation kit with their hitch to help prevent the corrosion already mentioned on Tesla forums where the factory steel bolts secure the bumper to the aluminum body. For our recent customers, we are in the process of contacting them to provide them with the insulation kit, even though the current powder coat on new kits is expected to work as a secure barrier between the two metals. And finally, we are working with various dealerships to bring in a cross section of vehicles to review.
Thank you, Matt - we hope you can share this with your readers,
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