Tesla Model 3 electric car under investigation in Australia for possible compliance breach

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The latest Tesla Model 3 electric car has been flagged for a potential violation of long-standing Australian motor-vehicle regulations that could prompt a halt to deliveries, and a recall.

The Tesla Model 3 electric car is under investigation by federal regulators for a possible breach of motor-vehicle rules, after access to a child-seat anchor point needed to gain approval for use on the road was removed by the manufacturer.

If the Tesla Model 3 is found to have fallen foul of Australian motor-vehicle regulations, the US car giant will be the second automaker in 18 months to do so after a similar breach was uncovered for the BYD Atto 3 electric car in 2022.

Government documents show the updated Tesla Model 3 – which commenced customer deliveries locally in late December 2023 – has been certified as a five-seat passenger vehicle in Australia.

However it does not have an accessible top-tether anchor point for securing a child seat in the centre rear seating position, which is a requirement for five-seat passenger cars with three seatbelts for adult occupants in the back seats.

Parcel shelf behind the rear headrests in a 2024 Tesla Model 3. (Photo by Drive)

A top-tether point for the middle rear seat was fitted to the previous version of the Tesla Model 3 – accessed by a flap on the parcel shelf behind the rear headrests – which was in production for Australia from 2019 to late 2023.

Photos of the updated model show this is no longer accessible, even though it is required for compliance with local vehicle regulations – known as Australian Design Rules – and approval for use on the road.

The top-tether point appears to remain under the trim panel behind the rear-seat headrests – however it is not accessible unless this component is removed.

However this would be in breach of Australian Design Rules, which state: “Clearance shall be provided around each ‘Upper Anchor Fitting’ to allow latching and unlatching, without the use of tools, of the ‘Attaching Clip’ to the ‘Upper Anchor Fitting’ when it is installed in the vehicle.”

Under the parcel shelf in a 2024 Tesla Model 3. Note the top tether point mounting, which is inaccessible from the other side. (Photo by Drive)

There remain top-tether points – as well as ISOFIX mounting anchors – for the outboard rear seats in the Model 3.

The middle seat is considered the safest position in a car for a child as it is away from the doors in case of a side-impact crash.

New motor vehicles are not required to be inspected by government authorities to confirm they meet Australian Design Rules standards, and regulators instead rely on the word of car makers – in legal documents – that vehicles imported and sold in the country are compliant with local rules.

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In a statement to Drive, a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communication and The Arts said:

“The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts is aware of concerns regarding the child restraint anchorage points in the 2024 Tesla Model 3 and is looking into this matter.

“Road safety is a top priority of the Australian Government. That is why we have legislated road vehicle standards in place to ensure all road vehicles, both new and used, being provided to the Australian market for the first time meet critical national standards for safety, security and emissions.”

Drive has contacted Tesla Australia for comment on the potential breach, and if it plans to pause deliveries and/or recall vehicles already handed over to customers.

In the BYD Atto 3 electric car – which in 2022 was found to have broken the same rule – a top-tether point for the middle rear seat was fitted, but it was hidden under the carpet covering the rear seatback.

BYD Atto 3 vehicles handed over to customers prior to the discovery of the breach – and the issuing of a stop-delivery notice – were recalled, and brought back into compliance by cutting a hole in the carpet to expose the top-tether point.

It is unclear if the process to expose the centre-rear top-tether point in the Tesla Model 3 would require a hole to be cut into the parcel shelf, or if the panel would need to be replaced entirely.

If the Model 3 is found to be in breach of Australian Design Rules, Tesla Australia may need to recall the examples that have been delivered to customers since the first was handed over in late December 2023.

A stop-delivery notice may also be issued while the company resolves the problem in vehicles which are in stock but yet to be delivered, on their way to Australia, or rolling off the production line in China.

Another option available to Tesla is removing the rear-centre seatbelt and re-certifying the Model 3 as a four-seater.

The latest Honda HR-V small SUV introduced in 2022 was certified in Australia as a four-seater as the Japanese car giant chose not to invest in engineering a top-tether point for the middle rear seat – and instead elected to remove the middle rear seatbelt.

It is unclear if the parcel shelf from the outgoing Tesla Model 3 – which included a flap for accessing the centre top tether point – will fit the new model.

Australian Design Rules state that “every vehicle shall provide the facility to attach an ‘Upper Anchorage Strap’ ‘Attaching Clip’ to an ‘Upper Anchor Fitting’ for each seating position”.

The latest Tesla Model 3 is covered by a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing conducted in 2019 with the pre-update model. Drive has contacted ANCAP for further information.

Alex Misoyannis has been writing about cars since 2017, when he started his own website, Redline. He contributed for Drive in 2018, before joining CarAdvice in 2019, becoming a regular contributing journalist within the news team in 2020.

Cars have played a central role throughout Alex’s life, from flicking through car magazines at a young age, to growing up around performance vehicles in a car-loving family.

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