Rajesh Randev had been driving for about 15 minutes when he noticed something was wrong: there was a small crack on his windshield that wasn’t there before. He was reaching for the phone charger cable, which was always in the center console. It was missing. Then his phone started ringing.
Vancouver driver says Tesla app allowed him to drive another man’s car
“I think [you’re] he drives the wrong car,” the SMS replied.
Only then did Rendev realize that he was part of an alarming mix-up. Her car was one of two white Teslas parked side by side on a street in Vancouver, BC, and as she hurried to pick up her children from school, she went wrong. Somehow, his Tesla app unlocked a stranger’s car — and allowed him to drive it, he said.
The March 7 accident shocked Randev, a 51-year-old immigration consultant, who said he now worries about the safety of his own Tesla. He first told his story to Global News last week when he got no response after reporting the incident to Tesla.
“It’s a very expensive technology,” Rendev told The Washington Post. “Over $70,000 to get the car. And my family doesn’t feel safe right now.”
Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.
Rendev bought his Tesla last year and said he enjoyed its high-tech features — including the ability to use his phone app as a key. Tesla Model 3s can be unlocked with an authenticated smartphone, key card or key fob, according to Tesla’s website.
Last week, Rendev was returning to his car from a restaurant. Another white Model 3 happened to be parked next to it. He didn’t notice anything wrong as he walked up to one of the Teslas and thought it was his. He opened the door and started driving. The process is usually seamless, Rendev said, because your car automatically unlocks the doors and lets you drive when it detects your phone.
Mahmoud Esaeyh, who owns the Tesla in which Rendev drove away, was home at the time. He said he lent his car to his brother Mohammed, who used it on an errand. When Mohammed returned to where he parked, he noticed that the remaining Tesla had a different interior and was not Mahmoud’s. He called Mahmoud, who was able to track the location of the car that Rendev was driving on his app. But when he tried to remotely lock the Tesla from his phone, it didn’t work, he said.
Mohammed was able to access Rendev’s car with Mahmoud’s key card. He found medical documents with his phone number in Rendev’s car, and Mahmoud called Rendev to explain the mix-up. They were both shocked to learn that they had access to each other’s cars.
“I said, ‘What could happen?’ said Mahmoud, a 32-year-old Uber driver who transports passengers in the Tesla. “You know if.” [Randev] had an accident, maybe someone jumps into the car and [commits] crime.”
Still pressed for time, Rendev asked Mahmoud for permission to take his children from school in his car. He dropped them off at home and then drove back to the restaurant where his Tesla was parked — traveling about an hour and a half around Vancouver — without having any trouble accessing Mahmoud’s car with his phone app, he said. Outside the restaurant, he made a video of the two cars and demonstrated the problem on camera.
Rendev met Mohammed as they returned each other’s cars and both laughed at the strange situation.
“Friend, could you drive my car?” Rendev joked to Mohammed.
“Yes, it was a lot of fun,” Mohammed replied.
Randev’s children also laughed when he explained the situation to them, but Randev later said that the ease with which a stranger was able to jump into a Tesla rattled him and his wife.
“If a normal person could access it [to someone else’s car] due to malfunction, software or whatever reason… hackers can do anything right? – said Rendev.
Rendev reported the incident to Vancouver police, but was told police would only file a report if further problems arose. No reports have been received, according to Vancouver police.
That evening, Rendev sent the video recording and a description of the apparent malfunction to the Tesla press e-mail. In the message, which he shared with The Post, he said he didn’t want to “impact the company’s reputation” by posting the video on social media or telling reporters before seeking a response from Tesla.
But Randev’s emails bounced back, he said. He received a reply from Tesla’s press office that his mailbox was full. He tried to send the message to Tesla’s Chinese press account and was told that his message had been blocked.
“It’s very frustrating,” Rendev said. “…I even tweeted [at CEO] Elon Musk.”
Tesla has also come under scrutiny for other technical faults. In March, it announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was investigating the Autopilot system, and reports said the steering wheels had fallen off its SUVs. In February, Tesla recalled more than 360,000 vehicles due to the risk of accidents related to its self-driving software. The Post previously reported on “phantom braking” complaints from Tesla drivers. In 2021, NHTSA investigated, but ultimately rejected, a 2019 petition to investigate Tesla for alleged battery defects that caused vehicles to catch fire.
Rendev said he hasn’t heard much about other incidents involving Tesla. He and Mahmoud Esaeyh said they are sticking with their cars, noting how much money they save on gas. But they remain unsettled by last week’s malfunction — and Tesla’s silence.
“I can’t throw the car away because I don’t feel safe,” Esaeyh said. “… But to be honest, it’s scary sometimes. I’m afraid this thing might happen again.”