Tesla’s Cybertruck is just about ready to enter production, but a test vehicle was caught on video causing a potentially dangerous situation as its aerodynamic wheel cover came off in traffic, striking another vehicle and flying into the sky.
Ever since it was originally unveiled, the Cybertruck has had some pretty cool-looking aerodynamic wheel covers. While we’ve seen the wheels without the covers on lately – as Tesla’s “production candidate” vehicles have been spotted in testing – as far as we can tell, the aero wheel covers are still planned for production.
The most efficient vehicles are the ones that slip through the air, causing the least disturbance. Wheels work against that because they are like large side-mounted turbines that actively disturb the air as they roll along.
Aerodynamic wheel covers are an important benefit because they can increase efficiency by 5-10%. This is particularly good for an electric vehicle because more efficiency means you need less battery onboard, making the car less costly and less heavy. Another reason you see these less frequently on gas vehicles is because brakes need lots of airflow to stay cool. By contrast, with EVs, brakes don’t get as hot since EVs can use regenerative braking instead of physical friction braking.
So, these wheel covers make a lot of sense, especially on a car that’s already shaped kind of like a brick.
However, as seen on Tesla’s previous cars, the aero wheel caps on the Cybertruck seem to be removable. We’ve just seen an unplanned example of this in a highway dashcam video in which the wheel cover flies up into the air, nearly hitting another vehicle, and then later being run over by multiple vehicles:
The video was taken by another Tesla owner through the dashcam function, which uses the car’s Autopilot cameras (and a driver-provided SD card) to constantly save footage around the vehicle. It happened in San Francisco, on the 101 freeway, relatively close to Tesla’s Fremont factory location and an area where Teslas are very popular. The Cybertruck in question didn’t have the “Release Candidate” badging that we’ve seen recently.
The wheel cover is just a plastic piece that is latched onto the spokes of the underlying wheel. It’s relatively lightweight, so it’s unlikely to cause significant damage to other cars. But an object flying off on the highway is still not ideal. It can damage other cars, cause drivers to react unpredictably, or worse, harm pedestrians if it happens in an area near them.
Currently, Tesla vehicles drive hundreds of millions of miles per day, and we have not heard of any significant incidence of aero wheel covers falling off like this. Tesla has several wheel designs, and additionally, there are many third-party aerodynamic wheel covers available with unique designs, and we haven’t noticed this being a problem with any of them.
However, the Cybertruck’s wheel covers differ from these in that they seem to project out from the wheel slightly:
The gap that allows air in probably helps to keep the brakes cool, as some air needs to get in to cool them off when they do get used, and the cover is otherwise completely sealed off, unlike the Model 3, which has open spoke areas.
We don’t know for certain what caused this failure. It could be that the wheel cover caught a little bit of air, combined with a loose connection – either because the attachment point isn’t designed right or because of human error if the cap is difficult to attach, which is still a design issue.
But the fact that it’s happening so close to production – and with limited mileage on Cybertrucks – suggests that if there is indeed a flaw in the design, this might happen more often as more Cybertrucks get more miles on the road. Whatever the problem is, we hope Tesla fixes it quickly, as production seems to be only weeks or months away.
Alright, at the end of the day, this is just one piece falling off of one car, something that happens every day to all kinds of vehicles. It’s not that exceptional.
But the story here is that the Cybertruck isn’t out yet and hasn’t driven a lot of miles, yet this issue has already happened once on video. This suggests that if whatever flaw caused this remains (a loose connection between the cover and wheel, a difficult attachment process leading to human error in attaching the cap, or what have you), we might see a lot more of this as the vehicle comes out – which is happening soon. We hope that Tesla’s engineers get their heads wrapped around whatever caused this failure and can fix it posthaste.
But also, I always like an excuse to talk about aerodynamic wheel covers and their benefits.
For some reason, people seem to think the Model 3 looks better without the caps on. I disagree wholeheartedly and think that a large percentage of that opinion’s popularity is due to familiarity – people are used to wheels with spokes, so they prefer looking at wheels with spokes.
Not only do I think the caps look cool, but realistically, if we added aerodynamic wheel covers to every vehicle on the road, we could cut total US energy use by something like 1% overall, which is a pretty enormous cut for such a simple change.
The new Tesla Model 3 Highland refresh includes two new wheel designs that are a nice compromise between aerodynamic performance and a traditional, spoked look, but I still like the even more covered look of the Model 3 base 18″ aero wheels and of the Cybertruck wheels as well. Not only do they look sleek, but they also perform better aerodynamically – assuming this problem gets examined and, if necessary, fixed.