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US motor vehicle safety regulators have opened an investigation into a Tesla model after getting two complaints that the steering wheels can come off while being driven.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the probe will look into Tesla’s Model Y SUV after the cars were delivered to customers in both cases with a missing bolt that holds the wheel to the steering column.

In one complaint, an owner said he was driving with his family on a major highway in New Jersey when the steering wheel suddenly came off – five days after the vehicle was bought.

Prerak Patel said: “It was horrible experience, I was driving back from mall with family and in middle of freeway steering wheel fell off.”

He added that there were no cars behind him and no injuries, and he was able to pull over toward the central reservation.

At first, a Tesla service centre gave Mr Patel an estimate of $103.96 to repair the problem. The service centre apologised in what appear to be text messages posted on Twitter.

Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department, has been contacted for comment.

When Mr Patel wrote that he had lost faith in Tesla and asked for a refund, the service centre removed the charge and wrote that Tesla doesn’t have a returns policy, but he could contact the sales and delivery team.

Mr Patel said he was later given the option of keeping the car or getting it replaced with a new one, which he chose to do.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the investigation covers an estimated 120,000 vehicles from the 2023 model year.

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It comes as US safety regulators said on Wednesday that a Tesla that crashed into a fire truck in California last month killing the driver and injuring a passenger, as well as four firefighters, is suspected of operating on one of the company’s automated driving systems.

The latest NHTSA investigation adds to a long string of problems that Tesla is having with the US road safety agency.

In the past three years it has opened investigations into Tesla’s ‘autopilot’ driver-assist system crashing into parked emergency vehicles, and problems with suspension systems.

At least 14 Teslas have crashed into emergency vehicles while using the autopilot system.

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