When Utah-based Michael Holbrook took delivery of his spanking new Rivian R1T Launch Edition in June 2022, he felt ecstatic. He was among the early reservation holders and had shelled out roughly $85,000 for the truck, draped in the El Cap Granite metallic paint. Despite the three-year wait, it seemed all worthwhile. Between June 2022 and April 2023, Holbrook clocked approximately 7,500 miles on his R1T.
“The truck exceeded my expectations in every way possible,” Holbrook told InsideEVs. What’s not to like, right? With quad motors, an ego-humbling 835 horsepower, and sports car-rivaling driving dynamics, the R1T was a delight from behind the wheel, he indicated. “I’ve used it to carry skiing and mountain biking equipment, and I even towed a 5000-pound snowmobile with it,” he said.
But in April 2023, the R1T faced an unexpected twist of fate. It collided with a Jeep Cherokee at an intersection in Utah. The Cherokee drove in from the right and bumped into the front right fender of the R1T. “We were both really slow, maybe five miles an hour,” Holbrook said. The R1T’s front right quarter panel suffered minor damage. He drove the vehicle to a Rivian-certified body shop in Salt Lake City to replace the side camera and repair the damaged panel. But that was eight months ago, and Holbrook said that his vehicle still hasn’t been returned to him.
After an initial assessment, the body shop found that the crash had pinched the cable linking one of the side view cameras. Ideally, that portion of the wiring harness needed replacement to get the camera working again. The R1T has 11 cameras in total, covering the front, rear, both sides, and the bed, providing a surround view of the vehicle.
But here’s where things got pretty messy: To swap out the side view camera, the body shop had to take the interior apart, yank out the seats, and dismantle the dashboard to replace the entire wiring harness. The fix wasn’t a walk in the park; it needed Rivian’s specialized diagnostic software named ‘Ride.’ The body shop didn’t have the software, nor the mechanics there were trained to use it, according to Holbrook.
If you’re not yet steeped in the world of cars, wiring harnesses are like the veins in a body. In essence, they’re the car’s nervous system, sending power and signals to different components and systems: lights, switches, speakers, cameras, you name it. An organized network of insulated cables and connectors work behind the scenes to make it all happen. But disassembling the vehicle’s entire wiring harness to replace a small piece of equipment is something unheard of.
It appears that Rivian isn’t the only one facing challenges related to wiring harness design. Back in May 2022, Lucid recalled a bunch of Air electric sedans due to faulty cables linked to its gauge cluster. The cables risked getting damaged due to steering column movements. Porsche, in 2022, recalled over 40,000 Taycans after it found that the wiring harness could be damaged during seat adjustment, leading to deactivated airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners, posing serious safety risks. Even Chevrolet Bolt EV owners shared similar worries on an online forum back in 2021, where wiring harness failures were causing safety concerns.
Holbrook said the EV sat at the certified collision center for four months because Rivian hadn’t handed over the necessary software. It was then shipped to Rivian, and it took two more months trying to sort out the problem. “When the car returned, the body shop found that Rivian didn’t do it [the repair] correctly and damaged the vehicle further,” he added. “At that point, I called Rivian, but they refused to speak to me,” he said. “My vehicle has been completely mutilated in this process of being disassembled twice and reassembled twice.”
InsideEVs reached out to Rivian, and a company spokesperson said that the start-up is relatively new and still learning. Rivian has developed a service harness to solve this problem more easily. The spokesperson also confirmed that the vehicle was being returned to Holbrook fully restored (Although the owner test-drove it recently and still found some problems). Rivian also said that this case was unique. Also, vehicles involved in collisions aren’t eligible for a buyback, the case was reviewed by a committee and appeared to have gone through the full process, but the ultimate decision was that the R1T was not eligible for a buyback.
Here’s the official comment from Rivian:
We recognize that an eight-month wait time for a collision repair is too long, and we have been in contact with both the third-party collision center and the customer. More collision centers are needed to repair Rivian vehicles. This year, we have doubled the number of Rivian certified third party collision centers, and continue to grow that number to give customers more options when selecting a body shop for their collision repair needs.
In eight months, Holbrook has driven three different cars. He picked up a rental Jeep Wrangler for the first two months, covered by Nationwide. For the third month, he continued driving the Wrangler but paid for it himself. Then for a couple of months, he drove his son’s 15-year-old Toyota Highlander. Then Rivian finally handed him a loaner R1T, which doesn’t connect to his phone, and has some restricted connectivity features, but works fine otherwise, he said.
Rivian seems to be aware of its wiring harness complications. CFO Claire McDonough indicated earlier this year that the company expects some downtime in the summer of 2024 to shift to simpler network architectures and reduce the number of parts, primarily ECUs, by 60 percent for the R1T and R1S, which would lead to the shortening of the wiring harnesses by 25 percent.
Tesla, on the other hand, is also trying to eliminate wiring harness complications with a total redesign. The Cybertruck is speculated to be using a patented wiring architecture, far simpler than other Teslas, with multiple local controllers connected to a high-speed communications bus, reported AutoEvolution earlier this month. In theory, these distributed controllers would be easier to repair, eliminate manual installation, and support robotic assembly.
What Rivian’s future R1T/R1S versions will look like underneath remains to be seen, but when I asked Holbrook if he would purchase a Rivian again, he said he felt like his vehicle was the “guinea pig” in this whole service process. “I love the vehicle. But it becomes useless for an extended time if anything goes wrong. So not until they fix these design flaws.”