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A developing story out of New Zealand this week has raised an interesting dilemma regarding vehicle ownership.

Kiwi Niall Darwin bought a written-off Tesla in Australia, rebuilt it and brought it to New Zealand to have it redone up.

The only problem is that Tesla won’t allow him access to its supercharging system, despite earlier written confirmation that it would – rendering the vehicle largely useless.

“Once I had been told I was getting something, I expected that I would get it,” Mr Darwin said.

Brand new, the Tesla 90D would fetch around $160,000 – but Mr Darwin picked his up in Australia for $40,000 because it was an insurance write-off. Having received confirmation of access to supercharging in writing from Tesla Sydney, he rebuilt the car – and it wasn’t cheap.

“All up, it cost $60,000 on top of what the car cost at the auction,” he said.

With only 3000km on the clock, the car was effectively brand new. But when he finally got it to New Zealand and plugged it in, he received a message saying supercharging was not enabled.

Mr Darwin was told by Tesla his car had to be inspected in New Zealand to make sure it was safe. That inspection said: “Tesla will redeem Unsupported Vehicle and re-enable support.” But there was only problem – the company didn’t do that.

“They said because it was written off in Australia, we are not going to support it,” Mr Darwin said.

“[They are] basically ignoring their own technicians’ test reports.”

Tesla told NZ’s Newshub that due to the extreme amount of damage the vehicle had, it wasn’t confident that it was safe and doesn’t want to do anything that could increase that risk.

“Customer safety is of the utmost importance to us, and this is the most important factor in this situation,” Tesla said in a statement.

“Due to the extreme amount of damage that this vehicle had, we are not comfortable it is safe and do not want to do anything that could increase this risk even further. We apologise to the owner of the car for this inconvenience, but after learning all the facts, we have to prioritise safety.”

On the one hand, you can see Tesla’s concern for safety as admirable – though it begs the question why written confirmation of supercharging was provided in the first place? Surely the company holds the responsibility to provide compensation to Mr Darwin in this instance?

More broadly this Mexican stand-off begs the question: if you buy a Tesla, what do you really own?

“I own the metal and the leather and the physical part of it, but without the electrics [and] the software it’s nothing – and they have control over that,” Mr Darwin said.

Mr Darwin is now suing Tesla for $15,000 AUD in compensation but is yet to hear of his fate.