Rajesh Randev had been driving for about 15 minutes when he noticed something was off: There was a small crack in his windshield that hadn't been there before. He reached for his phone-charging cable, which was always in the center console. It was missing. Then his phone started buzzing.
Randev pulled over and read his texts. An unknown number had messaged: "Do you drive a Tesla?" Randev did - he was sitting in a white Model 3. He asked who was messaging him.
"I think [you're] driving the wrong car," the texter replied.
Only then did Randev realize he'd been part of an alarming mix-up. His car was one of two white Teslas parked next to each other on a Vancouver, B.C., street and, in a rush to pick up his children from school, he had gone to the wrong one. Somehow, his Tesla app unlocked a stranger's car - and allowed him to drive off in it, he said.
The March 7 mishap shocked Randev, a 51-year-old immigration consultant who said he now worries about the security of his own Tesla. He first told his story to Global News last week when he received no replies after reporting the incident to Tesla, he said.
"It's such an expensive technology," Randev told The Washington Post. "More than $70,000 to get this car. And my family is not feeling safe right now."
Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.
Randev bought his Tesla last year and said he's enjoyed its high-tech features - including the ability to use his phone app as a key. Tesla Model 3s can be unlocked using an authenticated smartphone, key card or key fob, according to Tesla's website.
Last week, Randev was returning from a restaurant to his car. Another white Model 3 happened to be parked next to it. He didn't notice anything amiss as he walked to one of the Teslas, believing it to be his. He opened the door and began driving. The process is normally seamless, Randev said, as his car automatically unlocks its doors and permits driving when it detects his phone.
Mahmoud Esaeyh, who owns the Tesla that Randev drove off in, was home at the time. He said he had loaned his car to his brother Mohammed, who was using it to run an errand. When Mohammed returned to where he'd parked, he noticed the remaining Tesla had a different interior and wasn't Mahmoud's. He called Mahmoud, who was able to track the location of his car - being driven by Randev - on his app. But when he attempted to remotely lock the Tesla from his phone, it failed, he said.
Mohammed was able to access Randev's car using Mahmoud's key card. He found medical documents in Randev's car with his phone number, and Mahmoud called Randev to explain the mix-up. They were both stunned to learn that they could access each other's cars.
"I was like, 'What might happen?'" said Mahmoud, a 32-year-old Uber driver who transports passengers in the Tesla. "You know, if [Randev] went into an accident or maybe someone jumps in the car and [commits] a crime."
Randev, still pressed for time, asked for Mahmoud's permission to use his car to pick up his children from school. He dropped them off at home and then drove back to the restaurant where his Tesla was parked - about an hour and a half of driving around Vancouver - all without encountering any problems accessing Mahmoud's car using his phone app, he said. Outside the restaurant, he took video of the two cars and demonstrated the issue on camera.
Randev met up with Mohammed as they returned each other's cars, and the two shared a laugh about the strange situation.
"My friend, you were able to drive my car?" Randev joked to Mohammed.
"Yeah, it was very fun," Mohammed replied.
Randev's children also laughed when he explained the situation to them, but Randev later said the ease with which he could hop into a stranger's Tesla left him and his wife rattled.
"If just a normal person was able to get access [to someone else's car] due to malfunction or software or whatever reason ... the hackers can do anything, right?" Randev said.
Randev reported the incident to Vancouver police but was told that officers would not file a report unless there were further issues, he said. Vancouver police said no report was generated.
Randev also sent the video footage and a description of the apparent malfunction to Tesla's press email that same evening. In the message, which he shared with The Post, he wrote that he did not want to "affect the reputation of the company" by posting the video on social media or telling reporters before seeking a response from Tesla.
But Randev's emails bounced, he said. He received a reply from Tesla's press account that said its mailbox was full. He attempted to send the message to Tesla's China press account and received a reply that said his message had been blocked.
"It's very frustrating," Randev said. "... I even tweeted [at CEO] Elon Musk."
Tesla has come under scrutiny for other technical faults. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating its Autopilot system and reports of steering wheels falling off its SUVs, it announced in March. In February, Tesla recalled more than 360,000 vehicles over crash risks associated with its self-driving software. The Post previously reported on a surge of "phantom braking" complaints from Tesla drivers. In 2021, the NHTSA considered but ultimately denied a 2019 petition to investigate Tesla for alleged battery defects amid reports of vehicles bursting into flames.
Randev said he hadn't heard much about other incidents involving Teslas. He and Mahmoud Esaeyh said they plan to stick 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 cannot throw the car away because I don't feel safe about it," Esaeyh said. "... But to be honest, it's kind of scary sometimes. I'm afraid that thing may happen again."