We show that retardation in adjusting an electronic state to an instantaneous internuclear configuration caused by the finiteness of the electron’s velocity breaks the validity of the Born-Oppenheimer (BO) approximation at large electron-nuclei distances. This applies even to the ground state. As a result, the BO approximation in the theory of tunneling ionization of molecules breaks down at sufficiently weak fields. We also show that to account for nuclear motion the weak-field asymptotic expansion for the tunneling ionization rate must be restructured. The predictions for the rate using the BO approximation and the asymptotic expansion are compared with numerical results for a one-dimensional three-body system modeling a diatomic molecule, with both electronic and nuclear motions treated exactly.