Keep it, trade it or sell it?

Our amazing 2014 Audi Q5 the morning of March 8, 2022

When our 2014 Audi Q5 passed 75,000 miles, (it has now surpassed 100,000), I began to get nervous.  On the one hand, the warranty was gone, so repair costs would fall on us. On the other hand, this had been one of the best cars we ever owned.  We purchased it in 2014, buying into the whole “clean, efficient, diesel” theme being hyped by Audi and Volkswagen.  Later our Q5 would get caught up in VW’s “diesel-gate” scandal; it minimally affected us or the car’s performance, other than about a year when letters with checks and apologies from Volkswagen, who owns Audi, filled our mailbox.

The Q5 happily pulled my other vehicles around. Here it is on a trip to a Lotus meet in Colorado.

The car performed admirably, to say the least. Its relatively low horsepower (240 HP) was offset by over 425-foot lbs. of torque. As Jay Leno once said, “Horsepower sells cars, but torque wins races.” Besides being spunky off the line, pulling a trailer loaded with my 4-passenger Polaris RZR, spares, tools, four adults and gear up Highway 17 from Phoenix into the higher elevations was a walk in the park for the Audi.  I used to laugh as we easily passed large, roaring and belching pickup trucks, gasping due to the long, steady climb.  On top of that, it was exceptionally efficient.   Filling the tank, we loved seeing the “miles remaining” indicator show 585 or more miles.  Sure, the Audi had an extra-large tank, but the number would not change for the first hour or so after we left the gas station, and only then would it gradually begin coming down. Audi claimed 32 MPG and our experience was it may have been better than that.  The 8-speed automatic transmission was tuned for efficiency and it delivered.  Nevertheless, no matter how much we love a car; there is a time to let it go.  How do we recognize that time? Should we keep it, trade it in or sell it?  When we got close to 90,000 miles I knew we were living on borrowed time and a year later I was proven right.

Fears about costly repairs on higher mileage German cars were pooh-poohed by several car expert buddies. They would nod sagely and say something like; “Diesel cars easily go 275,000 miles or more. Hell, at 100,000 it’s just getting broke in.” Still, I worried. We’ve had experience with several new cars over the years.  In most cases, we viewed their passing the 50,000 mile warranty period as the time to begin thinking about letting them go.  Many people take an opposite approach, thinking something like:  “Now that the $313.40 monthly car payment is gone, we’ll set that money aside in a special account for car repairs.  In the long run, we’ll be better off.”  I think that only works in theory.

Here is how it playing out for the Audi.  Our first, out-of-warranty service was for $849, at 53,350 miles.  Up until then, all warranty work was either included or part of the “pre-paid” warranty option. In 2018 our costs were $720 for brake pads and an oil/filter change.  In 2019 we spent $1,540.13 for its 75K mileage service and new tires.  In 2020 the car cost just $698 for its 95K service.

In 2021, things started to go south.  First, it was brake pads at $567.28, then a water pump leak for $1,209.18.  This was followed by a need to replace the front bushings (upper and lower) a cost of over $4,000 if done by Audi.  However, a local alignment and suspension specialist shop (Network Alignment) had done good work on my other cars.  Cheaper than Audi, it still cost us $2,969.59 using original Audi parts.

And then, just as we’re getting the car ready to transfer to my nephew, Audi decides it needs $8,881.91 in additional work.  $2,639.01 to replace the engine mounts, $3,723.11 to fix a newly developed coolant leak, $384.64 for a rear wiper blade (are you kidding me?), and 4 new tires for $1,739.

Kelly Blue Book indicated the trade-in value at about $13,500.  With the $3K already spent on the front bushings and another $2K for motor mounts I’ve got $5K into it and I’ve yet to address the coolant issue (potentially $3K but not urgent – it’s easy to add coolant and the leak is slow).  Plus it will need tires, another $1500 unless I buy some cheapies.  So, it could run over $8,000 and possibly more.

Bottom line, I’ll never again recommend the “keep and repair it” approach, especially once you’ve exceeded the warranty by 15-20,000 miles.  Perhaps, if you’re mechanically inclined and can do your own repairs, it might make sense.  However, given the complexities of newer cars, I suspect that direction is fraught with pitfalls as well. I’m curious as to what others think about this and your experience. Let me know in the comments section below.

Love another Tesla? What if it’s PLAID?

My new Model S Plaid, in blue, just like the Model 3.

When I bought the Tesla Model 3 in 2019, as I wrote about here, I had no plans to fall in love with it.  I’ve had the good fortune of owning several of the most iconic cars in the world, and still have a couple left.  My expectations for the Model 3, a popular, mass-produced electric car were modest, and so I was surprised at its total awesomeness.  The new Model S Plaid makes a very different impression.

the McLaren

In the summer of 2021, Tesla announced plans to redesign their flagship car, the Model S. They indicated one configuration would be the fastest production car in the world. One might think I’d have learned my lesson after falling for that line twice. The first time I ordered a new BMW M5 in 2001 and the second time I bought the McLaren MP4-12C in 2014. But for some reason, that claim grips me and will not let go. I feel like a fish who keeps stupidly going for the same bait.  Before anyone could ask any reasonable, thoughtful or prudent questions and, before any details for the new Model S (such as price, features or performance) were known – only rumors, I put down a deposit. I rationalized:  “A deposit gives me the opportunity to say yes or no.  Given how popular they may be, waiting and attempting to buy one once all the facts are in will result in my not actually getting a chance to buy the car at all. Plus, if I don’t care for what I see, I’ll be able to get my deposit back.”  Pricing and options for the car continued to change up to its actual availability, but one thing remained unchanged – it is the fastest production car in the world.  And it now sits in my garage.

In many ways the Tesla Model 3 is far more practical and a better car than the Model S Plaid.  I will review that rationale in a bit.  But first, a bit of context surrounding the incredible performance level of the Model S Plaid and all of the attention it is getting.

Ever since men began using cars as a stand-in for “mine’s bigger than yours,” it’s been the speed of the car (top speed, zero to 60 time, elapsed quarter-mile, etc.) that has been the ultimate arbiter. Your car may look good, have great wheels and an aftermarket exhaust making it sound menacing and fast, but at the end of the day, performance at the track or drag strip is the bottom line. “Money talks – Bullshit walks,” is the slogan, with money being speed. The fact that the Tesla Plaid blows past every other previously “fastest car in the world” contender, and by such a margin, is part of the reason early attention on the Model S Plaid is about performance.  It should be no surprise.  Automobile aficionados are accustomed to speed records being surpassed by a few hundredths or thousandths of a second each year. Then the Tesla Plaid comes along and obliterates records by full seconds for a fraction of the price of other sub 3.0 zero to sixty cars.

One of the fastest Corvettes ever, the 2015 Z06, goes from zero to 60 in just 3.0 seconds, putting it on par with the $400K McLaren 675LT and 1 million dollar Ford GT.  My McLaren MP4-12C had bragging rights when it was introduced in 2012 with a 2.9 seconds zero to sixty, one of the first production cars in history to move under the 3-second mark.  Four years later, in 2018, the Ferrari 812 Superfast ($400K base price) finally bested it at 2.8 seconds.  McLaren took over again at 2.7 seconds with the 650S, a relative bargain with a base price of just $280,225 (meaning just over $350K out the door).  Then the Bugatti Veyron and Chiron models and dual-motor Porsche 918 Spyder all in the million or two-million-dollar range, began hitting 2.5 seconds.  Then the tri-motor Ferrari SF90 Stradale in 2021 set the record at 2.0 seconds with a base price of $625K and an out-the-door price frequently close to $1M.

Along comes the Tesla Plaid easily and repeatedly hitting 60 mph in just 1.9 seconds from a dead stop, and for $130K.  The experience of unleashing power output registering at the wheels of over 1100 horsepower and a peak torque of 905 ft. lbs. (over 1227 Nm) is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a car. Comments from passengers with whom I’ve shared this little experiment have equated it to an amusement park joy ride or what they state must be the feeling of being in a rocket blasting off from a launch pad. Technically, it’s been measured, and at launch, the Tesla is pulling 1.2G’s which is faster acceleration than a skydiver experiences jumping from an airplane in freefall.

I am not unfamiliar with fast cars.  My all-aluminum, 300 HP, 2001Acura NSX is no slouch, but was quickly relegated to second best in my garage when in 2014 I bought the McLaren MP4-12C. With is 2.9 zero to sixty and top speed over 210 mph, it was the fastest production car in the world, at that time, and trust me, it is still crazy fast. But here is the difference. While the Plaid streaks away from a stop in eerie silence, planting my right foot in the McLaren signals the 640 HP twin turbo V-8 to launch the light, carbon fiber-bodied McLaren down the road in a way that alerts everyone within a half mile to what is going on.

What makes the Plaid’s performance extra insane is the fact that it is a big, 4-door luxury sedan. It has normal-looking wheels and tires, no massive racing slicks.  Getting in and out is easy, versus the gymnastic contortions required in many of the cars at this super-fast end of the scale.  So, putting aside its blinding performance numbers (which has to be experienced to fully appreciate), how is it otherwise?

Mine has just over 2,000 miles as of this writing and apart from the performance, here is what I think so far:  The range (nearing 400 miles on a full charge) is superb, but not nearly as mind-blowing as the speed at which it charges.  On a recent trip to San Diego, we pulled into the charging station in Quartzite showing 23% remaining. We plugged in, walked half a block to a Burger King, ordered food, took it to the table and unwrapped it. We had just begun eating when my phone beeped to say the Tesla was finished charging.  This is approaching the time it takes to fill a normal gas-powered car with fuel.  It’s made possible because Tesla plotted our route, directing us to this particular super-charging station and in the miles before we pulled in, super-chilled the battery so it could accept a high-current dump of juice. And it worked.

Caption: “Looks like the bank’s been hit again. Well, no hurry — we’ll take the big horse.” (note far right side of cartoon)

The character of this car is that of a big, heavy, touring sedan.  Think of a Chrysler New Yorker, but with superb handling and vicious acceleration, when you want it. The Plaid is almost a foot longer than the Model 3 and nearly 7 inches wider.  With no center drive train, it easily fits four adults giving each person lots of room and large, luxurious seats which are heated and air-conditioned.  We’ve had five adults in it and all were comfortable. When heading to the airport for a pickup, we kiddingly say, “let’s take the BIG CAR” – a reference to one of our favorite old Gary Larson cartoons (pictured – note the leg of the “big horse” along the far-left side of the cartoon). In fact, I drove to the airport and brought my older daughter, her husband, and my two grandkids, each with a large suitcase stuffed for a two-week stay and each with a good-sized backpack.  Everything fit with no need to get creative or play Luggage Tetris.  It is big!

The Plaid is full of things pushing it to the top of electronic car whizzery.  It has autopilot, and while not fully self-driving, it is probably closer to it than anyone else.  It will happily drive itself on the highway for miles on end, keeping far better attention than most human drivers, automatically braking or changing lanes as appropriate. Like the McLaren, it has full pneumatic suspension.  It automatically lowers the suspension at high speeds for better aerodynamics and raises it in areas with rough roads or speed bumps. With its array of sensors, it theoretically can park and unpark itself, although I’ve not tried it yet. One feature you can’t opt out of trying are the over-the-air constant updates.  Just like your electronic devices, several times a month I get a notice saying my Tesla has a new download ready and I should install it.  This is all done from the Tesla app on my phone, which also allows me to adjust the temperature of the car remotely, open the trunk (or frunk) and, theoretically, summon the car to wherever I am – another feature I’ve yet to put to the test.

Not everything is perfect. Tesla has replaced the steering wheel with a yoke. The yoke is just fine on highways or city streets, but it does not work as easily as a steering wheel at low speeds and when backing up.  It takes getting used to.  What redeems the yoke is a completely unobstructed view of the road and the ability to see, at a quick glance, all the key bits of information a driver most wants – your speed, mini-map of where you are and upcoming turns, signal indicators and where you are in your lane and the posted speed limit.  It literally is the best view for a driver of any car I’ve ever been in, which is high praise as the NSX and McLaren are legendary for this.

Tesla designers decided to eliminate the traditional stalks for turn signals, gear selection and wipers that are on most cars and move those controls to the yoke. It works, but adjusting to the non-intuitive placement takes a bit of time to learn.  If the Tesla was the only car you drove, it would not likely be a problem.  Given my assortment of cars, it always takes a bit of thought to figure out what to do to make the car do what I want.

The range of customization and number of elements that can be changed or adjusted makes me feel like I’m driving an iPhone with wheels more than a car. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and different to have this literal toy box of things to play with on the car, which also contains an iPad size screen for the back seat, where you can watch Netflix movies, Hulu or YouTube. Oh, and of course, choose from a complete pallette of internal colored lighting while being able to make farts emanate from under any of the four seats, and even customize the type of fart.

Tesla paint issues (dust nibs, rotary marks, thin paint in spots) have been well-documented and smart owners know to install paint protection film. I did this at Cactus Tint for the Model 3 and of course, had it done on the Plaid as well.  Having a clear bra protects the paint from rock chips or other items hitting the paint.  For me they installed XPEL Ultimate Plus which has the added feature of self-healing. I then had the paint treated with a ceramic coating to further protect it.  Fingers crossed.

While I like the Plaid, the Model 3 is in many ways a better car.  It’s smaller, easier to toss around, and for daily in-town commuting, it is all it needs to be.  It fits in my garage better and into tight parking spaces, leaving plenty of room to get in and out.  The Model 3 is also a far better value. You could buy two Model 3’s for what the Plaid costs.  And the things that make the Plaid “way cool,” aren’t things you use every day. Yes, the Plaid has a better suspension, a killer 1,000 watt stereo, softer seats, ridiculous performance and, longer range, but it’s not worth $65K more. With what I know now, I would order a Model 3 with the Performance Package and be just as happy, maybe more so.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s fun having a Tesla Plaid and any Tesla, actually. Tesla is so far ahead of traditional car companies it is just astounding.  Not only in the cars they build, but in their approach to ordering a car, servicing it and their charging infrastructure.  And as a patriotic sort of guy, I also enjoy knowing I’m driving a car that is the most “American made” of any car I could possibly own by a considerable margin.  My Tesla is made 100% in the USA, all the components and all assembly by good old American workers – something that can’t be said for Fords, Chevys or Jeeps.

Wildlife out to get you

My good friend, Rich Marin, wrote recently in his daily newsletter about concerns he and his neighbors have regarding the wildlife with which they co-exist in the canyons around Escondido, CA.  His fear centers most on packs of coyotes attacking pets, but includes mountain lions, rattlesnakes, deer, and gophers.

Our move to the southwest happened about ten years before Rich and Kim’s, so it may be I’m further along in judging actual threat levels versus perceived threats. The following is written to help put fear and risks into perspective and also to provide some ideas on courses of action to reduce risks.

Coyotes:  People are rarely bitten by cornered coyotes, even more rarely, rabid coyotes. There are two recorded incidences in the United States and Canada of humans being killed by coyotes — one a child in Southern California in the 1980s and the other a 19-year old woman in Nova Scotia in 2009. With domestic dog attacks averaging 59,000 per year, it might make sense to shift focus to where actual threats are most likely to appear.

Coyotes are a regular and constant presence here in Phoenix.  I can’t recall a night without coyotes howling around our neighborhood. But this might be because we’ve always lived next to a large mountain preserve or on a golf course.  As the president of our local HOA, many dog owners here express to me their fear of having their dogs attacked and eaten – mostly people with smaller dogs.  In my 19 years in Phoenix, I know of only one “missing” dog that was likely to have gone the way of the coyotes.

Coyote Attacks:  Coyotes will attack small animals and the threat is real, although not so much to people. It is a common misconception that coyotes hunt in packs – they don’t.  While they live in family groups, they usually travel alone or in loose pairs but nearly always hunt alone.  This is one of the primary differences from wolves, who do form and hunt in packs. The coyote diet consists of insects, rodents, lizards, rabbits, birds, and snakes, but they also eat cactus fruit, mesquite beans, and flowers.  Gotta get that roughage, right?

Still, however, coyotes slinking around freaks people out, no matter what the actual threat may be, and fortunately, there are ways to reduce the threat.  Nearly a third of all reported coyote attacks are from places where coyotes were being fed. So, don’t feed wild animals and don’t leave food outside. Coyotes nearly always run away if you yell or throw things at them. Always keep your pet on a leash when walking in areas where you’ve seen coyotes. It’s smart to carry a walking stick, noisemaker, or mace to fend something off should there be an attack, keeping in mind loose domestic dogs pose a far greater risk of attack than coyotes (that’s that 59,000 to less than 1 number).  Humans are scary to coyotes and they would prefer to not be around us.  If you make yourself look big, yell at a coyote in the same thing you might to get your dog off your couch, they’ll leave you alone.

One last common coyote misperception:  We learned on a nature hike with a naturalist guide that the occasional loud, simultaneous, staccato yips, yaps, barks, and short howls are not an indication they’ve caught a rabbit or some other game.  He said it serves a dual purpose, the first being bonding. Just like domestic dogs who get excited when you arrive home, as the family group of coyotes gets together after a long day of solitary hunting, they’re all telling each other the “news of their day.” They are excited to be all together and happy.  The second purpose is to serve as a territorial display.  In other words, the coyotes are saying, “we’re a happy family, we own this turf, so you better stay away.”   Also, two coyotes can sound like seven or eight.  Group howling starts with the parents while the pups from this season and previous seasons join in if they are nearby or respond with howls of their own. Once one group of coyotes starts howling, chances are other mating pairs nearby will respond with chorus after chorus of group yip-howls – all saying “Hey! How are you?” and “Stay over there.”

Rattlesnakes:  When first moving to Arizona and taking up hiking, I expected to see hundreds of rattlesnakes.  I was almost disappointed when, after 3-4 years I’d not seen a one.  Then, about five years ago, I saw two within a week.  One was crossing the trail 50-60 feet in front of me. By the time I reached the crossing spot, it was long gone and I didn’t see it.  The second time, I heard the distinct rattle of a snake from a nearby bush. I literally froze in my tracks, a lizard brain survival technique I later learned, and slowly proceeded to give the bush a wide berth.  I didn’t see that snake, either.

Curiosity led me to research snake bites in Maricopa County (one of the largest counties in the US).  Not only do they count them (about 200 annually) I found a database of rattlesnake bite incidents.  Fascinated, I began reading the hundreds of reported rattlesnake bite cases in Maricopa County.  After about 40-50,  a very distinct pattern emerged. You could summarize nearly every report as follows:  “I was… (fill in the blank: hiking, leaving my garage, walking along my street, taking the trash barrels out….) when I saw a rattlesnake.  I decided to…  (fill in the blank: try and remove the snake, kill the rattlesnake, scare it off the trail – in essence, ‘I decided to mess with the snake,’ and the snake bit me.”  Not once did I find a report saying “I was walking along the road and a rattlesnake jumped out and bit me.”  NEVER.  No one ever reported riding their mountain bike in the wild and having a “rattlesnake fall from a tree” and attack.  NEVER.  Not once did someone indicate they’d been meandering along in the great outdoors, come around a corner and had a rattlesnake attack them.  EVERY SINGLE snake bite report involved some sort of “I decided to mess with or harass the snake.”

But still, each year 7,000–8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S., even if it is because they decided they should mess with the snake.  This sounds like a HUGE number.  But with the population of the US approaching 324 million people, it’s less than 0.0025%.  Of these 7-8,000 bites, only 5 to 6 result in a fatality, meaning, you are 6 times more likely to die from a lightning strike or a dog attack, 8 times more likely to die from a TV set or other large furniture falling on you, 14 times more likely to die falling out of a tree, and 95 times more likely to die falling off a ladder.  I love finding statistics on the Internet.

Rich went on to express lesser concerns about bears, mountain lions, deer, bobcats, and, gophers.  I checked on bears and current statistics show 2-5 people die annually from bears, mostly near Glacier National Park. According to the “Wise About Bears” website, it’s less than one person per year on average, but I think they only track black bears.

To more properly target our fear of specific animals, I found the BBC keeps a good list:

  1. Mosquitoes (kill 725,000 per year)
  2. Humans (kill 400,00 per year)
  3. Snakes (kill 138,00 per year)
  4. Dogs (kill 59,000 per year)
  5. Assassin Bugs (kill 10,000 per year)
  6. Scorpions (kill 3,300 per year)
  7. Crocodiles (kill 1,000 per year)
  8. Elephants (kill 600 humans per year)
  9. Hippos (kill 500 per year)
  10. Lions (kill 200 humans per year)

For Rich at his Escondido home, few of his actual key risk factors are in the top ten (except for humans, snakes, and dogs) and I’m relatively certain hippos, elephants and crocodiles are most unlikely. I suspect gophers are his biggest threat.  Their sharp teeth and claws can excavate underground tunnels and burrow quickly. Not only will they wreak havoc in his landscape but could cause him to stumble, if he steps on a tunnel and it collapses.  If I were him, it’s the gophers that would keep me up at night.

Century Agave: Out with a bang

Pictured above and to the right is the Century plant at the front of our home here in Phoenix. You can see it is near the end of its life because it has sent up a 9-foot tall stalk, laden with flowers that have begun to blossom.

The Century Plant is one of the most misunderstood plants plentiful here in Arizona. Many people assume it is a cactus.  It is not.  It is an Agave Americana, in the family Asparagaceae and commonly found in Mexico, Texas, and other southwest US States.  It has been introduced to the West Indies, South America, Africa, India, China, Thailand, and even Australia.  Despite the common name of “American Aloe,” it is not a close relative of the genus Aloe.

Some people believe the “century” name means it lives for 100 years. It does not. It typically lives only 15 to 30 years.  Others believe it takes one hundred years for the plant to flower, when in fact, it flowers only once, at the end of its rather long life. This plant will die after flowering but will produce adventitious shoots, meaning at the base of the plant, versus the top.  These shoots nearly always result in a new baby Century starting within a few months.

Before shooting out its enormously high stalk, it will grow up to six feet high.  It has grayish/blue/green spiny leaves with sharp tips.  It has been a beautiful plant and we will be sorry to see it die.  One consolation, as the flowers bloom in their final act, the nectar attracts all sorts of birds and insects from far and wide.  The odor, unnoticed by humans, emanates from the plant creating an invitation to a free, non-stop, raucous going away party around the plant.

In Pre-Columbian Mexico, natives cut the flower stem before it blossomed, taking the sugary liquid from the inside and the sap from the leaves, fermenting it, and producing the milk-colored pulque, the predecessor of tequila. Initially, pulque was considered sacred and had limited use.  After the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the drink became secular and consumption of it rose, reaching a peak in the late 19th century.  It eventually lost out to beer.  Mezcal and tequila (which is a variety of mescal) are made from cooking parts of various agave plants, mostly blue agave.

We’ll miss our plant, but only for a while.