COAL: 1996 Audi A6 – Depreciation by CBS News

The whole Audi 5000/60 Minutes debacle is a story unto itself. For rescue COAL hunters like myself, the 1986 broadcast had the fortunate side effect of depressing Audi resale values for years and years.

I have always liked Audis, in general, though I cannot say I have ever known too much about them.

A neighbor with kids my age had a little Fox. I liked it, though even at my tender age of 8 or so, it seemed very small and tinny. But it was a good looking small car to me.

An older couple at church had an Audi 100LS. They also had a Peugeot 504, so they were pretty unconventional automotively speaking for 1980 or so. I remember the wife ripped one of the doors off, backing out of the garage with the door open.

A doctor up the street from the house where I grew up had one of the 5000’s from the “first generation”. I always thought these were really sharp looking. I took his daughter out a few times and got to drive it. It was a turbodiesel with a stick, if I recall correctly.

Another neighbor we carpooled to school with had one of the first “slippery” 5000’s I had ever seen. It was metallic champagne (a little darker than this picture) with black cloth. I was in 8th grade, so that would be 1983-84. I loved that car, and really liked rolling up to the school in it!

The Cadillac climate control looked painfully out of place in the modern, unfussy interior. I remember wondering why they wouldn’t at least use the same font as everything else on the dash. I think they did change that a model year or two later, if Google is correct.

At the time, my dad was daily driving a 1959 Mercedes “ponton”, the third dad had a Fiat Convertible he drove the four of us kids in,

and the fourth family had a new 1985 or so Cutlass Ciera woodgrain wagon. That’s a pretty eclectic carpool group, and maybe should be another CC article topic altogether!

A lawyer at church had a 4000, I’m not sure of the year. Maybe a 1986, it was one like this, after a reskin to make it look like the big brother 5000.

Years later, my parents bought a new 1998 Audi A4, what had been called the 4000, the 80 and the 90 in prior generations. It was a really good looking car, I thought, silver with black leather. Seemed too tight for a young family with kids and car seats, but it drove very nicely.

It was a 2.8 liter V6 and a 5 speed stick, very responsive and buttery smooth. Luscious dark burled wood all over the place, especially for an “entry” level car. They kept it for about 10 years and liked it a lot, though it did seem to have constant problems. I recall multiple window regulator failures, a water pump or two, the stereo quitting, and an oil leak they kept chasing but never fully resolved, even with replacing the whole pan. They never had another Audi, but replaced it with a new 2008 Passat. Out of the frying pan, and into the fire, you’re probably thinking. After leaving them stranded a few times, the Passat was no more.

Did I learn from their experience? Of course not! Instead, I found myself smitten with a 1996 A6 at the local Ford dealer, in 2004 or so. I did need AWD as we had built the house in the country, but I was driving down the mountain for work. And, our oldest (now a sophomore in college) had started at a new private school the next town over. It was often snowy and icy at our house, but bone dry and 20 degrees warmer down in town where I worked and she went to school. So, it was becoming more of a need than in the past.

It was dark metallic green with grey leather and all that nice dark burl wood again. As I type this, dark metallic green and grey sound like they would not go together, but in person I liked it a lot. It was pretty low miles, 60,000 or so, and they were only asking $9,000.00. This wasn’t a rescue COAL in the sense that it needed work, but it was a rescue in that it was sitting on a lot full of used dually F350’s in our smallish town. They had taken it on trade for a new truck and really didn’t want it.

The MSRP in 1996 was about $35,000.00 with the leather and Bose added in (about $55,000.00 today). I offered $7,500.00 and we settled on $8,000.00 which was about trade-in value on the A6 at the time, with them giving me about $4,000.00 for the 560SEL. As an aside, I saw the 560SEL around town for years after that. The last time, it was being driven by a young cashier at the local ACE hardware and had duct tape over a missing or broken rear door window.

It had worn “Grand Spirit” tires. I don’t know why or how I remember that, but I do. I replaced them right off with Michelin Harmonys which rendered a huge improvement in ride and quiet.

I was very happy with the ride, quiet, comfort and performance of the A6. But shortly after our relationship started, I arrived at a big client’s office and could not shut the key off. The ignition tumbler wouldn’t turn, no matter what I tried. I had to leave it running, while I went into my meeting! I called the nearest dealer about an hour away, and they said it would have to be towed in to replace the tumbler, as it could also fail in such a manner that the steering wheel would lock. So, off it went. It ran out of gas by the time the rollback arrived, so they winched it on.

Not long after that, the sunroof stuck open. Actually, more than being “stuck”, it just took on a mind of it’s own. It would move, but would not “park” itself closed. It would stop wherever it darn well pleased, closed or not. So, off to the dealer again, but at least this time we could drive there. They replaced the switch and all seemed right for a few weeks.

I don’t recall if the oil leak was next, or the strange transmission noise upon startup, or the window regulator… get the picture. Despite all the things I liked about the car, it was something wrong about every month or two.

The next rescue COAL presented itself in the form of a car owned by a proverbial little old lady in my neighborhood. This was a couple of years later, and we had moved back into town, into an older house on a street of older houses.

I told a few family members I was selling the Audi in case they knew of someone who wanted it. Despite knowing of all my trials and tribulations, a family member back up in the colder area wanted it for herself. I sold it to her for about what I paid for it, which was private party value by then.

This gave me an interesting ringside seat to see how it did over the next decade or so. She just got rid of it, actually. I didn’t see it often in the meantime, but it actually led a pretty trouble-free existence over the ensuing years I’m told. The transmission noise got much worse, but it never failed in any way. She eventually had it repainted, and they did a terrible job. She did have the driver seat recovered, and the rest of the interior had held up pretty well actually. The sunroof repeatedly failed, and the headliner had been ripped out by an unknowing person when I saw it at the end of her ownership. The pixels in the odometer quit gradually, so the miles were unknown by the end.

Overall, pretty impressive and a better performance from a 21 year old Audi than I would have expected!