COAL: 2015 Audi A3 TDI – Dieselgate Smieselgate

When I wrote about the 1996 Audi A6 COAL some time back, I didn’t think another rapidly depreciated Audi would be coming home to roost. But here we go again, our own little Audi Groundhog Day!

About a month ago, my wife and I visited our daughter in college for a long weekend (or is it a short week?). She’s in California, about 2500 miles from our house, give or take. She’s a sophomore and while she was going to take the LR4 out there, further research on the logistics scotched that.

Our state requires an annual emissions and safety inspection (as I guess a lot of states do). So, the car would have to be here once a year for that, if it were to stay tagged on the East Coast. The cheapest estimates for open transport with them picking the dates, was $800 each way.

Our insurance agent wasn’t keen on it being that far from home either, and was concerned our carrier would drop it or worse, deny a claim.

We looked into titling it to our daughter and tagging it there, so it could just be shipped once and stay. I had trouble discerning the logistics of that, especially with a vehicle coming into California from another state. And, the estimates for full coverage were astronomical, with her being a young driver and it being the only vehicle on the policy. We were hearing $4,000.00 a year and up, or more than three times what we pay for full coverage with much higher limits, now.

She stayed in California and worked on campus last summer, and has a job with a major tech company off campus this coming summer. So, she appears to be pretty well planted there and a car for this summer and beyond would be a significant convenience.

We looked into renting by the month from Enterprise. At $800.00 a month or so, it wasn’t a terribly bad deal for a temporary need if you consider it included everything but gas. With the insurance prices we were hearing for the West Coast, this was my first choice. Rent a car for three months, then give it back. She had enough money left from her summer housing stipend with the tech company to rent the car too, as she would be staying on campus.

She’s claimed to have been happy with ZipCar when she needs a car otherwise. Our 17 year old son visited her a few weeks back, and was less impressed. “Yeah, we had to walk all the way across campus to get a dirty Versa that smelled like body odor and old pizza. It was gross.”

On a day she had commitments and couldn’t see us anyway, we went car shopping just for something to do. Well, you know how that ALWAYS ends, with the purchase of a car. But it was my wife’s suggestion, so I figured why not.

We had discussed this possibility at home, and had picked $18,000.00 to $20,000.00 as our budget. We walked the lot of a Volvo dealer after lunch, and didn’t see much of interest in our price range. A clean 2016 Mini was under budget, but was out of warranty due to having over 50,000 miles.

The second stop was a local Toyota dealer to see what our budget would get us. Lots of 2015 Camrys and RAV4’s with reasonable miles, it turns out. Or, a new base Corolla. There were Priuses too, but they had more miles than I hoped for though they were at or just under budget. We took a few phone pics and got the card of a very helpful salesman, and went down the street to the Honda dealer.

Maybe it was just the Honda dealer we were at, but their used prices seemed a bit high. For similar years and miles, the Accords were in the $22,000.00 ballpark. We looked at some Civics that were in our preferred price range, and pondered a new HR-V that they were willing to discount. A Lexus CT200 fresh from the detail shop caught our eye, but it had almost 100,000 miles. A 2015 Volvo was just over budget, but it was missing the front and rear tow hook covers, which seemed a bad sign.

I felt like a 2015ish Camry with 30,000 miles was going to be a great choice. You know from my COALS I love a good used German sedan, but I also really love my completely drama-free ES350. It’s the one you settle down with after you get tired of the singles scene, I guess is a suitable analogy. And with the car being across the country, I didn’t want my daughter having any issues.

As we were heading to dinner, my wife said “pull into this Audi place, let’s just see what they have”. Who are you, and what have you done with my wife, I thought to myself! I complied and pulled immediately in.

Well, what they had close to our price range was a 2015 A3 Premium Plus sedan, only 24,000 miles, and one local owner. The Carfax indicated it had been leased new in San Rafael and been serviced by the book at the dealer in San Francisco.

It had new Pirelli all season tires, and was pretty loaded. About the only thing missing was a backup camera, which was optional in 2015 though it is standard now on the A3. But all the nice gingerbread was there: an optional smoke silver paint, black heated leather seats, large sunroof with a black painted roof, nav, Sirius, real aluminum interior trim, keyless entry and starting, upgraded wheels, sport pedals, all weather mats, rain sensitive wipers, and dual zone automatic climate control. It was front wheel drive, which I preferred for less complexity.

After some dickering, they would take $20,000.00 cash today for it. The MSRP had been right at $42,000.00 when new. He showed me a printout that claimed they had $22,300.00 tied up in the car, and it appeared credible.

They paid Audi Financial $20,000.00 for the car at the end of the 24 month lease, in June 2017. Then they put new tires and front brake pads on it, changed the oil and filter, and he had receipts for paintless dent removal of door dings, a new windshield to replace a chipped original, and curb rash repair on two wheels.

As with my ES350, it had been sitting there too long and they wanted rid of it. “We could sell it to you at a loss, or take it to the auction and probably do worse”, the salesman explained.

The catch? It is a diesel. As in, a Dieselgate diesel. Though, this is one that could be fixed. 2015 was the first year of a new 2.0 liter diesel in the VW and Audi vehicles, which can be made “legal” unlike the older TDI models.

The salesman was very upfront about what it all meant, and had literature from Audi to put it all in writing. This vehicle already had a software update per the sticker under the hood, and has the DEF fluid equipment from the factory. Sometime in 2018, the owner will get a letter to bring it in for replacement of the exhaust trap oxidizer, which is like a catalytic converter for a diesel, and a few other tweaks. It’ll take one day and you’ll get a loaner. In exchange for this, you get an exhaustive (no pun intended) extended warranty on the entire engine and emissions components, to 11 years or 162,000 miles from the original in-service date.

Along with over a year of the bumper to bumper new car warranty remaining, that was some significant coverage to offset my initial concern. It would have an engine and emissions warranty until May 2026. We went back to the hotel to ponder all this.

They had it on their website for $28,995.00, which was too much, but $20,000.00 sounded like a good deal. If you don’t mind the diesel issue. The online searching I could do on my phone showed that a 2015 A3 Premium Plus should be worth about $23,000.00, and indeed there were lots of 2015 A3’s, gas and diesel, in a 100 mile radius for that price with the same or higher miles.

So, we called our daughter and ran this by her. For about the same price she could have a drama-free 2015 Camry with 25,000 miles, cloth seats, and no gingerbread. Or, for the same price, should could have the Audi with the gingerbread, but it’s a diesel. And that means refueling can be smelly. The diesel exhaust fluid tank is the only other oddity from a daily driver standpoint, but it is large enough that a filling at each oil change should suffice. Just take it to the dealer for the 12 month/10,000 mile service and they will fill the DEF for her for free up to 50,000 miles anyway.

It’s a choice between Ethel Merman and Sophia Loren, and of course she went with Sophia. More to look at, but higher maintenance.

No offense to the Camry owners, you know about my ES350 which is an Ethel as well. But this little Audi really drove home how German cars have a different feel to them. Though it is small, it felt solid in a way my ES just doesn’t. Zipping around town, I’d pick the Audi. On the 101, though, you felt every ripple and divot that the ES (or Ethel) would glide over.

Will the car have enhanced resale value in the future as one of the “legal” diesels? Or will it be shunned and worth nothing? Who knows, I’m not sure I’d take that risk if I planned to own it just a year or two. But I anticipated this would take her through college and grad school until she buys her first car on her own. At that point, it’ll be eight or more years old and pretty well depreciated regardless. If one of her brothers doesn’t need it, I’ll take it and play with it.

The next step was to see what the insurance would cost. We are AAA members, so that seemed liked a good place to start though we have never had insurance through AAA. The next morning, my wife and I reported to the local AAA outpost and without so much as a wait, were ushered in to sit with an agent. She was polite and efficient, and immediately priced out the different scenarios for the Audi, as well as the LR4 for comparison purposes.

With higher limits than the required California minimums, the Audi priced out a little over half of the LR4 for an annual premium. For about the cost of an Enterprise rental for three months, she could have twelve months of decent coverage on the Audi in titled her name, as a young driver with a one-car policy.

We told her if she would pay the insurance, we would buy the car. Then, we had to pay for it. We didn’t go out there intending to do this. We have a security freeze on our credit and all that information to unlock it was at home.

I wanted to use my airline card for the miles. I could get a free round trip ticket out of it, knocking another thousand dollars or so off the car. No can do, said the dealer. They had a $3,000.00 limit on credit cards for vehicle purchases. The finance person gave us a final “out the door” figure so we could go to the bank.

We use Bank of America, which as the name implies is everywhere. We asked Siri to direct us to the nearest branch and we got a certified check.

The evening of Day Two, we went back with our daughter and as they promised, everything was printed and ready for her to sign. They skipped all the add-on sales talk as they agreed earlier to do. We were done in 30 minutes, and went back to return our rental Altima early, since we had our own wheels now.

It’s been a little over a month and our daughter is thrilled with the car. A prorated parking permit for her dorm was only $100. There were a few social media posts tagging our daughter, joking about a parking lot incident, but we haven’t asked and no details have been volunteered.

She’s probably going out of the country for a semester abroad in the Spring of 2019, and I am looking forward to bringing the Audi home and playing with it myself for a few weeks. It could also just sit on campus too, but why not have fun with it. It felt really strange to buy a car, then leave it behind! Except for the ride to the airport, I didn’t get hardly any time behind the wheel.

How am I going to get it across the country? Ah, glad you asked! We’ll cover that next time!