Keep it, trade it or sell it?

Our 2014 Audi Q5, 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.

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3 Responses to Keep it, trade it or sell it?

  1. Jurene says:

    After hearing glowing reports of your Acura MDX experience, we got one for Joe in 2008, then a 2014 RDX for me. This has NOT been our experience with Acura. We are definitely “keep it and repair it” folks. My RDX just passed 120,120 miles and Joes MDX is over 200,000. He bought a new RLX last year and the MDX is now a loaner. Very few repair costs to date.

  2. Isaac says:

    Steve, I’m pretty sure that you, your automotive enthusiast buddies, and I could discuss this topic for days. And each senerio is different. I know that I give more value to a car that I like them what Kelly Blue Book gives, and favor repairing the car. But also, those are some pretty insane repair costs for the most part routine maintenance. Needing to rebuild the front end bushings every 100k miles is common across most Audi’s, so I would think they would make it cheaper to get done. People claim that’s what gives Audi’s some great handling. Then having second coolant $3k after the water pump was just replaced last year seems like something wasn’t done correctly.

    Also, I’m here 1000 miles away, never seeing what needs to be replaced, never talking with the mechanics looking at it, playing backseat mechanic. It is very understandable that you sold it instead of giving it to family or a friend only to worry if you gave them a money pit

    It really is disappointing the the only midsized diesel SUV available in the US is the Jeep Wrangler. While I’ve always had a boyhood desire for the wrangler and it’s off-road capabilities, Jeep’s reliability has taken a nosedive in the past 10 or so years (no personal experience, but from what I’ve read in keeping up with the automotive market). Also, while the wrangler seems to have similar diesel engine and towing specs as the Q5, I highly doubt the wrangler would be as comfortable trailering a car across country as the Q5 was. I would probably take a the V6 gasoline Toyota Highlander or similar over the wrangler. And it’s funny that the Highlander has 1500 lbs more towing capacity than the Wrangler. If I were to get a wrangler, it would be one that you trailer to Moab, not drive all the way there with it.

    So with trying to find a diesel vehicle smaller than the Yukon, Silverado, or F150, it seems the only other diesel option is the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon. Got any thoughts on that truck? Or should I give up on trying for a diesel, and consider a Highlander or similar for camping, cross-country trips, and modest towing capacity? I would love to hear you and your buddies thoughts.

    Jurene, it’s great to hear your MDX and RDX are doing well! I used Steve and Maggie’s MDX to trailer some things from Phoenix to San Francisco around 2009, and it handled great.

  3. Idaho Steve Larsen says:

    We are definitely in the keep it and drive it into the ground camp. But we also drive lesser vehicles! My wife’s 2014 Mustang is planned to be her forever project car, so that’s probably a special case. She considers it to be her own 50th anniversary edition. It also happens to be our sole vehicle purchased with any warranty coverage remaining.

    My 2005 Yukon XL has about 180,000 miles, and was purchased with about half of them. The original plan was to replace it at 200K, but my engine whisperer mechanic has talked me into shooting for 250K. We’ve driven used vehicles exclusively for >33 years, and have repeatedly calculated that we have come out better than if we had purchased new (or even newer) vehicles at the same cadence.

    I think the trade-off is travel security. Fewer trip-killing surprises with a newer vehicle, but that security comes at a significant price.

    My late car dealer father would likely have prescribed 2nd owner purchase after the biggest depreciation hit, followed by replacement before significant loss of value.

    Fun article as always. You keep writing, we’ll keep reading!

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