The Blowup

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Out here in the country, there’s a saying about what to do with something you no longer need, like an old refrigerator – or a car that’s beyond fixing.

Throw it in the Woods.

Tuomos Katainen of Jaala, Finland, had a better idea.   

Blow the damned thing up!

And so, he did. Took his not-worth-fixing 2013 Tesla Model S, strapped it with dynamite and blew it to kingdom come. But why would anyone do such a thing to a car – a six figure car, when it was new, only nine years ago? One does not often read about owners of nine-year-old Mercedes S-Class sedans blowing them to kingdom come.

That’s because a nine-year-old S-Class probably has another nine years of useful life left. Most cars – that aren’t electric cars – have years of life left after just nine years in service. It is why the average age of cars (and trucks) currently in service is twelve years-old. Many of these will probably still be in service twelve years from now.

But Katainen’s 2013 Tesla had no life left. Or rather, its battery pack didn’t.

After nine years of discharging – and recharging – the EV equivalent of refueling, but with a big difference – the Tesla’s battery pack could no longer hold a charge. Which rendered the car unable to move. The dealer told Katainen a new battery pack was necessary for the car to be able to move, again.

The cost of a new battery pack was in the neighborhood of $20,000.

Dynamite was cheaper – and more satisfying.

Katainen probably thought about it a little and reasoned that spending that $20,000 to get his Tesla going again was more than merely exorbitant, relative to the value of his nine-year-old car.

It might only buy him another nine years.

One could buy a whole new car – well, a not-electric new car – for that $20k.

Spending that $20k on a new battery pack for his old Tesla would also cost him in another, subtler, way.

Were he to have that new $20k battery pack installed in his nine-year-old car, four years down the road it would be about halfway through its service life. With only about half a life left after four more years, the car would be worth that much less to prospective buyers aware of the facts of life about battery life – and replacement costs. Who would be idiots to not factor the pending (again) replacement cost of the battery pack into their buying decision.

Batteries – whatever their size – are fundamentally throw-aways. And so are battery-powered cars.

This is self-evident due diligence in every case except the EV case.

It’s fascinating, psychologically. A case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. So fine! So exquisitely made!

Can’t you see? 

You will – when the service advisor hands you the bill.

When people shop for a non-electric used car, they take into consideration the condition of engine and transmission and base their decision – and offer, if they decide to make one – on the expected remaining useful service life of both.

It is a reasonable assumption that a nine-year-old car with say 100,000 miles on the odometer is about halfway through its useful service life. It may in fact last considerably longer, as many modern cars do.

Assuming it’s not a used electric car.

If it is, it’s certain not to.

There is another certainty to consider, too – when dealing with electric cars. Whatever their range is when new, it will become less over time. Until it becomes nil. This certainty being a function of chemistry.

When you refuel a non-electric car’s tank, you are not in any way degrading its mechanical capabilities. It will go more or less the same distance on a full tank (and deliver the same gas mileage) when it is ten or fifteen years old as it did when it was zero years old. Assuming, of course, that the transmission isn’t slipping and the engine is still “tight” – i.e., hasn’t lost compression, etc.

Which can be the case after that many years but isn’t necessarily the case.

As it is with EV battery packs.

Every time you discharge/recharge one, you are one step closer to the day when the battery will no longer be capable of holding a charge. The faster you recharge it, the sooner that day will come. And long before you get there, the battery will hold less and less charge, as it gets tired of being discharged – and recharged. The less charge, the less far. Your range decreases – and you have to recharge more often.

This accelerates the dying process of the battery.

Put another way, the more you drive an EV, the sooner you won’t be able to drive it. Well, not without paying for it.

Exorbitantly.

Predictably.

What do you suppose the market value/depreciation curve would be of a car that, after about nine years in service, had very little service left in it? Would you spend $40,000 or so – the cost of the least expensive new electric cars available – knowing, going in, that you’d either need to spend thousands, again, after as little as nine years of driving . . . or buy another car for $40k?

It will be interesting to see what people will do when they find out about that.

Expect a lot more throwing-in-the-woods.

And maybe even dynamiting.

. . .

Got a question about cars, bikes, or Sickness Psychosis? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in! Or email me at [email protected] if the @!** “ask Eric” button doesn’t work!

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44 COMMENTS

  1. I would imagine most people who drive their autos to very high mileage will do this once and not purchase another EV due to repair or replacement costs. On the other hand if one trades cars on a regular basis it wouldn’t really matter, except the trade in value may be severely diminished.

  2. Another thing to keep is mind is that the lifespan of technology can be quite dramatically short in some cases. How many of you are reading this article on a 10 year-old computer? I imagine that some could be but, if you are, you’re keenly aware of the limitations and probably know that is not something that’s gonna last.

    On my 2015 A4 Allroad, with just over 42K miles, there is a feature called “Audi Connect” which connects the MMI to the internet via the cellular network. Last year, they LIED about the video hardware no longer being able to support Google Earth — I know that was a lie because I work with Google Earth at work. I know what it needs or not.

    But anyway, in Dec 2020, they change whatever setting to disallow Google Earth on any models older than 2018 (IIRC). It was a cool feature and a whole lot of people (especially ones with a 2017 or 2018) were kind of pissed about. I was kind of upset but I didn’t even know the car had that when I bought it used in 2019.

    Well, it gets worse. I have recently learned that all cellular carriers in my area (and probably most everywhere) are going to discontinue 3G no later than this coming May. My car and I’m pretty sure even later Audis have 3G only.

    To add insult to injury, I prepaid for my Audi Connect from T-Mobile, for an entire year (the only prepay option) just last August to avoid a higher monthly rate. Which they made sure I understood was non-refundable under any circumstances.

    So anyway, apart from my venting, the moral of this story is that the wonderful on-board electronics may not do what you need after 9-10 years. Battery replaced or not. And, at least for Audi, there’s no fucken way to update this hardware.

  3. anon 1

    So in 109 years we have gone backwards:

    1913 Bugatti Type 22 original price in today’s dollar = $150,000? residual value today $2,000,000?

    These cars were works of art lots of brass and copper, all mechanical, built to last. This 109 year old car is still daily driven. A tesla has zero residual value after 10 years? New cars are plastic and electronic junk.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVl3cEkSSo0

      • There’s a concept known to people who own and rehab old houses, which I suspect holds true generally for most things. We have a skewed sense when we think “They don’t build ’em like they used to.”

        That’s because lots of junk has been built over the years. Whether to meet a lower market price or just because it wasn’t necessary to build something durable for a temporary need.

        So for whatever reason that stuff has long since rusted back to elemental iron, rotted, been reused, recycled, melted down or disassembled. So we now think all cars were like a 1913 Bugatti but that’s only because the miner’s shacks and horse-driven wagons that were typical of the huddled masses only exist in a few photos.

        But in 100 years everyone will think we’re all driving around in Ferraris and lived in expensive homes. But that’s only because all the Kias and McMansions will be long gone, too.

  4. anon 1

    The math looks bad for the Tesla:

    Tesla Model S price $94,000 new, residual value after 9 years if battery dead zero $.0.00…. one battery used up, battery replacement cost $20,000, = residual value = zero

    Mercedes $94,000 new, residual value after 9 years $23,000

    Mercedes: Fuel cost for 100,000 miles $16,000

    Tesla: Fuel cost for 100,000 miles: cost of electricity to recharge battery $10,000? cost of installing charger in home $10,000? Cost of time lost waiting for recharge @ $20 hr. = $20,000?

    Cost of depreciation plus fuel plus time lost charging for 9 years:

    Mercedes $87,000
    Tesla $134,000 not counting cost of time lost = $114,000

    • I am considering moving to an S-class (from an Audi A8) and moving from my A4 Allroad to a used E-350/450 Wagon. I don’t need AMG, I just want a gasoline engine. And I’m tired of the super under-powered A4 Allroad with a miserable 2.0T that, using the 2015 tuning, only delivers about 220 HP (or so).

      I’m pretty sure that I can get a recent year of either S-550 or E-350/450 with reasonably low miles, gasoline engine and plenty of life left.

      I love what Audi used to be but they are the biggest cheerleaders of this bullshit trip.

  5. FWIW, there are companies here that rehab battery packs. They don’t replace all the cells in the modules; they only find the bad ones, and remove or replace those. Also, there are ways to extend the life of the pack.

    • MarkyMark,
      I’ve seen a company that sells a device (looks like a trickle charger) that “reconditions” the battery in the car. For ~$400. I have a phev so I’ll admit I’m intrigued. No idea if they work. Seems too sketch to risk it. But if it worked that could be a bandaid as well.

  6. Excellent shockwave.

    The battery might be worth replacing if electricity were essentially free, the car saved you from buying gas (vs. a decent, fuel efficient car), and that money was more than the cost of the battery pack.

    If the pack lasted 100,000 miles before becoming useless, that’s 100,000 miles/ 30 MPG = 3333.33 gallons of gas * $3.40 (artificially high fuel prices) = $11,666. So no.

    The useful total range of the battery pack would have to be at least $20,000/$3.40 per gallon = 5882 gallons * 30 MPG = 176,470 miles.

    Now, the older Teslas, like that which was blown to smithereens here, have been shown to have maybe 85% of battery capacity after ~150,000 miles. They are claiming the newer Teslas have something more like 300,000 – 500,000 miles of useful life in them.

    Of course, electricity isn’t free unless it’s all coming from solar or wind, and the infrastructure has already been paid for, so there’s that. BUT, if that were so, and the battery pack DID last 300,000 miles, AND gas were still this exorbitantly expensive, you might say replacement is worth it.

    Or, I liked Markku’s idea, below…

    • anon 1

      I know someone that recharges his Tesla at a mall supercharger, he says it is almost as expensive as buying gas for an ice vehicle

      • Hey Anon,

        Yeah, I imagine if you go for the solutions Tesla provides, they make you pay heavily. Also, like Eric has addressed, they make you pay for software upgrades for higher performance, and in some cases, just continuance of the performance you thought you paid for initially. I have no doubt they nickle and dime you to death (of the vehicle).

  7. Hm. You clearly need a refit package to install a suitable IC engine in electric vehicles whose batteries have gone bye-bye. Remove the batteries to lighten the vehicle by 500 kg and put in a gas tank and an engine that will work as a generator for the electric motors that spin the wheels. A small battery for regenerative braking (“micro hybrid”) and presto, more usability from those EV carcasses.

    Except it is of course impossible in the land of the free-roaming bureaucrats.

  8. Graham Greene used to appear periodically on “Red Green” as Edgar Montrose, an addle-minded demolition expert whose solution to many of life’s problems was to “increase the parts per million”.

    Greene has many achievements in his acting career, but nothing he has done makes me laugh as hard as those sketches.

    • I don’t know why, but that reminded me of one of Robert Heinlein’s notions, parallel to “an armed society is a polite society”. That everyone be issued a hand grenade upon reaching their majority. it could not be sold or given away, and would not be replaced if used. There would be no legal repercussions if it was used.

  9. I’m not an electrical engineer so a good deal of the battery life talk is hard for me to get my arms around. I did find this nugget: “Most electric vehicle batteries have an estimated 1500 to 2000 charge cycles.” (source: https://www.midtronics.com/2021/07/26/do-electric-car-ev-batteries-degrade-over-time/)

    If that’s the rule of thumb, my 21 year old truck with 285K miles on it has had at least 21*52 = 1092 “refill cycles” and yet the motor and the gas tank are just spiffy. The gas tank doesn’t care what the outside temp is. It doesn’t require complex heating/cooling to keep it at a comfy 70’F. And, but for the stupid ethanol subsidy to the midwestern corn belt, the amount of energy units held in the tank never changes. The tank is indifferent whether there’s a quarter, an eighth, half full, or whatever when I add more energy to it.

    • Good morning Mike,

      “Most electric vehicle batteries have an estimated 1500 to 2000 charge cycles…”

      …if you don’t charge them to full capacity.
      (Which will reduce the range of the vehicle.)

      https://batteryuniversity.com/article/bu-808-how-to-prolong-lithium-based-batteries

      Most Li-ions charge to 4.20V/cell, and every reduction in peak charge voltage of 0.10V/cell is said to double the cycle life. For example, a lithium-ion cell charged to 4.20V/cell typically delivers 300–500 cycles. If charged to only 4.10V/cell, the life can be prolonged to 600–1,000 cycles; 4.0V/cell should deliver 1,200–2,000 and 3.90V/cell should provide 2,400–4,000 cycles.

      On the negative side, a lower peak charge voltage reduces the capacity the battery stores. As a simple guideline, every 70mV reduction in charge voltage lowers the overall capacity by 10 percent.

      In terms of longevity, the optimal charge voltage is 3.92V/cell. Battery experts believe that this threshold eliminates all voltage-related stresses; going lower may not gain further benefits but induce other symptoms.

      Of course, this alone is an oversimplification. There are other factors that will affect the useful life of lithium-ion cells. Jaala, Finland, for example, is quite cold. Today is the warmest day all week with a high of 29°F and a low of 8°F. Tomorrow the high will be 10°F. Frequent cold (or hot) temperatures will reduce the number of charge cycles the cells can handle.

      • anon 1

        2000 charge cycles if 200 charges per year = 10 years, if you use fast chargers, lots of owners do, who wants to wait 3 hours? maybe you only get 1000 cycles or less, if it is a cold climate reduce another 50%, if you drive the car really hard and use the heater = more range reduction = EV’s are a joke. after 9 years the battery is dead, the residual value of the vehicle is now zero = it caught fire by itself…….

  10. This highlights another issue with EV. Waste.

    When the cost to maintain is = or > the residual value, what decision will be made?

    As time goes on & batteries are more expensive to procure due to raw material limits, will we end up with a replacement cost equal to the original price of the EV?

    Will we essentially pay full price for an EV every 8-10 years to keep the same car?

    The result may be extra trash, which is a poor utilization of resources. We all lose in that scenario.

  11. ‘Out here in the country, there’s an old saying about what to do with something you no longer need, like an old refrigerator – or a car that’s beyond fixing. Throw it in the Woods.’ — eric

    Likewise, the consensus in the lawn mower shop where I worked as a teenager:

    ‘Either fix it … or fix it where it can’t BE fixed.’

    Whole lotta controlled demolition underway right now by the ‘authorities.’

  12. Consequences. A thing absent in far to many minds. One cannot do a risk/reward analysis without counting them in. Which means people aren’t running one, even for an item that cost half or more of their entire yearly salary. We are all prey to impulse buying, if we have any money, but even ICVs at 20k aren’t a thing one should buy on impulse. Unless one has a LOT more than 20k in the bank.
    Consequences, like what happens after our economic, social, and mental health are destroyed in an effort to contain a virus, which has never been successfully done after it reaches the general public.
    I swear, far too many would put their hand on the stove again, just in case it wouldn’t burn them again. Consequences are hard. I’ll just watch CNN. They’ll tell me what I need to do.

  13. Eric: Can you lease an electric car? Every three years you lease another, avoiding the whole battery degrading issue. Just a thought.

    • I’ve never leased a vehicle, but do they not set a limit on mileage? On EVs would they not set standards for charging? How many fast charges per whatever? Enough headaches with EVs without keeping track of your lease requirements.

      • anon 1

        somewhere in the fine print……if you damage the car: at lease return they charge you with the cost of repair…..they will say you used fast chargers and ruined the battery, you owe us $20,000……..

    • Hi Oskar,

      Sure – and that’s exactly what they want. For us to serially lease – that is, rent – the use of cars. Never to own them. Never to stop paying for them…

      • anon 1

        If you own a business or can write off the lease as an expense, leasing is better. Now the new cars are so bad (complicated and very expensive to repair) you should only lease, some people will not be able to get or pay a lease, buy an old used car instead, but when not if they are banned, those people will ride the bus or walk, that seams to be the goal. but gates will still drive his Porsche 959 with less useless eaters blocking the road.

      • Eric, the “subscription” model is spreading through many different industries. The suits have determined that on going cash flow is better than selling things. Why would cars/trucks be any different? Remember Good old KS and his “You will own nothing and be happy”? The or else was left unsaid. Unless or until the tyrants and their legions of regulators get what is coming to them, matters will continue to get worse.

    • Of course. “You’ll own nothing and be happy.”

      The question then becomes: How does the company rid themselves of the leased car?

      The ‘company’ also will be paid enough for the lease to be worth it for them. When people start getting the option of paying more money to lease a fully electric Tesla than say a hybrid Lexus, you’re going to have to expect even more edicts from uncle. Unless they allow Toyota to become even more dominant once most people witness–first hand–the failings of fully electric.

    • That doesn’t solve the problem, it just moves it.

      Much like the much-touted “zero” emissions don’t include the fact that the power plant probably burns coal or natural gas.

    • And then what are you going to lease after your 3 year lease is up? A new model? What happens to the 3 year old car you dumped? Does someone lease that? Buy it? It will only last a few more years, and you won’t be able to resell it. And if we lease these cars like crazy, then that is a ton of waste.

      No doubt that internal combustion engines, taken care of and owned for 20 years perhaps, will be more helpful for the environment then using and abusing EVs every 3-6 years. Also more economical and helpful for those who are poorer and can buy a 2000 Honda Civic type car STILL today.

      Never buy/lease an EV.

      • anon 1

        yes they have trapped us a wasteful cycle, the landfills will be stuffed with this garbage, even worse is only 5% of EV batteries are recycled, an eco nightmare, EV’s are insanity.

  14. Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if the bulk of people holding the much-touted $100 reservations for the Tesla Cybertruck and EV F150 are planning to flip their place in line like they would a Playstation 5.

    How do the reservation systems work?

    Not many people are going to be able to afford the *real* price of the trucks — keep dreaming if you think it will actually be $40,000 — but what’s $100 in an era when the $150 per child tax credit appears in the bank accounts like magic every month?

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