Friday, June 15, 2012

TDI is Totally Diesel

I have recently moved from the Audi side of the dealership to the Volkswagen side. It did this for a number of reasons, but the main one comes down to the fact that I could see myself buying a Volkswagen, while I could not see myself getting an Audi. The Volkswagens are extremely practical cars. I'm the kind of guy who, while I like power and performance, I'm really wowed by things like fuel economy and technology.

The most exciting thing that Volkswagen has for me is also the most commonly misunderstood: TDI Diesel engines. Diesel engines are available on a number of models including the Jetta and Passat. On the inside, they are just like their gas-burning brethren, the difference being that while driving the TDI versions, you will go to the gas station about half as often. Most cars have a range of about 400 miles on a tank of fuel, TDI Passat officially gets 795 miles, but most owners find that they do better than that.

This is hybrid level fuel economy without the batteries, the production and disposal of which make a Prius about as environmentally friendly as a Ford Explorer. Additionally, Diesels have more torque than regular gas engines, and torque is what pushes you back in your seat when you hit the gas hard. For example, the Passat TDI has 236 lbs/ft of torque at 1750 RPM, versus the Prius' lethargic 105 lbs/ft at 4000 RPM. (For comparison, a Mini Cooper Clubman gets 118 lbs/ft.)

If TDI is so great, why isn't everyone beating down VW's door to get them? Hybrid-like fuel economy, truck -like torque, and without the hybrid environmental and safety concerns? The answer is that Americans have certain preconceptions about diesel. They think it's noisy, smelly, slow to start up, sluggish, and expensive.

I would like to address all five of these concerns right here, so that all of my readers can get the record straight, then go beat down VW's door to get themselves a diesel.

Noisy and Smelly
A big gas pickup truck is noisy and smelly, but it runs on gasoline. When many people think of diesel, they think of either 18 wheelers or farm equipment. The noise and smell that those pieces of machinery have is not because of their fuel but because of their construction. A VW diesel sounds just like a regular engine (in fact, it is a little quieter than a regular Audi gas engine). As for smelly, unprocessed, diesel exhaust is worse than gas exhaust, which is why a TDI engine has a more complex set of exhaust scrubbing technology at work, making TDI a cleaner tailpipe than  many gas engines. The smell is slightly different, but you would certainly never mistake it for an 18 wheeler.

Slow to Start Up
This is one I got just the other day. He suggested that diesels were annoying because you had to wait for them to warm up before they would start. This is ridiculous, as TDIs start instantly, just like a car does. However, diesel engines do not have spark plugs, combustion is created with heat and pressure rather than spark, so what if it's very cold. How long will it take to start then?

This is a video from Medicine Hat, Alberta showing a Golf TDI starting when it is 30 degrees below 0. My gas powered car doesn't start that well at 30 below.

According to Motortrend's review, the Passat TDI goes 0-60 in 8.7 seconds versus the 2.5L gas engine, which is the standard Passat engine, which took 9.0 seconds to reach 60. How's that for sluggish.

A Passat SE TDI starts at $25,995, which is a little higher than the Passat SE 2.5 at $23,725. Diesel fuel here in Connecticut is about $4.00 per gallon versus $3.80 for 87 octane. (However if you are comparing a TDI to a sportier car which requires premium gas, you are looking at similar sticker price and similar fuel price, but this is to compare practically minded models.)

The average person drives about 12,000 miles per year and keeps a car for 5 years.

Additional Purchase Price$0$2200
Average Mileage2737
Cost per mile$0.14$0.10
Cost of 60,000 miles$8,444$6,486

So, how much more will a diesel really cost you, once you take into account fuel savings? Assuming gas prices do not change, assuming that bio-diesel technology comes to a grinding halt, and not including the fact that diesel engines last much longer than gas engines, the difference in total cost is $200. (Mention this post, and I'll discount any TDI on our lot by $200, so there!)

Please don't actually beat down the door. The door to the showroom is glass, so just open it gently and come on in. We've got TDIs for everyone.

Ask to Keep the Carfax

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads: “Ask for the Carfax.” The American car buyer is well trained to ask for the Carfax. However, the American car buyer does not know what they are looking for, what a Carfax is supposed to look like, and, most importantly, that they should ask for a copy of the Carfax to keep.

I had a customer today who bought a car last month and came to regret it and wanted to trade it in. In the course of the appraisal, my manager told me that the car had a bad Carfax because it had an accident in its history.

When I brought the customer the bad news that she was going to get $4000 less for the car than she paid for it last month, I asked her if she knew about the accident. “Accident?” she said, “they showed me a Carfax that said it was clean and had been driven by an old woman in Florida. First, Carfax doesn’t tell you anything other than the state it was registered in, and, second, her car had three previous owners, one of whom had crashed it.

Unsurprisingly, the dealer who showed the fraudulent Carfax would not let her keep it. This makes sense, since showing a fake Carfax would be fraud, and given the size of the purchase, would probably be felony fraud.

When we sell a car, we include the Carfax when we deliver the car, whether the customer asks for it or not. Our cars are all clean, and we like to show it off. If a dealer won’t let you keep the Carfax, what are they hiding? Why wouldn’t they let you keep it?

Many dealers, are quite legit and above board, playing by the rules and honestly presenting their product. Unfortunately, some are not. Do not enter into the car buying process adversarially. That just causes stress for everyone, but do be sure to ask for whatever information you would like to reassure yourself that you are being treated right.

If something seems amiss, feel free to drop me a line. I’d be happy to give you my take on the situation. If you tell them that you need to check something out, and they try to pressure you to buy right away, don’t. After all, if they can sell it to you today, why couldn’t they sell it to you tomorrow. What don’t they want you to know?