Tesla and the Incredible Disposable Car

Categories: Product Reviews
Tesla’s Current Model Line: S, 3, X, Y

In line to buy a Tesla? There’s a few things beyond simple “range anxiety” you might want to know. Be ready to pay a 30% premium on insurance and still expect your car could be totaled by even a minor fender-bender. Tesla’s high repair costs and long wait times are forcing insurance carriers to write off even new, low-mileage vehicles after surprisingly minor accidents.

Legacy automotive manufacturers have worked with insurance companies for decades on how to design cars to keep repair costs low, and therefore keep them on the road long-term. Which as you know is kinda the point of this blog, to help maintain older vehicles to keep them in the fleet for as long as possible. There’s no new car built today that isn’t as good for the environment as not having to manufacture it in the first place.

That’ll Buff Out

Let me give you an example. My 15 yr. old Mustang has been in one minor, and one fairly major accident that required replacing the rear quarter panel, door panel, and front fender.

Not my happiest day

This was a very low-speed accident in a Target parking lot at 10am. Someone backed out of their spot without looking just as I was passing down the aisle. It’s the sort of accident that can happen to even the most cautious driver. Because the parts are steel and readily available, the cost was about $7k to repair or replace the entire passenger side of the car, including both aluminum wheels and tires.

Steel is easy to pull, heat, form, shape, cut, and weld. And the modular construction of the car body means it’s easy to swap out and replace panels and chassis components.

Good as new.

The Fix Is Out

None of this applies to a Tesla.

Their chassis and body panels are aluminum, which is light and great for fuel efficiency, or in the case of EV’s, Range-Per-Charge. But aluminum doesn’t heat and reform the way steel does. It doesn’t pull nearly as well because it tears easily. And it’s a real pain in the ass to weld. Which is why most of a Tesla’s chassis components aren’t welded at all, but either riveted, or glued together with high-strength adhesives.

Further, Tesla uses “Giga Presses” to make very large chassis components that greatly reduce the number of components that go into manufacturing. This is great for rigidity, weight savings, and reducing production costs. But when it comes time for a repair job, even a small amount of damage at one end of the car means replacing half the damn chassis.

The accident my Mustang survived four years ago would have absolutely totaled a much newer, lower mileage, more expensive Tesla.

It’s Not [Profitable] Being Green

And here’s why it matters beyond just your checkbook. Teslas have a pretty high upfront environmental impact to manufacture them, owing in large part to the dirty work of mining, refining, and shipping the battery pack materials. Lithium mining is a nasty business. They have an initial debt to pay off compared to ICE vehicles before they become “better” for the planet. Which means running them for a long time.

But if you’re buying a new Tesla every 50k miles because the last one was totaled in a Trader Joe’s parking lot, or the battery pack went bust in a winter storm, you’re not actually doing the planet any favors at all.

Musk doesn’t appear to care. Instead, Elon seems to be deliberately designing Teslas as single use, disposable consumer products. He brought his experience in the tech world to his auto company, expecting people to use it until it breaks, then toss it for a newer model, just like an iPhone.

He’d just as soon sell you a new one every time you back into a pole. And that’s a problem.