A Tesla Model S owner contemplates trading in his car

It’s hard to believe, but the Tesla Model S has only been with us for a little more than 3 years. Since it first appeared, the car has gone through many changes. The original 40 and 60 kWh battery options are history. Today, the choice is between a 70 or a 90 kWh battery.

Newer cars — those built since October, 2014 — now have the sensors, cameras, and radar needed to make autonomous driving possible built in. Activating the Autopilot software is a $2,500 option.

David Noland owns a 2013 Model S 85. He drives it across country every year and now has about 44,000 miles on his car. He says he still gets a quiver of excitement when he gets behind the wheel. It’s fair to say that Noland really likes his car, even though it does not have the larger battery, dual motors, and Autopilot capability a new Model S has.

On a recent trip to southern California, he went to a Tesla store to get new tires for his car. A representative offered him a shiny new Model S 90D for 24 hours, explaining that his car would soon no longer be eligible for the company’s certified pre-owned program. A car needs to have less than 50,000 miles on the odometer to qualify. After another 6,000 miles, the value of his present car would drop considerably, the representative advised.

Why not, Noland thought? It’s not every day someone gives you a $91,000 new car to use for a day. So off he went.

The first thing he noticed was that the new car accelerated quicker than his old Model S. In fact, it is about a second quicker to 60 mph than his car. Then he tried out the Tesla Autopilot system he had heard so much about.

Noland, a certified private pilot who is familiar with how auto pilots function in airplanes, was unimpressed. In fact, he said the Tesla system detracted from his driving experience. On several occasions, it followed the wrong lane markings or failed to respond appropriately when a travel lane ended and merged into an adjacent lane. Several times, he was required to grab the wheel and take corrective action.

“But for me, overall, Autopilot proved to be more trouble than it was worth,” Noland says. “Perhaps this reflects more on me and my driving philosophy than on the car itself. My 85, with its instant acceleration, instant deceleration, and quick, smooth steering, is actually fun to maneuver in traffic on busy freeways and Interstates. It will go exactly where I want to put it, instantly and effortlessly.

“Yes, it takes some engagement and attention. But so does Autopilot. I discovered that I prefer to use my engagement and attention to drive the car rather than just monitor it as it drives itself.”

Noland points to a recent test by Car and Driver. The magazine reported  29 “lane control interruptions” along a 50 mile long test route with a Model S. Still, the Tesla system is better than self steering systems found in other luxury cars. In the same test with a Mercedes, a BMW, and an Infinity, the magazine recorded between 56 and 93 “lane control interruptions” along the way.

Noland also noted that the new car did not have as much extra range or efficiency as he expected. Like most Tesla owners, he pays close attention to how much battery power his car uses as it drives. He found the new 90D no more efficient than his present car. He was left wondering if there is something about the dual motor configuration that has a negative impact on overall power usage.

When the 24 hours were up, suffice to say Niland was happy to get his old car back with new tires fitted. He calculates it would cost him about $50,000 to trade up to a new 90D. Yes, the new car would have some nice features, but not $50,000 worth. He has decided to keep his old car and drive it until it has 100,000 miles on it.

Sometimes, a pair of comfortable old sneakers feel better than a new pair of the latest Ugg boots.