How to kill a Model 3....the story of the untimely demise of my 2018 LRAWD

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Needsdecaf

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The luck of the Irish was not upon me on St. Patrick's day.

I can't even blame it on me ignoring the day. I even wore a green shirt, mainly to make my daughter happy. Since I fall into the "essential business" category, there was no COVID-19 related lockdown for me on March 17th. I followed my usual morning routine and out the door I went for my 40 plus mile commute to work.

Houston highways are pretty terrible. Not necessarily in bad shape, but they are vast, flat, featureless expanses of concrete, rising and falling over exit ramps and other intersections. They are ugly, plowing through a vast landscape of light industrial buildings that make up the majority of the surroundings of Houston. If one stops to think about just how many SF of light industrial real estate exists in Houston, it would probably blow your mind. And they are always building, building, building more. Who works in all these places, and what's made there?

The result of this is heavy traffic and an endless parade of trucks of all sizes. Grandmas drive F-150's. Bros drive lifted Super Duty's with low profile tires. Landscaper trucks everywhere. And industrial carriers, from light to heavy. It's not uncommon to see a giant wind turbine blade pass you by on the highway headed North from the Port of Houston. Or a flatbed loaded with a giant tank of some kind, or a truck full of pipe. A car carrier? Posh, we have them everywhere here, coming out of the port. And this doesn't even get into the hundreds of contractors of every shape, each with a ladder and a trailer full of...whatever. Irrigation pipe, Plumbing supplies, a trenchless boring machine, a spool of heavy wire. This is what you see every day on the roads in Houston. When I go to visit relatives in the North East, I always wonder, "what happened to all the trucks"?

As a result of this, road debris is a very common issue here. Stuff flies out of the back of trucks all the time, and worse, falls off trucks. Dirt careens off trailers, rocks spew off dump trucks, ladders come untied. You name it. I've seen ladders, chairs, bags of trash, pieces of metal, plants, bags of mulch, you name it. One of the biggest reasons I run Waze is for the alerts for debris. "Object on road ahead" is a VERY frequent call, usually followed by "vehicle on shoulder ahead" as the offender tries to retrieve his dropped load. Or worse, a victim. I've been mostly fortunate until now. Been able to dodge most of what I've seen, or take only superficial damage. That road gator I hit in my old lexus didn't crack the front fascia, but did take some paint off it. And that lampshade I hit with the Model 3? Left a bunch of marks which were fairly easily dealt with as they were on the front end PPF, not the paint.

On March 17th, my luck ran out.

I was on Beltway 8, on the West side of town. I had just passed through one of the toll booths and I know for certain that despite being on Autopilot, my hands were firmly on the wheel. Why? Because as of late, Autopilot had taken to alerting me to put my hands on the wheel when driving through the toll. Exactly at the same spot, every time, right when entering the toll. It was weird, I thought, that an alert would sound at exactly the same spot on the road, when the alert is supposed to be based on time. And more often than not, my hands were both pretty firmly on the wheel there anyway as I don't trust it completely to steer through the toll plaza at 65 MPH. Never had an issue but I wasn't taking any chances. So this time, I went through cranking the wheel with almost enough force to disengage Autosteer. And sure enough, the alert was silent. Odd, I thought.

It was still early in the morning and pretty dark. The sun wasn't quite up yet. I started to scan and around the car to make my way out of the left lane and get over toward my exit. I was staring straight ahead when I saw it. Something. Dark and wide and not particularly tall, I had no idea what it was. But the lifted truck I was following had no trouble high-centering it and had driven straight over it unscathed without braking or swerving, so I had no warning for when it suddenly appeared in the road ahead out from under his car as he passed over it. Whatever it was, it was motionless, so it hadn't fallen off his truck. And it looked too large to be a car part anyway. I was in the left lane, next to the barrier. Subsequent review of my cameras revealed what I knew based on watching traffic; that there was a car in my blind spot to my right and another not far behind me. In other words, in the 1/4 second I had to process seeing this dark mass on the road, I knew there was no place for me to go.

***BANG!!!****

The sound wasn't like being in an accident. I unfortunately know that sound. Rather the impact to the underside of the car reverberated through the structure and I felt it drill into me, but there were no sudden g-forces. No stops. No swerves. The Model 3 took it like a champ, maintaining composure. I want to say it gave a little jump but whether I actually caught air or the car just got pushed up from the debris I really won't ever know.

Instantly, and I mean instantly, the low pressure warning came up. ZERO pressure. Uh, oh. Tires typically don't just "instantly deflate". Must have been a bad hit. The highway was busy, and I worked my way to the right shoulder, hazards on. Then I chanced to roll another few hundred yards to an entrance ramp ahead, and pulled over to the right side of that. People were still flying up the ramp, but at least it was a ramp, and not the main highway. I chanced getting out and saw damage to the front spoiler, and my left rear tire completely flat. Yet the car looked relatively clean.

Ahead of me was another car pulled over with a flat tire. I called Tesla roadside and they indicated they would send a wrecker, but that they couldn't get onto the limited access highway. The Highway Incident response stopped by to help the two of us and call a tow truck to tow us off the highway. As I waited, Houston PD rolled up. I spoke to the officer and he said that the debris had taken out "at least two other cars" and that it had been removed. He didn't know what it was other than it was a "large piece of metal".

Tesla roadside, once I explained the situation, said that since it was an accident, the tow would not be covered. I elected to have the tow truck that was able to pull me off the highway take me to the service center since I would have had to pay him anyway and the tow covered up to 30 miles. We got taken off the highway to the parking lot of a nearby and I waited for the HPD officer to give me my accident report. I knew that the damage would be more than my deductible just based on a cursory review. Underneath looked, well, not awful. I could see where part of the aero tray had been ripped off and the suspension impacted. But I wondered about the hit further aft. Clearly the front part of the battery had been impacted. I was hoping and praying that it was just a mark, and that the legendarily tough Tesla battery pack would survive.....

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The front looked relatively benign. Clearly the object wasn't all that tall....

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I filed a claim with my insurance on my app while waiting for my wife to pick me up at the service center. It was quick, and my insurance company had an adjuster out that same day.

The North Houston service center promised to get me an estimate quickly and they did. It wasn't pretty. In addition to the front air dam, aero shields and a new rear wheel and tire, there were some bigger items. Front left suspension. Front subframe. And the biggest one. The battery. According to service, the case had been damaged and the pack required replacement. <<ouch>> I could tell the initial estimate wasn't 100% complete either. There was no body shop labor or materials for the unpainted front air dam. Labor looked suspiciously thin outside of the 4.5 hours for the pack replacment. The high voltage fuse wasn't on there either. I knew it would be more.

I went back and checked my dashcam footage. I had hit save twice after the accident. The first time was right after I had pulled over to the shoulder. So probably about 2 minutes after the initial impact, since I first stopped on the highway shoulder, assessed, then decided to move to the ramp shoulder. Then I hit it again, a few minutes later. When I checked the footage the camera had failed me! There was plenty of footage before the incident, in one minute clips. Until right before the impact. Each clip was 1 minute and 1 second after the previous. Except one, which was 1 minute and 37 seconds after the previous clip. And what do you think happened in those 37 seconds. Yup. So I have footage of me following the truck in front, going through the toll booth, and the next clip is of me pulling to the shoulder, stricken. No footage of the actual impact. This is the second time the TeslaCam has failed to capture footage I REALLY needed (first was witnessing an accident). IMO, the TeslaCam is seriously flawed. I'll be buying an aftermarket dashcam for the new car.

For those of you wondering how a car is totaled, here is how it works. Your insurance will use fair market value to assess the value of the car. If you've ever bought a home and had a Market Comparison done or "comp" as we call it, this will look very familiar. Your car is listed on the left and three comps are listed on the right. Their features are compared, and assessed value adders or deductions based on equipment differences. Condition and mileage of course also are adjustments. The adjuster quickly ordered one once she saw the initial estimate. The insurance company will take that value and present it to you. If you feel it's unfair, you can try to argue. Your results will vary based on your insurance company. The value is fair market value for your car. So in my case, a 2018 M3LRAWD with over 35k miles on it. I was presented the value and felt that it was fair, based on reviewing the auction results for Model 3's as well as list prices on AutoTempest. This value is what you will be given if the car is totaled. You do not get a new car, you get the value of your used car if you were to sell it on the open market today. Some insurance companies, and some financing companies, have gap insurance, whereby if the value is lower than you owe, the lien will be forgiven. There may be insurances that even give you more, but I don't have experience with them.

Each insurance company has a "tipping point" for totaling a car, where the cost of repairs exceeds a certain percentage of the FMV of the car, they call uncle. Usually it's between 70% and 80%. Once the cost of the repair exceeds, or, in my case, was expected to exceed that number, the adjuster requests the car be totaled. Head office than makes a decision. In my case, the initial estimate was about 55% of the FMV of my car, and as we could both see, and as Tesla told the adjuster, there would likely be more. It was easy to see that the threshold that my insurance company uses would likely be reached. The adjuster requested to total the car and the home office agreed.

Once the car is declared totaled, you'll agree to accepting the FMV for the car. Your insurance company will ask if you have a lien on the car, and send the money to the lienholder. Any excess will be sent to you. If you're upside down, I honestly don't know what would occur. You're probably on the hook for the rest of the debt to the lienholder unless you have some kind of gap insurance or total forgiveness clause through your lienholder. That can either come from your insurance or, more likely, it's part of your loan. Most leases have gap insurance built into them, since a lease is upside down the entire time. But worthwhile asking your lender when you make the loan. Or your insurance company. In my case, I had equity in the car above and beyond FMV. So the insurance company requested a payoff amount from the bank holding my loan, sent them that amount, and then sent me a check for the rest.

I ended up getting a 2020 Performance. Same color as my old car, as we took a vote and I lost 3-1 in favor of the blue over red. I knew I wanted the white interior again and Telsa found one already in transit to TX. Despite all the lockdowns, I had a car just over a week after my insurance company declared it a total loss. I thought about other options, Tesla and non-Tesla. But used Model 3's weren't at nearly enough of a discount to buy one, at least not to me who drives a ton. And in the end, well, I just really like the way the Model 3 drives. But that's another thread....

I had to go and get the rest of my stuff out of the car before the insurance company picked the car up. Well, they sell it to an auto auction company that specializes in wrecked cars, and that's who comes to pick it up. This is the last I saw of my car after getting everything out. In the end, I'm still shocked that a piece of road debris could have totaled the car. But the battery is over $15k in parts plus almost 5 hours of labor to install, so that will set you back pretty quickly. Lesson learned, swerve if you see debris! In hindsight, hitting the Jersey barrier would have been less costly and probably wouldn't have totaled the car. The pack is not indestructible.

Cheers all and be careful out there!

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jmaddr

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Wow, that's nuts. Outside that car look perfect. Sorry man. Glad you got a new one quickly and hopefully the insurance doesn't go up to highly.
 

iChris93

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Glad you're safe and you've found a performance replacement.

When I lived in Florida I saw debris on the road varying from desk chairs to propane tanks. In Michigan, it just seems to be potholes.
 

Needsdecaf

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Wow, that's nuts. Outside that car look perfect. Sorry man. Glad you got a new one quickly and hopefully the insurance doesn't go up to highly.

Yeah, it still drives too. The errors cleared. If someone wants to buy it at auction, likely you'd be able to salvage it out pretty neatly and have a very nice car. You'd probably be able to sell all the cells out of the pack and recoup most of the cost as well.

Glad you're safe and you've found a performance replacement.

When I lived in Florida I saw debris on the road varying from desk chairs to propane tanks. In Michigan, it just seems to be potholes.

Yeah, the South seems to be much worse for road debris.
 

shareef777

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Am I missing something here? Why would the repair be 55% of the total value of the car?
 

Needsdecaf

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Am I missing something here? Why would the repair be 55% of the total value of the car?

Yes, you are missing the numbers. I didn't post them on purpose. The only number I posted was the battery plus labor. The battery is $15,000 plus 4.5 hours of labor @$175 per. That's nearly $16k, just on the battery. Look up what a 2018 Model 3 LRAWD with 35k miles is worth. It's not hard to see how you get to 55% fast...
 

iChris93

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Yes, you are missing the numbers. I didn't post them on purpose. The only number I posted was the battery plus labor. The battery is $15,000 plus 4.5 hours of labor @$175 per. That's nearly $16k, just on the battery. Look up what a 2018 Model 3 LRAWD with 35k miles is worth. It's not hard to see how you get to 55% fast...
Thanks for not posting the numbers. I'm almost at 40k miles with my 18 LR RWD and ignorance is bliss.
 

shareef777

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Yes, you are missing the numbers. I didn't post them on purpose. The only number I posted was the battery plus labor. The battery is $15,000 plus 4.5 hours of labor @$175 per. That's nearly $16k, just on the battery. Look up what a 2018 Model 3 LRAWD with 35k miles is worth. It's not hard to see how you get to 55% fast...

KBB shows your car is worth at least $35k. All in there's no way the repair would be anywhere near the 70% value.

And that's trade-in value. Wholesale would likely be closer to $40k.
 

Needsdecaf

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Using your numbers, which are not completely accurate, but not far off, 70% of 40k would be $28k.
The battery alone plus labor is $16k. You only need another 12k to get to a total level. I had a wheel, front suspension, front subframe damage on my initial report. That's without teardown, and all the misc. stuff like body labor. All at $175/hour of labor.

If you have any experience with heavy body repair work, you'd know that it doesn't take much to get that additional $12k.

I will tell you that the accident happened on Tuesday. The initial repair order was generated that same day. The value of the car was set on Thursday. The request to total was made and approved on a Friday. By an insurance company, and they usually fight totaling the car. Take from that what you will.
 

shareef777

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Well, that does explain why my insurance costs for my 3 are obscenely high. Tesla needs to do something about getting the costs of a replacement battery pack down. A few years into ownership and any slight damage to a battery pack can equate to a totaled car.
 

Needsdecaf

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Yes. I saw that there was impact, but as you can see from the photos, it doesn't look all that severe to me. Of course, I was not present when they removed the panels and looked at the battery. I just takes something freak. Maybe a small puncture in the case? I don't know. I still don't know what i hit. It obviously had a sharp edge to cause those sharp indentions. But I always read that the battery packs were this incredibly strong thing, so I honestly didn't expect it to be an issue when I looked at it. I figured the car would be there for a bit for the front fascia, plus the wheel, and I'd be on my way in a week or two.
 

NR4P

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Nothing wrong with a new 2020 model Tesla, however the out of pocket probably wasn't welcome. So congratulations on the car?

The battery pack cost is more than I can imagine. I wonder what the Tesla profit is in that cost? The labor even 5 hours is what $500 to $800? That's not the deal killer. I expect the battery shipping isn't cheap but still, $15K. As others pointed out, if these repair costs keep going like this, no what Tesla want's to do to sell cars, the insurance industry will kill Tesla sales. In fact, AARP recommends The Hartford for car insurance. Once you tell The Hartford you have a Tesla they won't give a quote (at least as 3 months ago here).

I know Elon said he will offer the insurance but that won't work in all States and all countries. There needs to be some middle ground. Parts profits that are very reasonable to keep the repair costs reasonable so we can all have good insurance costs.
 

FRC

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Nothing wrong with a new 2020 model Tesla, however the out of pocket probably wasn't welcome. So congratulations on the car?

The battery pack cost is more than I can imagine. I wonder what the Tesla profit is in that cost? The labor even 5 hours is what $500 to $800? That's not the deal killer. I expect the battery shipping isn't cheap but still, $15K. As others pointed out, if these repair costs keep going like this, no what Tesla want's to do to sell cars, the insurance industry will kill Tesla sales. In fact, AARP recommends The Hartford for car insurance. Once you tell The Hartford you have a Tesla they won't give a quote (at least as 3 months ago here).

I know Elon said he will offer the insurance but that won't work in all States and all countries. There needs to be some middle ground. Parts profits that are very reasonable to keep the repair costs reasonable so we can all have good insurance costs.
I was surprised in the other direction...I thought that the battery would exceed 20K.
 

JasonF

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Tesla Service does not have a battery repair procedure. They're supposed to send the whole thing back to the factory for refurbishment, and replace the entire battery pack. It probably doesn't need replacement, but no insurance company is going to let even a slightly damaged battery pack go through their claims process without replacing it, because they don't want to take the chance that it might burst into flames months later.

What might be nice is, because the Service Center sends the battery to the factory for refurbishment, they could have a "core charge" like ICE engines do - a percentage that the battery discounts if they send it back. Then they can pass it on to customers who have to pay out of pocket (or through insurance) for replacement.

@Needsdecaf - Don't feel too surprised. From what I've seen on several Youtube channels, all kinds of cars - especially exotic sports cars - get totaled for underside damage with alarming regularity, even if they're ICE cars. It's something of a weakness in most cars' construction, that a solid object passing along the underside of a car causes widespread and extreme damage.
 

Klaus-rf

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Don't feel too surprised. From what I've seen on several Youtube channels, all kinds of cars - especially exotic sports cars - get totaled for underside damage with alarming regularity, even if they're ICE cars. It's something of a weakness in most cars' construction, that a solid object passing along the underside of a car causes widespread and extreme damage.
I had a Porsche owner customer (996) a couple decades back that was forced onto the concrete Gore point of a freeway exit. The car went up and over the Gore point damaging assorted stuff underneath.

No body or paint damage at all. Still $28K in repairs (engine, gearbox, suspension, wheel/tire damage).
 

bwilson4web

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This makes Tesla's policy of pulling SuperCharging for a 'salvage' Tesla more maddening.

Bob Wilson
 

JWardell

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Ouch. I think those little drops of Tesla blood on the bottom really tell you things are worse than they look.