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Monday
Jun292015

Maintenance and Surprises

Our friend @lars2885 who is also a Mercedes-Benz owner, hinted on our last post that Benzes are perhaps unreliable, or require maintenance over an above what seems ordinary.

At the start of Project 200K we stated our maintenance and performance manifesto for all our vehicles.

Walter is expected to perform like a Mercedes-Benz at all times, we have been driving and been involved with Benzes for a few decades. We have a knowledge base and experience of how any Benz must perform. We prefer to frequent our friendly mechanic, not so much to save money, than its easier, less formal, have been friends for over a decade. Usually the mechanic is the one that edits down the list we bring.

We view consumables, tires, brake pads, rotors, filters, oil changes, wiper inserts to name a few as wear and tear items that would wear out on any vehicle. In our case during the summer we do not spare the tires or brakes on Walter...they get a good work out on a regular basis.

We prefer high performance summer tires which raises the cost and rate of wear, its our choice.

If Walter would be a 2015, or the 2003 that it is, we would wear out the tires, pads, rotors, etc in the same fashion.

If Walter would be an E320 (V6) we would have run out of patience some time ago. As you know we have an affinity for V8's...and Walter still has a good level of torque, and top end performance, while remaining a great highway cruiser.

We have an opportunity to experience a myriad of new vehicles (see our reviews), the reason Walter spends time parked here and there. Interesting enough Walter at almost 13 years old (assembled in October 2002) still drives very well compared to numerous new vehicles.

What keeps us going with Walter and Project 200K, the V8, the drive, the killer Bose sound system, strong brakes with 4 piston front calipers and vented rear discs, it handles like a sport sedan. Fuel economy on surface streets not so good, on the highway less than 10 liters per 100 kms.

The Surprises

  • The front suspension is one weak component on top of another, a few years ago we probably replaced everything, and its starting to clunk again.
  • The air suspension in the rear is not much better, all sorts of tanks, leaks, squats down when parked for a few days.
  • Yes...we replaced the air compressor a couple of years ago.
  • The air conditioner acted up 2-3 years in a row.
  • Benz saved money back then with corrosion protection and its becoming obvious with Walter. Hopefully whoever saved that money got a promotion. For the record we have another Benz that is 20 years old with less corrosion than Walter.
  • The ABS sensor for the rear wheels is on the axle, and you cannot buy just buy the ring, need to replace the axle. Through the years we have replaced both axles with used components (a new axle is quite expensive).
  • The SBC pump, we were fortunate that Mercedes-Benz extended the warranty to 15 years. That was an interesting surprise.
  • As usual the surprises are annoying, often occur at inopportune times, and better yet are usually not inexpensive...
  • Some days the urge to take Walter to the back field increases exponentially especially in 2014.

By now Walter is part of the family for the past 8 years, we have put 100,000 kms on the car, it will continue to require maintenance, probably come up with more surprises along the way.

How much maintenance and repairs have we done, just scroll down. How much did it all cost, who knows we have not kept track...perhaps not the be discouraged.

As we have said on several occasions, keeping a 2003 E500 for an extended period is not for everyone, and we surely don't suggest it to anyone. We started Project 200K on a whimsical though, and are still following through.

 

Wednesday
Jun242015

Update June 2015

After having gone through a winter with cold, snow, more cold. Then spending time parked here and there as we do vehicle reviews. Walter was due for a spring maintenance.

The car performed well all winter long, starting during the coldest days, getting stuck in snow once when the traction control tells the rear wheels to stop turning, and not many road trips this year. Basically a quiet winter.

What developed this winter.

  • A slight exhaust leak on the left side, a clamp unfastened and developed a minor exhaust leak and rattle.
  • The rear suspension started leaking air, with the rear of the car occasionally lowering itself.
  • The front suspension developed more noises that either a suspension arm or ball joint is worn out.
  • The SBC issue we covered in our last update (scroll down).
  • The brakes have a slight pulsation which is tolerable.
  • We endured the winter tires till last week, the car was parked all over the GTA for extended periods.
  • The rust blob on the right quarter has increased in size.

Not so bad for an almost 13 year old car experiencing a another winter.

What service/maintenance was done by our friendly mechanic?

  • Oil and filter change.
  • Exhaust leak repaired.
  • One ball joint in front suspension replaced.
  • Rear suspension not touched its relatively expensive the install new redesigned shocks.
  • Summer tires and wheels finally installed by the Strada pit crew as usual.
  • The car has 165,000 kms still a way to go to reach 200K

Not bad so far this year, compared to last year when Walter was very needy with all sorts of items, getting stuck and flat bedded at the most inopportune times.

Agreed...Walter needs to spend a few hours at the Strada Spa for its annual treatment.

 

Tuesday
Mar102015

Sensotronic Brake Control

If you remember with the launch of the SL in 2002, and then the higher versions of the E Class, Mercedes-Benz introduced Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC). A revolutionnary braking system with a pump, and pressure reservoir to enhance braking, on the premise that most folks would never apply the level of pressure even with a power brake to shorten brake distances.

In 2003 the E500 had SBC brakes, and an air suspension. Neither of these are inexpensive systems to repair.

In the case of Walter, when lining up for an apex, SBC does a phenomenal job to scrub off speed in a short distance. Brake in a straight line and hit the apex...Walter never misses a beat.

The downside of SBC brakes is that they are complex to service, even performing a brake job (replacing pads) is an undertaking the brake system needs to be de activated with the DAS. Bleeding the brakes is an experience in its own. Not surprising Mercedes discontinued SBC brakes after a few years.

Some weeks ago Walter decides to get cranky, lights up the dash in red, yes the SBC pump is acting up. The car still brakes but in a different fashion that when the pump is working. If you have a car with SBC brakes and the dash lights up red, be very cautious, there is a reason its red and it does not go away.

Keep in mind that you are used to braking with increased pressure from the pump. The messages in the dash bluntly tell you what the car will do - reduced braking effect - longer braking distances. Not recommended to drive the car.

Its an older car, it fell in love with flat beds last year, to start 2015 its the SBC pump. A perfect OUCH moment of nothing will be inexpensive to repair.

Bring the car to a Mercedes-Benz dealer the warranty on the SBC system has been extended to 15 years, from the previous 10 years. In our case Walter is out of the 10 year time frame.

Yes...there is a silver lining in the SBC brake cloud.

 

 

Tuesday
Jan062015

Update for 2014

At times cars have a craving for attention and Walter in 2014 turned into an extreme attention seeker.

Not only seeking attention, but having perfect timing in seeking epic care at the most inopportune times. Knowing that a car (Walter) was not high on the priority list at that specific moment.

In 2014 Walter acquired a taste for flatbed tow trucks. Although being stranded is part of the Benz DNA, Walter expressed his true colors, character, and upheld the German tradition.

1- In early January, an auspicious start to the year, Walter elects to squat down on its rear suspension, and remain down. A great way to go for a ride on a flatbed, and get a new air pump for the suspension.

2- In June Walter decides to become a total nuisance, make a scene at a busy intersection on a Sunday morning. Obvious go for another ride on a flatbed, for a new ignition crank sensor.

3- A few weeks ago in December, Walter decides its time to go for another flatbed ride. What better way than to have the belt tensioner fail, at a choice moment.

Yes...its absolutely fair to say that Walter is an undisputed flatbed hero. Testing patience, understanding, and making sure that its always done at a time when priorities are disrupted.

If Walter could speak, the conversation would go like this...

Walter: You are trying to crank me up to 200K, watch me act up, get obtuse, and really show my Teutonic colors.

Colonel: I don't need to crank you up to 200K, you are very lucky that every time you become a flat bed drama queen I have other priorities than take you to the back field and deal with your Benz DNA.

Walter: Still suckered you into an axle, a windshield, maintenance, brakes pads, and I probably forgot some stuff.

Colonel: You sure did, you are aware that I hate cars that get too needy.

Walter: I love getting flat bedded to the friendly mechanic.

Colonel: Sure you do, and its not free. The friendly mechanic does not pay me, I pay him.

Walter: When I'm there he treats me good, and you like royalty when you show up. He does not pay you?

Colonel: No...I pay him to fix you, and take care of you...I repeat I pay him.

Walter: OOPS...you never ask how much it will be, I thought he payed you. I was helping you make money.

 

 

Tuesday
Dec232014

The Belt Tensioner

It must be normal practice that a car will aggravate you at the most inauspicious time. Its usually the way these events develop.

Last Friday with a myriad of things going on at the same time, and on a trip towards a place of business obvious that the serpentine belt tensioner elects to fail.

Here is the deal:

Entering an highway on ramp Walter is suddenly hard to steer. "What is wrong with the steering?" "What happened to the power steering?". Put some muscle into the steering wheel to negotiate the almost circular on ramp.

A quick look at the dash, which now is glowing red with "Electrical Consumer...visit workshop"

Utter disbelief, who needs this right now? Not me...not a single abnormal sound from the car.

By now on the highway, still no power steering, and the electrical consumer is on...this is not good.

A glance at the temperature gauge which is no longer at 80 and creeping towards 95 confirms that the water pump is no longer turning.

Yes...the serpentine belt is off with no power steering, alternator, and water pump.

Fortunately coming up to a service center, take the exit, park the car, open the hood, to confirm that the serpentine belt although still in place is very loose with no tension.

Now its back to...really don't need this s%&t this morning.

Let's call CAA this car is not going anywhere by itself. A quick note that CAA is extremely professional, understanding, with text message confirmations. If you don't have a CAA membership, get one its priceless when you need them.

A call to the friendly mechanic "The belt tensioner just let go, sending you the car on a flatbed".

Another call to get a ride "Please come get me at...."

Being philosophical it could have been worse, its just a car, good thing that CAA is very helpful, nothing money can't fix.

One more thing...whoever designed that tensioner hopefully got a promotion for the cost saving inititiatives.

 

 

Tuesday
Oct072014

Brake Lines

At times cars have this innate ability to totally irritate you. Walter as you can see from the latest posts is on a mission to become an irritant, starting with the suspension air pump, crank sensor, windshield, then the wheel alignment, and a few days ago a brake line.

Lets step back for a moment.

There was an hydraulic fluid leak in front of the left rear wheel. At first blush it could be the shock absorber which has hydraulic fluid, that started to leak.

Not a big deal, but a constant minor leak. 

Peaking under the car during the wheel alignment the left rear shock is very dry...oops does not seem to be the shock abosorber. 

If its not the shock abosorber, the other possibility is a brake line. It almost does not make sense that a brake line would leak (seep)...or does it?

Until the "brake fluid low visit workshop" comes on in the dash at the most inopportune time. A case of "I don't need this s$%t this morning" 

If you see some sort of hydraulic fluid leaking/seeping from the car, got to a workshop immediately and have the leak confirmed and repaired.

Been around Benzes for decades, we keep on driving Walter, even when it was not the shock we still drive Walter, even when the lights in the dash come on, we still drive Walter. 

Hydraulic leak, low brake fluid, how much is left in the master cylinder? 

Walter makes it on its own to the friendly mechanic. Yes...drove Walter in a very cautious fashion to minize brake applications.

The conversation goes as follows.

"A brake line is leaking in front of the left rear wheel" reply from the mechanic "You should not have driven the car...not safe"

"How could a brake line leak?" reply from the mechanic "SBC brakes generate very high line pressures the metal fatigues cracks, leaks". It all makes a ton of sense on a 12 year old car.

From the mechanic "You know that its a pain to bleed the lines with SBC brakes...you remember" the reply "Yes...and it consumes a ton of brake fluid too...I don't think its bad that too much air went in the system".

Fortunately we have other vehicles...and the patience to endure Walter's foibles.

Hopefully whoever engineered those weak brake lines from over a decade ago and saved a few pennies in the process got a promotion. 

Again...if you see hydraulic fluid on the ground best not to drive the car, if a leaking brake line bursts especially with SBC brakes it can turn into a dangerous situation in a nano second. 

Bottom Line:

Replaced the left and right brake line and bled the brakes. Absolutely not lingering on what could have happened if the brakes failed.

 


 

Tuesday
Sep232014

The Wheel Alignment

We have replaced most of the front suspension components on Walter, be it suspension arms, ball joints, and more suspension arms.

When so many components are replaced, the thought turns towards perhaps the car needs a wheel alignment. It was all good for most of the compnents until the last suspension arms were replaced. At that point the steering was slightly off center.

One gets busy, the crank sensor decides to stall the car, the windshield crack decides to start travelling up the  windshield.

The summer tires are soft, and stricky, and especially the front have a tendency to wear on the outside edges (we know why up to a point).

A few weeks ago we notice that the left front tire has more pronounced wear on the outside edge than the right front. It creates a "oops moment", and who has time to go chasing after a wheel alignment.

The other thought is "This is never ending, every month something crops up". Then our innate sense that the car must be right takes over, and obvious we proceed to get a wheel alignment. 

As expected the toe in of the left front was off, and creating the more pronounced wear. 

What a surprise nothing is loose in the front suspension. No kidding...there is nothing left to be loose, its all been replaced.

 

Monday
Aug182014

The Windshield

Around here we consider windshields a consumable wear and tear item on any car, especially after a few years of collecting various amounts of road abrasions, and minor chips.

The windshield on Walter was tired having accumulated a good amount of road abrasion through the years, it might have been the original windshield.

Earlier this spring we noticed a crack at the bottom of the windshield in the black area going the entire width of the car. It was not caused by a stone chip, or salt chip its too low, below the edge of the hood. Could have been a crack caused by some flexing during the winter, or could have been a gazillion other reasons that could crack the windshield.

Why is it not surprising that a windshield would crack on a 2003 E Class that was engineered under extreme cost cutting of the time.

From our experience when a windshield cracks on a Benz, there is a strong possibility that the crack will propagate through the windshield. Obvious that Walter did not disappoint, and the crack started propagating on the left side. 

As you can see the crack starts rising in the windshield, and after a wash (cold water/warm glass contrast) starts going across in the line of vision.

A case of Thank You Walter for such an innovative way of dealing with a crack.

Looking back its not so bad, we have had windshields last less than 24 hours on cars. Replacing a windshield, and immediately picking up a stone the same day, and replacing the windshield again. 

Replacing an old, tired, abraded windshield is not a big deal.

As you can appreciate replacing a windshield on a Benz is not an inexpensive proposition, especially when the car has rain sensing wipers, and a panorama roof. You also need the "windshield kit" which is primarily a tube of black adhesive, and a new Daimler sticker for the right hand side. The older white stickers are no longer available.

We call our friend at Reliable Glass who through the years has replaced a ton of Mercedes glass for us. Obvious you seek folks that have extensive hands on experience, and knowledge base in replacing windshields on a Benz. 

The conversation was the following "I need a windshield for my 2003 E500 with rain sensing, and a panorama roof" the reply "Do you want an original windshield?" our reply "No" (its a 2003 not a 2013) the response "Let me see what I can do, I'll call you back".

On the call back they can get an after market windshield and we agree on a reasonable price to replace the windshield. 

Yes...corroded metal appears at the bottom of the windshield...another sign of cost cutting from back in the day.

We endured the annoying crack for precisely 8 days, now Walter has a new after market windshield.

We do not suggest that you install an after market windshield on a newer car, get an original windshield from Reliable Glass. In this case its an older car, and with our new windshield track record it might only last a few days. Especially that a road trip on the 401 is in the immediate horizon...

The kilometers? Almost 154,000 we are slowly getting there.

The fuel economy in warmer weather, less than 10 liters per 100 kms on the highway.

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jun112014

The Crank Sensor

As you know newer vehicles do not have  ignition points, a distributor, and a distributor cap to name a few components from the old school ignition systems.

Its a high tech system with individual coils, and triggering replacing the ignition points of way back in the day. The triggering usually runs from the crankshaft in one fashion or another.

Walter is no different, having 2 spark plugs per cylinder, ignition coils on top of the spark plugs, at first blush its a bullet proof system with a crank triggering from the flywheel.

Such a system gives the initial impression of lasting forever, with the exception of the spark plugs which were replaced last year.

Here is the deal:

We noticed that the idle had become marginally rougher, V8's are smooth at idle in drive, now the idle is a few increments rougher. There are no signs of anything amiss. This develops when there are a myriad of things going on, with higher priorities that an incrementally rougher idle on a car. Plus if something is really off some light is going to turn on in the dash or so we thought.

Last Friday a member of the family is using the car, we get a call that its turning over and not starting...we should mention that we have absolutely no patience for any vehicle that does not start. Fortunately the car is in a parking lot, by the time we get there with our just in case kit of a booster pack, and spare key not to disturb people. Walter fires up instantly, the check engine light stays on momentarily and then turns off.

What could it be? Perhaps its just a glitch...yes a case of wishful thinking when there are a ton of other priorities. Sunday morning the car does the same thing, except this time there is really no time to deal with a non starting car that is full of stuff. 

Fortunately we have a few vehicles available, we get into another vehicle to catch up to Walter and empty it out in case it persists in not starting. In the meantime we get a call that the car started. It then stalls at an intersection in the middle lane to absolutely not start again. 

Sunday morning busy intersection, cars backed up behind it, who needs this on a Sunday morning with a bunch of other stuff to do and little time. Serendipity steps in on our return from the rescue mission "Oh Walter is just up front...why are the flashers on?"

If you dont have a CAA membership get one, these folks are very helpful, in less than 30 minutes the flatbed is there to pick up Walter after transferring the contents to another vehicle. Obvious by then commandeering a 3 lane intersection.

While waiting for CAA a call to our friendly mechanic..."its the crank sensor" a common occurrence on those cars. Obvious that now all the dots connect. The sensor is garbling the signal which leads to the rough idle, its intermittent, no start, stall, then start again.

The best part is that the car started Monday morning at our friendly mechanic. Once the car was plugged to the DAS the crank sensor appears as a fault code.

You have to wonder who got a promotion by saving a few pennies on a crank sensor with poor durability. The spreadsheet jockey that saved the pennies, surely did not consider how annoying, and potentially dangerous an intermittent crank sensor can become.

A crank sensor is about $200. the circumstances around it are priceless, and time wasted irreplaceable.

 

 

Tuesday
Jun032014

Update June 2014

Its been a few months, Walter is up to 152,000 kilometers, its slowly creeping up there on the way to 200K.

What has been going on?

We visited our friendly mechanic which is busier than ever. Its helpful to have a few vehicles and leave the car for a few days to have the work done.

The right rear axle has been replaced. Huge difference, ABS is back, as well as traction control, electronic stability, and the cruise control. Interesting to see the impact of a sensor on an axle, and the effects on the car. It cascades to a myriad of functionalities that suddenly do not work due correctly to the axle being defective. 

No...did not get a new axle...yes it took a while to source a used one.

The clunking sound in the front suspension was a ball joint, we have replaced ball joints, suspension arms, and more ball joints. Must be fair to say that the front suspension is a weak area on the car.

The rear suspension is good for now, although as you can just imagine air suspensions, rubber bellows, age, wear and tear, it all tends to accumulate. One advantage, a few weeks ago we had to transport 4 20 liter buckets of paint in the trunk. Yes...it goes down and once the car starts goes back up to normal ride height, its cool.

Obvious there are a few additional stone ships, the windshield has additional road abrasion, all part of winter driving, road salt, its the wear and tear process.

The windshiled is cracked...at the bottom where the wipers park, in the black area. A crack that goes across the entire lower portion of the windshield...go figure how it happened. Probably on a cold day either a pot hole or wave in the pavement created a flex and the windshield cracked.

Yes...fresh oil and filter, yes...the valves tick when the engine is cold, obvious not as loud as in winter. 

The socket for the right front signal light burnt out, not the bulb, the socket. Its a $13.00 part and was replaced, good thing it was the right which is easy to replace...the left not as easy.

The rust blobs are increasing in size, its the annoyance of an older car that starts to corrode. Not a huge deal at this point. It does generate the question of why is it corroding?

The summer tires and wheels are on its refreshing to have the sticky tires for the summer, We have had the on ramp moment.

It drives strong, there is something about a V8 sedan that remains endearing. The 3 valve per cylinder V8's of the day had a good level of "grunt" (torque) which augments the satisfaction quotient.

Fuel economy, on the highway its 10 liters per 100 kms, surface streets it deteriorates to 13-14 liters per 100 kms.

Its still enjoyable to deal with an older car, that by now has a patina

Agreed...one can make payments on a brand new something else, for the maintenance costs of this car, so far this year.