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Why Was Walter "Written Off"

In a brief exchange with our Twitter friends it surfaced that Walter did not seem to have a lot of damage, and that perhaps insurance companies are a little too pragmatic.

It was an interesting learning experience for us too...

Cars Depreciate:

We all know that depreciation is an intrinsic part of vehicle ownership, and vehicle values. In the case of Walter it was well down the depreciation curve after 13 years. Fortunately it still had a market value.

Replacement Parts:

The cost of replacement parts does not depreciate along with the vehicle. A vehicle might be at 50% of its original value, the part remains at 100% of its value.

On older vehicles (perhaps not that old) insurance companies prefer to find used parts to repair a vehicle. In the case of Walter used parts are not easy to find, while a headlamp assembly is the price of a used car from back in the day.

Wear and Tear:

On older vehicles there is an element of wear and tear, in the case of Walter replacing only 1 headlamp assembly (the broken one) then the entire front of the car looks silly with a new and worn headlamp.


Walter might have been a little old, but it was in good condition, the interior was impeccable for a 13 year old car, and there was no other existing body damage on the car. The 18 inch wheels with the summer tires augmented the appeal of the car. The condition and appearance of the vehicle will influence the insurance company.

Accident Reports:

With an accident report being an intrinsic part of any used vehicle these days, any owner needs to be well aware that an accident/repair vehicle has less value than a non accident vehicle. In the case of Walter this was not an issue...a little too old to make a difference.


Lets call it plastic for the sake of simplicity, in an innocent "encounter" a ton of plastic is shredded and falls off the vehicle. Headlamps, bumper covers, parking lights, side marker lights, headlamps washers, foam bumpers behind the bumper cover. Its a shower of plastic.

Obvious that all these plastic parts/assemblies need to be replaced and have a non depreciated cost.


In our case we had exceptional service from our insurance company. They arrived at a reasonable value for the car, and a quick settlement. Be aware that trying to negotiate the value delays the settlement. Obvious that Walter was not financed, leased, etc and there are less stakeholders in the value.

Doing your own due diligence is a must, since the insurance company will do its due diligence, and probably access its own database to arrive at a value.


Once its settled the insurance company picks up the vehicle from the body shop, and sends it to the salvage auctions probably to be auctioned off. Its not turned into a metal cube.


In our case it was a minor "encounter" no one was injured, we drove Walter to the body shop. The insurance company settles Walter with us, and subsequently resells Walter to recoup a portion of the settlement.

Its the reason we pay insurance deal with the $%# when it happens.



Walter's Demise

Walter came into the "house" in the summer of 2007, it was a 2 owner car in good condition, at a reasonable price with approximately 63,000 kms at the time.

Its a 2003...not the best model year, its an early production car assembled on October 2002 with the panorama roof, folding rear seat back. The early E500's at that time had to be ordered with those 2 options.

The intention was never to keep Walter for such a long time.

Through events, circumstances, other priorities, Walter hung around for 8 years. Its almost mind boggling to think that The Colonel would have kept a car for all those years.

Around the end of August Walter was involved in an "encounter" with another car at an intersection. To say that it was an upsetting experience is an understatement. From the photo, its not huge damage, but its an older car.

You can see where this is going, the car was "written off" by the insurance company.

Its an endearing car, its part of the house, its been around for 8 years, and its an inglorious way to go. But its just a car, its "metal" and worse things can certainly happen in life.

Hopefully Walter will become a parts doner for a multitude of other cars.

What did we learn through the years?


Unless you enjoy having an older car, enjoy maintaining an older car, have alternate transportation, its not for everyone to keep such a car around for so many years.

Especially maintaining the car to factory standards...its absolutely not for everyone, and reasonably expensive to do. Some components have prices that defy gravity.

Agreed...there is also this strange fun factor in the process.


Keeping a car for such a long time, it becomes a member of the house, its totally wonderful some days, and on others it can aggravate you to no end.

A friendly mechanic is absolutely essential...

A CAA membership is have the car flat bedded when it acts up.


If the car has features, qualities that appeal to you its even worse in keeping it longer. In the case of Walter, V8, rear wheel drive, supreme highway cruiser, great sound system, drives like a Benz, were a constant. Often it was "This old car still drives better than a bunch of newer cars".

4- keep a car long enough, it goes through oil changes, filters, tires both summer and winter, wiper blades, and a bunch of other stuff. Any vehicle will wear out consumables...not a big deal.


Project 200K...Walter did not make it to 200K it had 170K but we tried, and perhaps we were a little obstinate in reaching 200K...not a ton of kilometers, but on a 13 year old car the combination of age, kilometers, electronics, M-B cost savings, SBC brakes, Airmatic suspension, its a witches brew.


How much money was spent keeping Walter maintained to factory standards? Never kept an exact count, suffice it to say that it was an appreciable amount of money through the years. Scroll down Project 200K to see the details.

Some quick rounded numbers to provide an overview:

In 2007 we paid (+-) 32,000 (wholesale) for Walter, today its worth approximately 5,000 wholesale for a difference of 27,000 divided by 8 = 3,375 per year in depreciation = 281 per month

Average approximately 1,500 per year in maintenance and consumables, obvious the maintenance was less in the earlier year and more in the later years divided by 12 = 125 per month.

It amounts to 406 per month not factoring in the fun, having our own alternate transportation, and enduring aggravations. Its absolutely not for everyone.

Do we miss Walter, its just a car but after all those years there is a void. Its the first time we have done an ongoing story on a car (Project 200K)...although Walter is gone the story endures.

What is next? The Colonel has been driving Benzes for decades, what do you think will be next?




The Last Road Trip

Its early August and here is another road trip with Walter, not knowing that it would be the last one (coincidence).

Debating to fly or drive, finally driving wins over...with Walter. Although Walter acted up on surface streets, requiring a flat bed on a few occasions. On any road trip it was always a flawless experience.

For some "reason" Walter decides to turn in a 9.0 liter per 100 km fuel economy which is simply stunning.

On this road trip The Colonel takes a few glamour shots of Walter.

Its a supreme highway cruiser, making an over 500 km drive almost effortless.

At the same time Walter is starting to show its age, the corrosion blob on the right quarter panel is diligently increasing in size, and level of irritation. Additional stone chips on the front, the lenses of the headlamps are quite tired.

Agreed...Walter has the patina of a used car, enhanced by the Benz cost savings of that time.

But...its still a V8, rear wheel drive, stong brakes....loves to cruise and attack on/off ramps.


Walter started off in Montreal, these photos were taken in the Montreal area...go figure (coincidence).


The fuel economy on the last trip


One more photo...


For a variety of reasons, Walter remains an endearing car, having been around for so long, having generated moments of joy, outright disdain,  and everything else in between.

Obvious that when called upon Walter still performs.




A Road Trip

Sometimes Walter just plain surprises. We are always hearing fuel economy here and there, and by now you know that we don't pay too much attention to fuel economy unless it really gets obscene. Literally using too much gas or a small engine using too much gas for its displacement.

We also subscribe to "You need gas to make horsepower".

Here is Walter with its V8 doing 9.1 liters per 100 kilometers on the highway. With a brew of Petro Canada 94 and Shell Premium with Nitro.

Here is the deal with Walter and gas:

Walter will run on regular have tried it a few times just for the fun of it. Although Walter sends distinct messages that regular is not part of its preferred menu.

On this road trip Walter just loved the brew of 94 and Nitro.

If gas is a commodity, and premium gas is possibly all the same. Walter has a preference for Shell Premium now with Nitro, or Petro Canada Premium or 94 (not available at all stations).

We were surpirsed at the 9.1 economy, expecting to see 9.8 / 9.7....

Yes a Benz with a V8 remains a superior highway cruiser, if you have never experienced a Benz with a V8 on the highway its a genuine joy. Although Walter is geared to ideally cruise slightly faster than what is an acceptable speed on our highways.

The difference with an old school V8 and a 5 speed, the car is geared to cruise in the 2,400 to 2,600 RPM range and will simply power up without shifting gears. Newer vehicles with an 8 speed automatic will cruise at comparable speeds doing <2,000 RPM and usually downshift at least 1 if not 2 gears to power up.

There is a "cachet" about an old school car that just powers up...




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 to 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 thought, and are still following through.



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.



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.




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




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.




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 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.