October 16

1999 Mercedes Benz CLK320 Starter Issue



Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, Vancouver's best auto service experience. And we're talking cars. How are you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing well. 

Mark: So today's victim, a little bit of an older model, 99 year vintage Mercedes Benz CLK320. What was going on with this vehicle?

Bernie: Yeah, the vehicle was towed to our shop. When the owner would put the key in and turn it, it would just make a clunk. Engine wouldn't crank over. So that's what was happening with this car. 

Mark: The clunk of death. So what was the testing and diagnosis that you entered into? 

Bernie: Well, the clunk is basically that the engine wasn't cranking over. And so if there's a clicker, I say a clunk, maybe a click would be a better one. Basically we test the starter motor in this vehicle. So one of a couple of things will cause that. I mean, there's many things that will cause it, but the engine is not turning over, so as long as the engine is not seized, which happens occasionally, not often, fortunately. If the engine seized, of course, the starter will engage, go clink, and there's kind of a loud plunk and it won't do anything.

So anyways, we confirmed, of course, the engine wasn't turning over that the motor was not seized. So it's a matter of testing the starting circuits. And that begins with the battery. Has the battery got enough charge in it. Is it good? We tested the battery. It was good. 

So then we went down to the starter motor area and there's a, I'll show some pictures in a bit, but the testing is fairly simple once you access the wires to the starter. Of course, accessing them can be a pain on many cars, but once you access the wires, you can tell if it's getting the right electrical signals to engage the starter. If it is getting the right signals, then the starter itself is bad. Tested it. The starter was the problem. Which is usually the most common issue, but you know, not always. 

Mark: So what kind of engine does this vehicle have and how is it mounted in the car? 

Bernie: Yeah, it's a V6 engine, very common in this vintage of Mercedes. Starter's underneath. It's a bit of a pain to get access to, there's an engine mount you have to remove to pull the starter out. So it's not untypical of a lot of modern vehicles. Their starters don't come out like they used to on 1975 Chevrolet V8. 

We'll look at a few pictures here. There's our CLK320 still a pretty good looking car even after almost a quarter century.

1999 Mercedes Benz CLK320 Starter Issue

The engine, so there's our V6 engine. Again, very common offering in a lot of these Mercedes of this model year. 

1999 Mercedes Benz CLK320 Starter Issue

The starter is located here. So this is a look view underneath of the vehicle just to kind of orient yourself. And I'm moving the mouse pointer around. There's the engine oil pan. So that's the front of the vehicle. The alternator located up in this area. Starter where the arrows pointing. That's where the starter sits. This is a cross member control arms, steering linkage. So you can see it's buried way up here. The transmission's over here.

1999 Mercedes Benz CLK320 Starter Issue

So almost every vehicle, the starter motor bolts to the transmission. There's a big ring gear on the engine that the starter motor engages into. 

Another view of the starter. That's the new one in there. This is the view from the front. You can see the edge of the alternator here. The engine mount, this whole item had to be removed you know, to get in and pull the starter out. 

1999 Mercedes Benz CLK320 Starter Issue

Another sort of closer in view of the starter behind the steering linkage, and just a couple of views of the starter itself.

1999 Mercedes Benz CLK320 Starter Issue

So this is the starter drive gear. There's a solenoid and an arm on the starter. And when it gets the electrical signal, the motor turns and it pulls this gear outwards, in the direction of moving the mouse pointer. This gear engages into the ring gear and rotates the engine.

1999 Mercedes Benz CLK320 Starter Issue

So that's basically how a starter motor works. These units, it's called a starter drive, will fail sometimes, I haven't seen this in a long time, when you turn the key and you hear the starter motor go, and the engine doesn't turn, that's usually the drive gear that's fried. But that's not a very common occurrence anymore. It used to happen a lot, but not so much anymore. 

And then I talked about diagnosis. So these are basically the electrical connections. So the starter needs a lot of power to turn the engine over. So there's a very large power wire, main power wire that comes from the battery to the starter.

1999 Mercedes Benz CLK320 Starter Issue

This is one of probably the highest electrical draw item on the vehicle, single item, on a sort of conventional internal combustion engine car. So that's the main power wires there. And then this terminal here is the signal wire that when you turn the ignition key, it gets power that engages the solenoid and that causes the starter to rotate.

So that's basically everything that's going on. So, you know, when we do the testing, we make sure that you're getting 12 volts to this wire here. And if you are, then the starter itself is most likely gone. And that's our picture show. And starter diagnosis explained. And operation.

Mark: So how did everything work after you replaced the starter? 

Bernie: Just fine. Turned the key and it started like it was supposed to. 

Mark: So this is a lot of work to get in there and change that starter. Does that make it a fairly expensive repair? 

Bernie: Yeah, you know, time wise it's expensive. It varies from car to car. A lot of vehicles, starter wasn't too crazy of amount of money, but there's a lot of vehicles where, you know, it's several hours work to change the starter. Some even like substantially more, like there's certain Cadillacs and Porsches where they actually bury the starter right under the intake manifold.

Kind of crazy. You got to remove a lot of stuff to take the starter out. But I often look in, you know, the craziness of the things we work on sometimes I'd get in the engineer's minds and go, okay, well, why did they put it there? Well, there's actually space. You know, why not, you know. But if you're thinking about how do I make this vehicle simple to repair, it's not so. But, and they get like older Chevys from way back when, I mean, you can change a starter in like half an hour, maybe a little longer.

So those are the kind of the extremes. Anywhere from half an hour to 10 hours depending on the make and model of car. But anything newer and I'm thinking like the last 20 plus years is pretty complex. 

Mark: So this is a fairly old vehicle, 24 years old. Is it still worth repairing this vehicle?

Bernie: Yeah, it's a good car. Mercedes are well built cars and they actually do. I mean, there was a lot of expensive stuff to go wrong on many of them. This is a simpler model than some, it doesn't have, you know, hydraulic suspension, a lot of fancy things. So it's not really any different than an average American or Japanese sort of good quality car, in terms of equipment. So it's a worthwhile vehicle and they're well made. So unless you have some major problem like the engine's bad, I think they're worth fixing and keeping and taking care of. But again, it depends, it goes from car to car and how well it was taken care of in the first place.

Mark: The key is maintenance always.

Bernie: The key is maintenance, always. Absolutely. You know, if you take care of the car right from get go. It's worthwhile to keep it and it's much more economical to keep a car for a long period of time. I mean, for everyone involved in manufacturing a new car, because someone was too lazy to change the oil and it wrecked the engine and sent it to an early death.

Mark: If you're looking for service for your Mercedes or your near dead vehicle and you want to keep it running, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, BC, Canada. You can reach them on the website pawlikautomotive.com or our YouTube channel where we have close to or over, actually over a thousand videos on there.

We've been doing this for a long time. A lot of, many makes, types of repairs, many makes and types of vehicles. And you can listen to us drone on and on about it all right there for your enjoyment. We appreciate it. You can book online at the website or you can call them at (604) 327-7112. And you have to book ahead. They're always busy. Pawlik Automotive. Thanks so much for watching and listening. Thanks, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thanks, Mark. Thanks for watching.

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Bernie Pawlik

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