October 20

2003 Mercedes SL500 Rear Brakes



Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Mr. Bernie Pawlik. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. They've only won best in Vancouver 25 times as voted by their customers. And we're talking cars. How are you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So today's victim is a little bit of a classic, a 2003 Mercedes SL500. 500. What was going on with this vehicle? 

Bernie: Yeah, so the vehicle came to our shop actually with some suspension issues. This has the hydraulic suspension, the ABC suspension system, had some issues with that. That's why it came to our shop. And in the process, we noticed some issues with the rear brakes and that's what we're talking about today.

Mark: So what did you notice and then what kind of testing and diagnosis did you do? 

Bernie: Yeah, so what we noticed was on the left rear brake, you could actually see the outer brake pad was delaminated from the backing plate. The way a brake pad is made a very hard metal piece that sits against the brake caliper.

And then the friction material, which rubs against the brake rotor is a softer material. And softer material, that whole piece had delaminated from the brake pad. So not a good scenario because eventually that's just going to break off. And then you're going to have the metal backing plate rubbing against the brake pad.

And you know, it often will happen kind of suddenly. So you'll push the brake down, you're pedal will drop down, probably close to the floor until you pump it a couple of times. So definitely not a good scenario. 

Mark: So once you've noticed that, was there anything specific in terms of that you need to do further, or were you just onto the repair?

Bernie: Yeah, basically on to the repair. Brake pads and rotors on the rear. Calipers generally hold out pretty well in these cars. You know, they're often not really driven in harsh conditions and the quality of the brake calipers are pretty good. So they don't tend to wear out.

There's certain vehicles where by the time the brakes wear out, the calipers need to be replaced or they start seizing up, but we've yet to replace one on one of these vehicles. That's probably a good thing because some of them, especially the fronts on, especially an AMG model can be really expensive with eight piston calipers. There's a lot going on. Anyways, let's let's have a look at a picture or two.

So there we have our beautiful looking car. Still I think a very good looking car, you know even that's it's 20 years old now. Very good looking car still Some cars date, age, but I think these still look actually, to be honest, better than the new ones. 

2003 Mercedes SL500 Rear Brakes

So there's a picture of our brake pad. You can see the red arrow points to the piece that's delaminated. That piece, where I'm moving my mouse pointer, should actually be sitting underneath this piece here. I think it's only being held in place. It's popped apart and it's just sort of being held in place by the caliper bracket here.

2003 Mercedes SL500 Rear Brakes

And, you know, eventually it's going to slop around, flop around and disintegrate completely. So, you know, very good time to change it. Also that the pad was getting thin as well, but not, you know, it wouldn't have not necessarily been an issue to replace the brakes had this not happened. So that's kind of what we've got.

As I mentioned, there's the metal backing plate here, and this is the other part here. I didn't take any other pictures. I probably should have a newer ones so you can see the difference, but that's essentially what we found on the vehicle. 

Mark: Sure. Any speculation as to what caused this? 

Bernie: Just old age, happens from time to time.

Mark: So, is that a function of it not being driven regularly or is it more of manufacturing defect or it's just rusted and had a rough time in the last 20 years or whatever, however long since the last time it was changed? 

Bernie: Yeah, I think probably just a manufacturing issue. It's not very common for us to see this problem, but it does happen from time to time. Brakes will delaminate, but very, very rarely. So these might well be the original brake pads. And after 20 years, things are, you know, of heating and cooling, they eventually need to be replaced. And even if they're 10 years old, I mean, that's still a fair bit of age too.

Mark: Absolutely, and rear brakes wear quite a bit slower than front brakes. Is that right? 

Bernie: Not necessarily. So rear brakes are smaller generally than front brakes on a car for sure, not necessarily a truck, but on a car. There's much more braking effort goes into the front brakes. But on a lot of vehicles, and I don't know if this is sort of of that age, but somewhere around this sort of model year, a lot of vehicle manufacturers started getting fancy with their brakes where they would actually start applying the rear brakes slightly earlier than the front brakes.

This is all happening in sort of millisecond intervals. But when you put the brake pedal on would actually apply the rear brakes a little bit faster. So it keeps the vehicle from diving and keeps for more stable braking operation. So these are the kind of fancy things you can do when you add a little bit of electronics and ABS systems to a vehicle.

First noticed this actually with certain Volvo models, where the rear brakes would wear out twice as fast as the front ones. You go what's going on here? And that's actually why, because the rear brakes were being applied ahead of the front. This is a rear wheel drive car too. So it does actually require some extra braking to slow down the drive train as well, not just the weight of the car. But they are smaller. Generally they probably last about the same time. If the manufacturer designs the brakes well. The front and rear should wear out at about the same time. 

Mark: So this vehicle is getting on like 20 years. They're pretty complex too. I mean, with hydraulic suspension from 20 years ago, are they still worth maintaining and repairing?

Bernie: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it's a nice car. You know, you're gonna be spending money on one of these things if you own one. You know, that hydraulic suspension system. You know, there are ways to eliminate it and go to like coil over type suspension. I wouldn't recommend it because one of the nicest things about this car is that hydraulic suspension, the way the car rides, it drives. So it's one of those costs that you'll need to kind of roll with owning the vehicle. Yeah, they're complicated. I mean, they're generally pretty reliable. The engines are well built, transmissions are good. You know, the other components of the drive train are good and solid. So it's a good, basically good car.

There's just a lot of stuff that can go wrong. And so over time, you'll need to spend the money on it, but the good news is that prices have depreciated a lot. So they're not crazily expensive. So you want to get into a really nice European sports car, I think these are a pretty good deal. But you will end up spending a fair amount of money over the years, maintaining it. 

Mark: And you know, what you're speaking of, since you had an AMG model of this similar vintage, similar car.

Bernie: Yeah, I did. Yeah. And it was great car. I think I sold it, it was about up to 175,000 kilometres. And, you know, it was pretty, pretty good. You know, there wasn't a lot that went wrong with it over the time, but, you know, I could see that over time that things would be more. I mean, I work on cars all week, so I thought I don't really want to spend my weekends fixing my own car, so I sold it. But I had it for a long time. It was a really good, really nice car, excellent vehicle. Can't beat it going down the highway with the roof off on a sunny day. And anywhere from an SL500 to a SL65. They're all really nice. Some of them just go faster than the others, but even a 500 goes pretty quick.

Mark: If you're looking for service for your Mercedes flop top or not in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them on their website, pawlikautomotive.com. Or you can call them (604) 327-7112. You have to book ahead. They're always busy. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Thanks so much for watching and listening. We appreciate it. Thanks, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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