November 3

2011 Mercedes E350, Electrical Issues



Mark: Hi. Good morning it's Mark from Top Local. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 22 time winners of best auto repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. And of course, we're talking cars. How are you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So today's victim is a 2011 Mercedes E350, which was towed in with some electrical issues. What was going on with this vehicle? 

Bernie: Yeah this car had some interesting stuff going on. So, first off, the problem is intermittent, which always adds for some fun, but to bring the car into the shop and it wouldn't shift out a park. Some of the things we noted, we could start the vehicle, but you would have to use the key, not the push button start. The instrument panels all lit up with a bunch of warning lights. And the other thing we noticed is the power seat wouldn't operate along with the tilt features of the steering column. So that's just some of what we found. 

Mark: So, where did you start? 

Bernie: Well of course verifying the concern is the first thing. Second plugged in a scan tool, retrieved all stored trouble codes and there was a lot of them. We'll look at a picture shortly and I'll show you what was going on. But the first thing to do is just clear the codes and after doing that, we were able to actually shift the vehicle, move it around and do a few further tests. 

Mark: What did you do next? 

Bernie: What do we do next? So as I said, we did a few tests and nothing really, you know, we moved the tilt column pieces around, nothing seemed to happen there. The seats. Some of the areas where we thought the fault might be, nothing seemed to happen. So really the next step was actually to take it out for a very long road test until the problem reoccurred, as mentioned, it was intermittent. It had been going on for a little while for the owner. So that's what we did. 

Mark: How long did it take for the problem to reoccur? 

Bernie: Well, quite a long time. Our service advisor, Scotty took it out for a very long drive, I think out to Chilliwack over a weekend, nothing happened. And then a Monday night when he was driving home, pulling into his underground parking lot, all the lights came on and everything kind of shut down. So that's how long it took. So this is the kind of thing we're faced with sometimes, you know, is the long drive. I mean, we had a good conversation with the owner and said, look, you know, I want this fixed. It's my daughter's car. You know, it can't go like this. And rightly so, because of course, once it shuts down, it's completely useless.

So, that's how long it took for the issue to reoccur. From there, the next point was to rescan the vehicle computer because we previously cleared all the codes and see what had occurred. And again, it was a similar set of codes. Most of them seem to be errors with the can bus system or communication. The way these vehicles work, they have a, it's called CAN bus, it's a controller area network. And there's two wires that basically connect most of the computer some of them use different bus systems, but, the CAN is used throughout most of the vehicle, various modules will talk to each other and they'll communicate.

And if something goes wrong with that communication system, it causes all these kinds of errors. Like all of a sudden it won't shift because it hasn't got the right signal from one place or another. But interesting thing with the canned buses, it can be something that happened was in the front of the vehicle. It shuts the whole system down, something in the back, something in the middle, a module. There's hundreds of things and it doesn't necessarily tell you where it is. People think, Oh yeah, we just plug it in and away it goes. Well, the plugin is a direction, but it's not an actual solution. So that's kind of where we went. 

Mark: So that all seems pretty complicated. And I know there are many miles of wires in any vehicles, modern vehicles, especially where do you start? 

Bernie: Where do we start? So, one advantage we have with the scan tool we use, there's technical support that we're able to get. So we send a file off to the company. They have some experts who look at it and it's a great help for us to try to pinpoint a direction, based on their expertise. So from that, you know, the idea is either you rip up the carpet and the seats and inspect all the wiring under the vehicle because perhaps there was a flood of some sort. A bad connection somewhere. Or the other area maybe around the front of the vehicle, it could have been some damage and one of the sensors may cause the whole system to go down. So after doing a visual inspection, of course, that's a lot of area to take apart. Hours and hours of labor to look at something that, you know, we may not find anything.

We decided to take the front bumper off and look at it, which is not a small job, but we'd noted that it seemed like there's been some body repairs and of course, bad bodywork or repairs can be a good start of the problem. 

So I'm going to start with some pictures right now and there's our car.

2011 Mercedes E350, Electrical Issues
2011 Mercedes E350, Electrical Issues
2011 Mercedes E350, Electrical Issues
2011 Mercedes E350, Electrical Issues
2011 Mercedes E350, Electrical Issues
2011 Mercedes E350, Electrical Issues

So wait, when we pulled the front, there's a fender cover on the driver's side, we found this clamp holding the bumper together. She's not a good sign. This is a sign of either someone forgot to take it off or some kind of crappy bodywork where they weren't quite able to put everything, you know, put it together with the proper fastener.

So we figured, Hey, you know, inspecting the front bumper is probably a good thing cause who knows what else has been done? So, we took the bumper off. The headlights. We did a number of tests, and what we found out of all of it, even though some of the wiring wasn't quite rooted properly. There wasn't really a problem in the front, everything actually ended up being okay in the front of the car.

So a lot of the process that, you know, doing this stuff is verifying what works and what doesn’t. We'd found that was good, but it was a good place to start. Moving further on, actually I'll just go through some pictures here of the various, module fault s. These are screen captures from our scan tool.

So when the fault happened, these are the different modules. Distronic, central gateway, engine electronics. You can see a lot of the looking at everything. I mean, the whole idea here, you can see that there's a number of modules here, but a lot of them communication. CAN communication, CAN signal, like a lot of it all points to the communication system in the vehicle of an error, but just so you can see the full gamut of it.

There's page one, there's page two. Again not all of them, you know, having CAN codes, but here's an interesting one too. The steering control module is a malfunction, current and stored. So this again could have been the area where it was, and that was actually the second area we started looking for problems again, here's page three.

So a lot of faults, a lot of errors, and all again, you know, communication. So what we found eventually, through moving the steering column back and forth and looking at a lot of those messages that we found, these wires chafed and inside here it's not the best picture I could have taken, but inside here, one of the wires here was actually rubbing against the steering column. There's two wires for the CAN system. One of them was a CAN wire and, that's where our problem was.

  Mark: That's inside the vehicle.

Bernie: That's inside the vehicle. That's with the steering column covers removed. This vehicle has power tilt and telescope steering and, you know, these wires here go to that steering module, which remember there was a code there that said stored in current. That was basically where we ended up finding the problem.

Mark: Was that just a lucky find or was that more like an educated guess basically. 

Bernie: It was educated based on the code we had, plus the tests we'd done in the beginning. So again, you know, had we gone to this first, maybe it would have saved some time for sure. But based on some of the body condition we found and some of the information we'd received starting with the front, seemed to be the best thing to do.

I've found over the years that bad bodywork can often cause a lot of problems, that's usually the best place to start. So having verified that, then we knew, okay, it's not there. Let's move on to something else. And it just so happened to that while Kevin was working on it, it was moving things around that the fault actually occurred.

So this vehicle, you know, when you get out of it, it moves the steering wheel out of the way. So, you know, it provides easy exit and entry features. So of course it's moving all the time. And what was likely happening is most of the time the wire wasn't touching, but the odd time you get into the car and then the steering column would move into place, short the CAN system out and everything would happen. Then another time you go to start it, it wasn't doing that and, everything would work fine. So that's what we found. After many hours. 

Mark: Yeah. So how did you repair it? 

Bernie: We basically took the wiring harness apart. We soldered in new wires to replace the old ones. Made sure we've protected it really well so it wouldn't short or move, you know, get damaged again in the future. 

So why, it seems like a bad design. Why was this an issue that this would occur in this car? It's not old. 

No, it's true. It's hard to say for sure. But Kevin had the impression that someone had been in there to maybe add an accessory or something to the wiring, in the steering column. That may or may not have been the case, but something seemed a little amiss. So it might be that someone, you know, someone had been in there doing something in the past and did not, you know, clip the wire in the right spot or it's just, it could have been bad from the factory and it does happen from time to time.

I mean, most manufacturers do take the time to try to make sure wires are routed properly, but you know, over time, you know, the vehicle gets tested and they can't test everything. So, you know, sometimes, you know, you find out 10 years later. Oh, that wasn't such a good idea or, you know, we're repairing it.

Mark: Yeah. So how often do you run into these wiring problems with Mercedes. 

Bernie: Not very often, fortunately, because, you know, as you can see by the way codes and all those modules, there's an awful lot of complexity to these vehicles. So fortunately we don't run into it too often, but it does happen. And I say, fortunately for us, cause it's time consuming to repair and for the customer, it can be very expensive.

There's no way of knowing when you start out, just what sort of, you know, final repair bill you're going to get because it's just basically time to look through everything and sort through it all and find the problem. But a variety of vehicles, we find wiring issues over the years, but it's not one of the highest amount number of jobs we do.

Mark: So the question on everybody's mind of course, is what did you do about the clamp? 

Bernie: What do we do about the clamp? You know, I'll have to ask Kevin about it. I believe we were able to remove it or re-bolt the bumper back together and it all stayed, it worked fine. 

Mark: Almost like a backyard job, maybe.

Bernie: Well, maybe. You know, and when we're, you know, a little ways into the process, like a couple hours in, and I thought, Hey, did we actually see if the vehicle had a rebuilt status on the insurance? And of course it didn't, it was actually. Bought from a reputable car dealer who would never sell a rebuilt vehicle, but that's again, you know, when you have a vehicle was rebuilt status, this is why if you watch our podcasts, you'll hear me often say, don't buy a vehicle with rebuilt status.

Those are the kind of things you can expect to find. Things like bad hoses, bad clamp up jobs and stuff like that. So, I mean, who knows how it was repaired? You know, unfortunately, even a reputable dealer doesn't always know the exact history of everything. 

Mark: And this could have happened after the car was purchased as well.

Bernie: Yeah. And the good news is from what we did taking the bumper apart, we made sure all the wiring was routed properly. There was no issues with anything in the front of the vehicle. So, if you've got the added bonus of, you know, making sure that that stuff is all in good shape and repaired properly.

Mark: If you need some service for your Mercedes in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment, you have to call and book ahead. They're always busy.  Or check out the website Hundreds of videos and articles on there on all makes and models of cars, all types of repairs from fancy luxury cars to your basic runabout, to diesel pickup trucks. All of them are all in there. Almost eight years worth of like literally hundreds, guys hundreds. 

Bernie: We've got electric cars and hybrids in there too. 

Mark: Yeah. I forgot that mentioned those. Or you check out the YouTube channel Pawlik Auto Repair, everything's on there as well. And thanks for listening to the podcast. We really appreciate it. Leave us a review if you like what we're laying down. Thanks Bernie. 

Bernie: Thanks Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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