2013 Mercedes R350, Air Suspension Compressor
Mark: Good morning. It's Mark Bossert here, producer of the Pawlik Automotive Podcast and we're here this morning with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, and we're talking cars. How are you doing this morning, Bernie?
Bernie: Doing very well.
Mark: Welcome back to beautiful Vancouver. You've been in Europe. How was it over there?
Bernie: It was amazing. It was hot and in the world of cars there's a lot, quite a variety, but obviously, being in Europe, lots of European cars, lots of fancy ones, too. Northern Europe, they have nicer cars than around Italy and Greece area. Been there once before so. Anyways, just in terms of cars, it's always interesting to look and see what's around and I actually got to St. Petersburg and I was looking around for a lot of old Russian trashy cars and there are actually surprisingly weren't very many of them. I saw a few old Ladas and a couple of rusty things here and there but for the most part their fleet of cars is actually in pretty good shape all around Europe, they're pretty nice cars.
Mark: So today we're going to be talking about a 2013 Mercedes R350. Obviously a European sourced vehicle. They had an air suspension compressor. What was going on with the suspension in this vehicle?
Bernie: So this vehicle was brought to our shop actually not for a suspension problem. Well, not an air suspension problem. We'd done a service a few months ago and we identified some control arm bushings were worn out so the owner brought the vehicle in. We replaced the control arm bushings. Did the job, every thing was great, the next morning he comes to pick the car up and car is sitting very low. Figured maybe we'd done something wrong doing the service. Looked it over and then basically what had happened is the air suspension compressor just packed it in at some point when we had the vehicle in our shop so they tend to die from time to time like that.
Mark: Okay, tell us about the suspension system in this vehicle.
Bernie: It's air suspension so it relies of course on compressed air to keep the vehicle up. The great thing about the system is you can adjust it so you can raise the height of the raise and lower the height of the vehicle. Obviously when you're driving down the highway and you're just regular driving you want it low for stability but if you need some off road clearance, it's snowing or you go on a rougher type of road with pot holes and things, you can raise the height of the vehicle. There's also a couple of different modes for the suspension on this vehicle. You can adjust it for sport driving, you can have a more comfort drive or an automatic drive, which will kind of just take in between the two modes depending on what you want.
Mark: So why would the compressor just die? This vehicle isn't that old.
Bernie: Well, compressors seem to be one of the items that tend to die on a lot of air suspension vehicle. Probably the most common failure component. We do a lot of them on Range Rovers. They tend to die. Interestingly enough, in having this vehicle, diagnosing it, we found, we came across a technical service bulletin from Mercedes recommending replacement of these compressors if they have a certain model year. So I'm thinking this campaign probably started when these vehicles were under warranty. Of course, this vehicle is out of the warranty period and it costs to replace but I think why the compressor died in this vehicle, you know, I think they just didn't make it good enough for the vehicle and there's a revised and upgraded version.
Mark: Do you have some pictures?
Bernie: I do. Let's have a look.
R350 Station Wagon style vehicle. All wheel drive. This is a gasoline powered vehicle. They do come in diesel as well but this the gas model not that it looks any different from the outside and then we can get to the compressor. So there's the compressor, the old failed unit. Not a lot to see, I mean, there's a motor in this unit and then there's also a storage tank and from the storage tank it distributes the air to a valve unit and that'll allow the vehicle to go up and down. So besides being a compressor, this also has some valving in it that will allow the vehicle to raise and lower depending on what the computers command. Not much to see with this thing. It's basically just the outside of the unit. So that's our pictures.
Mark: So this is more complex than conventional suspension. Is that the main common failure part, the compressor?
Bernie: We seem to do more compressors, like I mentioned earlier, than any other components but certainly the other major components that will fail on an inner suspension system are the actual shocks and struts themselves, or the air springs. And given time, probably ten years plus on any vehicle, your air springs or struts are gonna wear out and start leaking and it really depends on the mileage, the usage, where the cars been. I mean, sometimes you might get twenty years out of them but at some point you will need replace them and that's the other major expense item on the vehicle. Of course, the old lines and pipes and hoses and valves and a computer so potentially everything can go wrong but a lot of vehicles, things don't. There are some cars that the struts will wear out, and the compressor will never wear out. Other vehicles, the struts last almost forever and the compressors wear out but you can always be prepared with this kind of thing that anything and everything can and will go wrong.
Mark: So can air suspension be eliminated if the owner doesn't really wanna incur the high repair costs?
Bernie: Yes they can on most cars. Most vehicles are made with air suspension as an option. I can't think, I'm not certain on this vehicle whether it's an option or not. It probably is. I know certainly for a lot of Range Rovers and Land Rovers there are kits available where you can just eliminate the air suspension. A lot of other vehicles, American like Lincolns, there's kits available. I used to own a Subaru that had air suspension. It was fantastic but of course when you get an old Subaru it's not worth a lot of money. A lot of customers we had would eliminate it with a kit where you just put in the conventional suspension.
Mark: I had a Lincoln that the compressor failed too.
Bernie: Yeah. You know, it's expensive to fix but I love air suspension for a couple of reasons. First, no matter what kind of load you put in the vehicle, you put five people and 400 pounds of suitcases in the back and the car doesn't sit like this. It just sits nice and level. Most air suspension systems offer ride height adjustments, which is again an advantage. You get a nice smooth low riding vehicle and then you can raise it up for off road or snowy conditions. So that again is an advantage but it comes at a price and often when a car gets old you don't necessarily spend five or ten thousand dollars on compressors and struts and things like that so there are options available.
Mark: So back to the R350, it's a pretty unique vehicle, how is it for reliability?
Bernie: I'd say it's fair. I mean, I'd say it's a unique shaped vehicle for Mercedes. It's kind of like, to me, it's more like a conventional large Station Wagon as opposed to an SUV or a Sedan but a lot of the components in this vehicle are shared among different models. The engines are shared between different models. You've got the BlueTec Diesel, which we've spoken a lot about. If you want an engine that's really reliable, I'd probably recommend that for long-term but it's good on fuel. Yeah, overall it's a pretty good vehicle. I mean, same as any other Mercedes. They're more complicated so things go wrong like this air suspension compressor but it's a nice vehicle and you just expect to pay a little more to repair it than a Japanese car.
Mark: So there you go. If you're looking for service for your vehicle in Vancouver, the guys to call are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at 604-327-7112. You have to call ahead to book 'cause they're busy, even with Bernie having been on holidays, they were still busy the whole time. Or you can check out our website, pawlikautomotive.com or hopefully you're enjoying us on YouTube or our new podcast. Thanks Bernie.
Bernie: Thanks Mark. Thanks for watching.