July 18

Mercedes Benz Reliability

Mercedes, Podcast


Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert, producer of the Pawlik Automotive Podcast and Video Series. Of course, we're here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, 20 time winners of Best Auto Repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. We're talking cars. How are you doing today, Bernie?

Bernie: I'm doing very well.

Mark: Mercedes Benz, the originators of automobiles actually, inventors, way back when. How reliable are Mercedes Benz vehicles in 2019?

Bernie: Well, I'd say overall they're pretty good. But one thing about a Mercedes that I'll say right at the outset is that it's a fancy car. It's a luxury car. They're all complicated vehicles, so if you're wanting simplicity and cheap to operate, this is not the vehicle to buy. That's where I'll start out with.

To me, I often define reliability as, can I get into my car and is it going to start on me every day? For the most part, Mercedes are bulletproof in that area. Where other things happen though, of course, where other reliability issues, if you're on a trip somewhere is this vehicle going to let you down? Is it going to go into limp mode and disrupt your trip, or your vacation? And generally, again, Mercedes are pretty good, but the key is getting servicing done on them.

I mean, Mercedes is a huge line of vehicles and I think what we'll do is we'll break it apart into different categories and talk about things. I mean, they have cars and SUVs, no pickup trucks, so to speak in Canada, or you have the sprinter vans. We'll leave that for a different separate podcast. We'll deal with the cars, the SUV, gas and diesel.

Of course, there are some new drive trains out now, electric and hybrid. And to be honest, I have nothing to contribute about that because they're just too new for us at this point, but in the future we'll undoubtedly be doing podcasts about those vehicles. Of course, there is the AMG too, which is the nice, fancy, high-performance line we can talk about a bit too.

Mark: All right, let's start with the engines. We've got basically two big categories that we can cover right now, which is the gasoline fuel or diesel fuelled engines. How are they for reliability?

Bernie: Gasoline engines in Mercedes, I find are really reliable. They have very few actual engine problems. There is one V6 model in around the 2000 year decade where they had some balance shaft engine issue problems, which can be expensive to fix. I mean that's the worst internal engine issue. Otherwise, they're pretty reliable. They do develop a few oil leaks, but again, they're not severe like a lot of other brands, other European brands.

The only thing that with engines I see, again, this is in the 2000 model year era, crankshaft position sensors sometimes will fail and the engine will just fail to run, or start, or die. Those are really the only issues with the gas motors. They're really quite bulletproof. And to me, definitely a better option if you want reliability in a Mercedes.

Mark: How are the diesels?

Bernie: Well, the diesels are another story. You can probably look on our podcast history and video history and you'll probably see we've done a lot of stuff on a three litre diesels, and that isn't the only diesel they have. There is a four cylinder offering as well, which is a little more reliable. But the diesels, they have a lot of issues.

Now, Mercedes had made diesels for a long, long time. Their early diesels back in the day before a lot of emission equipment were really, they're much more mechanical. They're very much more reliable. They're not very sexy performance, mind you. They're pretty slow, but you could count on that engine to just keep going, and going, and going and costs very little in an era when a gasoline engine was much more complicated to maintain. Gasoline engines just needed tuneups and spark plug changes and diesels didn't.

But nowadays, to me the tide has reversed. The diesels are actually the problem engines and the gasolines are the more reliable. It's interesting how that's changed. But, there is so much that goes wrong with the diesel. I'm sitting here almost stunned on where do I start with it? I'd say just probably look back at some of our other podcasts. I mean when they run great, they're fantastic, but just expect that if you own a diesel model, especially the three litre, there will be some substantial expenses keeping that engine going over time.

Mark: Regular service is extremely critical for the diesel Mercedes. Is that fair to say?

Bernie: Absolutely. Changing the oil regularly is key. There is a lot of engine failures on these where people just don't change their oil enough and the engine just basically just destroys itself, so that's really critical.

I think a lot of the fault with the three litre diesels is they're not really used how they should be. This engine should be used hot, running for long periods of time. A lot of people just do it for stop and go city driving. It's really the wrong engine for most people. That's what one of the things that ends up costing a lot of money on these things.

Mark: Let's talk about the transmission and drive train. How are those generally on diesel, or on Mercedes Benz vehicles?

Bernie: Yeah, I mean generally the transmissions and engines are pretty good. I mean, there are some transmissions failures. I mean, again, with every model year there are updates and changes. For a while there was a five speed automatic, then they went to a seven speed. I'm going back 10 or more years here in terms of my thinking.

But, one common failure item is a conductor played in the transmission that will often fail, and this is on both the five and seven speeds that causes problems. But, complete transmission failures do happen, but they're not super common. They're pretty reliable transmissions.

I'm actually speaking about automatics here because standards are incredibly rare in a Mercedes. We work on a hundreds of them and the only... of anything built say, year 2000, the only standard I've actually seen is a C series car. I was shocked to see this vehicle. It's just so unusual because everything else has automatic, so very rare to find a standard in a Mercedes that's been built in the last 20 years, or even longer. In the olden days, some of the diesels and the nice SL series, the old SLs had standards, but automatics are pretty much common.

But the rest of the drive train differentials, those type of things are really pretty much bulletproof. The axles, CV joints and the rear wheel drive, they're all pretty reliable. Some issues with the all wheel drive system in the 4Matic. We've had some axle shaft problems with the front axles in some 4Matic models. But other than that, they're... Everything is pretty reliable.

Mark: How about the exhaust system?

Bernie: Exhaust system, pretty much bulletproof. There are some, certainly some very expensive components, but they're all generally made of stainless steel and they last for a long time. The key, if you have an engine misfire of course fix that because that can cause your catalytic converter to get damaged. And diesels, we do run into diesel particulate filters that plug up or catalytic converters have failed because again, it's more of an engine problem that causes that. But, the actual exhaust systems themselves are really reliable, and on a gas engine it's rare to ever replace anything unless you get into the really old 80s and 70s models.

Mark: So, journeying into perhaps one of the weaknesses in German vehicles is the electrical system. How are the electrical components in Mercedes?

Bernie: Well again, generally pretty reliable, but there is a lot of... The electrical system and the electronics are highly complicated. There is a lot of stuff that's monitored. I'm just thinking about a video of one of our favourite, I'm saying that jokingly, favourite car guys who tends to say bad things about Mercedes, how complicated they are and how if you plug a scan to them it'll tell you your trunk light bulbs burnt out. Well, these are the things that a Mercedes will monitor. Every single one of your light bulbs is monitored.

There is some complexity there, but generally it's pretty reliable. I can't think of too many customers we have where they come in for an electrical problem. Things like windows, and power windows, those other electrical components are pretty reliable overall.

Mark: How is the suspension though on a Mercedes?

Bernie: This is where there is a lot of complexity as well. Some Mercedes just have a standard system. I say standard because it's just a regular shock or strut type system. There are some control arm bushings and things like that that wear out. But, a lot of Mercedes have air suspension systems, aromatic system, or some of them also have the active body control, the hydraulic suspension system, which these are all very complicated, especially the AVC, the hydraulic system, generally pretty reliable. But, there are some components that are exceptionally expensive.

For example, one hydraulic strut, depending on where you buy it is it would probably set you back anywhere between $800 to a couple of thousand dollars per strut, and there is four per vehicle. There is a hydraulic pump. There is a series of lines and hoses running through the vehicle valves. If you have to replace the whole system in just parts itself, you'd probably be looking at in labor $40,000. But, you'll never have to replace the whole thing. That's what you could be faced with if everything just blew. That being said, it's a pretty amazing suspension system because it just levels the car automatically, electronically all the time.

The air system is less quick to react. Again, there is some issues with the air suspension system. You find that in a variety of different Mercedes as well. But things like it has an electric pump, a compressor that'll, those fail. There are other electronic valves that fail. Some of the struts fail. We've also had electronic shock absorbers where they start leaking and some of them, in my opinion, in a little earlier in life than they should. I'd say, the suspension systems on Mercedes, the fancy ones, especially in their air ONE, it probably has a few more problems than it could.

What else? Yeah, I mean, but other than that, generally things like the controller, and bushings is a general amount of wear on those. Ball joints will wear out from time to time, but nothing exceptional.

Mark: The steering components, how are they for reliability?

Bernie: Again, pretty good. The only thing that stands out for me as a problematic area is some of the ML series SUVs. The steering rack will develop leaks. Sometimes the leak will be from the... There is actually a shaft kit you can get or a pinion... The steering shaft kit is available as a unit from Mercedes. Now, that component tends to leak, so you don't have to replace the whole rack, but sometimes the whole rack and pinion leaks. That's the one that stands out to me as being a weakness. But other than that, most of the others seem to be pretty good on most other Mercedes.

Mark: How about brakes? How are they for reliability and length of wear?

Bernie: Again, pretty good. Yeah, generally Mercedes's brakes are I'd considered them to be average in terms of wear. You'll always need to replace the rotors with the pads. They just wear like that. They're that type of European design where the rotors get deeply grooved as the pads wear. Some of them have of course fancier brake packages. We'll talk about AMG in a minute. But, they're generally priced somewhat normally. I mean, more than a Toyota Corolla. But yeah, that's a different class of car. But generally, prices are pretty reasonable on the Mercedes brakes. But, a lot of them they have cross drilled rotors and for better heat dispersion, and so those costs a little more, but they're not, nothing is outrageously priced.

And of course, they all generally have pad wear sensors, so they'll usually warn you when the brakes are worn out. But just as a note, not every brake pad is monitored, so it's possible that some pads can wear out before the light comes on, on the dash, but that's not too usual. Usually it's pretty reliable. Things like brake calipers, we don't replace them hardly ever. They're really quite reliable, so that's a good thing. They have good longevity. They're sealed well and they tend to last quite a long time.

Mark: What's the difference? We've mentioned AMG. What's the difference basically with AMG vehicles, branded vehicles compared to the regular Mercedes Benz vehicles?

Bernie: Well, it's certainly a bigger engine, and more horsepower. And usually along with that of course the transmission, the drive train may be bumped up to handle that level of power. Suspension systems are usually different, again, for performance and then brakes, stopping power.

Interestingly enough with AMGs, I mean you can have any AMG that has a regular brake system. I mean they're still an upgrade from the regular model, or you can have the actual AMG package, which is an even higher end brake system, and often these can be very expensive.

For instance on a, say an SL55 that they... The regular brake rotors on the regular AMG standard brakes they're about $300 a piece for the front. But if you have the AMG package, the rotors are $1,200ish a piece, so four times the price. They're pretty fancy. I mean, you can tell by looking at them why the cost is so much higher. But I know with the regular brakes they stop pretty darn fast. But, that AMG package will just give you a little extra edge, so if you're going 150 miles an hour and you keep needing to stop and then accelerate back up you can do it, but the other brakes they will probably be pretty good.

Mark: AMG is basically a race car for the road.

Bernie: It is. The thing I like about the AMG is they are... It's an elevated class of vehicle, for sure. Like where you say, it's like a race car for the road, but they're not quite as crazy as when you get into a McLaren, or a Lambo, or something. Of course, they don't look quite like that. They're more drivable.

Now with that being said, I mean an SLS of course is an AMG model, but that's in the class of the Lambo. It's a higher elevated vehicle. But, most AMGs are just fancied up but, in a very good way. A lot of the interior trim on an AMG too is nicer than it is in a regular Mercedes. Believe it or not, if you can actually do that kind of thing.

Mark: That covers the lineup. Overall, Mercedes, if you want a high end luxury vehicle, pretty fair to maybe better than average reliability. Is that what your verdict is?

Bernie: Yeah. The other thing about Mercedes, and I saw a statistic somewhere that there is a, and I can't remember the number, but there is a lot of Mercedes that are built are still on the road. Compared to other manufacturers, their lifespan on the road is much higher than your average car.

There is certain models of cars once you get to a certain age people just... They're just gone. You don't see them. I'm just thinking about some of the Subarus and Toyotas I've worked on over the years and it's like I go, you never ever see one anymore because they're just... They get to a certain age and nobody will ever fix one.

But certain Mercedes, they'll still be on the road, especially the SL series, the convertibles. We fixed those when they're 20, 30, 40 years old. I mean those cars, people just don't get rid of them. They're still a nice car to keep and fix. Some models will probably never go off the road unless people neglect them severely, so a pretty good car for longterm longevity. But as I say, they are expensive to fix, but keep up the maintenance. That's really the key.

Mark: There you go. If you're looking for maintenance on your Mercedes Benz in Vancouver the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to book ahead. They're busy. Check out the website, pawlikautomotive.com, our You Tube channel Pawlik Auto Repair. Of course, thanks so much for watching and listening to the podcast. We appreciate it. Thanks, Bernie.

Bernie: Thanks, Mark. Thanks for watching and listening.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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