Mercedes SL500 Auto Dimming Mirrors
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Mark: Hi it’s Mark from Top Local, we’re here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver for the Pawlik Automotive Podcast. How’re you doing Bernie?
Bernie: Doing very well.
Mark: So we’re talking about a Mercedes, kind of the classic SL500, but this is a 2005 version, what was going on with this car?
Bernie: Well the auto dimming side view mirror was not dimming properly and needed to be replaced.
Mark: Auto dimming mirrors, how’d you know that that wasn’t working properly?
Bernie: Well when you look in the, and I’m going to show a picture in a few minutes, but basically when you look in the side view mirror, it’s not a clear mirror like mirrors are supposed to be. This mirror would, first of all, when it works normally it’s clear in the day time but at night, when it gets dark, it actually dims down like an interior mirror. So you don’t get glare shining in your side view mirror. On this particular car it has an auto dimming mirror on the side view and rear view mirror, but not on the passenger side. I guess because the images are kind of small on the passenger side, so with that convex mirror, they don’t really affect, bright lights don’t have that same level of effect. But what you could see in this mirror was a couple of things, the mirror had weird colour like sort of went gold in colour and there was this bluish hue inside the mirror and it was a double image that was there. So I mean, it was a kind of distracting thing to look at. So a pretty much a clear indication that the mirror was not operating properly.
Mark: So you alluded to it, how does an auto dimming mirror work?
Bernie: Well it’s kind of a, it uses an electric, it’s called an electrochromatic mirror and what happens, there are two layers of glass, the rear piece is like a regular mirror glass, there’s a front piece of glass which is clear and in between it is sandwiched a chemical gel and when electric current is applied it actually, the gel changes colour and it goes dark. So that’s how the auto dimming mirror works. There are sensors on the vehicle, depending on what kind of car it is. A lot of them, most cars the auto dimming mirror will just be the rear view mirror, so it will have a sensor at the front to detect the ambient light, you know is it day time, night time for instance, that’s what that sensor is for. Or how dark is it and it’ll have a sensor that faces backwards that will get whether there’s any light shining in the back and the mirror and that will dim the mirror automatically.
Mark: So this SL500 is kind a fancy car, it’s the kind of car we can expect this on, but is this something that is getting more common on a lot of cars?
Bernie: Yeah, you’ll find this on a lot of vehicles. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of times it’ll only be the rear view mirror but many luxury cars have auto dimming mirrors on the side view mirrors as well as the rear view. But you’ll find it even on l what I would call lower end, like lower end cars, you’ll find auto dimming mirrors because it’s kind of a neat feature. You don’t have to flip the mirror back and forth and so on.
Anyways let’s have a look at a few pictures here. There’s an ’05 SL500 with the roof off. As I mentioned, one auto dimming mirror here and of course, the rear view mirror which we can’t see. Let’s get into the mirror, so here’s the problem with this mirror. This is photograph taken before the mirror was changed. If you look closely at this image there’s a, this is the shop behind me and the signage, you see white, can you see this blue, double image there. This is what was really wrong with this mirror, you could see the double image there, so that clearly is an issue and makes it distracting when you’re driving. You can even see that it’s kind of fuzzy when you look at these grids here, you can see a sort of secondary grid. So something, I don’t know exactly how to explain it, chemically what’s broken down inside but there’s clearly something wrong with it. What you can’t really see so much, is there’s actually a very golden colour to this mirror as well, kind of hard to tell that in this kind of light. There’s an image of the old mirror and the new mirror, so you can clearly see without any electricity applied or anything, this new mirror is just clear, looks like a regular piece of glass, the old one is all golden colour, so the chemicals have all broken down internally. And here’s the image with the new mirror in place. You can see it’s clear, there’s no double image it’s all you know all nice, clear, easy to see. And that’s auto dim so again, there’s that darker tint that happens when it gets darker and again another close up, you can see there’s no double image here. So there’s out photo share for the podcast.
Mark: So is this an expensive repair?
Bernie: Yep it is on this particular vehicle. We actually went and we got a new mirror from Mercedes which is really the only source for the mirror. I should say there are other options but you know, really if you want to, it’s expensive to buy this piece of glass. I’m not going to say how much it is but it’s an awful lot of money. But yeah, it’s an expensive repair. Now there are other options. There is a company in the US that can rebuild these. I’ve never used them and I probably will in the future, they’re pretty inexpensive compared to buying a brand new mirror. So that seems to me, I guess used is another option but I would think you know, by the time you get to a 2005, if you’ll even find an auto wrecker that will sell just the mirror glass. They probably won’t, they’ll just sell a complete mirror and if it’s already 12-13 years old, how long is a used one going to last, if it actually works. So it’s better to either you bite the bullet and you get a new one or you leave it.
Mark: so has that been your experience with these, that they have a limited lifespan?
Bernie: They do and you know, you’ll know when yours are bad because you’ll see, if you saw that sort of golden colour of this one and the double imaging, that’s one thing that happens. The other thing we see a lot of is, the mirror it will either discolour badly or there’ll be this, it looks to me like a sagging sort of, you can see something that’s like a liquid that’s like sinking inside the mirror. It’ll develop an air bubble or something, it’s clearly something’s wrong inside, so you’ll know it’s bad when that kind of thing happens.
Mark: So is there anything else you can tell us about auto dimming mirrors?
Bernie: Yeah, ok, so one last thing to leave with of course, when it’s like that, you know a lot of people choose not to fix them because they’re expensive but one thing you really have to watch for is that chemical can leak out of the mirror and it’s extremely toxic and apparently acidic. So I would definitely, if you see anything dripping out, you got to deal with it at that point. It’s probably better to deal with it sooner than later but you know, if it drops out it’ll attack your paint, if it drips out on the interior it’ll attack your dash and cause a lot of other problems. So it’s a pretty serious issue from that point of view but as I say, there are options. You don’t necessarily have to go for brand new. There are repairs available which could be less money.
Mark: Do the interior ones last a little bit better than the exterior ones?
Bernie: No, they all seem to screw up. They wear out. I mean, I’ve seen it on all sorts of vehicles and you know, I can think of some of the customers, they get in the car and go, yeah you can see that mirrors kind of bad and you know it’s very noticeable.
Mark: So there you go. If you’ve got a saggy mirror in Vancouver, are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at 604-327-7112 to book an appointment or check out their website pawlikautomotive.com or our YouTube channel Pawlik Auto Repair or of course our lovely new Podcasts on iTunes. Thanks Bernie.
Bernie: Thanks Mark.