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February 1st, 2019

Mercedes Love…The Winter Of Our Discontent

Spirit, my 2012 E350 Bluetec, needed a couple things done that I’ve been deferring that I could until the money was there. A front swing arm bearing was showing signs of needing replacement in the near future. I have three tire valve stems that just won’t hold air when the temperatures drop into the 20s. That’s a Costco issue, surprisingly enough. I bought my last set of run flats (I Hate run flats!) there and I almost immediately needed two of valve stems replaced. One of those again is failing, and the other three began to give me trouble when this winter season set in.

The thing I was most afraid of was the DEF tank heater. The car started throwing a check engine code last winter and I bought a code reader so I could at least see what it was complaining about before I took it in. Last time it did that I was told it was the NOx sensors, both of which eventually needing replacing. That was an $1800 bill, but at least the extended warranty covered it.

As a footnote to that, I spent $3200 for the extended warranty and only used $1800 of it. So I think I’d have done better to just put the $3200 into a savings account dedicated to service costs.

Anyway, the code reader dispensed a code which when I looked it up said the DEF tank heater had failed. So I went online to investigate what fixing that entailed. Some said the entire DEF tank would have to be replaced at a cost of around 2500 to 3k. Others said no, just the heater, which is expensive…about 5-600 but is removable. But you have to drop the DEF tank to do that. If you’ve ever had the slightest wiff of Diesel Emissions Fluid you can appreciate why that might be a Very expensive labor charge as well. That stuff will knock you on your tail. I had to fill my tank up on a trip back from Florida after the dealer in Reisterstown didn’t fill it like they should have during a routine service.DEF is about 38 percent synthetic urea and the rest distilled de-ionized water. Nothing complex about it…90 percent of the world production of synthetic urea is used to make fertilizer, so it’s a product with a lot of economy of scale and DEF is not terribly expensive. But it is caustic and the fumes are highly toxic.

It also freezes at about 27F degrees. So last winter I simply cleared the code when the weather got warmer and waited to see if the code came back when it got colder. It did, so I was convinced.

So anyway I’d taken Spirit to the dealer for the swing arm, and the valve stems, and also the DEF tank heater. I got a phone call back that the DEF tank would have to be replaced “since it is all one unit” and the price would be 2300. That was the low end of replacing the whole tank, but the whole tank according to folks in the Mercedes forums, does not need to be replaced. So I balked, telling him what I’d learned online and that I’d look elsewhere for that repair. So the service agent called back and said he was mistaken, that only the heater needed replacing but the 2300 price tag was for that job.

So I called a couple independent service shops that have been recommended to me in the past with good reviews and got a quote of 1800, again just to replace the heater. So I reckon I’m not getting out of it for less than that unless I do the work myself and this is a job beyond me.

But if I can cultivate a relationship with an independent Mercedes service shop I can trust that’s a good thing anyway. There was a time when I didn’t want anybody but the dealer touching this car. But it’s warranty is so far in the rear view mirror I can’t even see it now and as long as they know these cars and their other customers like them I don’t care anymore. I want this car to last. I want it to live up to its heritage. And to that end I will give it every servicing it needs, plus the extra oil changes.

But if it keeps costing me to maintain what payments on a new car would have been anyway I’ll sell it and move on. The only teenage dream that ever really mattered to me is dust in the wind now, and all the others, like owning a diesel Mercedes sedan, can’t hold onto me that much anymore. I love this car. But I’m a 60-something man now and love doesn’t blind me like it used to.

I did finally get every camera and lens I ever lusted after when I was a teenager though…and they’re still all that. So there’s that.

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