I’m spending the weekend here at Casa del Garrett with a loaner car from Valley Motors, a Very Nice new model Mercedes-Benz ‘C’ class, while Spirit is once again having a check engine light issue worked on, that dogged me back and forth across the country last month. That was a road trip I took to the ancestral Garrett lands in Oceano California, to spend the holidays with my empty nest brother. Check Engine in Spirit, my Mercedes, means there is a problem with the emissions control system. Thing is, that should have been fixed a couple months ago when my dealer installed a new NOx detector after the last Check Engine light event.
Back home, surfing the web and Facebook, I chanced across the following article…
Mercedes-Benz wants to ensure that your car is operating in as close to ideal circumstances as possible, and that means using the parts your car was built with. Mercedes-Benz is famous for its engineering for excellent reason, but that means they have to design custom parts or engineer seemingly-common parts to very specific tolerances, or it will affect the performance of the car.
Even seemingly-generic parts are built to a much, much higher standard than many other brands on the market. Thus, Mercedes-Benz builds their own parts, engineers them to an exacting degree, and carefully inspects them, selling them with a warranty that ensures any certified Mercedes-Benz repair facility can replace the part free of charge if a defect escapes their inspection.
The work currently being done on Spirit is completely covered…which is good considering it would cost me about a thousand bucks total if it wasn’t. Add that to the $950 the last NOx detector work would have cost. But this is what you are paying for when you get that work done at an authorized factory trained service center. These cars are Not Cheap, not simply because they are luxury cars but because they are engineered to a higher standard, and that costs money.
The article I linked to is mostly about body work, but it really applies to everything about cost of maintenance and repair for a Mercedes-Benz: the parts are expensive, because Daimler specifications are higher, tolerances lower. Even down to the wiper blades and oil and air filters. I’ve seen side-by-side comparisons of Mercedes OEM parts and good quality third party parts and it really leaps out at you. It’s not even close. Everything about these cars is more substantial. Everything. This means maintenance and repairs can seem atrociously expensive. But it isn’t just throwing money at it for the sake of showing off how much money you have to throw:
The essential idea behind the Mercedes-Benz philosophy is this: if the car is properly cared for, it will work out to be cheaper in the long run. While Mercedes-Benz is rightly associated with luxury, its cars are also built to stay on the road for as long as you care to drive them.
This is what we who love these cars value them for. This is what was true back in 1971 when my uncle drove to visit us in his brand new Mercedes-Benz 220D, and it’s what I’m counting on being true now: that spending money on this car is a long term investment in a vehicle engineered like no other, that is solid and substantial, safe and utterly reliable, that I can drive to and from the grocery store or to and from California whenever I want to and not worry about it falling apart because it was made to fall apart so you’d have to go buy another. That was Detroit’s model. That is not the Mercedes way. The Mercedes way is to build a better car first, then add the bells and whistles on top of that. And that is how it feels to drive Spirit. I read a user on one of the Mercedes-Benz forums I frequent, describe his ‘E’ class diesel as feeling as solid as a locomotive, yet nimble and sure footed on the curves. That’s it. That’s the experience you get driving one of these cars.
But… They really screwed it up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I would not own any Mercedes-Benz product made between 1997 and 2007. It’s the worst of both worlds: expensive cars that break down more than they should and require expensive parts to repair. I’ll give them this: it seems every German car maker had the same problems during that time frame. So every time a problem arises, you wonder if this is just a random event, or the beginning of a downhill slide. And I can’t afford a downhill slide on a car that’s this expensive to repair.
I have two years and 20k left on the warranty. I bought an extended warranty…which I’m grateful for now given the cost of the work that’s suddenly had to be done. Figure by the end of this year I’ll be over the 100k mark given how many miles I put on a car. So this second Check Engine fail is worrisome enough that I’m considering ditching the car if it needs another 1k+ repair before the warranty runs out, and just go with a cheaper ride. I’m fast approaching a time in my life when living on retirement funds and social security makes any sort of high dollar spending very problematic. I don’t mind paying a premium for regular maintenance, so long as that buys me a car I don’t have to worry about between maintenance. But it has to do that or I can’t justify it…
…even to own the car of my dreams, the car I’ve wanted ever since I was a teenager.
In 2008, when the new models designed under then new CEO Dieter Zetsche (one of the few CEOs today who I greatly admire) started hitting the showrooms, Daimler began running a series of ads, admitting to past failures to live up to the standard they’d set for themselves, and promising to do better. The slogan was, “Because we promised you a Mercedes-Benz”. I’m holding them to that promise. So is the kid I once was, and he does not forget a broken promise.