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January 29th, 2017

Heaven Is…

I keep wanting to do a riff on those drawings that say “Heaven is where every (Dog/Cat/Pet) you ever loved comes to greet you”. But mine will say Heaven is where every car you ever loved lets you drive it again. And sign it with a nod to Seanan McGuire.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Heaven Is…

March 10th, 2016

Like A Good Neighbor…(continued)

Came home to find a letter from the Maryland State Insurance Commissioner’s Office, telling me that they’d convinced State Farm to cancel my car insurance premium hike and refund the money Plus Interest.

I’m stunned. After I mailed off my form protesting the hike, back in October, I heard absolutely zilch back from them and figured it had just been conveniently lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. I would have expected at least a notice that the form and been received. But it was dead silence. Five months later they tell me I won.

Well this is good, but I hope State Farm doesn’t think it means I’m sticking with them. I was in the middle of exploring other options for car and home owner’s insurance when this letter came. There are lots of companies out there offering cheaper rates for the same coverage or better. And I am not at all happy that my local State Farm Agent dropped a clause into my home owner’s policy exempting damage from collapse. I have a flat roof and that is the one thing you absolutely need protection on if you have one of those.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Like A Good Neighbor…(continued)

January 13th, 2015

Second NOx Sensor Replaced…

Got Spirit back from the dealer yesterday evening. In addition to the check engine light work they also did my usual between services oil change (I change the crankcase oil in all my cars at least twice as often as the factory recommends) and adjusted the emergency brake. I noted in the loaner car I got, a 2015 ‘C’ class, that emergency brakes are now electronic push button controlled. What could possibly go wrong?

Again I’m told it was the NOx sensor, but now I’m told there are actually two of them and so this time they replaced the other one. Fine. Let’s have no more of this now, at least for another 70k miles. K?

So now I’m seriously thinking about buying another extended warranty when the current one expires. The next extended warranty on offer would be a 100k plus one and I’m told, the dealership will offer one then. But a 100k plus warranty can’t be anything but expensive. I won’t be needing it until late this year at the earliest, but I’m already thinking I probably need to start a new pot of savings Now just to pay for it. I’ll have to look hard at the cost/benefit. A Mercedes diesel sedan is not supposed to cause trouble if you take care of it and do the maintenance, even after it’s got hundreds of thousands of miles on it. That’s no blue sky exaggeration, that’s the actual history of these vehicles. They make taxi cabs out of them elsewhere in the world. And I’ve met other Mercedes diesel owners who’ve put nearly half a million miles on their cars and were still in love with them.

But the new cars are vastly more complex than those older models too. Case in point, the emissions control system in mine that got all hysterical on me in Oklahoma and Texas while I was in the middle of my Christmas road trip. One factor in the legendary longevity of older Mercedes diesels is very likely how simple they are mechanically. Superbly engineered yes. Built like a bank vault yes. But still simple compared to the same gasoline powered versions, and way more so than the car I have now when you factor in things like the twin turbochargers that give it a surprising (for a diesel) capacity for sudden acceleration, plus all the various computer controlled subsystems. This is what I worry about going forward.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Second NOx Sensor Replaced…

January 11th, 2015

You Promised…

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…

Why Does Mercedes-Benz Require OEM?

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.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on You Promised…

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