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#notthewombat – When Auto Journos Don’t Heed Their Own Damn Advice


My pain is self-chosen

At least, so the prophet says

I could either burn

Or cut off my pride and buy some time

A head full of lies is the weight, tied to my waist

So let’s start with a little backstory.  Here in Metro Detroit, if you have a “fun car” you also need a winter car.  In my case, the fun car is a 95 Mustang GT that makes 452 horsepower to the tires, and, as you would imagine it’s pretty useless when the snow flies, more so when you are rolling with 315/35ZR17’s on the back.

My planned winter car was the one I had last year, a 2005 Ford Escape that was my wife’s from new until she replaced last fall with a new Edge.  It’s been a good vehicle, V6, front drive and had 170,000 miles in it.  Well, the best-laid plans of mice and men and all of that.  On a day in late September when driving, there was a sudden banging noise coming from the right rear wheel well area.  Once home I investigated and found this:


It turns on on 04-06 Ford Escapes it’s a known issue that the frame would rust in that spot.  So the Escape gets sold for a grand, my wife is happy that we got any for it and I’m on a quest for a new winter car.

After seven years of reviewing cars, mostly the boring consumer sedans, crossovers, and SUV’s, the last thing that I want is a crossover or SUV.  However, there is one MAJOR factor in the purchase decision, I have to be able to fit our dog into the car.  Oh, by the way, our dog is a 150 pound English Mastiff.  Now for my wife’s Edge, we have steps so that she can get in and out, but I didn’t want to have to carry those around.  So what makes the most sense?  Yep, you guessed it, the great makers answer to all transportation needs, a brown turbo diesel station wagon with a manual transmission.  Well, that’s what every auto journo who can’t sprint fast enough to the bar for free drinks or the shrimp table at an OEM event would have you believe. 


Given that it’s been decades in the U.S. since wagon’s have been an acceptable choice, looking for one on the used market the pickings are slim.  If you want domestic, you are looking at Taurus/Sable wagons, early 90’s Roadmaster’s and a few other not so grand options.  The Japanese haven’t really brought over much in the last decade, there is the occasional Mazda6 wagon that pops up and the Accord Wagons have 300,000 miles and I didn’t want a Subaru because of reasons.

That leaves the German’s.  I ended up driving a BMW 530Xi that made me nervous, I got sniped on eBay for an E500 4Matic Wagon with the Destino package with low miles, then I found a 2007 E350 4Matic wagon locally that looked interesting.

I went and looked at it, and drove it.  The body was immaculate, the interior was in equal condition and what looked to be fairly new Conti tires.  It drove nicely, everything worked, however, there was a Check Engine light on and a message that said it was 180 some odd days passed service.  I asked about both and was told the two were related.  An oil change and service check would clear both out.  Trust but verify as President Reagan used to say.  Well, I didn’t have my OBD II reader with me.  The person at the dealership I was at made me a pretty good offer, not too good to be true, but what I thought was a fair price, and I took it.

Now we will press pause on the story here because I can already hear you yelling at your screen, “never buy a German car out of warranty”, “you never buy a used German car without a PPI!”  Oh but dear readers I’m a professional, I know better, “rules for thee, but not for me!”

I did the deal, got the car home and ran the OBD scan.


Well, that’s not exactly what I was expecting!  I did some searching and found an independent shop that had very good reviews and took it there to see what they had to say.  Let’s just say that wasn’t the phone call I was looking for when they called with the results.  Here was the report:

Mark on cam does not align in window, Shows exhaust cam not in alignment upon inspection, needs thing chain. Also found intake manifold with vacuum leaks and internal flap not operating.  Estimated cost to repair, parts $1807.65, labor $2,251.95 with hazmat fees and tax the total would be $4173.06, this, on top of the $635 I had already spent for them to tear it down to have a look.  So, more than 50% of what I had just paid for the car to repair it.  Not a good day at all!

I had them put everything back together as I’m going to be shopping for another place to see if they can do it for somewhat less.  $760 for a timing chain kit and $1,022 for an intake manifold are significantly higher than what a quick Google search shows those same parts to be, also 20 hours of labor seemed high, but who know

Being in the back half of my 40’s I’m no special snowflake millennial.  It was my own stupidity, I understand I should suffer the consequences of my actions.  I should have known better and got a PPI, that would have prevented this mess.  I was in a hurry as it was getting close to Thanksgiving, and in this area, it’s as likely to snow as it is to be 60ºF on a daily basis.  Also, given the NACTOY and other “of the year” awards are being wrapped up press cars are not in abundance, or can be pulled at a moments notice, so that couldn’t be counted on.  I went “fire-ready-aim” rather than “ready-aim-fire”.

So kids, the moral of the story is speed and arrogance are likely to cause you way more pain than you expect.  This is a very good, though very expensive, reminder that these rules of thumb exist for a reason, spending $125-$200 on a PPI would have saved me thousands of dollars, plus much aggravation and grief.  Now, I’ll have to make the best of it and hope I can amortize this over the next five plus years of ownership.

As an “oh by the way” my Mustang is now for sale.


  • dukeisduke

    This thing has three DTCs – was the CEL on when you looked at it?

    I’m reminded of a now long-gone used car lot on Ross Avenue in Dallas (at one time home to plenty of note lots), run by a man named Gene Goss. “Goss on Ross, the Tradin’ Hoss”. His lot had a sign on it that read, “Hope You Make It Home”:


  • Manic_King

    So it was just OBD codes, not something you noticed while driving the car, does it even matter that much, do you even have to spend thousands?
    I guess that isn’t the same class-action lawsuit -grade problem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_M272_engine#Balance_Shaft_Gear_Issues

  • In all my lengthy experience of W211s, my favourite feature is still the mechanism that conceals the CD changer below the COMAND screen. It’s even more awesome in models with no CD changer – it’s a motorised cover for a tiny storage compartment. It couldn’t be any more over-engineered if it tried.

    • cap’n fast

      i remind you of the cup holders which unfold themselves at the touch of a button.

  • mrh1965

    well.. it looks good.

  • DoctorNine

    Sorry dude. You probably need this guide:


    This was a recall deal tho.. you may get some aid..


  • Lew at Cheap Auto

    You should have just fixed the Escape. 2-3 hour welding job. We have done a half dozen of them.

  • Rover 1
  • Dabidoh_Sambone

    You might kick your anti-Subaru sentiment to the curb. I was jonesing for a mid-sized wagon and found a ’99 Legacy, granny-owned, garage kept w/ 70k miles. $3200 bought me a lovely car that is essentially new. I got one with no body cladding, looking sleek in white and now with freshly applied dark tint, Impreza alloys and new Continentals. I’ll never understand my peer’s desire to own the latest – greatest whatever when one can economize and have enough cash afterwards to tour Europe …

    I’m sorry about your Mercedes debacle. I hit myself in the head with that hammer too many times. My Subie was the result of me listening to the voice of reason steering me away from cars with unknown histories.

  • NCImportamation

    Just replace the camshaft position sensors….those, and the crankshaft position sensors, are cheap and easy to replace yourself. Common on this V6 & V8 engine family. If they are going bad they eventually will cause random stalling/refusal to start. Maybe you need a new MAS too, another relatively cheap and easy fix. I think the shop was taking you for a ride…..but before I did anything, I would reset the light and see if it stays off. I have done that on multiple MB’s over the years for nonvital codes, including my 2007 S550 with almost 200K miles, and the light typically stays off.

    • This is true. Not a difficult repair, either.

  • Alff

    I am also in the market for another wagon. I’m leaning toward this one…


  • Sjalabais

    A 10 year old Ford disintegrated that way…wow. Isn’t it common to do some antirust treatments in an area with such a climate? Tectyl, Mercasol, Lanolin or something like that? As a customer, I would be significantly more mad because of a rusted frame like that then the…cough…predictable German hiccups.

    That leaves the German’s

    You were saying…?


    • Kiefmo

      If I had an anti-subie streak, this would be the direction in which I’d look, too.

    • Alff

      Shame on Ford. A friend’s similar vintage Escape died that exact death last year.

      • Sjalabais

        Unacceptable. A 10 year corrosion life span should be a thing of the past…or the one fatal fault of otherwise impeccable Mazdas.

  • engineerd

    Pffft…I bought an out of warranty BMW last year. I haven’t had any problems with it.*

    *Except for an annoying leak in the washer fluid system.

    • Rover 1

      I had that with one of my Mercedes caused by a hairline crack/mould-line failure on the main ‘bottle’.

  • NapoleonSolo

    I applaud your ethics in not just taking a minor loss by selling it down the road and looking for another car.

    Let us know if the shop you took it to turn out to be thieves…

  • Desmo

    Please don´t worry about that OBD scan. It is a trifle. Just a threat of dental surgery. I had two W211 in a row (staff cars- one 320cdi is still in operation), and I don´t even give a damn on any message in the display until the complete system turns into “Notlaufprogramm”. Which means that the car is slowed down to 90km/h or 55 mp/h. Thats all. I will try to find my last OBD scan from MB-HH. (It looks like a Google search for “US election” btw, yours is nothing at all against mine- and I ignore that since years).