Epilogue: When Auto Journos Don't Heed Their Own Damn Advice

It was just over a year ago I had to replace my daily because of a catastrophic failure, the frame around the right rear suspension had rusted away. As detailed in a post about auto journos not heeding their own advise (buying a German car out of warranty without a PPI) I acquired a 2007 Mercedes E350 4Matic wagon which had a few issues I found out after the fact.
For the last twelve months, I’ve driven the wagon with almost no issues, a flat tire and I had to replace the front brakes. Other than that it had been mint. I’d taken it on several trips over 500 miles and it was fantastic. The car was quiet, comfortable for those long trips, and it returned 24mpg on the highway. It hauled my Mastiff around, swallowed all kinds of items from Home Depot, in other words, it was exactly the vehicle I had hoped it to be.
Then, it all went pear-shaped.

I was coming home from an event two weeks ago when coming off the freeway the car felt like it was running only five cylinders. I didn’t give it too much of a thought but then I had a warning come up the display about the stability program having an issue. This came along with what felt like a dead accelerator pedal, I’d press it, but there was no additional forward motion.
I was now on a surface street so I pulled into a parking lot, shut the car off, pulled the key and opened the driver’s door. For many cars this is the equivalent of Control-Alt-Delete. I waited about thirty seconds and started the car up. Whatever the problem was seemed to have reset and I was off again. That lasted for about half a mile when the problem reoccurred.
Once again I pulled off into a parking lot and tried to reset the system, but it was to no avail. Thankfully I was less than 10 miles from home and I was just able to limp the car home, the top speed was about 20 miles an hour, and it was a little stressful. In the last mile or so the car started jerking badly, and I had to pull off to the side of the road to let some cars go buy as the two-lane street I was on was a 40 MPH zone.
Monday came and I had the Benz on a flatbed to a local independent shop that specializes in Mercedes and BMW’s. I got the call on Tuesday that I didn’t want to hear. There were multiple problems and one of them was going to be rather expensive to repair. Problem one was I needed a new intake manifold. The valve mechanism for the variable intake track had failed and it was almost fully closed. So, new manifold installed, $1,900. OK. Now, the owner said, that’s not the real problem. I can replace the intake, and take your money, but you have another problem where the engine may completely fail. The dreaded balance shaft issue was an issue.
By mid-2007 Mercedes had addressed an issue with the balance shafts in their V6’s and for those that were affected they had extended the warranty. Well, my car was early 2007 model year, and the previous owner either didn’t know or didn’t take advantage of the extended warranty to have the issue addressed. The cost to fix this, $4,700!
So to have both items fixed would be about the entire worth of the car.
Now, the reason older Mercedes and BMW’s tend to be inexpensive to purchase is the cost to fix them when they go bad. You are buying at a discount and gambling that you just end up with “standard” running costs. I gambled, I lost.
There is a minor upside to the story, the mechanic at the shop who was working on my car just had a second child and was looking for a wagon. He offered me $1,500 for my car, I got him up to $1,700 and we shook hands on the deal.

I am now looking for another vehicle, and yes I am looking for a wagon. I have found that for me, and my lifestyle, for a daily, I MUCH prefer a wagon to a crossover or SUV. Will I be buying another Mercedes wagon? Yes, but not right away. Give me a year or so to get some things sorted, we had to have the drain tiles done in the basement this year, those that own your own house and have had to deal with it will know the cost of that, and I will again look for a Merc wagon. This time though I will get one that is a CPO, even if that costs more money up front than I’d care to part with.
You see, for a vehicle I will drive on a regular basis, the E-Class Merc wagon is perfect size, it handles very well, has plenty of acceleration to deal with the daily grind, and when you need to pound out the miles, you can do a 400-600 mile day and not feel worn out when you arrive at your destination.
Yes I still want a “fun” car, and I will get one as soon as I can sell my Mustang. I’ll move on to something else, a Lotus Elise is a leading contender right now, but for a daily, give me something that doesn’t cause me pain and suffering. Been there and done that for way too many years, and to paraphrase Detective Murdock in Lethal Weapon, “I’m getting too old for that shit”.


  1. How about an Acura TSX Wagon? About the same size and no worries about reliability. Probably not quite as cush but I’d take it over potential catastrophic failure.

    1. If they’d offered the car with a manual transmission, I’d completely agree. Serious oversight there. They’d have had a modern classic.

    1. Nope. Closest things we get now are CUVs of some sort. Last time we got a Ford wagon of that size class, that wasn’t actually a CUV, was… I think 2006 was the last year of the Taurus/Sable wagon?

      1. This is a shame, really. I much prefer the cargo space of a wagon, but don’t enjoy driving SUVs/CUVs at all.

  2. It feels like all the answers are obvious, as choice is really limited in the US. You didn’t specify your budget though? This being the ‘verse, I guess most cars not being a SAAB, a random combination of Cyrillic letters, nor powered by a home made dishwasher-based turbo putting you at quick risk of hilarious death might come across as vanilla choices.

  3. Thought I had seen every possible failure over the years , Never heard of an intake manifold failing. Damn tough luck there.

    1. Mercury Grand Marquis. 1997 model. Intake manifold lasted 105k miles and would have been replaced in a “soft recall” if it had failed before 100k. Polymer manifold developed leaks where coolant flowed into it.

          1. 350 except in 1991, when 305 was used. 1994-1996 models all came with the “Corvette” (not exactly) LT-1 engine.

    1. The replacement for the Chevrolet version of the SS, which you never got as a wagon, comes with Buick badging and slight ‘crossovering’ in the US. But if Mercedes Benz reliability is not enough, how good will be GM’s ?

        1. Completely unrelated except that in Australia, it replaces the Commodore and takes it’s name to become the ZB Commodore. And of course the Commodore is the original home-market RHD Chevrolet SS.

        1. I guess that I posted a confusing first picture. My point was/is that you never got the wagon version of the SS,(hence picture 1, showing what an SS wagon would look like as it would have been a Commodore wagon).
          Then I said that the last RWD Commodore was being replaced by a rebadged Opel Insignia which as Kiefmo has pointed out is on the new GM Epsilon FWD/AWD platform, and which, as it had Australian input for it’s version, was engineered to take a V6. This is also the basis for the new Buick.
          The connection between these two cars is that the Buick/Opel Epsilon platform wagon is also the new Commodore, so that in it’s own way, the new Buick is a (sort of) replacement for the Chev SS,( though that was never available as a wagon in the US). So saying that the two cars are completely unrelated is not quite correct. The new Commodore, almost completely unrelated to the old Commodore other than the carryover V6 is the same car as the new Buick. Since the old Commodore was the Chev SS and it’s been replaced by the new Commodore, it could be argued that the new Buick is a replacement for the Chev SS.
          Opel Insignia Country Tourer
          Holden Commodore ZB model Sportwagon, 4 & V6 only, replaces RWD only VF model Commodore, V6 & V8( sold as Chev SS but not in wagon form, if it had been it would have looked like my first picture above)
          New Buick wagon, same as two cars above

          1. It was a tad confusing, but you’ve since elaborated. I don’t see cars being related by name, but by platform (take the 1968 Mustang vs. the 1974 Mustang, for example). The Epsilon platform (new Commodore/Buick) is completely unrelated to the Zeta platform (old Commodore, et. al.) and in my opinion much less desirable. A Zeta-based Commodore Wagon in the States (especially if offered in a manual) would be my next car, no exception. The new Epsilon Opel/Buick and Commodore ZB are pretty, but just another people mover to the eyes of this enthusiast.

          2. I generally don’t either, but the general public do. Since GM is calling it the Commodore we can see that that is what they want people to think it is. In a way, it’s GM’s big experiment in market research., put the same name on a different car and hope that it gets the same buyers. It’s not an experiment that GM have run with in the US to my knowledge, or have they?

  4. Missed opportunity to have a second Benz wagon in the Hooniverse family awaiting a V8 swap.
    That said, did we rule out a Magnum the first time around? A little less vertical space inside, but the Hemi should have similar fueling costs to the Benz, and far fewer really expensive things to go wrong. As a bonus, I assume there isn’t a single LX over 5 years old in the Detroit area still wearing stock rims, so maybe you could sell whatever it comes with for a few bucks and throw on the rad steelies used on the cop car spec.

      1. They are tiny inside. I briefly considered replacing my Cherokee with one until I realized how little space that would gain me.

    1. Every weekend, I pop the hood of my girlfriend’s Magnum and dump in a quart of coolant premix. Every other week, I also add a quart of oil. The front suspension makes a noise like a box full of loose hardware and sheet metal scraps bouncing down a cliff face every time it hits a bump, the dash is falling apart, the AC compressor is shot, and the climate control mix doors faulted shut so there’s no heat either. The sunroof has never *not* leaked, the 3.5HO engine suffers from sheared pins in the valve train causing the rocker arms to spin and clatter (this is a *common* issue with these motors!) and the only reason I know there’s still oil in the rear diff is that there are two dark stains on the driveway where she parks it. The ABS system faulted two years ago, the plastic bumpers that keep the rear hatch from squeaking crumbled to dust last fall, and the headlights pulsate due to a common problem with the alternator.
      Every time I see it squeak, clatter, and rumble back into the driveway, I let out a sigh of relief that it didn’t leave her stranded, mixed with consternation that it hasn’t finally been put out of its misery.
      Friends don’t let friends buy Mopar.

      1. except for the cumminized dodge ram trucks. mine is fifteen yrs and still pulling. i don’t commute with it as it is a truck. on occasion, it gets the blizzard duty. no problem with vertical limits on cargo and seats five in all its seven thousand pound glory. hmm. note: been rearended twice by texting drivers. totalled both their cars. new rear bumpers for me. some times it is hard to tell the difference between a texting driver and a drunk driver.

      2. Sure, it’s miserable, but it’s miserable, 9+ years old, and hasn’t left her stranded or incurred a $4500 bill, right? We’re grading on a curve here (a curve where the choices for 340hp wagons are negligible).

        1. I’d say it’s comparable. The engine is, by my and our mechanic’s estimation, a time bomb. Replacing it would be less than the Merc, but we’re talking about the SXT trim, not a Hemi. We’ve also had to use our insurance’s roadside assistance more than a few times.

      3. This did make me laugh out loud. There should be a way to frame this comment and put it in the Chrysler HQ, as an eternal motivation to sharpen up.

      4. FWIW, on an LX platform, many of the components you complain about came from the Daimler side of the “merger of equals”.

    2. Couldn’t you do some creative hacking and glue an upside-down john boat to the roof?
      I’m almost not kidding.

  5. I don’t know…my lone experience with a German automobile did not end well, and cost me way too much along the way. Got tired of being stranded or driving a crippled vehicle. Another Mercedes wagon would probably just invite in more (but different) costly problems IMHO. But, to each his/her own.
    I do have to say the most comfortable driving I’ve done was over this past summer in my mid-sized SUV. Room to stretch, room to haul stuff, and my arthritic hips and knees did not complain one bit as I do not have to climb up and out of this like I do from a car. Seeing over the other cars on the road is also important, especially in such an idiot-prone area as southeast Michigan.
    I kind of second the TSX wagon. But, they are rare, getting older, and are probably smaller than what you were driving. The TSX does drive nice, though. The even rarer Acura ZDX was a crossover similar to the Accord Crosstour–similar to a wagon but a bit vertically shortened in the rear.

      1. Transit Connect worked very well for our four 80 to 120 pound beasts. Then again, so do a Tesla model S and PT Cruiser with rear seats down.

  6. I’ve been daily-ing an Elise for 14 months now. In Southern California it actually works pretty well for that; anywhere else I’d advise it as a “fun” car only, which seems to square with your plan. It is the ultimate “fun” car, the only downside being that it kind of kills your desire to drive anything else.

    1. Don’t put out stuff like this without linking to intensive, painstakingly well-documented blog posts. Sounds amazing! I’m looking to replace my seven seater with another seven seater eventually, possibly this summer. The envy is strong.

      1. While everybody here is shaking their heads about that nut and his 50kNOK “race car” (944, a used Elise is more like 200k), the 1MNOK (7kNOK/month loan, ahem) Tesla X is considered a solid and sensible choice… The X can be quicker on 0-100 than Elises, and they seat seven rather comfy (if six seats are sufficient, I’d recommend that option though).
        Are you tempted yet?
        (I’d still go big and get a proper van again, still feels like a good decision.)

        1. Haha, I have a friend who bought an S a couple of years ago. He still insists it was a wise choice; he’ll still be paying it off in 20 years. For now, I prefer a loan free existence and scrape the bottom of the pit after everyone else has left… Probably going for an FR-V or Previa if my hand is forced.

          1. I checked them out the last time around – too faulty. Lots of chassis issues, basically only diesel sold (I want petrol), very hard to find cars that have been maintained sensibly.

  7. It’s not the car-guy catnip that the V-Wagon is, but less muscular CTS Sport Wagons are extremely affordable these days.

  8. get
    i can’t speak to the newest ones, but my ’99 – and it’s a pretty finicky car – has been much more reliable than the ’95 Mercedes i picked up recently, a one-owner car with an impeccable maintenance history. we all bitch and moan about how Volvo don’t do like it used to do, but i haven’t heard of many catastrophic failures of core mechanicals, just the typical “uh buh buh there are too many computers in this” complaints. at worst, your AWD wagon becomes a FWD wagon and the thing nickel-and-dimes you for a decade.
    modern BMWs and Mercedeses are just straight-up not trustworthy on any level past ten years. but if you have some tolerance for stupid repairs and still want some of that Euro-wagon goodness, i don’t think you can go wrong – or at least, not as wrong as a Mercedes – with a five-cylinder Volvo. 04+ (03+?) V70s are supposedly pretty well-sorted, or if you’re willing to tolerate older cars, the 850/V70 models are not super hard to live with if you put in some effort up front.

  9. If you have the fun car side covered, would it be worth looking at a Transit Connect for the dog? Just throwing out another option, although performance would be lower.

  10. I drove a B5 A4 Avant for seventeen years. I don’t think $4,700 in repairs for a car you love is ridiculous. My wife, however, is another story.

  11. How about a Mazda6 wagon? Apparently 2008 was the last year but repairs are cheaper than anything German. Alternatively the “sports minivan” Mazda5 gets you something newer, cheaper and still reliable and inexpensive to run.

    1. Friend of mine who knows very little about cars was set to buy a Dodge Calibre but I nearly in a panic talked him into a Mazda6 wagon. He absolutely loves it. I’ve actually been tempted myself. It isn’t a look-at-me car by any means but the styling is so well resolved and proportional there isn’t a bad angle on the thing. One of the nicest cars you can get for under $5k I think. Not super fast but the V6 pulls well and sounds good. Every now and then you can even find a manual.

  12. Joining the discussion solely to commiserate. As a serial owner of European vehicles… I’ve had a few of those dreaded talks with the mechanic. I’m currently avoiding one right now with my ’06 Volvo XC90 V8. The sunroof leaks, the power steering pump will die at any moment, the muffler needs to be replaced, the ABS/Traction sets off a warning about once every 10 days and it needs two tires. The combined total of all of those repairs is almost certain to meet or exceed the value of the car. And it already got around $4,000 in suspension repairs in the last 12 months. It was quite reliable until it hit 120k miles, and now it appears to be falling apart. Huge bummer considering how truly fantastic the 4.4 V8 is. Wish I could part it out and mothball the V8 for a future project some day.

      1. That Vöcks 2-door Amazon Wagon remains one of my favorite custom cars of all time. And while the V8 is indeed lovely in the blue rod, the 750+ hp turbo inline-6 in the wagon is damned impressive, and in my mind more in keeping with the Volvo legacy.

    1. Wow, our ’08 3.2 has been particularly reliable. A sticking rear hatch handle has been about the most annoying thing that’s gone wrong with it. I’ve heard the V8 is a sweet power plant, though.

  13. This piece illustrates why I won’t buy a European car. The story here illustrates precisely the kind of issues my friends with European cars endure regularly. I only buy Asian or Ford because vehicles from these groups have been reliable, are inexpensive to service, and meet my needs.

  14. Get a last year SAAB 9-5 Aero wagon. Cheap buy in, predicable parts failures (ignition cassette, crank sensor, throttle body, blend door, all diy and available from eEuroparts. Also can be had with a 5 speed, but they are rare. Huge payload capacity and a stylish ride to boot.

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