Mercedes S-Class Blues
A Readers Experience With A £27000 Mercedes S-Class Versus a £550 Volvo
I Bought a Mercedes S320 S-Class Year 2000 W Plate around eighteen months ago, it was a one owner fully dealer maintained car sporting a mere 42000 miles, midnight blue metallic, mushroom leather, CD, Sat Nav etc. A top spec Car. The first owner had upgraded to a new AMG model and I had the opportunity of purchasing his car direct from him affording him the advantage of no part exchange. The car had been meticulously maintained by him from new, only MB dealers and approved specialists had ever laid a spanner on the car, it seemed a wonderful purchase at £27000 rather than the going rate of around £30000 elsewhere for the same car.
The first owner had arranged to take delivery of his new car and on the same day I had arranged to collect my new car from him. However, he had had a detachable tow bar fitted from a MB approved specialist that it seemed had been fitted in such a way that it had allowed water ingress into the boot area, thus causing malfunction with the CD changer in the boot and in turn the whole Sat Nav/TV/Telephone/Cassette/Radio screen system. On the day I was due to collect the car, it was in the Mercedes Dealer in Manchester having these faults corrected under warranty. I was asked to collect it two days later. Those two days became six days. It was a taste of what was to come.
I duly collected the car and drove home the proud new owner of a three year old Mercedes S-Class Flagship that had just been discharged from the dealers in good health. For a Working Class boy that had started with nothing at 15 years old, being 33 and owning such a vehicle outright, was in essence nirvana, this was a supreme moment to be remembered. I felt I had been shrewd enough to purchase a £60000 car three years and 45000 miles later at less than half price of new, the depreciation from new was not my loss, I had swam the channel, complete with my Private Plate, I had a new shape S-Class Mercedes and was tooling down the road without a care in the world!
I have been a Mercedes fan for many years, my first was an old stack headlamp 1972 used example with a big chrome rim inside the steering wheel, my next was a 1976 350SE S-Class, with white leather seats and a big V8 engine. To follow that was a 1984 380 SEC 2 door Coupe S Class, once owned by Syd Little, (of Little & Large fame) I was so impressed with that I bought a 1989 500 SEC to replace it, you could not improve on perfection in my opinion apart from a later car, a bigger engine and better spec. So that’s what the 500 SEC was. The next logical step up was to the current shape S-Class an opportunity that afforded itself to me via a local gangster who after a driving ban and numerous brushes with the local constabulary, decided to trade up to a new AMG model and move to his châteaux in France. So I had my S-Class!
Having interspersed my Mercedes ownership through the years with a few American cars, a Rolls Royce or two and the odd Jaguar, nothing compared to Teutonic reliability and thus I was supremely confident of my new purchase. However, a few weeks into ownership, the Satellite Navigation was playing up, it was hopelessly outdated, did not know where the new roads were, new diversions etc. A new Disc was duly purchased at £120 but the car refused to load it. ‘Ah’ said the expensive voice from the MB dealer at the end of the phone, ‘you need to have the software updated to accept the new disc’, and a £160 labour charge later, the Sat Nav was working once more. I hoped this was to be a minor computer glitch not to be repeated.
A few weeks after this, when the gear change was far from responsive, the now familiar expensive voice on the telephone at the Mercedes dealer said ‘Ah, the gearbox software needs updating – bring it in’. £80 later the gear change was much the same and when questioned, the expensive voice said ‘well it’s your control unit, didn’t they tell you? It will be around £800 to fit a new one and program it, we just adjusted it as we thought best, it should be useable’ – A £27000 car is just useable? Despite the mileage, MB refused warranty on this item.
Following this, the car developed a serious misfire; S-Class ownership was not all wafting down the road in silence sneering at the poor with the subtle strains of Classic FM in the background! ‘Coil Packs’ they declared, just six of them at a mere £95 each, plus labour. £950 later, the car was running like a dream. The week after, brake discs and pads all round were deemed necessary to stop the awful grinding noise when stopping. Another mere £500 took care of that little matter. However from that point on the cars brakes squealed, “oh yes they do that” declared the man with the expensive voice with a straight face, “it’s a design fault”.
Then, all at once, the car did not know it had a telephone installed, did not know it had a CD changer, did not operate the former from the steering wheel controls, displayed a warning about the position of the steering wheel and declared ‘DO NOT DRIVE’ on the instrument cluster. A mere £250 sorted that computer glitch out.
I had the misfortune one wet evening of hitting a kerb in the car to avoid a more serious collision. A new Alloy wheel and tyre was needed but following this the steering pulled to the left. Upon examination, the ever more familiar expensive voice on the phone declared ‘you have twisted the chassis, the car really needs jigging, we have done our best and it does not pull to the left any more, it will do for now’. The car drove fine apart from the steering wheel being totally lopsided, after three attempts at correcting this annoying little matter, the expensive voice retracted the £350 invoice for making the steering wheel point the correct way after being threatened with litigation and all was well once more.
Then we had the ice. The electric window refused to move down, instead it made an expensive sounding crunching noise, it was not wrong, a regulator and motor and several hundred pounds later, it worked again. The man with the expensive voice shrugged his shoulders at my comment that Mercedes’ of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s managed to slide down the window glass at many times the age and mileage without incident, whatever the weather, and indeed do that very task to this day.
Fine and dandy once more, my elation was soon to be clouded by the car refusing to start on a few occasions. Persistence and time made it start, three trips to the Dealer allegedly rectified it, but one bank holiday Monday, it refused to start once more. After an hour or so wait for Mobilo the Mercedes breakdown service, the car started without fault, showing me up totally, the technician could find no fault on his laptop. The car was A1 he declared, but nevertheless, that evening, it failed to start again. Realising a long stay at the dealers was inevitable to source an intermittent fault, I was passing time browsing E-Bay, the auction website, as one does when contemplating being a pedestrian again; £550 later an old Volvo 960 Estate was acquired sporting 130000 miles, it would do for the week or so the Mercedes was in for repair I thought. The Mercedes was becoming so unreliable that a permanent spare car was needed anyway as it was in for repair so often.
Summer was upon us and it was beginning to get warm. The Volvo’s elderly Air Conditioning kept me remarkably cool, in fact much better than the Mercedes’ somewhat asthmatic air con, what’s more it started every time, the windows worked, it got me where I wanted to go, it did not have computer tantrums, the steering did not pull, in short, it did what a car should do, for a mere £550!
Meanwhile, the Mercedes languished for six weeks at a different MB Dealer under investigation, they managed to damage the front wing while it was there, botch the repair, deny it, do the repair better, deny that, then one day the car was ready, albeit with a sub standard front wing, but they claimed it started, the car was duly collected and Hurrah! It seemed to start every time. The Volvo was relegated to the back of the driveway pending the Mercedes’ next trip to visit the expensive voice at the Mercedes dealers.
I did not have long to wait. Only recently, a suspicious noise was emanating from the rear of the car, a short while later the dashboard display declared ‘car too low – do not drive’. The air suspension, one of the innovative major selling points of the car when new, had collapsed. A Call to the ever more expensive voice confirmed that if I drove it to them it may ruin the rear struts and they are at least £300 each. The AA was called and the car, once again, languished in the Mercedes dealer for a week undiagnosed. When finally repaired, the invoice was over £500, on a 54000 mile Flagship vehicle that purports to be one of the best cars in the world. Meanwhile, the E-Bay £550 Volvo Estate had once more been pressed into service, suspension up, starting every time, Air Con cool, leather seats comfortable, being every inch the reliable vehicle the Swedes intended it to be back in 1990 when it was made.
The Mercedes dealer suggested I trade up into a CLS, they claim to have had fewer problems with those, how endearing I thought, rotten customer service on top of a bad product and the answer is to give them another £30,000 plus my car so they can keep another overpriced lemon weeks on end, charge me the earth, while they remedy their own bad design, poor computer software and pull of the trick of making it look like my fault! No Thanks. The Volvo will do nicely. Mercedes S Class for sale on E-Bay, full dealer maintenance, two owners, Much work done!