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Are 'new car' and 'quality' antonyms?

Started by michaeld, 13 March 2006, 06:37 PM


I'm about to commit a little heresy here, because I'm going to talk about late model cars.  I have been reading an awful lot of posts from new Benz owners who are outraged over the need to do repeated and expensive repairs on their cars.  For a couple examples, go to and  One thing I know from my reading of other Benz forums is that there are some seriously pissed-off new Mercedes owners out there!

Now, many members of these Mercedes forums have risen to the defense of the 3 pointed star, but most of the members are agreeing that something is wrong with Mercedes quality.  I think it is fair to say that American manufacturers have been accused of lowered quality and reliability for some time.  Have Western automakers lost their way?  And is it just the West, or have the Japanese similarly lost quality?  And, most important of all, if automakers HAVE lost quality and reliability from (how many?) years back, why has it happened?  What are the socio-economic causes precipitating this slide?  And one final question: IF Mercedes quality has suffered, what will the impact be on our beloved 116s: will they become more sought after as sole representatives of REAL Mercedes quality, or will they suffer guilt-by-association due to the diminished reputation of Mercedes-Benz today?

Obviously, I want to hear from all of you.  But allow me to present an idea I've had by way of an analogy.  According to statistics, people all over the industrialized world are living longer lives than ever before.  But are they healthier?  Alas, no, Americans, Europeans, and Japanese are more obese than ever before.  Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer, etc. plague us in startlingly high numbers.  How can these seemingly contradictory state of affairs exist?  Simple: advanced technology has compensated for terrible diets and a near complete lack of exercise.  Modern medicine is allowing us to "fool the Reaper."  Now how does that relate to my question regarding modern automotive quality?  I am wondering if high-technology has been masking/concealing a long-term reduction in quality.  It seems plausible to think that hi-tech has enabled automakers to build cars cheaper than ever before, but unfortunately not merely in cost but in actual quality.  One simple example is "wind noise" which used to be overcome by fantastic build quality, but today is dealt with using improved rubber seals.  You get the same result, but it seems clear that something wonderful has been sacrificed.  Are modern cars the equivalent of modern people, who are living sickly existences that are sustained only by playing continual medical shell-games?

I would say more, but I don't want to "steal someone's thunder."  Has Mercedes sacrificed true quality for increased profitability in the last several years (and is this true of all carmakers, or just the Western ones?)?  If so, what are the causes?  And how does this impact our older Benzes?

John Hubertz

Here's the deal - I don't think that a "new" Mercedes is unreliable vs other high-end vehicles, quite the contrary.  I do think however, that Mercedes has (along with BMW, Cadillac, etc.) responded to the MARKETPLACE changing - as it demands more and more technology from top cars.

WE gentlemen (and lady) are the ones who are "strange" in this modern era, essentially maintaining a fixed place in a changing universe.  I don't think that we represent the mainstream, and for Mercedes to follow our philosophy at this late date would be market suicide.

Do I wish Mercedes would offer basic versions of their cars for those of us who don't want memory seats and navigation?  Yes.  But I'm just not sure enough people would buy them to make it viable.

I do know this - I'd love that "stop and go traffic" cruise control fitted to the new S class.  WOW.

(Please excuse me as I lifted quite a bit of this next bit from an earlier post I made in the "best era" thread....)

I was musing on the whole reliability/place in the market issue we've discussed so many times as I worked my way through morning traffic today....

I was behind a "new" w116.

The badge said "Toyota", the model was "Avalon".

Sadly, I think the Mr. Toyoda and his emphasis on long-term value has allowed them to assume Mercedes once-vaunted position as a high-value ratio premium manufacturer.

Whether you look at technology (Prius hybrid), economy (the new smidge car that replaces the echo, forgot the name) or rational and comfortable luxury with bulletproof reliability and a lack of gadgets that eventually spoil long-term utility (the avalon), Toyota is doing a MARVELOUS job of imitating the Mercedes 1973 - 1980 market strategy.

Think about it....  240D, 300D, 300TD, 300SD  (diesels - the pre-hybrid)

280 coupes and sedans, (Camry's?)

and of course the vaunted Solara coupe and convertible - a modern 107 if I ever saw one, pricey but a truly reliable sporty car with practical overtones.

And the Avalon (revised example):

This particular Avalon is 9 years old and already has 172,000 miles - and is one of many listed as "perfect condition, no problems" on ebay with higher miles.

John Hubertz
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
(Hunter S. Thompson) 

1977 450SEL (Max Headroom)
[img width=68 height=73][url=""][/url][/img]


Here is a pretty disturbing article for new Benz owners that I came across yesterday :'(.  The link is:

Basically, the problem for Mercedes (and BMW) is even worse than you might think.  They are falling to the BOTTOM in reliability rating, according to the CONSUMER article.  I am including the text below, unaltered except for a couple of bolds.  I apologize for the format, but I simply copied-pasted this from the MSN browser.  Read the article and comment.  f you really want a Mercedes, maybe buying an old Benz (like, oh, I don't know, a 116 model ;)) isn't such a bad idea.
Here is the article:

Japanese imports earned most of the top reliability honors, while European models scored well below average in this Consumer Reports study. ??? :'(

Our 2005 reliability survey, the largest of its kind, reached a milestone this yearâ€"we've gathered responses on more than 1 million vehicles from Consumer Reports and subscribers, the most we've ever received. These results underpin the most comprehensive reliability data you will find anywhere. Here, we give you a first look at our new Predicted Reliability Ratings for new cars, based on this survey, and the models that we expect to be the most and least reliable.
The difference between the best and the worst models is striking. For example, among large SUVs the least reliable model, the Infiniti QX56, is likely to have about eight times as many problems as the most reliable model, the Toyota Land Cruiser.

See Best and worst for a list of the models that have earned the best and worst Predicted Reliability Ratings in various vehicle categories. Following are some of the more notable survey findings:

Of the 31 cars that earned top rating, 29 were Japanese. Of these, 15 were from Toyota and its Lexus division and eight were from Honda. Some redesigned or new Japanese models from Toyota and Honda, however suffered "first-year blues." The new Scion tC and the redesigned 2005 Acura RL, Toyota Avalon, and Honda Odyssey earned only average reliability scores, for example.

Of the 48 cars that earned the lowest rating, 22 carry American nameplates, 20 are European, 4 are from Japan (all from Nissan and its Infiniti division), and 2 are from South Korea.

Some European models, which have had poor reliability in our previous surveys, improved slightly. The six-cylinder BMW X5 and X3, for example, earned average Ratings and are now the first European SUVs reliable enough to be recommended. However, most European models still scored far below average.

Hybrids from both domestic and Japanese manufacturers continue to have above-average reliability, including the Honda Accord and Civic Hybrids, the Toyota Prius, and the Lexus RX400h, which received top scores.


To help car buyers find trustworthy vehicles, every year Consumer Reports conducts an extensive reliability survey of its approximately 6 million magazine and online subscribers, asking them about any serious problems they have had with their vehicles in the preceding 12 months.

This wealth of feedback helps us build comprehensive reliability history charts for vehicles covering eight model years from 1998 to 2005. They show how well older models are holding up and what types of problems they have had. For new car buyers we use the reliability history data to determine our Predicted Reliability Ratings.


Toyota, along with its Lexus division, makes more than half of the sedans and small cars that earned our highest Reliability Rating. All the others that earned this Rating were also Japanese, including the Honda Accord and previous-generation Civic; the 2006 Infiniti M35/M45; and nonturbo models of the Subaru Impreza.

Most of the worst sedans in our rankings came from Europe, including several expensive luxury models such as the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar S-Type, and the Mercedes-Benz E- and S-Class. The rest of the bottom-rated small cars and sedans were from domestic manufacturers and included the Chevrolet Cobalt, the V8-powered Chrysler 300C, and the Lincoln LS. :'(


Hybrids continue to be very reliable, with both SUV and sedan models from Honda, Toyota, and Lexus earning the highest Rating. The Ford Escape SUV had above-average reliability. Even the oldest hybrids for which we have data, the 2000 Honda Insight and the 2001 Toyota Prius, continue to be very reliable.


SUVs from Asian manufacturers were the most reliable overall. However, neither the large Nissan Armada nor its Infiniti QX56 cousin are past their teething problems yet. Two South Korean SUVs, the Hyundai Tucson and the Kia Sportage, also rate among the worst.

European brands anchored the least reliable list. Unreliable models included the V8 BMW X5, Land Rover Range Rover, Land Rover LR3, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg, and Volvo XC90. Notable exceptions were the BMW X3 and six-cylinder X5, which improved to average. :'(

American SUVs continue to produce mixed results. While the Mercury Mariner was the best of the group, the Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, and Jeep Grand Cherokee were among the least reliable.

With the exception of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban; the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL; and the Cadillac Escalade, the other American large SUVs have subpar reliability. The Japanese makers are split, with Toyota in the top spot and Nissan trailing at the bottom with one of the worst scores in our recent surveys.


The Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan dropped to below average in reliability, losing their recommendation. The Toyota Sienna is the only minivan that rates better than average. GM's minivansâ€"the Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, and Saturn Relayâ€"joined the Nissan Quest at the bottom of the list.


The Toyota Tundra and the new Honda Ridgeline earned the top Ratings. The redesigned 2005 Toyota Tacoma V6 rated just average, but the four-cylinder Tacoma was above average. The Nissan Titan dropped from average and is now in the worst list. The Ford F-150 continued to score below average.


These 2006 models earned the highest and lowest Predicted Reliability Ratings, based on CR's 2005 reliability survey. Models marked with "(2005)" have been redesigned for 2006. Vehicles marked with an asterisk "*" indicate data is based on one model year only.

Most reliable  Least reliable 
Vehicles listed in scoring order, starting with the best score.  Vehicles listed in scoring order, starting with the worst score. 
SMALL CARS: Toyota Echo, Honda Civic (2005), Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid (2005), Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza (non-turbo)  SMALL CARS: Chevrolet Cobalt* 
CONVERTIBLES/COUPES: Honda S2000, Mazda MX-5 Miata (2005), Lexus SC430, Chevrolet Monte Carlo (2005)  SPORTY CARS/
CONVERTIBLES/COUPES: Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible, Mercedes-Benz SL, Mercedes-Benz CLK, Ford Mustang (V6)*, Chevrolet Corvette*, Audi S4 
SEDANS: Lexus GS300/GS430*, Infiniti M35/45*, Lexus IS300 (2005), Honda Accord Hybrid*, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord 4-cyl., Lexus LS430  SEDANS: Jaguar S-Type, Lincoln LS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Saab 9-3, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 5-Series (V8), Audi A8, Chrysler 300 (V8)*, BMW 7 series 
WAGONS: Toyota Matrix  WAGONS: Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Volkswagen Passat (V6) (2005), Volvo V50* 
MINIVANS: No models for this category.  MINIVANS: Nissan Quest, Buick Terraza*, Chevrolet Uplander*, Pontiac Montana SV6*, Saturn Relay* 
SMALL SUVS: Toyota RAV4 (2005), Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Subaru Forester, Mercury Mariner*, Mitsubishi Outlander  SMALL SUVS: Saturn Vue (AWD), Hyundai Tucson*, Kia Sportage* 
MIDSIZE SUVS: Lexus RX400h (Hybrid)*, Toyota Highlander, Toyota 4Runner (V8), Infiniti FX35  MIDSIZED SUVS: Volkswagen Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, Land Rover LR3*, Land Rover Range Rover*, Ford Explorer (2005), Mercury Mountaineer (2005), Jeep Grand Cherokee*, Ford Freestyle (AWD)*, Cadillac SRX, Volvo XC90, Chevrolet TrailBlazer (V8), GMC Envoy (V8), BMW X5 (V8) 
LARGE SUVS: Toyota Land Cruiser  LARGE SUVS: Infiniti QX56, Nissan Armada, Hummer H2, Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition 
PICKUP TRUCKS: Honda Ridgeline*, Toyota Tundra  PICKUP TRUCKS: Nissan Titan, Chevrolet Colorado (4WD), GMC Canyon (4WD

So, yeah, John.  I'm sorry, but it really sounds like Mercedes has dropped not only behind the Japanese, but also the Koreans and even  :o the Americans.  I personally believe that there is a cultural and societal phenomena afflicting Western civ that is undermining our productivity and our quality.  It is also afflicting the Japanese as well, but since the virus comes from the West, it is impacting them much less (at the moment) as it is the West.  In Japan, men work like dogs from dusk till dawn, take few vacations, and produce for their employer - or they're not considered men.  In the West, workers work half as much and bitch about it ten times more.  Something is clearly going on.  What's causing it?

John Hubertz

John Hubertz
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
(Hunter S. Thompson) 

1977 450SEL (Max Headroom)
[img width=68 height=73][url=""][/url][/img]


The thing I perceive has happened in the automotive industry is that the traditional 'luxury' brands have not focused on quality and reliability but have worked on broadening their markets.

I don't have the numbers in front of me but would expect that the W116 cost far more than a current model S-Class in relative terms. The relative cost savings have had to come from somewhere and at least part of the cost savings have come from quality.

People generally do not care about quality once it has met their 'good enough' standards. In a world where mass production for global markets is essential for large companies, these companies can only design and build products that meets the 'good enough' standards of most people in their respective markets. This is especially the case in a 'disposable' society.

There is also the issue of improvements in manufacturing available to all in the automotive industry. If a machine capable of high quality production is now affordable by all, then there is a good chance that all will be producing the same or similar high quality. There was once a time when hand built cars were seen to be of the highest standards but machines developed to produce even higher standards at a lower cost.

So, where does this leave MB and other luxury brands? They still differentiate with technological developments but it leaves little room for perceived quality. For anyone that thinks a little Toyota or Honda is of a higher quality than a little MB A-Class, I ask them to check out the safety credentials of each and would be surprised if the A-Class doesn't win in real world accidents. I know what I would rather be driving in an accident.

I am not making excuses for MB and the other traditional luxury car brands. I like the new models but can not see them lasting as well as our W116. Long live the W116!
1977 450SE [Brilliant Red]
2006 B200

Peter Anderson

Is another explanation peoples high expectations?

For example I filled in one of those JD Power type quality surveys for a 2003 Mini Cooper S, and i slated it. The car rattled, had a rubbish engine, used really shoddy materials, and the dealer service was terrible. However it never it never missed a beat or let me down. My poor rating of the car was because i expected more both because of the price I paid (huge for such a small car) and the reputation of the manufacturer BMW.

My W116 squeaks, rattles, and has the same low quality plastics in places - but i love it. I choose where I get it maintained - if they're not nice they don't get the business. What I couldn't stand in an 'expensive' new car with a good name badge, i don't even notice in a loved classic, that I'm prepared to forgive just about anything because of it's age.

So are all those people buying Toyotas just expecting less? They're not exciting cars, the interior plastics are all hard and shiny, and they are in no way inspiring (apologies to anyone with a Toyota - just my opinion!). But people expect them to be like that so they get a rank to show that they've met expectations.

John Hubertz

I think it goes deeper - I think "we" (car buying public in advanced countries) are simply jaded beyond belief.

The car companies are simply pandering to the bewildering so-called "tastes" of consumers - and you know what, I bet it was hard to keep the tile and gold leaf on Roman Villas around the time of Caligula....

It is easy to build wonderful automobiles - evidence Subaru and Toyota and even the Indian or Korean brands....

Rolling mansions celebrating grotesque consumption on the other hand are a smidge more difficult to build with dignity.

Gentlemen, the Emperor simply has a new suit - and unfortunately, it fits.  Let's call this automotive era what it truly is - wretched excess.

John Hubertz
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
(Hunter S. Thompson) 

1977 450SEL (Max Headroom)
[img width=68 height=73][url=""][/url][/img]


Quote from: 450SE on 17 March 2006, 01:13 AM
The thing I perceive has happened in the automotive industry is that the traditional 'luxury' brands have not focused on quality and reliability but have worked on broadening their markets.

Quote from: Peter Anderson on 17 March 2006, 03:22 AM
Is another explanation peoples high expectations?

Quote from: John Hubertz on 17 March 2006, 08:38 AM
I think it goes deeper - I think "we" (car buying public in advanced countries) are simply jaded beyond belief....The car companies are simply pandering to the bewildering so-called "tastes" of consumers

The common thread of these quotes is that the automotive industry is driven by marketing today - not by the cars themselves.  John had a post about collecting old car ads; it would be interesting to compare those ads with today's car ads, wouldn't it?

Carmakers have transformed our perception through marketing. I can't even remember the last time I saw a new car ad that had ANYTHING to do with the actual car. It's no longer about the engineering at all, but about the marketing (which at best presents us with the appearance of engineering). As one example, I remember seeing a truck ad in which something unimaginably huge and heavy (an asteroid in one, a huge load of rocks in another, etc) slams into it, and the truck isn't even scratched. But in reality that's just a laugh; most trucks have the flimsiest of bumpers (if any at all), and are among the most expensive of all vehicles for body work.  These babies dent all too easy, and then they cost a fortune to fix!  Marketers don't even bother to present reality anymore, do they?  Advertising is absolutely useless today; most of it is geared simply to make you think you'll look cool if you have that car. It's like all auto advertising is geared toward the impulse buyer (you know, like the candy bars at the sales register).

We're talking about quality vs. the perception of quality (the illusion of quality?).  For me - unless we're talking about a missile that's designed to blow up at the end of its maiden voyage - quality in a vehicle means performance, reliability, durability, ease of maintenance, build construction, and excellence of materials. It means ALL of these things, not one or two on the list to the disregard of the remainder.  But does it mean that in today's ads?  Today's perception seems only to mean horsepower and sex appeal.
And it's all about "right now."  We have become a culture of instant gratification.  It really seems as though cars are designed the way VCRs are designed; use them for awhile and then throw them away.  This is an enormous departure from the mindset of previous times.  Cars are lasting more miles today partially because maintenance has been taken out of owner's hands and because we're driving more miles in less time than ever before; but they're not lasting as LONG because they're simply not made to last.  Metal lasts longer than microchips.

There is no question that today's cars COULD be better made than anything that ever came before.  We've had advances in technology that guarantee that.  But I don't think they are.  I think (along with 450SE) that today's cars are stamped out as cheaply as each market segment will allow them to be.  One of the articles I read said that Mercedes used to build cars, and then set the price.  Now it is clearly the other way around.

Now, we're seeing a real drop-off in both the actual reliability AND the perception of reliability in European and American cars.  I don't believe this phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that the Japanese are competing for a strictly different market segment, with American and European car buyers being heedless of reliability and Japanese car buyers caring about it.  That just doesn't make sense to me.  That the West is slipping, and is trying to compensate by marketing campaigns makes more sense.  We'd build better cars if we could; we just can't.  U.S. cars cost $1400 more than Japanese cars solely because of the cost of employee health care - and we're bound to be bleeding red ink in other areas as well.  And Europe has even bigger problems in these departments.  These things HAVE to impact our ability to produce top notch stuff.  It forces us to think in terms of bare survival and the bottom line - and that kind of thinking (mindset) is probably not conducive to creating great cars. 

I'm telling you; our 116s emerged from a completely different philosophy than what we are seeing ANYWHERE today.   

Well, gotta climb off the soapbox and get along with my morning routine.


Quote from: styria on 17 March 2006, 05:08 PM... can anyone tell me the meaning of "antonyms"-I cannot find it in my dictionary.

Styria: Good to see you back on (the) board! Figured you had your head buried under a bonnet somewhere.   ;D

An antonym is a word of opposite meaning: e.g. "bad" is an antonym to "good".
"Antonym" is the antonym to "synonym" - a term for words meaning the same: e.g. "exhausted" is a synonym for (synonymous with) "fatigued" or "tired" or "spent".

There are many "~nym" words:

Pseudonym = a false name or pet name: e.g. "styria" is a pseudonym for [your real name which I shan't disclose here in public].

Ananym = a name formed by reversing letters of another name: e.g. Talk show host Oprah's production company is named Harpo.

Phananym = a "nearly" ananym: e.g. fleshpot = top-shelf.

Charactonym = a name of a fictional character that suggests the personality traits of that character: e.g. Mrs Malaprop in Richard Sheridan's play, "The Rivals" was known for misusing words with humorous results; such misuse is a "malapropism".

Aptronym = a name that's especially suited to one's profession: e.g. Dr Pain, the dentist.

Allonym = name of a person, usually historical, taken by an author as a pen name (as opposed to using a fictional pseudonym).

And so on and so forth ...

Sorry to blather on with stuff of probably little interest to most posters, but, after all, words are my business.   :)
[img width=340 height=138][url=""][/url][/img]


Hiya, Ozbenzhead, thanks for your definitions.  You know more abot those "word-play" words than I do - and I'm a nerd!  Did you get the PM I sent to you last week by the way?

The post I left this morning may have partially been influenced by too much coffee and too little time to reflect before hitting the "post" button.  I apologize if I came across as overly intense.  I'll be more  8) now.
I find the whole "new car thing" interesting even for us old Benz folk for the following reasons: 1) New Mercedes quality/reliability is clearly under question, and we're Benz-lovers; 2) Some of us have to choose between buying a newer car or keeping our old one; 3) there's a question as to how our old cars relate to the newer models; 4) If Mercedes' new models are maligned, what impact does that have on the value of our w116s?  5) I for one find it interesting to talk about new cars vs. old cars knowing full well they come from different eras and different philosophies.

I just got rid of my '94 Buick Skylark because it had become a piece of junk.  It looked nice (given that they were actually ugly even when brand new), but there were too many non-maintenance-related issues (a loose steering wheel and a bad torque converter solenoid were the biggest culprits) whose repair was beyond the value of the car.  It had 130,000 miles.  Now, 1994 aint brand new, but it's still pretty close to the modern era.  And there are an awful lot of modern cars that aren't lasting a whole lot more than 130,000 miles.  ARE modern cars really lasting longer than older ones?

This is kind of interesting for discussion: If you bought an old Benz (as we all have), what made you decide the car was reliable and roadworthy?  I mean, my car is 28 years old; doesn't it like belong in a museum or something?  For me, the biggest reason I trusted a 1977 Mercedes with 124,000 miles is because I've HAD SEVERAL 70's American cars that made that distance and a lot more easily - and I believed that Mercedes quality was even better.  Are new cars really that much better?  Not judging by my Skylark, they aint!  And at least when I look at my 450 SEL motor, I have some idea of what in the world I'm looking at; new cars have increasingly taken even basic maintenance out of owners' hands.

I'm with Styria.  I don't need most of the high-tech garbage they're putting on new cars.  And it seems like that's the biggest difference between older cars and newer ones.  New cars definitely get better mileage and better smog performace.  But in most respects I think that new cars are kind of disappoining performance-wise compared to what they could have been after 30 years of engineering.  I actually think the fact that Mercedes is so "top end" - and so has the most high-end and high-tech luxury systems - is one of the reasons they're having reliability issues.  Maybe microchips and cars don't mix as well as a lot of people think.

Our cars performance (other than fuel efficiency  :'() haven't given up a whole lot in comparison with most of today's cars.  My 450 might not be the fastest thing out of the stoplight, but it wasn't desgined to be.  Rather, it was designed to pull hard from its mid and upper end, cruise at 120 mph, and go up to 134-137 mph with a hundred rpm from redline to spare.  Aint too many modern cars doing much better than that!  My M117 is a darned sight stronger than either my 90 Cadillac with a 5.7L, my 92 Lincoln Town Car with a 4.6L, or the Skylark with its 3.1 v6.  And I feel pretty good about my 4-wheel disc brakes and my zero-offset front and anti-squat rear suspension [my brother, who drives a '05 high-end Infinity, made the comment that my Benz has a real nice ride quality].  Frankly, I almost feel like I'd be getting LESS performance for just about any new car that I could afford.

John Hubertz

It seems that as always, there are variables car to car.

I sold my 1998 Buick Century with 53,000 mile... because frankly, it had bad luck!  It wasn't UNreliable, but twice the left front strut stabbed through the hood....  odd.  Twice it failed to start for no reason.... for about 5 minutes.  The positive battery terminal just came off... from inside the battery....

It never left me stranded, but it left me worried.

My "new" Lincoln, a 1994 Mark VIII with 100,000 miles, "feels" solid as a bank vault and drives newer then the buick ever did.

Ummmmmm  Cars are people too?

I almost can sense it.... some cars, including some Mercedes of every vintage (126s seem to vary this way a lot, car to car) just don't want to be cars....they want to be paperweights that look like cars!  They slouch down over their tires like a straggled out waitress at a bad restaurant...  grudgingly going about their duties till your back is turned.

John Hubertz
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
(Hunter S. Thompson) 

1977 450SEL (Max Headroom)
[img width=68 height=73][url=""][/url][/img]


Hi guys

To the question : Are 'new car' and 'quality' antonyms?

I answer the following : I drive a 33 year-old W116 because it has far FEWER problems than any "new car" (2001-2006). I listen to what people say at work and hear horror stories all the time - these poor fellows spend the equivalent of my annual maintenance in one wasted Saturday morning at the stealership and the car still has a problem on sunday.

Driving my oldie is not only MUCH cheaper but is FAR more relaxing day in, day out.

To me, the quality of something is defined by : it does what it was designed for and does it consistently for a period of time related to its initial cost.

My boss bought a Citroen C6 (new french luxo model) a few months ago and has become a regular fixture in the service department...if a car is expensive, why is it outfitted with devices appropriate to the cheapest model ? I have seen this with my own eyes...

Something about common sense is wrong here...


Paris, France


Hi there John, Styria, and Denis,

Styria mentioned depreciation as a big reason why he avoids new cars.  Boy is that good fiduciary sense: I read an article that said new cars depreciate half their value in three years on average, and luxury cars lost value quickest of all (I guess if you can afford to buy the darn thing, you can afford to buy it new and enjoy that 'new car' smell).  I've always figured I'd much rather let someone else write off the lion's share of depreciation, and then swoop in.  And of course, there comes a point (like Styria's 6.9 and very likely several of our cars as well) where a classic car can actually begin to appreciate in value.

John mentioned his Lincoln, and there's a point there as well: American cars HAVE gotten a bad rap relative to other cars, particularly when you are buying used.  Have you priced a used Honda Civic lately?  I myself would much prefer to buy a bigger, nicer American car than a Japanese one - and pay less to boot.  There are good cars and bad lemons in every manufacturer and every brand.  And (just maybe) when you buy an older car with a proven service record, you get a chance to shake the bad ones out of the tree.

And that dovetails with what Denis said: that new cars often aint no bed of roses.  I used to work with quite a few Asian men and women who ALWAYS bought and leased only Japanese cars.  But I'll tell you what, Japanese craftsmanship has more to do with marketing than machining based on the results in that office - I was always hearing some "woe is me for my car needs repairs" stories from them.  Like John, I was driving my Lincoln to work and it ran as steady as waves on the seashore - despite being a '92 that I'd bought with over a 100,000 miles.

When I bought my 77 450 SEL I was planning on re-selling it for a profit.  But I quickly discovered that I couldn't let it go.  I got rid of my other car instead.  My Benz is a daily driver.  It's not a 2nd or 3rd car I bought just to tinker on and drive on weekends.  Now, one interesting question to ask is how many of you'all drive your Benzes every day, and how many basically keep it as a hobby project or for weekend use?  For me, mine is a daily driver; so I want my car to be like Denis' and take good care of me.

THAT was part of what I had in mind when I wrote my first piece on this post.  Are these old Benz cars reliable or not?  Are new cars reliable or not?  As I've been reading, I'm coming to the conclusion that old cars are more reliable than they're given credit for, and new cars aren't nearly as reliable as they're given credit for.  I don't know precisely WHEN it happened, but I think there was a point in the past when the old saying, "they sure don't make 'em like they used to" started to apply to cars.  From what I've been reading, it definitely applies to Mercedes-Benz cars.

I've written several posts dealing with issues such as 'reliability' and the meaning of 'quality' in w116s because I'm the kind of guy who (at least before driving a 116) has tended to view driving as a commodity; to wit, whether you drive a $250,000 car or a $250 car, the main purpose of the car is to GET you there.  I was trying to get a handle on how reliable these old Benz cars were, so I could decide whether to pass my 450 on to someone else or not.  Denis define quality by saying,
Quote from: Denis on 19 March 2006, 04:14 AMTo me, the quality of something is defined by : it does what it was designed for and does it consistently for a period of time related to its initial cost.
That's a pretty good definition, I think.  My questions were, "What were these 116 cars designed for, and how long a period could I reasonably expect them to consistently do whatever that design-purpose was?   I was looking to be convinced that Mercedes matched MY idea of quality and reliability, rather than some rich man's who could afford to shell out for exhorbitant repairs in order to maintain some kind of aristocratic image that I cared absolutely nothing about.  I found what I needed to find in that department - but that will have to be the substance of some future post.   

One other thing, before I leave: I've been reading up on car repair and maintenance because I plan on doing as much work as I can on my Benz to save $$$.  I wouldn't even THINK of doing that with a newer car because they are simply beyond my technical ability.  And of course, nowadays you need oscillascopes and a lot of advanced, expensive, and highly specific tools to touch a lot of repair work on new cars.  One of the things that we have going for us is the SIMPLICITY of design on our old girls (which at one time of course were technological marvels).  Sometimes I worry that ten or twenty thousand miles down the road I'll need to replace my timing chain, and won't that day be a big pain in my hiney!  But heck, I don't even know where the stupid timing chain is on these new motors because the darned things are facing sideways and whatnot.  I don't even know if they HAVE a dang timing chain anymore.  I think that's what Denis is talking about above: if you can do the work yourself, you save a good 2/3rds of your cost or more - and quite often more.  Maintenance and repair work don't seem as bad when it doesn't cripple you financially, even if you have to do a little more of it.



Quote... how many of you'all drive your Benzes every day, and how many basically keep it as a hobby project or for weekend use?

My 116 has been my daily driver for two years. I spent a couple of months repairing and tinkering with him when first acquired - mostly tidying up from previous suboptimal care - things such as grubby interior trim, minor rust, etc. At purchase, he had 150,000 miles up and, apart from needing some steering / front-end work, was mechanically very good. Drives like a dream and, apart from a strange problem with the distributor, has given me no grief. Distributor is now fixed ($110 for a new one).

Before the 116 my 1970 W108 280SE was my daily driver for 23 years (I acquired him when he was 11 years old). At 30 years of age - and 485,000 miles - he blew a head gasket; when replacing that, he got an engine rebuild - rings, bearings, valves, etc., a mild cylinder machining, and a new head (the old one was cracked like wedding-gown lace, but had shown no signs of malfunctioning until physically disturbed!). Cost: about $4K. (This approach to doing as much as practicable in one department at one time is along the lines of Styria's recommendation, and is a practice I've usually followed.) At about 500,000 miles, the fuel pump died; replaced it for about $100 with a secondhand one that's still working. He has now clocked up 516,000 miles and still goes well and without trouble.

By contrast, I bought - brand new - a 1970 HT Holden (GM to non-Aussies) GTS Monaro when I was 21. It was at the upper end of the Holden model range at the time. At the mandatory 1,000 mile service, I took it to the dealership with a list of 48 items for attention, including impossibly poor wheel alignment (very hard to steer), a baulky auto transmission (change points were all over the place like a mad dog's breakfast), poor ignition performance (erratic misfiring), a leaking cooling system that allowed the engine to overheat within 40 miles from refilling radiator, a driver's seat mount that wouldn't stay tight and a backrest that wouldn't stay at the set rake angle for more than a day), a driver's door that had already dropped badly enough on its pathetic hinges that it was hard to close (had to lift it by handle before shutting!) ... and many more relatively minor, but annoying, faults.

When I collected it the next day, only three of my gripes had been attended to (and the steering/wheel alignment was not amongst those!).

Three services and 8,000 miles later, I left it parked across the dealership's main entrance, with "lemon" written in toothpaste all over the metallic paintwork - after I'd had it towed there with a seized transmission.

It was without doubt the greatest heap of fertiliser I've ever owned, and that's saying something, as I've owned 56 cars and some of those were $100 "cheapies".

Whilst I'm prepared to accept that my Monaro was the proverbial lemon of the batch, I'm still not convinced that it would ever have been a good car; the engineering was primitive to say the least, and the build quality was ordinary in the extreme.

Despite the fact that Oz is a "Holden" nation and that Benzes were relatively very rare here in that era (1970), it's interesting to note how many W108s are still driving on Aussie roads and how few HT Holdens are keeping them company.

The Monaro cost me $3,700 to buy, new. A year later (6 months after I'd ditched mine) the same car, secondhand, was selling for $2,500 and less. Serious depreciation. My 36-year-old W108 is now probably worth more than all I've spent on it since - and including - buying it.

My W116 shows every sign, to date, of giving similarly good value and reliability. I paid so little for it that it can only appreciate henceforth, so if he costs me a dollar here and there, so what! I'm still ahead.
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Styria, Ozbenzhead,

I think I actually "confessed" that I had initially purchased the car with the intent of re-selling it once before.  But yes, that's part of why I was fixated on quality and reliability.  Even after I decided I didn't want to part with this car, I was still fascinated by the issue of the "return" on a Mercedes-Benz (by which I mean, what do these cars give you back for all that investment?).  I'm still fascinated by that question: why would I - or anyone - pay 4 or 5 times as much on a Mercedes as something else?  What do expensive cars give their owners aside from snob appeal?

I bought my 77 450 SEL for $801.51 on ebay, sight unseen.  The mileage was 124,000.  I figured, 'what the heck' and put my bid down; and then was surprised and experienced some "post-purchase cognitive dissonance" when I found I won. 
Immediately when I saw the car, though, I felt that stirring that you guys understand.  I knew very little about Mercedes, and nothing about 450 SELs, but what I saw was a beautiful automobile.  When I opened the trunk, I saw the manuals and the service records.  That was when I first became aware that this had been a one-owner car that had been well-maintained.  The medical doctor who owned the car kept meticulous records: I have documentation for every oil change!  He overhauled the front end at 119,000 miles and replaced the ACC servo and water pump at 123,000.  The engine and trans were strong.
I realized that I had "hit the jackpot" in terms of being able to buy low and sell high.  My eyes had dollar signs.  But as I drove the car home, the dollar signs somehow began to transform into 3 pointed stars.  Maybe it's because I hadn't had a lot of "awesome" cars in my life, but driving my 450 SEL for the first time was akin to only be able to see in black and white, and then suddenly being able to see in full living color.  She was a keeper!

You are right of course, Styria.  When it comes to something like a timing chain replacement, the best time at some point the best time to do the job is when you have time to do the job.  I put a stethoscope on the front of the valve cover, and heard no tell-tale "clanking" - but you've always got know that that moment will eventually arrive.  What I will likely do is periodically check for the sounds of chain wear, and begin the preparations you describe when I start to hear it.  Long live the M117 double-row timing chain!!!  And yes, when you open up an engine, you really might as well do some of those other little maintenance items.

It's good to hear there are other confident daily drivers of 116s out there.  I'm thinking of posting a series of quotes from my readings about major systems (engine, fuel injection, transmission, suspension) that have made me a "believer" in my car.

One last thing: Ozbenz said his 280SE was a boy ("I acquired him when he was 11 years old"); my 450SEL is definitely a girl.  How is it that we determine our cars' genders when there are no genitalia?