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Mercedes-Benz vs. the auto Goliaths: when big becomes too big

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I read an interesting article in my newspaper, titled "Toyota recalls go up sharply as vehicle sales rise" by Jim Mateja out of the Chicago Tribune.

It began, "The Toyota name has long been synonymous with quality, durability, and dependability.  But in recent months, it's become synonymous with recalls as well.  Perhaps in its bid to overtake GM as the largest automaker on the planet, Toyota is guilty of the same sin GM, Ford and Chrysler committed in past decades - putting quantity ahead of quality.

Some details: last year, Toyota recalls more than doubled as the industry's declined slightly.  And there is no let up this year, w/ models like the Tundra, Sienna, Highlander, Echo, Yaris, Prius having large numbers of recalls for various issues.  And the Camry - long supposed the flagship of "how to build a great car" - dropped from the highest reliability to only average in the Consumer Reports mag rating.  The senior director of its auto test facility said, it may be an example of "the more vehicles you produce, the more likelihood you are going to miss something."

Well, as one who has lamented the US automaker's plunge into mediocrity as well as the Japanese automaker's rise to invincibility, I HAVE to cheer over the above.  But that led me to wonder...

Assuming that the statement, "the more vehicles you produce, the more likelihood you are going to miss something" is true, how does this inform us on our w116s?  As I understand it, the 450SE/SELs were the first truly internationally successful Benzes in terms of sales.  At the same time, the company has continued to become more and more successful in terms of units sold ever since - and there seems to be no question that late model Benzes have increasingly lost ground in the "quality, durability, and dependability" department that the Toyota story opened with.

On a similar vein, I have looked at the engines of several late model Japanese cars, and .... :o ??? >:( ... (shudder)... horror.  Pure horror.  You think of doing ANY DIY work on one at all, and they appear more evil than Linda Blair did in "The Exorcist."  It appears like you'd have to dissasemble half the darn front end just to GET to most of the engine components.  All the new cars are like that now, to varying degrees, compared to what they used to be.  But new GM cars appear to be a mechanic's dream compared to the Japanese cars in terms of engine accessability.  How would you rate our w116s in "user friendliness" (we might agree to exclude the 6.9s here just because there is just so much darned motor crammed in there!  Or not, if the 6.9rs want to comment).  How would you rate the ease of working on your w116 compared to other cars - both older and newer - that you have owned?

New car prices are really coming down, particularly with all the "employee discount" packages.  What would you say would be the chief reasons for hanging on to your old w116 rather than trading it in on a new model?  (Big Richard's last post on the thread that bears his name prompts me to ask this last question).

hi michaeld and all

It's actually much worse than what michaeld describes. Even if the new cars have/had some accessible components, the DIY maintenance is now virtually impossible.
In another thread, I was trying to help oscar with his injector 4 and 8 problem, my last post suggested using an oscilloscope to "see" the pulse train. That is as bad as it gets with a W116. A cheap multimetre with a frequency counter range would also do. But that is not even a starter on the "new" cars.

To simplify, the "new" car creed is something like this: if a mechanical function can be turned over to "silicon", do it ! the physical part is cheaper to manufacture and you can tell your clients that it is modern "digital" stuff when they complain about the (inflated) price. People are suckers for anything "digital"...

So how do you do DIY work on the "silicon" ? either you don't or you become a mechanic  :P

Here is a case in point : a few years ago, I was working on a training program for Renault. A collaborator named Richard who lived in Nottingham, UK was helping out with documentation.

To "fix" a Renault, like most "new" cars, you plug a laptop computer somewhere and run the diagnostic tools, etc. For a Renault, there is a special laptop named Clip, specialised laptops are the norm so any old one will not do  :(, and a software pack allows one to see everything including all the data transiting over the multiplexed network and the several custom micro-controllers and up to the "central cabin computer". Wow, a new Renault has a "central cabin computer" all digital and all  :P

So Richard had a Ford Mondeo and I asked him how he got data from a Renault. He said "Well, my neighbour in Nottingham has a Mégane and she lets me plug into it ever since I showed her that I had "fixed" 14 problems...I explained to her that there were mistakes in the data for fuel injection and the climate control and that I had corrected them by entering the right data and updating the software in the FI "computer" with the lastest service CD" and she said : "Oh...but... I didn't have any problem..." and Richard replied " were ABOUT to have one with the fuel injection, the data errors that would have increased your fuel consumption quite a bit."

The lady was sold ! Go ahead mister Richard, "fix" my car as much as you like  ::)

Some of the problems came from electrical glitches or buggy programs. Yes, "new" cars have BUGS, isn't technology wonderful  ::)

Personally, I will simply NOT put up with cars that behave like poorly configured Windows PCs. This makes my choice of "new" cars stop at the early W126 cars.

Aside from the dashboard and pneumatics, I consider my W116 to be a joy to maintain and with the M116 engine, the easyest to access in the engine area. Even the steering box adjustment is accessible between the third and fourth branch of the left exhaust manifold.

As to the very easiest car for DIY, I firmly believe that a W123 240D is utter happiness on wheels with a star to enjoy.

Bugs belong in computers not in the cruise control or ABS  !!!


Paris, France

Well said Denis.
What will all this mean for the classic car owner of the future? That is, assuming we have the fuel to run them. Will we be able to de-bug current cars in 40 years time or will they be consigned to the PC rubbish dump because we don't have the chips etc to fix them? I recall NASA doing a worldwide search recently for old chips for its space programme.......
However, the 116 is not without bugs. My 450SE has a poltergeist that lives in the Tempomat and defies all attempts to fix it. It will cruise nicely at 100kph and just when I am relaxed it will blast into full acceleration and power down the highway. That's OK but despite swapping components I have not been able to isolate the issue. Neither can my mechanic who worked at MB when the 116s were being built and who knows them intimately. We simply scratch our heads and wonder. I use the Tempomat only when I need some entertainment and the road ahead is clear....
Can you imagine what a malfunctioning Distronic might do?


--- Quote from: michaeld on 31 August 2006, 10:04 PM ---On a similar vein, I have looked at the engines of several late model Japanese cars, and .... :o ??? >:( ... (shudder)... horror.  Pure horror.  You think of doing ANY DIY work on one at all, and they appear more evil than Linda Blair did in "The Exorcist."
--- End quote ---

--- Quote from: Denis on 01 September 2006, 03:44 AM ---It's actually much worse than what michaeld describes. Even if the new cars have/had some accessible components, the DIY maintenance is now virtually impossible.
--- End quote ---

Just in case anyone ever comes to the conclusion that Denis does not seriously hate the prospect of DIY on late model cars!

I have always bought cars "for the long haul;" i.e., when I buy a car, I plan to drive that sucker until it don't drive no more (well, actually, until it is smarter to buy another car than to fix the problem on the one I got).  The idea of spending the equivalent of half a car's new purchase price for a three year lease was NOT devised with me in mind, I can assure you.

I have wondered what impact leasing has had on car quality, durability, and reliability - it has had to have SOME impact, given that so many cars are leased today.  Exactly what impact is an excellent matter for discussion; but my opinion is that cars were once built for long-term owners, and today are built for short-term owners - and that aint good for folk who are seeking long-term quality.

I concur w/ Denis' analysis of the evils of silicone, and loved his quip about refusing to put up with cars that behaved like poorly configured Windows PCs.  You aint a Mac guy by chance, are you, Denis?  I believe that ONE of the major reasons that Mercedes-Benzes are losing their reputation for "quality, durability, and dependability" is precisely that they became too "high-tech" for their own good.  Too many whiz bang gadegets and computer controlls that wowed the initial purchaser - well, leaser - but were not able to last for the long haul.  Let me tell you something: if I were about to plunk down a hundred grand on an automobile (which I'm not!), I would be pretty P.O.d if the thing didn't work at least as well as Apollo's sun chariot.

And they don't locate the computers and chip sets in easily accessible places, do they - no, they hide them in an engine the way misers hide their money in a house.  When one fails, you are either tearing your motor apart or tearing your dash apart, whichever is more heinous.

I had great success with early 90's GM cars (Lincoln and Cadillac) - apart from being targeted by car thieves - but I'm going to have to see the 2000+ models go the distance before I trust the new cars.  As for Brian's insight: I agree.  The days of the "Classic car" are over.  Today's cars will cost too much to keep running in relation to what they will be worth as all the whiz-bang gadgets begin to fail (i.e., "What do you mean, it's gonna cost $8000 to repair my rear-view video system?  The hell with it!").

Now, I also asked about w116s in regard to falling prey to the corporate mindset and lowered standards of quality.  No one touched that, so allow me to venture this far: when an auto manufacturer begins to seek profitability over anything else, it might well be time to consider buying cars from another auto manufacturer.  There seems to be a significant difference between becoming rich doing what you love, versus loving becoming rich.  And as a car company becomes public and grows, more and more of the latter people move in, and more and more of the former people move out, until you end up with cars that are designed to make money versus cars that are designed to fulfill a vision of excellence.  I believe another interesting discussion is, "when did this happen to Mercedes-Benz (assuming it ever did)?"  and "when did it happen to other car makers (i.e. before MBz, after, at the same time)?"

Another question I'll ask again is, "Why WOULDN'T you decide to buy a new car - given the remarkably good prices today - and trade in your w116?" (Best of both worlds-types can respond to the question, "why do you continue to let your w116 hang around when you've got a new car?").

Hi Brian crump and all

Isn't the tempomat on W116 an american Ford device ?  ;D


Paris, France


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