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Are they really that bad?

 
Old 07-19-2012, 03:07 AM
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Are they really that bad?

Looking for an MY 02+ ML500 after I sell my BMW. I love my Bimmer but I found out that my car may be prone to the rear subframe separating from the body of the car. My car isn't showing signs of it yet but the miles are getting up there and I want to get rid of it while it's still in good shape. This might be my last BMW because even though their driving dynamics are arguably the industry benchmark, I'm tired of driving a car in which I feel so many parts are brittle. This brings me here. I've always been a Mercedes man at heart but have never been able to afford one. Now that the post refresh W163s have sustained the bulk of their depreciation, I'm in a position to buy an 02-03 ML500 (hopefully with the sport package). I try to do my homework so I've read many threads about the commons problems of the W163 (i.e. Crankshaft position sensors, loose trim pieces, oil consumption with the V6, etc.) and I have driven both the V6 and V8 models and am settled on the 500. My purpose in writing this thread is to ask: are the W163 MLs really that bad? I understand things break and wear out but that is true with ALL cars. Lexus has it's fair share of issues too. A W163 can't be any worse than my B6 A4 I had. Every month I would have it in the shop for a repair that was at least $400(often more). I hear Audi/VW parts cost more than BMW and Benz parts, and labor should be about the same when comparing between independent shops.

I'm not one to get down and dirty under the hood if I can avoid it, so if I have a reputable independent Mercedes shop to service my ML, how much per month should I expect to spend to keep it healthy?

What are the going rates to make the repairs often needed in a W163?

Example: A fuel pump replacement would cost $______ at an independent shop vs $_________ at the dealership.
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Old 07-19-2012, 03:18 PM
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Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
My purpose in writing this thread is to ask: are the W163 MLs really that bad?
I can answer only one of your questions which is No. Not any worse than any other vehicle.
Your post tends to make me think you know about all the in's and out's of buying a used vehicle. The W163 ML's are no different than any other vehicle.
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Old 07-19-2012, 05:32 PM
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Yes, I have been around the block a few times. Owning an Audi has taught me that issues can stem from poor maintenance OR poor engineering and design. I was just trying to ascertain if the W163 falls under the latter category.
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Old 07-19-2012, 05:35 PM
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Additionally, I am curious if parts and labor for Mercedes is any worse than BMW. Audi/VW is just ridiculous because of the labor required to do anything. And jaguar parts are just outrageous.
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Old 07-20-2012, 05:41 PM
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So I spoke with an employee at my local Mercedes Indy today. He wasn't a mechanic or service advisor but he was familiar with the W163 and is a big fan of the platform. He said the biggest weak point of the first generation ML that would cause major concern, in his opinion, is the transmission. He didn't specify what goes wrong exactly, just that the transmission has trouble handling the engine power (especially of the V8) and therefore is the Achilles heel of the platform. This took me by surprise. I understand that Mercedes-Benz designs and manufactures their own gearboxes rather than bringing in a Aisin-Warner or ZF unit. I like that they do this because I would think that the gearbox is better suited to handle the power of the engine it's designed to fit. Aren't the engines and gearboxes built at the same location? I mean Audi used to have major issues with the ZF auto gearboxes because the torque convertor was no match for the torque output of the powerful engines. And BMW auto boxes were just bad period.

So can anyone chime in on this? If the fluid was changed at least once in 120k miles, should I worry?
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Old 07-21-2012, 07:30 AM
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Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
So I spoke with an employee at my local Mercedes Indy today. He wasn't a mechanic or service advisor but he was familiar with the W163 and is a big fan of the platform. He said the biggest weak point of the first generation ML that would cause major concern, in his opinion, is the transmission. He didn't specify what goes wrong exactly, just that the transmission has trouble handling the engine power (especially of the V8) and therefore is the Achilles heel of the platform. This took me by surprise. I understand that Mercedes-Benz designs and manufactures their own gearboxes rather than bringing in a Aisin-Warner or ZF unit. I like that they do this because I would think that the gearbox is better suited to handle the power of the engine it's designed to fit. Aren't the engines and gearboxes built at the same location? I mean Audi used to have major issues with the ZF auto gearboxes because the torque convertor was no match for the torque output of the powerful engines. And BMW auto boxes were just bad period.

So can anyone chime in on this? If the fluid was changed at least once in 120k miles, should I worry?
From a former multiple Audi owner, current BMW and MB owner...

A lot depends on the particular vehicle. The early w163's were prone to electrical issues. The facelifted (02 and later) tend to be much better. But still things can crop up, like any vehicle.

Maintenance is important. The tranny can be problematic if you believe it has lifetime fluid. Change and flush (including the torque converter) every 50-60k miles (more frequently if you are so inclined) and generally speaking, you should be fine.

I bought my 02 ML500 with 78k end of 2005. Now has 155k, very few repairs. Some replacements due to wear (shocks), a battery, PS hose, windshield washer reservoir, and a couple of dealer TSB's under warranty. I have spent some of the savings on upgrades to make it "better", such as ML55 wheels, headers and changed ring and pinion gears.

It is an extremely pleasant car to drive for its intended purpose (it is not a high performance sports car), only possible complaint is fuel mileage.

Labor rates at all the dealers are silly. They charge a 50% premium on rate, take 2x as long as most good indies, and have very few really good technicians. Find a trusted indy and expenses will be no worse than your BMW.

Regards,
Jerry
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Old 07-21-2012, 09:54 AM
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Originally Posted by gsfent View Post
From a former multiple Audi owner, current BMW and MB owner...

A lot depends on the particular vehicle. The early w163's were prone to electrical issues. The facelifted (02 and later) tend to be much better. But still things can crop up, like any vehicle.

Maintenance is important. The tranny can be problematic if you believe it has lifetime fluid. Change and flush (including the torque converter) every 50-60k miles (more frequently if you are so inclined) and generally speaking, you should be fine.

I bought my 02 ML500 with 78k end of 2005. Now has 155k, very few repairs. Some replacements due to wear (shocks), a battery, PS hose, windshield washer reservoir, and a couple of dealer TSB's under warranty. I have spent some of the savings on upgrades to make it "better", such as ML55 wheels, headers and changed ring and pinion gears.

It is an extremely pleasant car to drive for its intended purpose (it is not a high performance sports car), only possible complaint is fuel mileage.

Labor rates at all the dealers are silly. They charge a 50% premium on rate, take 2x as long as most good indies, and have very few really good technicians. Find a trusted indy and expenses will be no worse than your BMW.

Regards,
Jerry
Jerry,

Thank you very much. That was most helpful. Which brand (Mercedes, BMW, or Audi) has been the best ownership experience from a maintenance/reliability standpoint?
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Old 07-26-2012, 03:41 PM
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W163 ML500 w/Kleeman headers, 3.09 gears, R63 Obsidian black/java
Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
Jerry,

Thank you very much. That was most helpful. Which brand (Mercedes, BMW, or Audi) has been the best ownership experience from a maintenance/reliability standpoint?
A little tough to answer as I tend to make modifications.

Perhaps the Audi slightly the most needy, but that was only after at least 125k miles and partly attributable to how often it went to the track!

Most cars are pretty reliable with regular maintenance (if nothing else, frequent oil changes); if you defer most maintenance it usually catches up to you.

ML500 has been very reliable. 85k miles in 7 1/2 years. BMW 81,000 miles in 9 years.

My feeling is the w163 one of the best all around SUV's made. It is compact in length, sports optional 3rd row seats in a relatively short chasis, and can tow over 7000#'s (lower number in U.S., but essentially same truck worldwide). Love the power rear windows, comfortable seats, common sense dash layout and switchgear.

I happen to prefer the look of the w163 over the newer models and like the ladder on frame chassis, although I do give up some current bells and whistles (which I really don't care too much about).

I want my truck to be able to do truck like work, I have a (4 door) sports car for sports car driving.

Regards,
Jerry
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Old 07-27-2012, 01:41 PM
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I wholeheartedly agree with your statement about preventative maintenance, I am a huge advocate for it.

I'd say the W164 is my favorite of the three ML generations in terms of design but the W163 comes in as a close second. It just has that classic Mercedes image that seems to say, "I see you looking at me and I know what you're thinking, and yes, I am better than you."

I feel much more at ease about buying an ML500 now. From a maintenance standpoint, it can't be much worse than the Audi and Saab that I used to own, or any more expensive. I think the biggest difference I will notice is how much I spend on fuel. As it stands now, it costs $60 to fill up my BMW and travel ~390 miles before emptying the tank. And if gas prices hit $4/gal again, I'm looking at an increase of $30 per fill-up to travel the same distance IF I average 18 mpg. Not an appalling price to pay for the increased power, utility, and all around satisfaction I will get out the ML.
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Old 07-28-2012, 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
...He said the biggest weak point of the first generation ML that would cause major concern, in his opinion, is the transmission. He didn't specify what goes wrong exactly, just that the transmission has trouble handling the engine power (especially of the V8) and therefore is the Achilles heel of the platform....
So can anyone chime in on this?
The way I understood it was to pay attention to the downshifts, as you slow to a stop, or near stop, you shouldn't feel the trans clunk into fist or second (etc.) gear. Also run the trans in manual mode, upshift and downshift responsibly & relative to speed - the trans should react without drama.

http://www.keysolutions.com/M-Class....t%26AutoFramed

Last edited by Dade; 07-28-2012 at 02:32 PM.
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Old 07-28-2012, 06:35 PM
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Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
I IF I average 18 mpg.
I would say you will need to do mostly highway driving to do that. The truck is rated about 13/16.

Regards,
Jerry
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Old 07-28-2012, 10:08 PM
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I have an ML320, 2000 with almost 150K miles. A few things at the beginning that were covered under warranty, since then almost nothing except maintenance. Other than maintenance, catalytic converter (passenger side) went at about 100K miles. Window switch panel went at 120K miles--fixed it myself in about 15 minutes after buying a new switch panel at the dealer for around $150 (if memory serves me correctly).

A friend on here has a 1999 ML320, and has had a similarly problem free experience. Frankly, for all the bad press on these, I'd have to say it is the cheapest car I've ever owned. It still rides great and looks great, and I plan on taking it to 200K miles or beyond if it keeps this up. It's been far more reliable than my 2006 C Class...

I'm fanatical about maintenance though, so check the records.
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Old 07-28-2012, 10:14 PM
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W203-4M W163

Example: A fuel pump replacement would cost $______ at an independent shop vs $_________ at the dealership.
Not sure, but my suggestion would be to join MBCA for $49. That gives you 10-15% off parts at the dealer so it will pay for itself several times a year at least. Have the Indy put them in if you really trust them (I've had mixed experiences, and just prefer to pay the premium for the dealer at this stage...)

Dealer charges $100/hour where I live (might have gone up since last time I checked), Indy's charge $75. Check those rates and you'll have a good sense of the difference, and if you get the MBCA discount, the parts prices should be pretty much a wash.
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Old 07-29-2012, 07:19 PM
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FraKctured, I am so glad to hear you're pleased with your ML320. I wish more owners appreciated them for what they are. I was on Benzworld earlier today trying to research rust problems on various Benz platforms (just cause I'm nerdy like that) and I found a few threads of people complaining about rust on the rear lift gate, driver door, and fuel filler door. My heart sank into my colon when I read that. Rust is what kept me from buying a W202 and W203. I HATE RUST!!! This could be deal breaker for me because rust is like cancer. Once you first discover it you do all you can to get rid of it. When you think you've won, it comes back with vengeance and has spread everywhere without you knowing it. I'm aware that MB cars from 95-05 were prone to rust because of changes in paint and the galvanizing process but I thought they would make an extra effort when building a car designed to traverse environments which are abusive to paint.

Is rust common on the face lifted ML?
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Old 07-29-2012, 09:04 PM
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Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
Is rust common on the face lifted ML?
I had a little on my 02. Rear hatch. Took it off, had it redone and painted. So far, it hasn't come back.

My car was a northeast car (Boston), so that didn't help, but unless it is all over, I wouldn't be too concerned if isolated to something like a tailgate, which is easy to take care of. Worst case is buy a new one, but more likely scenario is a junkyard if it is so bad it is not repairable.

Redoing the rear hatch was a whole lot cheaper than a car payment! Remember, 10+ year old cars that you didn't get to m aintain from new will always have a few issues to address.

Regards.
Jerry
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Old 07-31-2012, 10:32 PM
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Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
FraKctured, I am so glad to hear you're pleased with your ML320. I wish more owners appreciated them for what they are. I was on Benzworld earlier today trying to research rust problems on various Benz platforms (just cause I'm nerdy like that) and I found a few threads of people complaining about rust on the rear lift gate, driver door, and fuel filler door. My heart sank into my colon when I read that. Rust is what kept me from buying a W202 and W203. I HATE RUST!!! This could be deal breaker for me because rust is like cancer. Once you first discover it you do all you can to get rid of it. When you think you've won, it comes back with vengeance and has spread everywhere without you knowing it. I'm aware that MB cars from 95-05 were prone to rust because of changes in paint and the galvanizing process but I thought they would make an extra effort when building a car designed to traverse environments which are abusive to paint.

Is rust common on the face lifted ML?
I had some work done on it 2 years ago. There were a few rust spots--typical places--bottom of front doors, a little on the back doors, nothing on the rear door. Cost me about $1100--or, about 2 payments on a new(er) car.

The ML looks fantastic--it's my wife's, and people who don't know think it's 4 years old. Interior is in great shape, no rattles or anything. I did disconnect the CD changer and swap it for a 1/8th inch stereo connector for iPod and it works great, sounds great.

I love this truck--reliability has been incredible, and it still drives like it did at 50K miles.

P.S. My 06 W203 has not one spot of rust on it, and I live in Michigan where sodium content on the roads is very high...
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Old 07-31-2012, 11:23 PM
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Hmmm, well that concerns me a little. My brother's 2001 C320 has the same rust issues along the underside of the doors. I understand that after the 2nd quarter of 2003, Mercedes finally figured out how to galvanize properly and they worked the kinks out of their water-based paint formula. I guess this means I have to look for a 2004 or 2005 ML to be safe from the rust issue then.
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Old 07-31-2012, 11:51 PM
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Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
Hmmm, well that concerns me a little. My brother's 2001 C320 has the same rust issues along the underside of the doors. I understand that after the 2nd quarter of 2003, Mercedes finally figured out how to galvanize properly and they worked the kinks out of their water-based paint formula. I guess this means I have to look for a 2004 or 2005 ML to be safe from the rust issue then.
I think it depends on how long you want to keep it and where you live (how hard is your winter on the car and where is the car from?)

Everything will rust given enough time. I'm glad to get 200K miles out of my ML before retiring it, and if there is a little more rust showing at that time, well, I'm fine with that. Sure, you can get 200K out of other SUVs, but from what I've seen, they are not functioning at 80% new by that point (in terms of ride and look).
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Old 07-31-2012, 11:55 PM
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Originally Posted by gsfent View Post
I had a little on my 02. Rear hatch. Took it off, had it redone and painted. So far, it hasn't come back.

My car was a northeast car (Boston), so that didn't help, but unless it is all over, I wouldn't be too concerned if isolated to something like a tailgate, which is easy to take care of. Worst case is buy a new one, but more likely scenario is a junkyard if it is so bad it is not repairable.

Redoing the rear hatch was a whole lot cheaper than a car payment! Remember, 10+ year old cars that you didn't get to m aintain from new will always have a few issues to address.

Regards.
Jerry
+1 A few issues are a few months payments on a new one. 12 months in a year, every year.
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Old 07-31-2012, 11:57 PM
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I couldn't agree more. That is what draws me towards Mercedes (or any other German car) so much, it will look AND run newer after ten years than any other car on the road of the same vintage. The catch is that the Germans require more attention and TLC than the rest if you want that outcome.
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Old 08-01-2012, 12:03 AM
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And I am fine with that reality. In my opinion, the price to play is easily matched, if not outweighed, by the everyday pleasure experienced behind the wheel. If I wanted to drive an appliance (Toyota/Lexus) I would make a go-cart out of a dishwasher.

I had another call on my BMW today. I hope it's an easy sell since I've taken such good care of it.

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Old 08-03-2012, 09:48 PM
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What build dates would indicate that the car was built in the 2nd quarter of 2003?
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Old 08-03-2012, 10:07 PM
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Originally Posted by nathandimond View Post
I couldn't agree more. That is what draws me towards Mercedes (or any other German car) so much, it will look AND run newer after ten years than any other car on the road of the same vintage. The catch is that the Germans require more attention and TLC than the rest if you want that outcome.
Yea, that is an incredible feature of these cars. Both of my current MBs ride and look fantastic, whereas my last japanese car (Subaru Forester) was falling apart (literally--windshield trim fell off, they couldn't fix it for more than a month or two) after 90K miles and 6 years old. And the ride went from mediocre when purchased to crap within 2-3 years.

No more disposable cars.
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Old 08-03-2012, 11:16 PM
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I like that word.

Disposable.

Out of the two German brands that I have owned, Audi and BMW, the Audi seemed the least disposable. It was always well planted and felt rock solid over the road. It's downfall was that the electrical components were anything but and that could have been a fluke. My Audi was a 2002 A4, the first year of the B6 platform so my problems may have just been teething issues.

As for my Bimmers, they are just fun. And it's the kind of fun that doesn't have to be coaxed out as in a Mercedes. They are so sharp and eager to get up and go that, when driven back-to-back, my brother's C320 does feel a little lazy. Not that it is, but if feels that way compared to my BMW. What the BMW lacks is solidity. Is it planted on the road, absolutely. But there are little things about it, interior bits, known issues with plastic cooling systems, weak suspension bits, that just make it feel brittle compared to Mercedes and even Audi. And this class action lawsuit against BMW for faulty rear subframes has me running scared.

I hope that my switch to Mercedes will prove to be a good one and will affirm my suspicions that Mercedes does not build disposable cars.

How do you guys feel Mercedes compares to Audi? Equals in the electrical reliability department? Is the Benz more dependable mechanically?
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Old 09-08-2012, 02:02 PM
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First off you need to remember that the ML is an American built Mercedes. Not all of the fittings and switch gear are German! So the comparison to other MB's, Audi's and BMW's might not be a one-for-one proposition. But at the same time, in my research before I bought my 2003 ML350, I looked at parts prices. They are for the most part no more or not much more than say a Chevy (newer Chevy). That was one thing that I was looking at when I decided to take the BMW X5 off of my wish list. Water cooled alternator? Who thought that would be a good idea? Also the X5 has less cargo space than a 5 series wagon! There was one part that I found to be more expensive than I expected, even after market, and that is the serpentine belt tensioner.? This is not scientific or anything, but I also found that on a couple of sites where they kept track of overall problems that the 2003 seemed to have less problems reported than did the '02's, '04's and '05's. Again, that may not mean much, but did lean me a little more to an '03 all things being equal.
So far I am pleased with my ML350. A little more MPG would be nice, but then again it is a Truck not a car! It handles good, nice turning radius, but the ride to an extent reminds me of a Chevy S10 I used to own, that 'truck' feel, but not exactly.
I was considering the ML500 as I had read several comments of lack of power with the V6's, but I find that my ML350 is rather sporting, it wants to get up and go much more than what I had expected from such a heavy SUV with a 3.7l engine. One thing that I still catch myself doing though, is reaching to the drivers door to operate the windows! In the middle now! The W164's changed that. There are a few other switches that are somewhat more conveniently placed in other cars than the W163's. I tend to look at that as the Porsche key on the left dash or the Saab key in the center console.
If you are unhappy with the factory stereo you will find that around 2003 MB used a fiber optic interconnection system with the components in the stereo (head unit-amp-CD changer). This makes it a little unusual if you want to upgrade. Someone mentioned before about giving up the CD changer that is located in the back, to install a unit that allows you to hook up an ipod or USB device/memory stick. This system taps into the fiber optics, but fools the system into thinking your ipod is the CD changer. In most cases you will have to upgrade the entire system. Even the Bose speakers are 2 ohms which are not the standard that most car amplifiers use, normally they are either 4, 6 or 8 ohms. So in other words, you aren't really going to have the option of just changing the 'head unit' and using the rest of the system. One other thing, I may be wrong on this, but I believe that on the NAV System MB no longer offers upgraded NAV DVD's for the W163's.
All in all so far it is a good, safe vehicle (frame chassis not uni-body) . If you keep up with the maintenance, as you do, then I don't see why an ML couldn't and wouldn’t last as long as you want it too. Even though it is built in the U.S., it still has that Mercedes Benz engineering that should last for 100's of thousands of miles with normal maintenance!
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