Friday, February 27, 2009

Hyundai means "watch out"

Though the normal German vehicles will continue to dominate this blog, I initially thought this Hyundai Genesis coupe was a Mercedes:

You have to admit, this car looks pretty cool - but how did it drive? Per Road & Track:

What's Hot:
  • Looks as good as it handles
  • Affordable, more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder turbo model
  • Feels well built

What's Not:

  • V-6 lacks midrange torque
  • Interior not nearly as plush as Genesis sedan's
  • Child-size-only rear seat head room


Hyundai appears to have made a car that handles well on a RWD platform (wake up already, Honda, and stop killing the cars that people love - like the S2000). They badged it as a Genesis coupe, though it seems like there's plenty of distinction between the coupe and sedan - unlike, say, the Mercedes E-class and CLK-class, or the Honda Accord coupe vs. sedan.

For nearly $30K, it'll probably be right up there with some of the other hot coupes in its segment - the Infiniti G37 is one that the Genesis is likely targeting.

The problem is that the G37 has a new 3.7 liter engine giving more horsepower - and the G35 was more than capable; it was exciting. The Infiniti G is also established at this point, as one of the best cars for its price (BMW 3-series coupes are a bit more expensive, similarly-equipped - and yes, of course I feel it's worth the extra dough). The point Road & Track makes about the V6 lacking mid-range torque worries me, as does the idea that maybe the initial quality won't hold up over time like a Mercedes or an Infiniti. Based on the "cons" we see in the list above from Road & Track, it seems like this will be a bit smaller, less powerful, and less luxurious than some of its competitors.

But this is Hyundai we're talking about. The Sonata wowed people when it was redesigned, though it did steal the Accord's taillights. The Santa Fe continues to sell fairly well and Hyundai is a brand people identify with, because they're coming out with new and exciting vehicles - and in some cases, engines.

In terms of sales, I'm sure this car will do fine, and just as the excitement starts to wear off, I'm sure Hyundai will introduce a mid-model cycle change to upgrade the interior and engine. I'm also impressed that Hyundai went RWD - why Honda can't seem to bring itself to make an Acura coupe when its competitors seem to be eating Honda alive; I just have no explanation for that (the now-defunct RSX doesn't count; it was a glorified Civic). They never even tried to fight the Infiniti G35 coupe, and the new TL has a questionable design, even if it does handle well with its SH-AWD system.

Hyundai appears to be doing the right thing for the average car buyer: the person who doesn't care what brand it is, as long as it looks cool and handles reasonably well. They will continue to eat at precious market share currently enjoyed by Honda & Toyota, until we might finally see those companies put out an exciting product or two.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tires: Michelin Primacy MXV4

Overall rating: Thumbs up.

UPDATE APRIL 2ND, 2011: This post seems to be popular based on the internet traffic it draws - in relation to my other posts, not in terms of # of hits.  But I wanted to update those that may surf on into this post from an internet search engine:  The Michelin Primacy MXV4, after over three years and about 30K miles, are still riding very well, still holding their pressure well, and knock on wood, not one of them has had to be replaced yet.  There's little doubt I'll buy another set when the time comes, which is likely later this year or early next based on current tread wear.  On to the original post!


When it was time for my wife's 2000 Lexus ES300 to get new tires last year, we wanted to be somewhat picky while on a budget. We had heard great things about Michelin, and I also knew Pirelli was good. I knew Continental pretty well as they came stock on my Mercedes E-class, so this was going to be a difficult decision.

The tires we settled on were Michelin Primacy MXV4. A few notes about what brought us to our decision:
  • I've never been fully satisfied with how my Contintental ContiProContact tires have handled turns in the snow, and that's big for a New Englander. When you're driving a performance vehicle in weather - safely, of course - you want a tire that will allow you to retain some of those performance characteristics in the snow. The Contis were sure-footed in any kind of rain and even in bad snow when moving straight ahead, but, well...take a look at my Insurance Nightmare post; a contributing factor was definitely the hydroplaning of the Contis on ice. Would a Michelin have handled better? It would have been a wider tire on the E-class than on the Lexus, so I'll never know for that particular incident.
  • I didn't know enough about Pirelli to make the decision to go with them. And even though I know the brand to be a good brand, I had a bad experience with old, cracked Pirellis on the tires that came with my 2002 E-class. Not a fair way to assess a brand, but I figured, I'll have plenty of time to try them out in the future.
  • Once again - I had heard great things about Michelin, and particularly this tire. My preferred alignment shop highly recommended the Primacy based on what I told the owner about my wife's driving style.
So how have they held up over time? They only have about 6-7K miles on them, but so far, so good. Understanding that the tire has a bigger sidewall because the Lexus has 15" wheels, and also understanding it's a fairly narrow tire compared to that of some other brands in the same class, the wet traction is better than the Contis on my AWD Benz. The ride is a bit stiff, but I'm used to a stiffer ride in my wife's Lexus because it's a smaller, front-wheel drive car vs. a rear-wheel biased AWD vehicle in my E-class. They may be relatively noisy, but since they're mated to a Lexus, with all that sound dampening, it's not extremely noisy and the ride overall is still comfortable.

They have held their "round" and their pressure very well and I expect to get them rotated in the near future, so we'll see how the tread wear has held up over the course of those 6-7K miles. Knowing my wife drives very conservatively I don't expect any issues.

You now know what I like about the tire - so are there are any cons?

Sure: for a ride like a Lexus ES300, these may be a bit too stiff and may allow a bit too much in the way of bumps into the cabin. I don't' have a very good basis for comparison because we've only owned the car a year, and the previous tires were pretty much cooked when we bought the car. Still, I prefer a stiffer ride and I'm willing to make the sacrifice of a little more noise and a little more stiffness for a tire that lasts a while and handles well in rain and snow. For those that prioritize comfort over anything else, these are not the tire for you, and you may be better off going with a Conti (Pirellis, in my experience, tend to be more performance-oriented and stiff, but I'm no expert).

One more note: from the reviews on the Tire Rack website, it seems previous "Energy MXV4" owners liked the wet traction in that tire better. This makes me wonder why Michelin would ever discontinue that tire since I believe the wet traction is stellar on this replacement of the Energy. This may say more about my distrust for Continental after my accident than anything.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Insurance nightmare: Not over yet!

Per my updated Insurance Nightmare post, a few things have made me think since this past week.

The rack and pinion in my car is bent, per the 2/20/2009 update. I also never heard from my body shop - owned by a family friend - after he:

  • allowed me to drop the car off to my preferred alignment specialist for the steering diagnosis on Thursday morning
  • at 3:30pm that day, offered to go around the corner and get the car so I wouldn't need to waste another trip down there (he had to do some more door-related work for me)
  • failed to call me on FRIDAY - over 27 hours later he was closed for the weekend - to tell me to come pick up the car or let me know the status of the rack and pinion appraisal as well as the progress on the door latch & window (the latter two being very easy fixes that just required a few new parts, from my understanding)

So that leaves me to think, why did he not call me?

Either he forgot (unlikely), couldn't get the appraiser out to his shop on Friday (after telling me he'd call Thursday to set it up - normally plenty of time even in this busy time of year for insurance companies) (more likely) - or possibly the appraiser needed to get authorization to surprise the insurance company with a multi-thousand dollar piece of work on top of what they've already done. This is what I'm afraid of, but not for the reasons you'd think: Insurance companies in Mass. are bound very tightly to Commonwealth law. They have to cover anything that could be accident related, and the rack and pinion issue is definitely related. So there's no issue with the amount of money they'd have to cover, the only possible issues could be: do they want to do this work vs. totaling the vehicle, and can they source the parts used?

I'd be surprised if they totaled the vehicle. They've already put $2500 or more into the car - my first insurance check was for north of $1,500, I paid $300, so that makes $1,800 of work. Plus a $200 dealer airbag fix, two alignments that didn't go well (hence the alignment specialist), and now work done last Thursday by my alignment shop.

But a new rack and pinion? And what if I insist on new parts, citing that the car may never drive the same regardless so I don't want to take the chance I get someone's old rack and pinion that was busted at the junk yard to begin with? The could be thousands more, and suddenly we're nearing $5,000 territory for total damages. That's a lot of work on a 2002 model vehicle with 107xxx miles on it. So yes, I think it's possible, just not probable, that they may total the vehicle.

In terms of sourcing the parts, that may take a bit, but not likely longer than a couple of days. So again, it makes me wonder why the body shop never called me. It's unlikely given the speed and efficiency of the appraisal service to this point that 24 hours notice wasn't enough to get the R&P issue appraised, priced, and then sent to the alignment shop.

To be continued tomorrow when I speak to the body shop...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Insurance nightmare: Scroll down

Please click here or scroll down depending on your current view to see the 2/20/2009 update on the accident & insurance nightmare, starting with "NEW UPDATE" and ending at "End of 2/20/2009 update". Interesting stuff regarding extensive new repairs that are necessary and will be covered by insurance claim.

Tips & Tricks: Aftermarket brakes for German vehicles

Most Honda and Toyota owners have a vast array of options for aftermarket brakes. There are plenty of Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus products on the road, as well as the newer Korean brands, such that a ton of different options exist when it's time for new brake pads and/or rotors.

German vehicles can be a bit tricky. They are finicky, and many of them have brake wear sensors (many Japanese vehicles do too but only in their luxury brands). Also, what if it's time for pads but not rotors? Do you go the OEM (original equipment manufacturer, for those not familiar with the term) route, or do you go aftermarket?

All I can tell you is that my experience with aftermarket brakes has been great, and I've used - twice now - Sure, this is partly a shout-out to them, but it's also to ease your mind about using aftermarket brakes on a sophisticated luxury car. Note that in both cases below, we used OEM rotors with aftermarket pads, with positive results.

When my E-class needed new brakes, I was ready to go OEM. I had been told by my alignment specialist that OEM is the way to go with any car, when I had a Honda Accord, but I wanted to save money as well as get something without as much brake dust on my Benz wheels (the Benz OEM brakes, on both the W210 [1997-2002 (sedan) or 2003 (wagon)] and W211 chassis [2003 (sedan) and 2004 (wagon) to 2009] produce tons of brake dust). It seemed like I was washing the entire car every week just so I could clean the wheels. This isn't a bad thing - once a week wash is nice in the summer, especially, when one in cold climates has access to an outside hose that often - but it still was causing extra work, despite the great performance I got out of the brakes.

I spoke to a gentleman by the name of Yves at, and I got the referral from a friend. I told him I didn't want to invest in parts for my Benz that I wouldn't be happy with and he completely understood, and walked me through my options. I told him I was more concerned with performance, though the brakes didn't have to be "track-ready", meaning I wasn't racing the car or anything - they just had to be as safe in terms of 'bite' while also lasting a while, as the OEM brakes.

He recommended the following for my vehicle:

- Brembo discs all around, PBR Metal Masters rear pads, Akebono ceramic front pads

A year later it was time for brakes on my wife's 2000 Lexus ES300 Platinum Edition. Here's what we did on hers. Note that these still having amazing bite a year later because she doesn't drive aggressively and they have been amazing thus far:

- Brembo discs all around, PBR Metal Masters rear pads, Akebono Ceramic front pads

Noticing a pattern yet?

The point is, it's always worth it to explore aftermarket options even on items as important as brakes. Just do your research and work with a well-informed business like or There are plenty more out there but use your model's preferred forum to get the specific answers you need, or even talk to your parts specialist at your local dealership - they are usually more willing to work with you and answer questions, even about aftermarket parts, than you think.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2010 Mercedes-Benz E-class coupe and sedan

OK, I'll admit it: It looks like a Honda Accord coupe on the outside with a BMW 3-series coupe rear end:

[Click here for R&T article.]

Keep in mind my inherent bias toward Mercedes-Benz as a current owner.

As much as I want to detest the side and rear design of this vehicle as a knock-off of other designs currently on the market, we need to face facts: Car design ain't what it used to be. A good design comes out - usually from a German company, ironically enough in this case - and every company emulates pieces of it in their next vehicle's redesign. Some rip-offs, like the prior-gen Hyundai Sonata tail lamps vs. the 2003-2005 Honda Accord, are obvious. In this case, Mercedes used some obvious design cues from Honda and BMW, but I still feel they did a decent job giving this car its own character. Only when we see the final E-class sedan model will we be able to tell if this was born more from the new E-class design sessions or a "slight imitation" of the design cues from other cars.

This is an intriguing car, however. I'm sure Mercedes-Benz will be getting rid of the CLK, since that was always an E-class coupe anyway; this is simply a rebadge, taking the opportunity of a full model change to rebadge the vehicle.

What I like about this: Four seats instead of five. Why build a coupe - even the new four-door "coupes" like the Mercedes-Benz CL-class and Volkswagen CC - for five adults? Who is ever going to want to sit in the middle? Having four seats gives the two rear passengers a bucket seat each, which is a nice treat for once you climb back there and realize you're stuck for a while. A heated seat would be nice, and I'm sure that will be available on the new model - maybe even a cooled seat with some packages.

I also like the side view of this vehicle, and the new pillar-less design of this coupe. This isn't particularly new but it opens up the car to a retractable hard top and other niceties that I'm sure we'll find out about during the model year.

The cockpit looks flush and classy, typical of Mercedes vehicles. This shouldn't be an issue given its price point.

What I don't like about this: The borrowing of design cues, mostly. Otherwise, I haven't seen one of these up close nor sat in one, so it's difficult to tell what I don't like.

I'm sure it will drive like a Benz - not nearly as "in tune" with the road as a BMW, but beautiful steering and handling, and a bit of separation from the road compared to some of its contemporaries. Oh, and powerful of course. VERY powerful.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Car-ma: What if you've had it with car repairs on a high mileage vehicle?

Based on my recent post about a nightmare with my insurance company and body shop, one can imagine how easy it is to get fed up and go to bed with dreams of leasing a Honda Civic.

On top of the insanity with my E-class, my wife's car stalled out on her on a highway exit ramp recently. This happened less than 36 hours after we had just picked the car up after an AC clutch replacement and oil change. Turned out in a freak occurrence that a bracket had fallen on top of the fan belt and broken it. That day, when we were taking my car - which still isn't completely fixed yet - to my office to get my laptop, I realized I had run over a nail and needed to get my tire patched.

It's easy to throw my hands up and say, "enough is enough! I want a reliable car where I don't have to always deal with this crap - under warranty so the dealer can handle it all!" I've gone that route before, and here are my general thoughts after getting a nice talking-to by a good friend familiar with these matters (and also relying on my own experience with "buying brand new"):

  • When cars are new, that is typically when they have the most problems, not the least. Very few car companies make unreliable cars, but when new engines are being broken in or new parts are being tested out on you, the consumer, bad things can happen. On a brand new 2006 Accord, the power steering pump went less than 5,000 miles in. Turns out they had a recall on them for every model Honda used that pump on.
  • Not all dealers are fully stocked with morons, but none of us like dealing with salespeople. The car buying process is brutal. You get that nice factory warranty when you're done with that, but you also get service techs who might refuse warranty work or not be willing to work with you over things that are minor to them but important to you, such as noise diagnostics. "Oh, you're hearing a funny sound? I don't hear it, sorry."
  • New cars are expensive...again, you get the warranty, but what about buying the car one year old and saving thousands while also getting the balance of the factory warranty? Or Certified Pre-Owned?

Some car buyers cannot be bothered with maintenance schedules late into a car's life, and having to set aside a budget for things that might happen to a used car without a warranty. It can sure get expensive dealing with tires, brakes, failed electronics, etc. These are the risks you take, but unless you get a lemon, it's a risk you can live with - and you're saving all that money by buying used.

When all is said & done, my particular situations recently are mostly a result of bad luck, almost comedic bad luck. Overall, the cars we have are extremely reliable (knock on wood-grain dash) and any new car could be giving us these issues if it had slipped in the snow or needed some electronic part and the mechanic didn't do a good job putting things back together. I've found some of the least knowledgeable service techs end up being employed by dealerships, believe it or not, because they have no incentive to stay on top of things or know their stuff. Independent mechanics have reputations, which spread like wildfire on the internet these days, even locally (craigslist, yelp, yahoo! local, etc.).

This is not to say one should never buy new, only that if you run into a string of bad luck, take a deep breath and think about what is really causing problems: bad luck, insurance companies, repair work...or a bad car? In most cases it is not the latter.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New BMW 5-series "Gran Turismo" concept (Geneva Auto Show)

When the new BMW 7-series came out in 2002, people were wondering what to think of it. Same with the Pontiac Aztec. One eventually succeeded after a refresh, one fell flat on its face. So now we have the 5-series "Gran Turismo". Click here or see below for pictures. Will it follow in the footsteps of the 7-series or the Aztec?

While the design itself may take some time to grow on the American crowd, the name of the game here is utility. People simply want more out of cars, and Americans in particular are looking for better solutions than minivans and huge, hulking SUVs - even with gas still below $2.00 per gallon in most areas.

BMW has a 5-series wagon and also has both X5 and X6 SUVs, the latter of which is more akin to this 5-series Gran Turismo. So where's the market for this? Well, the X6 is much better off mated to a V8 from what the reviewers tell us, and it's a more expensive vehicle as it shares the underpinnings of a 6-series, not a 5-series. This hatchback version (not wagon version - two different things!) will take some time to grow on the American crowd, but as usual, others will follow in BMW's footsteps and within a few years, there will be an army of Toyota Venza and BMW GT clones on the road. Note that Honda is already building a Venza and GT-fighter in a higher version of the Accord with a hatchback.

When the X3 came out, I recall people saying the same thing: where's the utility in THIS tiny thing?

Here are some cool features of this car per the Road & Track article linked above, and why I feel it will be a winner here (with time):
  • Rear passengers will be able to adjust their seats via rake, fore, and aft.
  • Rear seats automatically fold down with one-touch power feature (not sure if it will come with 60/40 power split, but this is likely)
  • Hatch opens much like a Volvo SUV - two ways: either one small compartment via flip-up lid, or the entire hatch, as with a wagon
  • The front seats and presentation will likely be the exact same as any 5-series, meaning it will be "functional luxury"

In short, this is the ultimate yuppie tailgater. Bring it to football games and grill on the hatch lid. Bring it to hockey games and let your neighbors watch as you roll up in a stylish vehicle with enough space to carry hockey bags, golf clubs, etc., yet still handles like a BMW 5-series - which is saying a lot.

At the risk of sounding like a BMW cheerleader, I simply believe that, as has been the case with most BMW models lately, this will inspire a slew of copycats - so why not get ahead of the curve?

Friday, February 13, 2009

General shopping guidelines, part I

One of the curses of being a luxury car owner is that when one is buying used (who are these people that can even afford to lease an S-class?), there's always a glut of great cars on the market at fair prices. Due to the weakening economy, one can buy a 2004 BMW 5-series for $20,000 or so, depending on mileage. BMW is one of the last companies to offer full maintenance with their warranty period, so BMWs continue to keep their value well, falling a bit right after it's out of the warranty period.

The BMW is just an example, but is this really a good buy? Well, the one in question (link will expire in a few days so I won't bother posting it) is a 530i, which in 2004 was the best 6-cylinder option one had in a BMW 5-series. So there's one "pro" to that purchase. It also has 30K miles - another excellent "pro", indicating it hasn't been used much in over five years of ownership. It's in immaculate shape - another pro.

But it's a 2004! 2004 was the first year of the newly designed 5-series. Is this a bad thing? Not always, but a few things to note about new body styles:
  • In German vehicles in particular, they may carry the same exact engine as the prior model, at least for a year or two, tweaked for more torque. This happened to the E320 (1997-2006 had the same engine). This isn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact it can give you confidence that the engine is tried and true, and may be a reason to get into that newer body style if you like the design better.
  • New body styles sometimes come with new electronic wizardry - ventilated seats, new traction system, new wiring harnesses, iPod integration. This has no doubt been tested extensively at the factory, but over thousands of units being shipped per month when a new model comes out, there are bound to be issues. On the used market, this is particularly a problem as the vehicle likely isn't under warranty and some of the nuisances may not be covered under any affordable aftermarket warranty.
  • Sometimes, companies make missteps. The current-gen E-class is a nice looking car, but I would honestly rather own a "W210" chassis (prior gen). It seems more spacious, is more classic in feel and design, and the layout makes more sense than the W211. That's not to say one shouldn't buy an E-class from 2003-2009 used, but shop it against comparable models first, or look for concept photos of the next generation to see how radically the company is changing the style. Do research and comparisons to find out if that's the car you really want for a bunch of years.
  • If the old body style had features that were nearly as good (a la the old vs. new E-class) and the design differences don't bother you so much, maybe look at the old body style if it was considered more reliable, depending on age & mileage of course.
More tips to follow.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Insurance nightmare

LATEST UPDATE 4/8/2009 (toward bottom)

On 1/11/2009, I got into an accident. Here's a chronicling of the event, and a lesson as to why you should always have any vehicle towed to a mechanic who can then outsource to a body shop, NOT the other way around, when doing insurance work:

  • 1/11/2009: Hydroplaned (yes, with a German AWD car) on bad snow and ice, driver's side to driver's side collision with another vehicle. Called insurance company, logged incident, filled out all police reports, etc.
  • 1/13/2009: Noticed steering and suspension seemed off. Had AAA tow the vehicle down to a body shop - owned by a family friend who had just done an excellent job on painting my sister's car.
  • 1/14/2009: I dropped by body shop to tell them every little thing about what needed to be fixed.
  • 1/16/2009: Finally spoke to my claims rep after hunting him down by logging into my insurance carrier's online interface. It took him 5 days to pick up the phone and talk to me. While understand they are busy this time of year, it wasn't accepted as an excuse from me.
  • 1/16/2009: Supposedly, this was the first date an appraisal was done. Per Mass. law they have five days to get an appraiser out to the vehicle from the date the incident is reported. $2,000 or so in damages.
  • 1/19/2009: Learned I needed to appeal surcharge as being on wrong side of road automatically carries surcharge on insurance. Today (2/12/2009), still waiting to hear back from appeals board.
  • 1/20/2009: Received two insurance checks; one for my tow ($30) and one for the damage. Gave big check and "direction to pay" form to body shop so they could handle everything directly with the appraiser.
  • 1/30/2009: Hadn't heard from body shop. Called, he told me vehicle would be ready "beginning of next week".
  • 2/6/2009: Called again a week later after not hearing, and hounding my insurance agent about my 30 day rental. I have 30 days of rental on my policy and I was fast approaching that deadline (2/11/09). Vehicle promised for Monday morning after alignment on Saturday. My big question at this point - why the hell did it take so long and why wasn't the car aligned yet?
  • 2/9/2009: Pick up the vehicle unaligned. Drive it right back to body shop and ask for a ride to work. ABS lights - from accident! - still flashing. Luckily, I have a spare brake light switch - common problem in these cars and cheap to fix - and tell him to put it in and try that out.
  • 2/10/2009: Pick up newly aligned vehicle, but steering isn't right. I tell myself I'll call tomorrow. But when I get home, I realize that I CAN'T CLOSE THE DOOR. The latch was not set properly. Also noticing that vehicle lock button from inside does not work, and remote does not allow car to lock fully (doesn't flash three times when locking per usual). Call body shop owner on cell phone, he walks me through how to close the door, apologizes, takes car back the next day. SRS airbag light is still on at this point, something only the dealer can re-set.
  • 2/11/2009: Dropped off car to body shop again. Told him about lock issue and insisted it's done correctly by dealership under claim. Also called my preferred alignment specialist who has never let me down, scheduled appt. to check steering very thoroughly, and told body shop owner to pay for it and bill it under the claim; he agreed. End of day, body shop owner calls me telling me car is being dropped off for work on 2/12 at DEALERSHIP to wrap up the locking and SRS airbag light issue. He also tells me that the service tech insists these cars do not flash three times when locked. A Mercedes-Benz service tech is telling me this, and I have to read from my owner's manual to tell him he's wrong. He agreed to note it on the work order. The lights flashing issue is likely a symptom of the larger central locking problem, but smelling amateur hour at a dealership doesn't give me faith that this is going to go well.
  • 2/12/2009: After returning rental on Monday evening, I'm working from home and waiting today to hear the latest status on my vehicle. It's been over a month since the accident and my wife has an appointment with her vehicle tomorrow, so I need to have it back today. I wish I could say I have faith everything will be fine - minus the appointment I have with my alignment specialist next week - but I don't realistically think the vehicle will ever be the same; I'll probably notice little things here and there.
  • 2/13/2009: Picked up car yesterday. Door rattles very slightly and window needs to be cleaned, but otherwise, everything seems to finally be fixed. Just need to head out and get the steering checked under the claim next Thursday.
  • 2/19/2009: Had the vehicle checked out under the claim at my preferred alignment specialist. Steering was not symmetrical, meaning it wasn't acting the same on both sides. That was a big key to the following diagnosis: The rack and pinion is BENT on the vehicle. That's a huge part to have to replace and, per a friend that knows of such matters, may render the vehicle different for the rest of its life if it's not done carefully and with newer parts. The impact wasn't at a high speed but was at a strange enough angle to bend the rack and pinion. I trust my alignment shop so I'm sure they will notice if a wheel is bent or other issues arise when doing the work - which is being done under the claim, of course. Just one more item on what is now a huge list - the damage has to have cost at least $4,000 at this point, if not more. They probably value the car around $10K, so one more major issue and it will have gotten enough work to warrant a total! Car is now with body shop so he can set up appraisal on rack and pinion issue as well as fixing washer hose, door latch, window issue with (hopefully) new parts.

Phone call on 2/19/2009 when finding out the rack and pinion was bent:

Me: Hi Dave! What's the diagnosis?

Dave: Well, just to settle up here...did you realize that the steering was tighter on one side than the other?

Me: Yes!

Dave: Did you feel like at higher speeds it was kind of fighting you?

Me: Yes, I did [more concerned now].

Dave: And you said that the steering never really returns to dead center?

Me: No, but now that you mention it...[blood pressure rising]

Dave: Ok. Well, what I found is that the rack and pinion is BENT.

Me: Um...the rack and pinion is BENT??

Dave: The rack and pinion is bent.

Me: [ten seconds of silence]

Dave: ...HELLO?!

Me: Oh, sorry. Well, uh, the body shop owner will pick it up and set up the appraisal...

And that's pretty much how I feel about it. Imagine ten seconds of contemplative silence when a nice all-wheel drive foreign luxury car needs to have most of the steering system replaced. If that doesn't deserve a moment or ten of silence, I don't know what does.

I love the body shop owner and all, but he obviously doesn't realize how sensitive the Mercedes equipment and electronics can be, and how they have to be put back together correctly the first time. I should have listened to the Benz experts at AlphaCars ( from whom I bought the car and brought it to them the first time for all work, body and mechanical. Next time I'll know better. The silver lining here is that he did a beautiful job on the paint, it's the electronics he can't deal with.

There are also miscellaneous phone calls to Hertz and the claims rep that just were unnecessary and shouldn't have been made by me. Having to educate the dealer on the central locking system is unacceptable.

Owning a luxury car is wonderful, as there are many deals to be had used. But one has to be a proactive owner, by looking at forums (my favorite for Mercedes vehicles is and involving yourself in the ownership of the vehicle. Keep up with maintenance schedules too as luxury cars love to be pampered. It's an investment in time, and if you're buying a luxury car just for the bling, you'll be disappointed fairly quickly.

Will post updates above as they occur.

UPDATE 3/3/2009:

Per above, the rack and pinion on my vehicle is bent. Last week, my alignment shop told me to be prepared that the insurance company won't cover it. I wondered why, and the owner told me that the appraiser was far too quick in making an assessment, wouldn't listen to the owner's explanation as to how this could have happened as a result of the accident, and complained that this was "the fourth time" he had to look at the vehicle.

I wrote a long email to my claims rep explaining the logic behind the accident causing the steering rack to bend, and also asking him to expedite the request to cover it via insurance. He initially denied any coverage on the rack and pinion, saying that the appraiser wasn't able to tie it to the accident. So I had to escalate to his manager and explain to her that the appraiser is not only a jerk (using different verbiage of course), but that his logic didn't make any sense and he was essentially making up his own laws of physics.

They are taking a second look at it - hopefully with a different appraiser - on Friday. We'll see what happens this time.

In one week we'll officially be two months removed from the accident.

UPDATE 3/19/2009:

More updates on this insurance work nightmare:

  • steering rack work is being done in two days and paid for by yours truly. Thanks to my friends on, I found great deals on a steering rack at
  • Insurance company had a second appraisal where the appraisal service still couldn't tie the steering rack damage to my accident, so they are now following up with an in-house appraiser at my request.
  • The body shop not only left dust from their wetsaw all over my interior, there's also black paint specks on the leather. That's being paid for by me for about $50 next week.
  • A follow up appraisal for the crap door the insurance company gave me is being done next week at a different mechanic
  • The plastic around the middle rear seatbelt buckle has broken off - and it can only be replaced by ordering the entire new part at $72 (cheapest I found new).

Long and short of it is, my body shop is AWFUL and the only reason I"ll ever set foot in their office again is to share my receipts for work being done on issues they caused. Fifty dollars for removing black paint overspray and a $72 part later, I'm still not happy with the overall job they did and the fact that I need to babysit every shop that ever touches the car again.

UPDATE 3/26/2009:

  • My car is at my normal mechanic today for what will hopefully be the last appraisal. After complaining to the insurance company, I had my mechanic fix the problems caused by my body shop and the door in general: window mounted badly, door mounting seems to be not quite right, washer hose is broken (could be wear & tear, but suddenly, after being at the body shop for a month?), and the speaker goes in and out intermittently and the sound is a bit milky. Also, I noticed some odd brown staining on the exterior mirror that is bad news - likely means the electrochromatic backing to the mirror glass is going bad.
  • I'm taking the car back to the mechanic that did the steering rack work (alignment specialist) as the counterclockwise end of the turn doesn't seem to be quite right (hearing some odd noises there)
  • I went to a Mercedes restoration specialist shop - (EAS) - and they were able to get most of the black specks left by the body shop off my leather. I'm following up with them on another appointment next week since they are Mercedes experts and I can talk to them about the smallest maintenance item & they'll understand. Finally! I wish I had found these guys earlier and used them to fix the problems caused by the accident.

We're in the home stretch; after today & tomorrow, there should be nothing else related to the accident that needs to be fixed. I can only hope that the insurance company agrees to reimburse me for the steering rack expense.

UPDATE 4/8/2009:

Well, EAS has been excellent to deal with. They have officially won me over as a new customer. I hate to abandon my old shop, and I'll still use them for my wife's car (EAS works on Benzes exclusively so I couldn't even take my wife's car there if I wanted to).

Without further ado...

  • I was reimbursed by the insurance company to the tune of over $800 for the steering rack. Other insured drivers take note: complain, appeal, rinse, repeat if you want to get reimbursed by the insurance company for something you know is due to the accident but that the appraisal service refuses to tie in to the claim. This was a huge relief.
  • My hearing was today (not something I needed to attend) to determine if my surcharge would be waived and my deductible refunded. This is only the second time I've had to use this service and I'm glad Massachusetts opted to keep it around. Sure, it's a $50 non-refundable fee to even try fighting the insurance company, but it's worth it in the end as it worked for me in the past and the board overturns something like 50% of the cases it hears. This either means that people only try appealing when they know they have a chance, or that the insurance companies rarely split a claim 50/50 to avoid a surcharge, even when such a result is warranted.
  • EAS in Waltham fixed my door issues; the lights weren't blinking correctly when I shut the door and locked it, and the dome light would stay on when I shut the door. So they looked into it and said it was a $10 part - door contact switch - and would charge me mimimal labor since they "shouldn't have given me back the car like that". I tell ya, these guys are great, and for any Benz owner, they make you feel like royalty - not your ego, but you as a car owner. It's been a joy to visit their shop four times (paint on leather issue, first door issue, subsequent work on door to fix problems caused by body shop, then yesterday for the door follow up).
  • The body shop who did the work to my car was caught red-handed after it was found he used a door that was not the one the insurance company paid for. I'm sure that doesn't make him look good to the insurance company, but what do I care? He circumvented the rules, made money off the insurance company's reimbursement, but at least he was good enough to reimburse me after he was caught red-handed and after I insisted to take my business elsewhere as long as he reimbursed me. I'm honestly surprised he came through and didn't tell me to get lost after all was said & done.
  • Speaking of those problems with the door, what EAS fixed on my third visit to their shop was: door panel mounted incorrectly, oxidation (read: RUST) on the inside of the door that was cleaned up by EAS nicely (they said it looked like it had been sitting in the junkyard for a while), window regulator was not connected properly, there was even a used PAINT STICK inside the door, still. Talk about zero class and zero pride. The body shop owner I know didn't do this himself, and his help...well...let's just say they don't seem like the kinda guys you want to run into late at night. This cost $220 total to fix when you throw in the fact that my middle seatbelt was broken and I found a good deal on a new one.
  • I asked EAS to test my ride out and see if the alignment seemed off. It did, and this is a surprise as my alignment shop only did a 2-wheel alignment when installing the steering rack. First I was worried the rack itself was bad, which would have meant taking advantage of my lifetime warranty on the rack, but I'm more concerned that the alignment shop - which has never, ever let me down in any way - was careless enough to do a 2-wheel alignment on an all-wheel drive car. Those cars need to be aligned with all wheels, not 2, as each axle has its own drive train. AWD car owners, take note of this, and also note that a flatbed must be called to tow your car if ever you need a tow for the same reason. EAS will be doing the alignment next week, as well as some suspension maintenance.
Overall, I'm happy I found a new shop, and knowing that I got most of the money back I spent on this claim out of my own pocket, would I go through this all again? Actually, no. It was stressful, the insurance company fought me on everything, and I had to complain every single day to the point of getting the appraiser re-assigned as he was a jerk. But what did I learn from all this?
  1. Never have your car towed to a body shop after an accident. Always use a mechanic and ask them what they think of local body shops if they don't do the work themselves. Make sure this mechanic is reputable and is given high praise online in forums, etc. Any shop they choose to use as an outsource for your car will reflect poorly on them if the shop they're using does poor work - and plus, they will be liable for any issues when they hand the car back to you, so they will be more likely to work with you on those issues.
  2. Make sure whatever mechanic or body shop being used to fix damage on your car is familiar with your make and model. If you own a luxury car this is especially important as doors, electronics, etc. are more complex on luxury cars than in econoboxes, and some shops don't know how to handle that but they won't turn down the work, so they'll wing it.
  3. As I stated above - complain, appeal, rinse, repeat. Never give up, keep fighting an insurance company or bad appraiser/appraisal service and they may eventually come around.
  4. GET SNOW TIRES!!!!!!!!!!! I'm getting snow tires next winter due to this mess I've had to deal with. All wheel drive, rear wheel drive, front wheel drive - it doesn't matter. If you live in a cooler climate, do yourself a favor and get snows for your vehicle.
Next - and hopefully last - update will be regarding the results of my appeal, which I will hear about by mail.

My personal faves

Just a note on some of my personal favorites:

FIAT / ALFA ROMEO - why? Sure, make all the "Fix it again, Tony" jokes you want. Fact is, Fiat is still one of the largest automakers on the planet, and they have revamped sufficiently to buy 37% or so of Chrysler. Alfa Romeo simply outdoes everyone in terms of design.

FERRARI - for the F1 racing, of course! I am a huge Schumacher fan (and apologist, for his last season), and love the 1-2 punch of Raikkonen and Massa. Just goes to show that Ferrari has the best all around team when Kimi can win one year, then him and Massa can nearly pull out the constructor's AND a driver's championship the next year when working together. Ferrari has two great cars in every race, and I don't see anyone beating them in the constructor's any time soon.

MERCEDES-BENZ - I own an E-class (2002 E320 4Matic) and don't plan on straying any time soon. There's so much to love about these vehicles, I don't even know where to start. Extremely smooth, well handling, yet one still feels connected to the road when driving a Benz.

LAND ROVER - if I were to get an SUV, it would be a Land Rover LR3, HSE. Beautiful vehicle if you need to offroad.

BMW - if I could get a new car today - at any price - it would probably be an M5 sedan (still good to use as a family car, but sport-oriented for really fun driving). I've driven a few BMWs and have loved all of them, but I'm more a 5-series guy than a 3-series guy. For a more "tame" vehicle, I'd love a 535xi wagon.

HONDA - I still have a softspot for the lovable "second best to Toyota" (in sales, NOT quality of vehicles - IMHO). For nearly ten years I drove nothing but Hondas, then switched to Benz and can you go back? I still keep an eye on all things Honda/Acura from time to time, but I'm not really impressed with Acura's sedan lineup lately. I like the newer SUVs, but that grille has got to go.

You'll notice an absence of American cars here. That doesn't mean I hate American vehicles; it just means I'm more impressed - at the moment - with foreign offerings. Calls to place damaging tariffs on foreign vehicles will only hinder innovation; Cadillac and Ford, at least, have proven in recent years that they can keep up with foreign cars if they put their minds to it.

Vehicles I have owned over the past ten years or so:

1996 Honda Accord 25th Anniversary Edition (4-cyl) - sold
2003 Honda Accord EX-L (4-cyl) - sold
2006 Honda Accord EX-V6 - sold

(to interject: I was an upgrade hog for a while, as you can see)

2000 Mercedes-Benz E430 4Matic (totaled December 2006)
2002 Mercedes-Benz E320 4Matic (current)

My wife owned a 2002 VW Passat - more on that story later - and currently drives a 2000 Lexus ES300.

New Automotive blog

This blog is for drivers who don't necessarily know how to do body or mechanical work by themselves, but rather have a passion for driving certain types of vehicles. My personal favorites are generally from Germany, and I always like to look at the exotics on, etc. I may add another author to this post, and he is responsible for my love of German vehicles and for most of the knowledge I have on the subject.

The first long post, though, will be about my recent misfortunte of having an accident in the snow, then taking my 2002 E320 4Matic in for work. I took it to a body shop first, having them outsource what they couldn't do to a dealer or another mechanic. That was a big mistake on my part; looking back, I should have taken it to a qualified mechanic first, having the body work outsourced.

I have some miscellaneous bits and pieces I've written for other publications that I may link to here and there as well.