By on March 4, 2017

2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe

Unexpected fires rank among the topmost fears of any automaker, and Mercedes-Benz is dealing with plenty of them.

After reports of 51 fires in late-model vehicles, 30 of them in the U.S., the German luxury automaker will recall roughly one million vehicles worldwide to prevent an electrical fault from causing even more.

The issue afflicts a number of different models and stems from a starting current limiter that can become overloaded during the starting procedure. No injuries have been reported from the fires, and the automaker has already installed a fix on new models coming off the production line.

However, Reuters reports that Mercedes-Benz has placed a stop-sale order on all unsold vehicles left on dealer lots. Those vehicles won’t budge until fixed.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the models include 2015-2017 C-Class vehicles, CLA models from the same time period, 2017 E-Class and GLA models, and 2016-2017 GLC vehicles.

The NHTSA recall report states:

In the event the starter is blocked due to engine/transmission damage (e.g. hydro locked engine), a very high electric current would flow through the starting current limiter during the subsequent start attempt. Should the driver attempt to start the engine repeatedly despite the engine not cranking, the very high electric current draw might lead to overheating of the starting current limiter. In a worst case, surrounding components might melt, and potentially ignite and lead to a fire.

Of the one million models recalled, 354,434 were sold in the U.S.

Parent company Daimler AG launched a preliminary investigation in June 2016 after receiving reports of fires. Over the following months, investigators zeroed in on the starting current limiter as the culprit.

“Owners will be notified with an interim letter in late March, and again when parts become available in July 2017, approximately one week after recall launch to the dealers,” the report reads.

So, if your Mercedes doesn’t start on the first try, consider going back inside and watching Netflix instead of cranking that sucker again.

[Image: Mercedes-Benz]

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54 Comments on “After Dozens of Fires, Mercedes-Benz Recalls One Million Vehicles...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    Low displacement turbo engines continue their quest to kill everyone.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Are they having head gasket failures that allow coolant leaks into the cylinder after the engine is shut down? That would be the most likely reason to hydro-lock, unless they have coolant passages associated with the intake manifold that could be leaking due to porosity or seal problems.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      Source?

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      I’m thinking it has more to do with the fact that the ECM is doing the actual cranking now – the driver merely initiates the process. So how long does the ECM keep the solenoid energized, and shouldn’t the ECM realize that there the engine is locked by monitoring the crank position sensor?

      This sounds more like a software problem to me.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Note they said, “In the event the starter is ‘blocked’,” which implies the engine doesn’t even turn. That has nothing to do with “low displacement turbo engines” as such.

    Why the assumption?

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      As long as 2013 E350 BlueTEC ain’t on that list…

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I don’t see anything naturally aspirated or over 3.0L on the recall list in the link…

      Sounds like the E300 and CLA is self-aware and would rather immolate than continue its unnatural existence.

      And also:
      https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joke

    • 0 avatar
      markogts

      Well, if there are issues with CH gasket, this could easily correlate with higher specific power. Increased thermal stress, differential expansion of components, narrow cooling channels and walls…

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    Why waste any hard-earned money on a POS Mercedes-Benz when you can drive a 1974 Toronado?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Those are hard to find. The ’68 would be my sweet spot, since I REALLY like the original styling. Unfortunately, I also like the base bench seat with fold down armrest, and the column shifter. It’s especially hard to find one that has all the engine rubber and plastic replaced with versions that can handle the ethanol in modern gasoline. If you’ve already got a ’74, go ahead and gloat.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        Well you know some folks do have to get to work on time and that wasn’t really a priority for 1974 GM.

      • 0 avatar
        JEFFSHADOW

        My 1974 is Cranberry colored with the deep red brougham interior. It has never failed to start since I got it for free in 2005.
        Google the 1974 Toronado and you’ll see the GM postcard advertisement – mine exactly. Other 1974 Toronados got the “optional for 1974 only” sealed side windows which are model-year specific in parts and application. 1975 to 1978 are standard and quite different in the design.

        • 0 avatar
          Mandalorian

          I’m a fan of the big ‘ole cruisers, but I do know there is no way it has ran for 30 years without an extensive amount of work.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Source?

          • 0 avatar
            JEFFSHADOW

            Actually, 43 years. No engine work done. Transmission resealed because the vehicle sat six years at high elevation near Yosemite.
            If you research the 1974 Toronado you will come across several photos of mine taken in 1997. You’ll see a Bob Black Oldsmobile license frame and an original blue/yellow California plate with the numbers ‘929’.
            Currently at my mechanic’s shop waiting for upgraded GM HEI from a 1976 455.

  • avatar

    ” engine/transmission damage (e.g. hydro locked engine)”

    The fires are probably less a concern to M-B engineers as the reason why 50 cars had hydro locked engines or damaged transmissions.

  • avatar
    GermanReliabilityMyth

    Mercedes-Benz sold one million vehicles? Volume über alles.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    2.08 million worldwide in 2016, not including Smart or commercial trucks.
    Yes they are a volume producer these days.

  • avatar
    EAF

    “possible root causes for the electric overload were investigated based on descriptions from field reports. Additionally, internal tests on test benches and in exemplar vehicles were conducted. It was determined that the blocking of the starter due to prior engine/transmission damage was an essential pre-condition for the observed defect on the starting current limiter. In November and December 2016, the defect mechanism on the starting current limiter in the event of a blocked starter was analyzed. It was determined that multiple start attempts after the occurrence of a blocked starter might lead to the condition of an electrically overloaded starting current limiter.”

    The solution is an in-line fuse. “The best or nothing.”

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      You beat me to it. This is precisely what 50-cent fuses were designed to prevent.

      If this story was about a fire hazard in a GM, FCA, or Hyundai product, it would be less surprising. But when you sell what’s supposed to be such a prestigious super-German-engineered vehicle that it’s priced 30% more than its plebeian competition, one begins to wonder if there’s really anything behind that luxury badge beyond image.

      • 0 avatar
        thegamper

        Agree. MB seems to get a free pass on these issues when if it were a mainstream automaker dealing to the peasantry, everyone would assume malice, incompetence, etc right off the bat.

        I also agree when it comes to luxury cars that are decidedly mainstream, like the C class, even E class, the bulk of your extra dollars spent on German engineering prowess is going into Daimler’s bank account rather than content.

        I am a firm believer in the law of diminishing returns when it comes to cars. A Toyota Avalon or Fusion Platinum are fine vehicles that represent a great deal of content and engineering for your dollar. To go the next step into entry luxury vehicles, the value doesn’t add up and the extra price does not equal the sum of its parts. But I suppose if feeding your ego and keeping up with the Jonses is worth the extra cash, more power to ya.

    • 0 avatar
      Click REPLY to reload page

      The official fix from MB is to install a fuse. So you are on the right track.

      Why did they cheap out on this circuit? (And where else did their German Engineers omit something important in order to save half a Euro?)

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    The other day I met this long time, now retired Daimler master tech who told me that he would only buy a Merc with either an inline 6 or a V8, nothing else. No fours no V6 and absolutely no turbo. I think the same should apply to BMW.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    One of those little CLAs was parked next to me last night when we had finished the grocery shopping. I had no idea they were so dangerous. ;-)

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    So 1/3 of the recalled cars are in the US, but 2/3 of the fires are in the US.

    Why do Americans keep trying to crank an engine that doesn’t turn?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      For the same reason Americans marry multiple times: “the triumph of hope over experience”.

      • 0 avatar
        Click REPLY to reload page

        That same precept is why people buy GM cars – maybe the next one will work out and not have so many defects – until they finally learn their lesson.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      You laugh, but VW would put this on the customer somehow.

      Also, with my F150 you flip the key and it will turn over until it cranks or for like 10 seconds ( I once parked it on a hill really low on gas). It isn’t like an old school car where the starter only turns while you have it in the start position. Not sure if these cars are the same but if a Ford has this then a new benz might.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    very German in that the device they came up with to protect the system in these cases is itself causing the very fires it was meant to prevent.

    Pretty much all vehicles on the market have “tip” start (PCM controls the starter,) guaranteed if it’s a push-button. So why not instead have an in-line current shunt and have the PCM disengage the starter if it sees excessive current draw?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I would imagine that is how it is probably designed now, but to retrofit it into a million cars? No, a fuse will do. ALL car makers are concerned about a buck and these fixes have to be implemented as cheaply as possible, even on prestige brands. M/B of the past would have had such a safety system as engineering came first- unlike today where pinching pennies gets you the Muntz award…Now there’s an obscure reference…

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Developing a failure analysis which assumes a catastrophic mechanical failure and repeated attempts by the owner to remedy by pressing the start button would not result in extraordinary design considerations, as is evidenced by the simple fix. You can assume that they thought that the “current limiter” would protect the motor/battery in this case…which it did…but analyzing the thermal impact on nearby components should have been part of the design analysis. It is likely they underestimated the temperature of the current limiter in this worst case.

    So while it is certainly a case of buggered engineering it was probably a design compromise which necessitated relocating the component to make room for some other convenience device.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Are they having that many hydro-locked engines? My brother managed to hydro-lock a ’70 Olds 455 (in a Ninety-Eight), which bent a rod and ruined two pistons (numbers 5 and 7, on the driver’s side at the rear). He had let the thing overheat on several occasions (leaky radiator), and eventually warped the heads, block(!), and intake. Attempted cranking drained the battery and cooked the insulation on the positive battery cable.

  • avatar

    There is something very fishy about this recall – “Dozens of fires”? I can count on one hand how many vehicles I’ve seen with a locked engine that wasn’t due to driving through water – – Mercedes is lying about the cause – it’s not because of a locked engine. A locked engine could do it and that’s why they use the excuse – but floods being the most common reason of a locked engine would never become a recall and other reasons are so rare that it is extremely unlikely – I’m calling it BS – Mercedes just lied to NHTSA about the cause

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