A lot has happened since the last blog. That’s the curse, when things are interesting there’s often no enough time to write, and when I have time it’s usually because nothing is happening.
So here I sit in a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Pennsylvania, snarfing up the speedy wifi and catching up on work & blog … with a lot of stories to tell from the past two weeks. (I’ll get to Alumapalooza later, this blog is about our tow vehicle.)
The short version is that I condemned our 2009 Mercedes GL320, because it was getting about as reliable as an incontinent cat. At only 134,000 miles it had only about half the miles I had hoped to accumulate, but still with a respectable eight years of service.
After the wet-computer episode in Kansas, and the “strange driveline shudder” I mentioned in the last blog, I had to take stock of the car to decide if it made sense to keep it on the road. The “shudder” was really much worse than that; it was a rapid-fire series of violent bangs like a jackhammer whenever we accelerated hard, and it was getting worse rapidly. I consulted Super Terry and Colin, and both suggested rather dire and expensive repairs were likely to be coming.
By the time we got to Ohio I was fairly certain the best economic outcome would be to replace the car ASAP despite the fact that this would put us into a car payment again. Beyond that, we can’t really tolerate an unreliable vehicle, with all the long-distance and frequently remote travel we do.
As I’ve mentioned a few times here, I really like towing with diesel. Until an electric tow vehicle enters the market with reasonable range, there’s no powerplant available that performs like diesel for towing—and yields astonishingly good fuel economy when not towing. Unfortunately, all the V-6 passenger car diesels in North America have been suspended due to continuing fallout from the VW/Audi “dieselgate” mess. We tried, but we just couldn’t wrap our heads around a pickup truck (and there’s only one light-duty diesel truck left since the Dodge RAM Ecodiesel was suspended).
My friend Chris, who just happens to be the General Manager of a Mercedes Benz dealership, found me a 2015 Mercedes GL350 diesel with Certified Pre-Owned Warranty. I wasn’t going to go back to Mercedes after all the reliability issues of the previous GL, but the CPO Warranty swayed me. See, it has something that’s worth a lot to me: an UNLIMITED MILEAGE Mercedes-Benz warranty. So whatever happens between now and August 2021 is on their dime, not mine. We’ll probably accumulate 70-100k miles in that time.
Now, if switching tow vehicles in the middle of a trip seems like a hassle, try it in the middle of Alumapalooza. This deal would never have come off if not for the supreme efforts of Chris and Super Terry. Chris bought the car at a dealer auction, got it certified quickly, and arranged for a driver to bring it halfway from Pennsylvania. Super Terry jumped in our old GL and drove four hours to meet the other driver, swapped cars and paperwork, then turned around and brought it back to Ohio. Both of those guys are heroes to me.
Switching from one GL to another simplified one aspect: we didn’t have to mess with hitch ball height or anything else. We just moved our stuff and installed a wireless brake controller. Bam! Done. Super Terry even installed the brake control module on the trailer for me.
[By the way, I’m now a fan of the Tekonsha Prodigy Wireless Brake Controller. It works well just like our previous Prodigy but without any wiring on the tow vehicle. You just plug the remote into a cigarette lighter outlet, which means I can move it from one vehicle to another in seconds and I won’t have to worry about the car’s computer deciding to shut it off because it got wet & grumpy.]
The new car has been great so far. After Alumapalooza we towed over to Ohiopyle PA and I was shocked at how much better the 2015 drove compared to the 2009. A bit more power, much quieter, smoother acceleration, lighter steering, lots of interesting tech, etc. It’s really almost a decadent experience to be towing with it.
The Mercedes receiver hitch is considerably better in the 2015 than the 2009, so we’ve been able to just drop the Airstream on it without a problem but we do plan to get a reinforcement installed this summer, once we are settled in the northeast and have time to breathe. I plan to make this car work for its living, just like the last one, and I don’t ever want to have a hitch issue crop up.
Right now we’re stopped at the dealership to get a few minor niggles handled (nothing serious) and tomorrow we’ll be on our way north. I’ll backfill the blog over the next few days with posts about our 12 days in Jackson Center for Alumapalooza, and our stop in the lovely little town of Ohiopyle.