Dear Car Talk:
I am an old fellow (77), but not yet senile, I think. Every time I take my 2007 Mercedes Benz ML350 to the dealer, I am amazed by the high maintenance cost. The first time I got an oil change, I was charged for two oil filters, both of which were "fleece" filters. I pointed out what I thought was an error for charging me for two filters, but they told me that my engine has two. This past week I took the car in, and they said one shock absorber was leaking and needed replacing, but both should be replaced at the same time. The cost for replacing two rear shocks was an astronomical $1,200. About half was labor and the other half parts. Why does this cost so much? The car has only about 21,000 miles, and as you can see, my cost per mile (3,000 miles per year) is really high. I hope, as a senior citizen, I am not getting "fleeced."
No more than other Mercedes owners, Marshall.
When you buy a "luxury" car, part of the deal is that you're going to pay luxury prices for maintenance and repair -- especially at the dealership. Who else do you think is going to pay for all those guys in white lab coats and the wide-screen TV in the waiting room?
If you had, say, a Ford Explorer, your bill for two shocks would have been $600. But, of course, then you wouldn't have the prestige of paying twice as much for the Mercedes shocks.
At this point, since you're no longer under warranty, your best option might be to find an independent mechanic for routine service and repairs. While you still might want to go to the dealer for anything unusual or complicated -- since the dealer knows these cars better than anybody -- there's no reason that Dieter and Fritz down at German Auto and Hummel Figurine Emporium can't do your oil and filter changes, scheduled maintenance, basic repairs, and brakes, tires and shocks. And they'll do it cheaper than the dealer will.
They'll still have to buy certain Mercedes parts from a nearby dealer. But they may also have experience with aftermarket parts that they feel are just as good, and are a lot cheaper.
If you need help finding a trustworthy mechanic, try checking out our Mechanics Files (www.mechanicsfiles.com). That's a database of mechanics who have been personally recommended by other readers of the column and listeners to the radio show. Put in your ZIP code and look for a highly recommended shop that specializes in German cars, and see what comes up near where you live.
You might not get free schnitzel in the waiting room like you're used to at the dealership, Marshall, but your American Express card won't be smoking quite so much after you pay your bill.