Curt's Newsletter

December 2006

© 2006
No part of this newsletter may be reprinted elsewhere including internet websites without written permission from the author

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

The Star Roadside Assistance ML320 reached 400,000 miles.
And they said it couldn't be done: The Star Motor Cars Roadside Assistance ML320 achieved 400,000 miles recently, original engine, 2nd transmission. Towed once when the transmission failed.

Safety Award

Mercedes-Benz m-class earns top safety pick for 2007
MONTVALE, NJ - The Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV earned a TOP SAFETY PICK award for 2007 from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  This award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting occupants in front (off-set), side and rear crashes based on ratings in Institute tests.  Winners must be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC), such as the ESP system pioneered by Mercedes-Benz.

SUV’S Eligible For First Time
The Institute rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor based on performance in high-speed front offset and side crash tests plus evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts. The first requirement for a vehicle to become a TOP SAFETY PICK is to earn the top rating of good in all three Institute tests.

In 2006, SUVs weren’t eligible to win because the Institute hadn’t evaluated the side crashworthiness of many of them.  “Many SUVs didn’t earn good ratings in our crash tests, and on the road they were more likely than cars to get in serious single-vehicle crashes, including rollovers, because of their higher centers of gravity. Newer SUVs perform better in crash tests and, when equipped with ESC, are much less likely to roll over. All but one of the seven SUVs that win our 2007 TOP SAFETY PICK have ESC as standard equipment,” said the Institute president Adrian Lund.

Recent Institute research found that ESC reduces the risk of serious crashes involving both SUVs and cars. The largest effect is in single-vehicle crashes, which were reduced 40 percent with the addition of ESC. Fatal single-vehicle crashes went down 56 percent, and fatal rollovers of cars and SUVs were reduced by about 80 percent.

Mercedes-Benz Takes a Holistic Approach to Safety
Continuing the Mercedes-Benz commitment to occupant safety, the 2007 M-Class comes standard with two-stage adaptive air bags for the driver and front passenger, seat-mounted side impact air bags in front and rear, window curtain air bags that stretch from front to rear, active head restraints, belt tensioners, and belt force limiters for front and rear seating positions.  A rollover sensor can activate the belt tensioners and window curtain air bags if the vehicle senses an imminent rollover. 

A Choice of Four High-Torque Engines
For 2007 the new ML320 CDI diesel and ML63 AMG models join the V6-powered ML350 and the V8 ML500.   Under the hood of the ML350 is a new generation 3.5-liter, four-valve-per-cylinder V6 engine delivering 268 horsepower and 258-lb.ft. of torque.  The ML500 is powered by a five-liter V8 engine with 302-horsepower and 339-lb.ft. of torque. The ML63 AMG is the first engine developed entirely by AMG, a 6.3-liter naturally aspirated V8 that produces 503 horsepower and 465 lb.-ft. of torque.  Boasting 215 hp and a whopping 398 lb-ft. of torque, the ML320 CDI features an innovative diesel engine that’s equipped with the latest 3rd generation CDI technology with class leading fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon on the highway and a range of 600 miles.

BLUETEC Diesel Initiative

Los Angeles – On the eve of the Los Angeles Motor Show DaimlerChrysler, AUDI and Volkswagen announced that they intend to establish the BLUETEC brand name as the designation for particularly clean, highly fuel-efficient passenger cars and SUVs with diesel engines. Under the shared concept of BLUETEC, each of the manufacturers involved will be working on their own technical systems for meeting the world’s most stringent emission regulations.

The latest J.D. Power study, “Global Outlook For Diesel”, predicts that the share of diesels among first-time registrations in North America will rise to over 15 percent by 2015. It is in the light of this development that Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen will be systematically expanding their ranges of diesel vehicles.

All three companies are convinced that up-to-date diesel propulsion systems play a major part in efficient and clean mobility. With their high torque, agility, economy and robustness they display all the qualities which American customers, especially, appreciate.

With their outstandingly efficient fuel consumption, which lies some 20 to 40 percent lower than that of comparable petrol engines, these particularly clean diesel engines now have the potential to comply with the toughest emission limits in the world. They combine ecology and economy with driving pleasure for the customer.

What is BLUETEC?
The name BLUETEC covers diesel engines with exhaust emission treatment systems, which meet even the strictest emission regulations on the US market. The systems employed by BLUETEC serve in particular to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) - the only constituent part of the exhaust gases which, due to the design of the diesel, inherently lies above the value for petrol engines. In this way it will in future also be possible to meet the strict limits imposed by the State of California.
Depending on the vehicle class concerned, various NOx treatment systems can be used. In one version, for instance, an oxidizing catalytic converter and a particulate filter are combined with a further improved, particularly long-life NOx storage converter. Another way of cutting NOx emissions is even more effective. In this case for example AdBlue, a water-based additive, is injected into the exhaust gas. This causes ammonia to be released, which in turn reduces the nitrogen oxides almost completely to harmless nitrogen and water in a downstream SCR catalytic converter.

BLUETEC is a brand of DaimlerChrysler that is already being used by the corporation’s Mercedes-Benz cars and commercial vehicles. In future the name BLUETEC will also stand for clean diesel engines from Audi, Volkswagen and Jeep® in the United States.

Analog TeleAid

Due to a recent FCC ruling, analog wireless networks supporting some Tele Aid systems will convert to digital technology after December 31, 2007.  For Mercedes-Benz, this change in general affects all Model Year 2000 to 2004 vehicles, Model Year 2005 M- and G-Class vehicles, and Model Year 2005 and 2006 Maybach and all SLR vehicles.

A Digital Tele Aid Upgrade program for these vehicles is available except for Model Year 2000 cars.  Due to the hardware originally installed in Model Year 2000 cars, these vehicles can NOT be upgraded, and Tele Aid service will terminate December 31, 2007 at the latest.

Starting on November 1, for January 2007 renewals, Tele Aid renewal customers will be notified by the Tele Aid Response Center through a direct mail letter and brochure of the opportunity to upgrade to digital.
3 different service packages are available to the customer NOT INCLUDING INSTALLATION TIME:

1.  Lifetime Package—$1500 MSRP for existing customers and for pre-owned vehicles in inventory.

2.  2-year Package—$1148 MSRP for existing customers only.

3.  1-year package—$824 MSRP for existing customers only.

4.  Maybach and SLR vehicles will be handled as a service campaign, with services provided for the balance of the original 4-year or 50,000 mile warranty.

Reliability Letter

I've been a big fan of the LS430 for a number of years.  It wasn't as luxurious or impressive a driver as the MB, but the reliability seemed to far exceed anything that MB could offer.

This year, Lexus has turned the LS into a soft-riding, isolated from the road, living room on wheels.  A European handling package is no longer available.  I hate driving cars that roll like an ocean liner in a storm.

I'd consider an S550 or an E550, but I'm concerned about the reliability stories that are floating around the net.  I don't hear that you can drive a MB and just change oil, filters and consumables.  I've heard horror stories about constant maintenance issues, and explosively expensive repair bills.  In addition, all of the dealers in my neck of the woods are incredibly arrogant.

I'd like to hear your views on these issues.


The reliability of recent Mercedes hit bottom in the 2001-2003 area for German built cars, and 98-99 for MLs.  This came to the attention of the board of directors.  The chairman was replaced with an engineer, and massive efforts at getting back on track for quality were instituted.

It worked.  2000 model S-Class, the first a new series, were a pain in the neck.  2003 E-Class sedans had minor problems, but, since we're Mercedes-Benz, they were exaggerated in the press and the car rags.

If your Tele-Aid doesn't work, the world does not end.  But it was unacceptable anyway.

E-Classes have been quite good since 2004 model year.  The 2006-7s go out, and I only see them for routine service.  I had one 2005 E320CDI with electrical problems, one.  The customer is happy now.  The worst complaint I've gotten lately on a 2006 E-Class has been a E320CDI only getting 36 mpg on a drive to New Orleans and back, and the same driver complained he needed front brake pads at 39,000 miles. Everything released since 2004, starting with the new SLK350, has been bulletproof and ten feet tall.  I have yet to receive a complaint about an SLK.

The new M-Class came out in 2005 and joined the bulletproof crowd. The R and GL, essentially the same vehicle mechanically and electronically, have been as good.  The only complaints I've gotten have been due to a lack of understanding of all of the features by the driver.  (Operator's Manual?  What's that?)

The S-Class, which came out at the beginning of this year, with all of its complexity and capabilities, has been as reliable and bullet proof as a C230 with no options.  I haven't heard of a navi system replaced, for example.  For that matter, I haven't gotten any complaints from my customers, and I have sold a bunch of them.

Lexus are reliable, but not that reliable.  They have a better loaner car program than MBUSA offers.  We have to do our own loaner car program, and it costs $30-50K/mo.  It’s not as good as Lexus.  As one Lexus owner said to me, “It had to go in ten times the first year, but they picked up and delivered and left a loaner car at my office every time, so who cares?”

If we had the Lexus loaner car program, we would sell 1/3 more cars. Mercedes cars still have souls and inspire confidence when driving through the valley of the shadow of death, rain, sleet, and drunken pickup truck drivers.  When you task a Mercedes with doing a violent evasive maneuver to save your life, you can expect it to accomplish it with aplomb, verve, and precision.  If you’re hit by anything that doesn’t say Freightliner or Southern Pacific on the nose you can expect to be able to walk into your nearest Mercedes dealer the next business day and get another one.  One customer in 25 years has spent time in intensive care, and he was hit by a train.  When he was hit by a Freightliner, he was in the store the next business day.  The lady in the LS430 the Freightliner punted him into was in later in the week—on crutches with a broken ankle.  You can get killed in a Mercedes, but it usually takes a gun.

It’s safe to come into the Mercedes lagoon.  The sharks are all gone.  When I heard the dispatcher complaining that the new crop wasn’t breaking enough to keep the shop busy, I knew we had turned the corner on the problem.

That and I drove a 2002 ML55 AMG for 91,713 miles and never had a significant problem.  I did routine maintenance, changed brake parts and tires, and had very few warranty claims.  The truck was never towed and never spent the night in the shop.  The extended warranty was a waste of money as there was one claim for under $300—for a problem discovered by a technician during a B Service.  That sort of record makes it easy to sell these things with a straight face.  With the current crop you CAN expect to drive them a long time doing only the once a year (13,000 miles except 10,000 miles for AMG and diesels) maintenance and keep them in tires and brakes.

And there’s our Roadside Assistance vehicle with 400,000 miles on the original engine, one of those unreliable ’98 MLs.  Hmm.

Miscellaneous Ravings

Every day is Christmas to a dog.

Holiday Greetings

For My Democrat Friends:
"Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great.  This is not intended to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor that it is the only America in the Western Hemisphere. And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishes. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself, himself, theirself, or others, is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher."

For My Republican Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Museum Wanted
I’m looking for a museum that would like a rifle with a history.

In 1970 I took a Vietnamese Infantry Battalion into Cambodia.  While there we captured a huge supply depot hidden in the jungle.  We captured 20 tons of rice and a large cache of weapons.  Among the weapons were SKS rifles.  The rule about war trophies at the time was we could take back semiautomatic rifles, but not automatic ones.  AK47s were, therefore, not importable.  SKSs were.

The rifle had three adventures before leaving Southeast Asia.  First of all, it was booby-trapped.  It was attached by a string at the trigger guard to the bottom in a stack of 13 lb. anti-tank mines 5 feet tall.

Secondly, I was cleaning it preparatory to firing it with captured ammunition when one of my troops, firing an AKM, was severely injured when it blew up.  The SKS remains unfired since capture to this day.  The booby trap and the explosive ammunition were no doubt the work of US Special Forces, not the enemy.

I gave it to my lieutenant when he went back to Vietnam for something.  Carrying an SKS along with 40-60 lb. worth of other gear is not fun.  I only had one more American with us at the time, and, of course, I had given a rifle to each of them.  All three rifles went back.

The ARVN Regimental commander was upset because my battalion commander had reported 125 SKSs, and only 122 reached him.  He was getting some sort of bounty from the US per weapon captured; either that or he was selling them back to the NVA.  In any case, when the chopper landed at An Loc, 9th ARVN Recon was quickly surrounding it with all weapons pointed at it.  They searched the Huey without success, and then left in a huff.  There is a hidden compartment in a Huey.  Those of you who have a need to know already know that and where it is.

An SKS without a history is almost worthless.  But this one has all of the “War Trophy” paperwork and some neat stories.  I’m not trying to sell it.  I’m trying to donate it to a museum.

Christmas Carols For The Disturbed

* 1. Schizophrenia — Do You Hear What I Hear?
* 2. Multiple Personality Disorder — We Three Kings Disoriented Are
* 3. Dementia — I Think I'll be Home for Christmas
* 4. Narcissistic — Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me
* 5. Manic — Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and.....
* 6. Paranoid — Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me
* 7. Borderline Personality Disorder — Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire
* 8. Personality Disorder — You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why
* 9. Attention Deficit Disorder — Silent night, Holy oooh look at the
Froggy - can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?
* 10. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells …
(No angry letters, please.  It’s just a joke.)

Veterans Hospital

The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Hospital is a depressing place.  It shouldn’t be.  It’s state of the art.  The Veterans Administration medical system has gone from being hell on earth as epitomized in “Coming Home,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” and “Article 99,” to being the best in the country.  Their all-electronic medical records system is years ahead of civilian, private medicine, and stands out as an exception to the rule that the government can never do anything right.

It’s not perfect.  The waiting list for a colonoscopy is 3.5 years.  The lab where blood is drawn has about a 4 hour-long waiting room filled at 0830.  There’s always a shortage of money when the government is concerned.  Vets aren’t a particularly high priority to politicians, especially ones too feeble to vote.  You know the ones that saved us from Hitler.

It is hard to go there without being depressed.  Unless you stand in a 1-hour line for free valet parking, you’ll have to park 500 yards away and walk.  You’ll walk past cars with “-DV” or “PH” on their license plates.  The handicapped parking spots are full, and people are waiting for them.  Several vehicles have attachments for carrying scooters or motorized wheelchairs.  And you’ll see the veterans, old men in wheel chairs or on scooters, some with limbs missing.  They’re wearing their VFW caps with badges all over them or ball caps with unit names or “Combat Veteran” on them.  Few are bare headed.  Some walk with limps.  Some just walk slowly.  Most are old, but one young man accompanied by his young wife had to acquire his membership badge in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Most people see the old, fat guy in the scooter as just an old guy.  They don’t see the man who assaulted Omaha Beach as a teenager or swam with sharks when they sunk the Indianapolis.  Another one is complaining loudly about George W. Bush, but when he was young he didn’t retreat but “attacked in another direction” in the frozen Chosin.  Another old man waiting in Audiology says he didn’t do much, never got shot at.  But he lost his hearing loading bombs onto aircraft on a carrier.  Another one, younger, but old nonetheless, just did his job, but it got a little scary at times.  He was a crew chief on a medevac chopper, and his pilot was a crazy son-of-a-bitch who never refused to go down and pick somebody up.  His crew chief never did anything brave. But he rode on that helicopter for 340 days in 1967-68; choppers actually as two were too shot up to fly again.

Not all are combat soldiers.  There’s a helicopter mechanic.  Helicopters needed a lot of maintenance, 1 to 2 hours for every hour of “blade time.”  They flew from dawn till dark.  So the mechanics worked on them from dark till dawn, and the ones that weren’t ready to go by dawn, they kept working on.  They worked in areas that were really good targets for mortars and rockets.

Anything you do in combat can get you killed or wounded, including doing nothing.

A big, ruddy-faced guy was a lot thinner when he jumped out of a perfectly good airplane a long way from home in Korea.  But he was just doing his job.  The heroes are all buried at national cemeteries.  Those scars on his chest?  No big deal.

There’s a guy in a wheelchair who is barely conscious.  His granddaughter is pushing the chair.  She’s going to be surprised someday when she goes through his things and finds the Navy Cross he’s had since 1945 and never mentioned to any of the family members.

Another man in a wheelchair has a fresher amputation.  He never did anything dangerous in the Air Force, just loaded aircraft.  For six months he loaded “Ranch Hand” aircraft with a harmless defoliant called Agent Orange.  Now diabetes has robbed him of his right leg.  He says he was lucky, though, because one of his buddies got non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and they buried him at Arlington.  One of the many effects of dioxin poisoning is diabetes.  Another is non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Old Uncle Charlie, who always bored the nieces and nephews with funny war stories, is in for a checkup after cancer surgery.  He never told the real war stories, about how bad it smelled lying in a foxhole with his best buddy’s body next to him while he fought off wave after wave of Japanese, and when they stopped coming, the survivors of his 40-man platoon could ride away in a Jeep.  The nightmares of that time never stopped.

A man on an elevator never amounted to much after the war.  He became a worthless drunk, just another crazed Vietnam vet.  He never had a mark on him, so his friends and relatives couldn’t understand.  But when he came home on emergency leave his platoon was wiped out to a man.  But he finally found treatment and hasn’t had a drink in six years.

Another man is being treated for melanoma.  He knows all he has to look forward to is a little more time, maybe enough to see another grandchild born.  Melanoma might not be a service-connected disability, but since he spent a couple of years on the flight line in Than Son Nhut in the blazing sun, maybe it is.

All of these “doddering old fools” were once strong, vibrant young men.  Instead of running from duty they went to it.  Some were drafted.  Some volunteered.  No good deed goes unpunished, and they’re being punished now for the sins of their youth.  Other young men who avoided service are retired now from the jobs some of these men couldn’t get when they came home because they were veterans.  And others didn’t waste 2 or 4 or more years of their lives defending their country while they could be making money.

The department that treats Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is large and experienced.  Far from the screenwriter’s device in bad TV shows to make veterans the bad guy, it’s a natural artifact of combat.  Experience enough combat, and you’ll experience it–if you are human.  The experience of the POWs of Japan is the example.  They came home after the parades and were told to go to work, that they would be fine.  They did for 40 years, and then retired, then it caught up with them.  Who is retiring now?  Vietnam veterans.  They’ve ignored the nightmares for nearly 40 years.  Vietnam vets know well the term, “Bleep it and continue to march.”  They’ve been continuing for nearly 40 years.  Now they’re stopping.  The VA is expecting an onslaught.  So that department has everything from WWII to Iraq.  It’s recognized now, and the military tests for it on exit, way too late for Vietnam vets, who didn’t have PTSD because it hadn’t been invented.  They were just crazed Vietnam vets getting what they deserved for being baby killers.

A nice lady gives directions.  She is wearing a sign saying “Ambassador.”  She looks for men looking lost with papers in their hands and gives them directions.  But she talks to them as if they are in middle stages of Alzheimer’s or four years old.  I’m not sure which.  I’m sure that often that is the correct tone, but it makes a healthy man want to run away.

Fortunately most of the staff treats the patients as if they’re paying retail for their treatment.  It’s free now, but, of course, it’s not free, just prepaid.  They’re paying for it every day, some with physical pain from wounds, some with deeper pain.  Some still feel the pain of losing men they were trying to save, of ordering other men to do things that killed them.  Some feel guilty for killing the enemy, and others worry because they don’t.  Some fear sleep because they have been waking up in a knife fight for 40 years.

Life doesn’t have a happy ending.  No hospital is an upbeat place except maybe at the OB department.  But lives are saved there every day.  Cancers are cut out.  Prosthetic limbs are fitted.  The lame walk.  The blind see.  Many of these men leave in better condition than they arrived, but eventually time catches up with them.  The government will give them a plot in a national cemetery and a $35 headstone.  Some of their relatives will be surprised when a large contingent arrives from the nearest base.  Most veterans get a recorded playing of Taps and a color guard of old men from the DAV or VFW. Some get more.  Relatives at one recently were surprised to see a delegate from the French embassy at the funeral.  That’s when they learned what their grandfather had done in Normandy in 1944. 
These veterans are the ones who won the combat lottery.  They had 40 or 50 or 60 years of borrowed time while their heroes lie in national cemeteries around the world, never living to be old and feeble and forgetful, but never meeting the love of their lives or getting to see their grandchildren born.  The vets know that when they’re gone, no one will remember their heroes.
The hospital plods on 24 hours a day treating these men and women.  Some of the men are grateful.  Some think it’s their due.  It’s probably not.  It is more than their buddies in national cemeteries got.  Life isn’t fair.  If it were fair they would be getting the treatment congressmen get, and congressmen would stand in line.  Vets have not been getting what they deserve since the Revolution.  Most accept it and “continue to march.”

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Curt Rich        December 2006