W220 Airmatic suspsension and other points to watch

cwillia1

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As a W220 (S500) owner I have read a lot about Airmatic problems and the expense associated with these, but would like to summarize some of the useful information I have gathered, particularly for UK members who are rather less well served than is the case in the USA. Firstly, it has to be said that the Airmatic system provides a beautiful ride, and with reasonable precautions/maintenance, need not strike fear into the hearts of those of us who live with it.
Perhaps the best advice is to inspect the system regularly, and take preventive action if this seems to be needed - this will be a lot cheaper than having your car removed to a dealer with collapsed suspension! One of the primary trouble spots, particularly in the early W220 models, is the seals on top of the front struts, which can leak. The best way to test these is to pour soapy water around the top of the seal, and check if there are any bubbles with the car running; if you press the button on the dash to raise the suspension to its higher setting this ensures the system is working at maximum pressure and you will see bubbles after 30 seconds or so if there are any leaks.
Here in the UK it seems to me that the usual remedy for leaking front strut seals is replacement of the entire strut, at a cost of around £800 a corner plus labour. But this is NOT necessary for a leaking strut seal, there is a repair kit available from Mercedes dealers at a cost of just £81 per kit, plus VAT. A couple of hours labour is more than enough to replace the seals, though this should ideally be done by a dealer or a specialist as a special tool is needed for the job. When I contacted my local Mercedes dealer thay said they had never ordered or fitted such a kit, but when I told them the part number they said yes, these were indeed available from MB HQ at Milton Keynes. A couple of days later the kits had been delivered, and although my struts aren't leaking at the moment, I will be ready to cure the problem at very moderate cost if and when they do. Rear struts, incidentally, are much less prone to failure. The part number for the strut repair kits in the UK and elsewhere is A 220 320 25 38. In my book, keeping a couple of these handy is good insurance against a large bill should you be facing this problem now or in the future.
There can of course be other problems with Airmatic, but these are less costly. Even a new pump is just a few hundred pounds and quickly fitted, and the other usual culprit, the relay, is relatively cheap. Be sure to get the later Hella relay though, part number A 002 542 721 9.
A good way to do a quick leak test, which I learned from a German site, is to start the car and ensure the pump has levelled the car to its normal height, then press the button on the dashboard to raise the suspension to its upper setting, and see how long it takes before the "Airmatic, vehicle rising" message goes out. If the suspension is leaking, this can take several minutes, but it will go out in 30 seconds or so if all is well.
These are wonderful cars and well worth a little additional care and maintenance. Most early W220s will by now have had more recent parts fitted which will of course be more reliable than the originals, and in any event the only really expensive components are the front struts which in most cases can be quickly and cheaply repaired, using the official Mercedes kit, as described above.
Please remember that most people tend to write in forums such as these when they have cause for complaint, but there are many more happily driving round in their W220s with very few problems. Just care for your car well, check for leaks regularly, and if your front struts do leak at the top seals, don't be fobbed off with advice that the whole strut needs to be changed, just get the repair kits!
The other costly aspect to keep an eye on are the catalytic converters, two of them which can need replacement at 80,000 miles at a cost of £1200+ for the pair. Many W220s coming up for sale tend to be approaching this mileage now so it's well worth checking out.
T sum up, in terms of overall quality it has to be admitted that the W220 doesn't have the solidity or tank-like build of my previous W124 and W126, but it's still a very good car indeed and certainly one of the best looking cars on the road today. £5k - £6k will get you a decent early example, but be sure to check out the suspension and catalytic converters, as well as the Comand computer system and general electronics, of which there are many. Buy carefully and you really can be Chapagne Charlie on lemonade money!
 
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cwillia1

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Follow up to W220 Airmatic maintenance issues

Since writing the previous notes I have covered a good few thousand miles without any suspension problems at all. I have also discovered an excellent MB specialist who worked for many years for a main MB franchise, and he tells me that in all his years as a MB technician he only remembers replacing one front strut. This really puts this question into perspective and shows that most airmatic suspension systems should work perfectly well most of the time - but I still recommend keeping a couple of front strut repair kits handy just in case.
No other problems of any significance with my W220, a couple of electronic glitches occurred but these were relatively easily sorted out. I did have one slightly scary experience when the dashboard display failed to light up - a replacement display is £800 + fitting - but this was cured within a minute by withdrawing the 3 15A fuses in the RH fusebox under the bonnet which control this function (see fusebox diagram) and inserting them again, which resets the function and restores it to normal.
These cars are complex, and my MB specialist recommends keeping on top of any problems that do occur. With luck this should happen infrequently and I am told that W220s generally run for long periods without any problems at all.
I am as impressed with the car as the day I bought it and can't really conceive of driving anything else, it's just so much nicer than almost every other car on the road, making every journey a real pleasure rather than a chore. Yes, it's a large complex vehicle and costs more to run than a mass produced hatchback, but it's worth it a hundred times over. Happy W220 motoring!
 

Xtractorfan

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Just one small item.. you posted that if the 'airmatic suspension rising ' doesnt go out in 30 secs or so that the suspension is leaking...it can also be a sign that the airmatic pump is on its way out..And a new pump comes complete with a new relay which should also be fitted, even if the older relay is still working.. Happy motoring and a good post..
 
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cwillia1

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Reply to Xtractorfan

Many thanks for that, you are absolutely right and I should have mentioned that if the suspension is slow to rise it could equally well be the pump on its way out, rather than a leak. Best wishes.
 

lovemerc

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Airmatic Suspension Leg Repair Kit - S Class

Hi,

Does anyone know how easy these are to fit and if specialist tools are required for the Job?
 
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S63L AMG 2007 V8, S500L/1999/V8,SLK 200 Kompressor 2001,Porsche 911 1967 2 litre
s500 airmatic

My car sat for about 4 years, now back in use. It was sat right down when in store ie all the air had gone out.
Can this damage the seals?
I am getting the fault warning, and the offside rear seems to be running marginally lower than the nearside.
Can the rear seals be replaced.
 

television

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There are some firms doing a recon on the struts now, someone posted a link last week
 

IB511001

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Hi all

I do not get any dispaly warning but my airmatic pump is making a real racket - any suggestions or ideas. I am planning to drop it in to the garage in the mornign but would like a bit of informed advice befroe I go. thanks to all.
 

IB511001

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Hi All
I am not getting an error message but the airmatic pump on my S500 is making a racket! I am taking it in to the garage but would appreciate some advice beforehand. Thanks to all.
 

Oarsman

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Hi All
I am not getting an error message but the airmatic pump on my S500 is making a racket! I am taking it in to the garage but would appreciate some advice beforehand. Thanks to all.

Hi IB511001,

has it just started making a racket?
They are not the most quiet of MB devices. They are very similar to a tyre pump operated by the cigar lighter.
If it's running continuously the relay may be locked on, in which case the pump may soon fail.
A good test is to raise the suspension. If the pump is still operating and the indicator message in the dash display does not disappear in less that 30 seconds it's probably on the way out.
A new pump and relay fitted by any of the excellent indies on this forum will probably cost less than £300.
 

LTD

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I just had a rear strut fail on my W220.

Back end like a space hopper and very scary to drive at any speed.

New MB strut supplied and fitted - £780

Not the cheapest repair that you'll have on a car but well worth it when you consider my car is on 117k at the moment. Less than a penny a mile.
 

Alex Crow

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what happened? the variable damping valve on the side rusted off and it lost all its oil i guess.
 

LTD

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Damping valve seemed to be located fine but it definitely lost it's oil. Valve gear was coated in oil and muck - maybe it stopped it rusting off :lol:

Car is now a joy to drive again - I wonder how long it's been degrading to the point of no return ???
 

as400

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"The other costly aspect to keep an eye on are the catalytic converters, two of them which can need replacement at 80,000 miles at a cost of £1200+ for the pair. Many W220s coming up for sale tend to be approaching this mileage now so it's well worth checking out"

How can you check for that?
 

Xtractorfan

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Most people just open the cats up and remove the inners..they work ok without the cats..
 

range rover

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w220 suspension and other pars to watch

It's all very well removing the 'guts' of the cat but what about the emission test results at the MOT centre ?
 

mr_w140

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Hello All,

I am considering buying a W220 and the post by CWILLIA1 is very informative and I have to say, excellent. Its been over 10 years since the OP and I can see that prices for front struts seem to fallen a lot. so much so that the price for the front repair kit and the whole strut is about the same. Would it therefore be correct to say that if the thing starts leaking then just replace the whole strut?....or am I missing something?

Are there any other points to consider when buying a W220? any other advice would be greatly appreciated...

Thank you..
 

EricG

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Hello All,

I am considering buying a W220 and the post by CWILLIA1 is very informative and I have to say, excellent. Its been over 10 years since the OP and I can see that prices for front struts seem to fallen a lot. so much so that the price for the front repair kit and the whole strut is about the same. Would it therefore be correct to say that if the thing starts leaking then just replace the whole strut?....or am I missing something?

Are there any other points to consider when buying a W220? any other advice would be greatly appreciated...

Thank you..

Hi there

I'm new to the forum however am happy to share my W220 ownership experience, here in Australia (Sydney).

I purchased a 2001 S430 with only 68000kms back in November 2017. I've just clicked over 79000kms trouble free kilometers.

Apart from the obvious checkpoints regarding the Airmatic system, the one thing that I would check is the main belt & idler pulley. These were checked by my indie as part of regular servicing that I afford my baby (yea I absolutely love my S-Class!!) and he picked up a hairline crack in that pulley. I didn't think anything of it until he explained to me how another customer with an S430 was driving his vehicle to the point that the pulley completely broke taking with it the main belt which was shredded and basically destroyed the engine. The big M113 engine infact was laying on the ground of his workshop.
 

John Laidlaw

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Hi there

I'm new to the forum however am happy to share my W220 ownership experience, here in Australia (Sydney).

I purchased a 2001 S430 with only 68000kms back in November 2017. I've just clicked over 79000kms trouble free kilometers.

Apart from the obvious checkpoints regarding the Airmatic system, the one thing that I would check is the main belt & idler pulley. These were checked by my indie as part of regular servicing that I afford my baby (yea I absolutely love my S-Class!!) and he picked up a hairline crack in that pulley. I didn't think anything of it until he explained to me how another customer with an S430 was driving his vehicle to the point that the pulley completely broke taking with it the main belt which was shredded and basically destroyed the engine. The big M113 engine infact was laying on the ground of his workshop.
Welcome Eric- and that’s a pretty bombproof engine too.....
 


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