Why Mercedes Won’t Recall Sensitronic Brakes


PARK CITY, Utah (KUTV) — It was a harrowing experience for Martin Drayton last march behind the wheel of his 2004 Mercedes E Class.

“All of the sudden, this warning light came on and had this message all in bright red saying, ‘Brake malfunction. Ineffective braking,’” Drayton said. “So I start depressing the brake and my foot was going down pretty easily. No resistance.”

Drayton says he was fortunate because he was driving on a flat part of a road near his Park City home, and a snow pile on the shoulder helped him gently come to a stop.

Drayton says he snapped some photos of his dash, showing the warning message, then he called his mechanic.

“It’s the SBC pump which is covered under a 25-year warranty,” Drayton says his mechanic told him.

Drayton took his car to a local Mercedes-Benz dealership, asking that the part be repaired or replaced under warranty. The Mercedes mechanic couldn’t duplicate the issue.

“We know that it failed, but it hasn’t failed with us,” Drayton claims he was told. “I said, ‘Well, is that really relevant?’ and he said, ‘Yes. If it doesn’t fail with us, and we replace it, Mercedes won’t pay us.

Even with the photos — proof that his car had issues — Mercedes said they would not be replacing the pump.

“I don’t want to drive it. It’s not safe,” Drayton said. “It only needs to fail once.”

Drayton is not alone reporting problems with the Sensitonic Brake Control. Seventy complaints have been lodged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the past decade. Several complaints report the brakes failing, and Mercedes declining to fix the issue under warranty. Within those complaints, four crashes were reported, including three with injuries.

In a series of emails, a spokesperson for Mercedes spelled out their position: If their mechanics can’t duplicate the problem, they don’t fix the problem.

That’s “an industry-wide practice when it comes to diagnosis of intermittent issues,” the spokesperson wrote. As for Drayton, he says that two days after Get Gephardt reached out to Mercedes, he got a call saying they would be replacing his SBC pump for free.

Mercedes states that the dealer replaced the SBC hydraulic unit as a “goodwill gesture” even though they could not find any malfunctions in the unit following thorough testing.

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David Kiley is Chief of Content for The BRAKE Report. Kiley is an award-winning business journalist and author, having covered the auto industry for USA Today, Businessweek, AOL/Huffington Post, as well as written articles for Automobile and Popular Mechanics.