Mercedes-Benz W220 Problems – (1999-2005) S-Class – Reliability

Mercedes-Benz W220 Problems: The W220 S-Class was a car that had to fill some big shoes and meet some sky-high expectations that the predecessor, the W140 had built. Looking back today, many will claim that the W220, which was the 4th generation S-Class, was a big disappointment both design and engineering-wise. While we tend to agree for the most part, the W220 also took a big step forward in terms of distancing Mercedes from the beloved brick-like design by Bruno Sacco. Interestingly enough, the W220 was also the first S-Class that shared interior parts with other Mercedes vehicles. Among the S-Class snobs, this was perceived as a horrendous act as previous generations shared nothing with the less exclusive classes of Mercedes Benz.

But if we put our prejudice aside, the W220 was still a great S-Class. It drove well, it still drives well and it also looks and feels like an S-Class should. Today, almost 25 years later, the W220 is extremely cheap and also popular amongst people who either want to have an S-Class for a few thousand dollars or those who love the W220 for what it is. 

Before we even start breaking down all the Mercedes-Benz W220 problems, we must tell you that you should avoid the cheapest W220 if you want to keep your sanity. These cars are no joke to service and maintain.

Major Mercedes-Benz W220 Problems

Numerous Airmatic problems

W220 S-Class features one of the early Airmatic systems that were great, when they were new. With time, these air suspension systems started causing plenty of problems, and none of them are exactly cheap to repair. There were common problems with upper front strut leaks, faulty front Air struts, failing Air pumps, failing relays that engage the pump, leaky air hoses and ride height sensors. We talked about all of these problems in our Airmatic problems article. Go read it!

There are a lot of Airmatic components and by the time you are done refurbishing the entire suspension, you will be faced with multiple 1000$ repair bills.

Extremely expensive ABC (active body control) problems

If Airmatic air suspension is not challenging enough for you, we recommend buying a W220 with electro-hydraulic Active Body Control suspension or ABC for short. All jokes aside, cars with functioning ABC suspensions are on another level when it comes to comfort and the adjustability of the suspension. It is, however, insanely expensive to maintain and service. The ABC system has moving parts like valves, pistons and other components like hydraulic hoses, a pump, a valve block, dampers, filters and many other parts which can all go bad and they do, with time. There are numerous horror stories of people having to pay almost 10,000$ to have several ABC issues resolved. Due to all of this, many people decide to convert their ABC W220 S-Class to ordinary spring suspension with a kit from Strutmasters. We can’t blame them.

722.9 7G transmission problems

The 7-speed Mercedes-Benz automatic transmission was later built into smaller models, like the W211 we already reviewed, however, it was also present in the W220 S-Class. As it first debuted, it suffered from early failures of the outsourced conductor plate. The entire conductor plate was not faulty, just certain components of it were, but for a long time, Mercedes did not allow nor did 3rd party companies know how to repair the conductor plate. A faulty conductor plate caused jerky and hard shifting. Today, conductor plates are something that is fairly easily repaired to it is not as big of an issue as it once was.

722.6 (5-speed transmission) problems

The older 5-speed Mercedes transmission which was also present in the W140 S-Class was later also present in the early model years of the W220. This transmission also had problems with the conductor plate, the shift module, and the pressure regulator valve springs. There were also 2 common oil leaks at the shifter mechanism and at the 13-pin electric connector (most common). 

Shift lever stuck in “park” (extremely common)

Due to broken parts in the shift module or a malfunctioning stop lamp switch, the transmission lever is known to get stuck in park. Learn more about this issue on Mercedesmedic. This is one of the most common Mercedes-Benz W220 Problems.

AC water leaks

A common early model problem of the W220 was water leaks that accumulated in the AC intake. This led to no air circulation, despite a functioning blower motor and it resulted in a class-action lawsuit against Mercedes. Most cars on the market today have had this taken care of.

Minor Mercedes-Benz W220 Problems

Delayed engine start problem

A number of owners, with all engines, are facing problems with a delayed engine start. This used to be a mysterious problem but has now been fixed. The issue was with one of the many relays in the fuse box. This is just one of the many mysterious and hard-to-diagnose Mercedes-Benz W220 Problems. Consult the video below for details:

Key fob problems

Owners deal with numerous problems with the W220’s keys. The problems range from simple like battery drainage to bigger problems when the keys do not crank the engine due to electronic problems, IR transmitter malfunctions, keys that become hard to extract from the ignition and several keyless go problems.

Thermostat problems on the W220 S-Class (Error code P0115)

The P0115 is a known fault code on the W220 S-Class and the description of the error indicates problems with the engine coolant temperature circuit malfunction. The real issue here is a faulty thermostat which needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

Crankshaft position sensor failures

Another highly common issue with the W220 is the failing crankshaft position sensor. The typical symptoms of this problem is when the engine stalls when it gets warmed up.

Throttle position sensor problems

A number of owners report failing throttle position sensors which cause fluctuating or high idle RPMs, hesitation of the engine when accelerating and random misfires.

Mass airflow sensor problems

Failing mass air flow sensors are not uncommon. The car loses power and misfires on one or more cylinders. Loss of power could also be triggered by a bad accelerator module if there are no other accompanying symptoms.

Manifold Absolute Pressure sensor problems

A manifold absolute pressure sensor or MAP is also known to fail.

Electronic Ignition System (IES) problems

The ignition system on the W220 is fully electronic and it can cause problems. The most common symptom of IES trouble is when the key will not turn in the ignition.

Coolant temperature sensor faults

Another in the line of many sensors that fail with time.

Radiator fan failures and loud operation

Many owners complain that the radiator fan becomes louder as it ages and it eventually fails completely.

M272/M273 Balance shaft replacement

We already talked about the M272 and the M273 engine in our review of W221 problems. Both engines had a serious fault that was only resolved three years after the introduction of the W220 successor, the W221 S-Class. Go read that article to learn more.

Secondary air pump failures

The secondary air pump is responsible for sucking in outside air and injecting it into the exhaust manifold, right down of the exhaust valves. This reduced the amount of pollution on cold startups but it is known to fail on the W220 S-Class.

Various noises and drive train vibrations

AS the drive train components age and deteriorate due to various environmental factors, the car starts making several weird noises which are commonly accompanied by strange vibrations. These vibrations are usually caused by worn-out flex discs, differential mounts, unadjusted wheel bearing with too much end play and worn-out driveshaft components. The weird noises can also be related to the brake pads and rotors.

If you are buying a model with the 4Matic four-wheel-drive system be on the lookout for any symptoms of transfer case problems. They can get costly.

w220 problems behind picture

Body and interior Mercedes-Benz W220 Problems

OEM Comand infotainment units are now considered to be almost suited for museums, however, many W220’s on the market still have them. As they age they become problematic and worn out due to sun exposure and scratches. Many owners decide to replace them for more modern retrofit android units.

Audio system problems

Many owners have problems with low volume on AUX mode and with the navigation and radio antenna system. The CD changer on the W220 also starts causing problems after years of use. 

Water leaks

The majority of water leaks on the W220 are related to clogged drains. This leads to water residing in both front and rear footwells. We already mentioned the water leak which finds its way to the AC inlet causing it not to blow air despite a working fan. Models with sunroofs also experience problems with clogged sunroof drains. 

Various problematic interior parts

As these cars age, various interior plastic trims and buttons will either get “sticky” or they will break. The same goes for front and back door handles. Before buying the car make sure all the electric window motors are functioning. Inspect the sun visors as well. Make sure there is power on the front doors to avoid having to replace the door control module.

Trunk and hood not opening

There are situations where the trunk on the W220 did not open. This was usually the case when the battery died and the physical metal key did not work. There is a guide on Youtube that shows how to access the trunk and the battery without drilling. In some cases, a fuse or the trunk lock mechanism was also at fault.

Regarding the hood, there is a common problem with the hood latch spring that needs to be replaced in order to normally open the hood.

Weird interior noises

Owners report of several weird interior buzzing and crackling noises coming from inside the dashboard, behind the door panels and from the steering columns.

Steering wheel and steering wheel commands 

The buttons on the steering wheel are known for getting “sticky” and they need to be replaced to refresh the interior look. There is also a common problem with the turn signal lever which tends to get loose. The steering wheel may also lose the ability to move up or down due to a blown fuse.

Moisture inside the lights and headlight control module failure

Both front and rear lights have a tendency to become foggy as the seals around the lights fail with time. Several owners also report problems with the headlight control models and auto-leveling headlights. It is also common to see the LEDs on the interior door handles fail.

Soft-close door problems

Soft-close doors look and feel extremely premium. As you would expect from an S-Class. However, the entire soft-close system can be a pain to repair and diagnose. There are common problems with the PSE pump and its connections. Many people also deal with broken trunk lid wires and hoses that take care of the soft closing. A failed PSE pump will also make it hard to open the gas tank cover, you need to open it manually.

Massage seat problems

If you choose to buy a W220 with massage seats, get ready for another set of potential problems. There are common problems with the lumbar supports leaking and with the pump that is responsible for the massage seats.

Where do we begin? Air conditioning problems on the W220 include an upper cabin temperature sensor and aspirator failures, blower motor failures, sun sensor problems, and duo valve failures.

Electronic Mercedes-Benz W220 Problems

Wheel speed and acceleration sensor malfunctions

Malfunctioning ABS wheel speed sensors can trigger ABS, ESP and BAS warning lights, make the steering stiffer and even lead to transmission problems and power loss.

Failed acceleration sensor will trigger the ESP warning light.

Tire pressure sensor problems

Failing tire pressure sensors are a common thing on the W220 and they are not exactly cheap to replace on the complex tire pressure monitoring system from Mercedes-Benz.

Instrument cluster problems

Owners report common problems with the instrument cluster where the only thing that fails is the speedometer. This is usually a consequence of a failed wheel speed sensor or an internal instrument cluster failure. There are also instances of the clock not showing the right time and of inaccurate outside temperature readings.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best model year of the Mercedes W220 S-Class?

If you do decide to buy a W220 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, make sure you buy a late, 2004 or 2005 model year car with the facelifted design and many of the problems listed above already taken care of from the factory. Avoid early model years at all costs.

Is Mercedes W220 S-Class reliable?

No, we would not consider the W220 Mercedes S-Class to be a reliable car, especially not after 15+ years. These cars are full of complicated electronics, sensors, pumps and modules that can all malfunction and cause problems. If you are looking for reliability, a 15+-year-old S-Class is not the car for you.

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