Home » Why BMW Rally Legend Bill Caswell Is So Confused By Our Used Mercedes Wagon

Why BMW Rally Legend Bill Caswell Is So Confused By Our Used Mercedes Wagon

Our car is weird. I love it, but it’s weird. When Matt told me he was buying a Mercedes for us to turn into a wintercrosser, I was confused. Did he not mean BMW? You know, the brand that made me Internet famous? Nope! Now, here I am, driving through rural New York trying to figure this thing out. Every time I attempt to roll my window up, I mistakenly turn off the traction control. Why are the switches the same shape and in the same place?


I turn off the headlights and on comes some weirdo parking light. Why doesn’t the headlight switch end in the off position? Why is there only one windshield wiper? It has to be the fastest wiper ever made because it covers the whole windshield in the same time as two blades. But why bother? You already know the answer… because our car is weird.

[Ed note: This project is a big deal for us. We’ve got Vredestein Tires and FCP Euro (and maybe more, stay tuned) supporting this project. We’ve got the legendary Bill Caswell helping us build it. We’re also attempting to create a sensible and sustainable model for writing about these things as we do them. To wit, you can follow the project almost in real time on our Instagram account and on Bill’s account. We’ll have posts coming, approximately, about a week after we do things. Then we’ll have a couple of big videos to wrap it up. This should hopefully reduce waiting for posts and updates. – MH]

There are numerous buttons on the dash that I cannot explain, either. I’m nearly 50 years old and a car enthusiast, and somehow I can’t explain the “Mercedes on a hanger” button. It has to be the “turn off the alarm” switch when being towed, but why is the button on the center of the dash? Do you really need the tow truck button that often?

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What does the “EC” button do? I was told it might allow me to use the heater with engine off. I also found an electric water pump on the passenger frame rail and was told it supplies hot water to the cabin heater. So that makes sense, I guess. But it’s still so weirdo. Why do I need to run the heat without the engine? And how long does the coolant stay hot after the engine shuts off?

See how little I know about Mercedes? I’m pretty sure Matt did this on purpose [I didn’t not do it on purpose – MH]. I could build the BMW version in my sleep, but this will be my first time working on a Mercedes. I’ve never really spent any time in one. Back when I was sixteen, Mercedes was a car for your grandfather. A bunch of my friends’ parents had diesel versions which, I agree, are cool, but they smelled horrible as kids. I never once considered a Mercedes as an adult.

Vip Tire Service

But on the way up to VIP Tires & Service in Vermont with Matt I decided I like this car. [Told you! I knew this would work. VIP Tires isn’t a sponsor, but they work with Vredestein and allowed us to come and hang out, poke around the car, and put tires on. It’s the nicest place I’ve ever gone to get tires, complete with free coffee (so Bill could work) and wi-fi (so I could work) – MH]

It still looks like my grandfather’s car, but that’s why we got a set of Fifteen52’s Evo Tarmacs and mounted a set of Vredestein Wintrac Pros. Twenty wheel bolts later and our car looks so much better! The new wheels look like a copy of original 190e Evo 2 wheels and with the center lock cap, our car kind of looks like a DTM wagon!

190e Evoii

Even the Wintrac Pros are cool. I know what you’re thinking “here comes the sales pitch.” But check this out. Vredestein hired Giorgetto Giugiaro to design the look of the sidewall. He’s the guy that designed the VW Scriocco, the BMW M1, the Lotus Espirit S1, and even the Delorean. I think I can safely say that we have the best-looking sidewall of any tire I’ve ever seen. I didn’t know that was a thing, but I kind like it.


Speaking of things that I don’t know… wait till you see me mount up a tire at VIP. It’s embarrassing. [Definitely watch that video right here – MH]

This is especially embarrassing because I worked at a gas station in high school and mounting tires was a part of my job. C’mon, I haven’t mounted a tire in 20 years! The world changed. No one lets you walk into their garage and use their machines anymore. Not even for a 12-pack. But back in the day, the techs hated mounting my low-profile race tires and would demand beer. Or make me do it myself.

Bill V Experts

So when the guys at VIP were like “ok, here you go!,” I was shocked, but so excited to use the machines! I should have taken a second to remember all the steps before jumping in. For example, I’d have maybe remembered to lube up the tire really good so the bead seats nicely at a safe, low PSI. I didn’t and had to take the tire off and re-lube it. And don’t forget to pull the valve stem through the rim first. You might as well pull the valve out of the stem now so you can get enough air in to seat the bead later. But I learned (again) and won’t mess it up next time. VIP’s Angel, aptly named, stepped in anyway and knocked out the rest. He looked so fast after watching me blunder my way through it!

Oh, more thing, the Mercedes tire bolts are so weird! They don’t even use the standard taper. It’s an old school ball head or whatever it’s called. Why??? Why not just use what BMW and I think ALL the other German cars use? Because our car is weird.


Unlike mounting, balancing a tire is idiot proof. The machine uses a red laser to show you where to put the weights. Back in high school I had to physically clamp the lead weights to the edge of the rim. This also meant there were only two places to mount weights. VIP Tire’s new Hunter machine shows you five potential places you can stick the weights to get it perfect.

I’m sure we’ll appreciate the smoothness once we swap out the tie rods at FCP Euro. The seller told us they were worn out and he was right. It was safe. We could steer, but it felt like the car wandered from stripe to stripe the whole way to Vermont.

The worst part of the car? This insane, high frequency squeak from the steering column. And because of the worn tie rods, we were constantly steering and squeaking. My mind eventually tuned it out, or maybe I lost the part of my eardrum that resonates that frequency, but it became less annoying after seven hours or so.


The worn out windshield wiper sucked though. We stopped into a parts store and tried to buy a replacement, but the Mercedes arm doesn’t have the little notch for the aftermarket replacement blades. Instead it uses a little mechanical latch that’s probably there because of the motion and speed of the single wiper. But I think it’s weird.

Good Looking Car

There are tons of things that I think we need to fix on this car and we’re going to FCP Euro next to fix all of them. Still, without doing anything to the car other than swapping wheels and tires, I gotta admit it looks great.

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50 Responses

  1. I feel better knowing I’m not the only one who doesn’t just naturally nail the tire mounting/balancing procedure from memory alone.

    When I learned it back when, I took some of the most laborious notes I’d ever taken (including intently watching the next student do it and scribbling madly, plus adding terrible little drawings) on all the steps as I was sure there was no way in hell I was going to remember it all the next time, which would likely be at least a decade later.

    1. That’s how I felt at the gas station in high school. It’s probably the first machine I operated too. Unless a lawn mower counts. And while it’s been forever since anyone let me do it, I’ve watched my friends with shops do it over and over and over. I should have been able to jump right back in. haha.

  2. I knew i heard of the tire company before. Did you go by the Hagerty museum there? How about doing an interview with the Bennington Banner? The most vital step in doing a project is research on what type of car to buy and what car you buy. I cant believe you didnt buy a Haynes Manual. Anyway car looks great and looking forward to some great informatoon.

    1. I almost bought one. But I decided it would be more fun to stumble through it and learn again. Kind of like skipping movie a preview so its all brand new the first time you watch it.

      I think I own a manual for every car I have. Mostly for the wiring diagrams. And you’re right, we are going to need one for sure. Is Haynes the book to get for Mercedes?

      And Chilton kind of changed my life. I found their manual in a Barnes and Noble for my E30. I had never worked on a car before, but I lost the timing belt in 325es a year or so earlier but I refused to sell it. So when I opened that Chilton manual and saw that chapter 2 was about changing your engine, I bought it. Then went to Sears and bought a bunch of Craftsman tools and changed the engine!

    1. It’s probably a perfect car for a dog. The rear cargo net is pretty awesome and it looks like there might even be a way to move to just behind the drivers seat too – there’s similar clips in the headliner.

  3. From my E320 days, the EC button (as written in the manual) completely turned off the AC pump. Not that the pump wasn’t still turned by the belt….

    Also you can have fun with the Charcoal filter button [ =>:::=> ] if you didn’t know that one. I never really noticed a difference when I used it, but then again, I hadn’t changed it since I bought it.

    1. WAIT!!! WHAT??? So that’s why there isn’t an AC button? Every other car I’ve been in my entire life has a button to turn on the AC! But our Mercedes is like nope! We do it the exact opposite. you must turn off the AC… by pressing the EC? Why??? Mercedes…BizarroBMW

      Um…. where is the charcoal filter button? hahaha

        1. I missed that!!! So it only runs it through the filter if you ask for it? And how did I miss the “Rest” button? What does that do?!

          1. The Rest button is for when the car has just turned off. It turns on a small fan and pumps the residual engine heat throughout the cabin. I think some BMW’s have this as well according to the E90 post above by Jalop Gold.

    2. “… the EC button (as written in the manual) completely turned off the AC pump. Not that the pump wasn’t still turned by the belt….”

      The pulley on AC compressors has a clutch in it, so when the AC is off (or you apply full throttle) the pulley turns but the pump doesn’t.

    1. The fun part is that the 320 series got both EC and Rest buttons. The EC turns off the AC compressor when the engine is running. The Rest button does the same, in that a small fan blows the residual heat from the engine when off.

        1. My head said economy too and I kind of pictured a dual stage compressor. So if it’s not 100 degrees out, you run it on economy and its enough to keep the car cold without using too much gas.

          But this sort of means the compressor is always on, and only turned off by this switch?? What about in winter? Do you press this button? I kind of get it, but my head hurts a little. Does anyone else run their hvac like this? Or just Mercedes?

          1. My 2001 Audi Allroad has an ‘Econ’ button the HVAC. Normally, you set the HVAC to ‘Auto’ and specify a temperature. The AC runs much of the time and acts as a dehumidifier as well as a chiller. If you click the ‘Econ’ button, it disables the AC and you get better mileage. We keep the ‘Econ’ on unless we specifically want the AC.

            I suspect that the ‘hook’ button disables the interior motion sensor so that the alarm does not activate while the car is being towed. The Audi has a similar button on the driver’s door frame. It is useful if you leave the windows open a bit while parked.

  4. It’s great to see you working with FCP Euro. I bought tons of parts for my now sold MK4 VW Golf and 1968 Volvo 1800. They were one of the few places that sold the correct Elring head gasket. Shout out to their sales team as they were very quick to respond when I needed to add another item after placing my initial order.

    1. Does it vary across their line? Like some models use them and some dont? Or did they switch one year? I wonder what they thing the difference is between the straight angle and the curve?

  5. Ok, but in his little Instagram video about cup holders he called it “the rear seat” instead of the correct technical name, “the way back,” so I’m not sure I’d take all of his advice too seriously anyway.

    1. I like “the way back” I wish I had a way to embroider it into the rear seat back. Also, the way back kind of reminds me of the back of a B-17 Flying Fortress. What other vehicles had a rear facing seat hanging off the back? Its such a fun way to travel.

      1. I think most of the GM full-size wagons of the ’80s had them, and the thread at bottom lists some more. Annapolis, MD to New Orleans, LA to Daytona Beach, FL and back to Annapolis: seven days, all in the way back of an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser.

        The weird ones were the Ford/Mercury wagons that had *sideways* jump seats. They were REMARKABLY uncomfortable for any length of time.



  6. For some reason, Vermont and New Hampshire do get much better tire stores than most other places I have frequented. Just don’t try to get anything done on the day before the weather forecast is predicting the first snow :-).

    Now that I am in Massachusetts and have a recurring daydream of buying my own tire changer and balancer due to something going wrong on literally every tire purchase I have made in the last ten years – including the BMW dealer bending every rim on my car when they mounted the new tires. The last time I had new tires I went to my local three-man shop who has new tire and alignment equipment – and even he had to rebalance at least one of the wheels – and he is a very good mechanic who did the work himself – not the minimum wage teenager at the regional tire chain store that left the lugnut key (for the anti-theft lugnut) on a wheel on the car that I found after I drove a couple of miles and noticed a vibration…

    1. VIP Tire was pretty awesome. Ive been in a lot of tire shops and could tell simply how they talked to the customers. They even redid an alignment when the tech told a waiting customer that they could probably get it closer if they had another 15 minutes. I rarely hear stuff like that anymore. And all their equipment was nice and clean and they use old school torque wrenches on the lugs like you’re supposed to.

      I want a tire machine too! I could have paid for one easily with all the tires Ive been through racing. oh well… next time!

  7. “VIP Tires isn’t a sponsor, but they… allowed us to come and hang out, poke around the car, and put tires on… complete with free coffee… and wi-fi…”

    That sounds like sponsorship to me. Then again, there’s a set of sponsorship stickers on my Lemons car from a restaurant that gave me a free breakfast along with the aforementioned stickers when they found out I was racing [sic], so maybe my threshold is lower than yours. It was a good breakfast, though.

    1. I think if you mention the restaurant here, for the whole world to see, they’ll owe you another breakfast.

      Assuming, of course, that it’s a restaurant still in business (RIP, Twin Teepees & Cyndy’s House of Pancakes).

        1. Sweet! just requested. I’ve been looking at manual swaps for it, but if we’re taking the transmission out, why not pull the engine and drop in twice the power? haha!

  8. So excited for this series. I’ve always loved wagons, and the Merc is especially appealing. Can’t wait to get into the gritty details of what make it tick, both good and bad.

  9. That “Mercedes on a hangar” is actually “fishing mode”. When you press it, the Mercedes becomes bait on a line. You can catch some of the best, most expensive mechanics with it.

  10. I’ve given FCP enough money over the years that it’s fitting to see them supporting this fine website I frequent. Really looking forward to this series.

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