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For ESL failure, which option is best - replace, refurbish, or bypass?

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Last night, my 8 year old C180 experienced ESL failure. I inserted the key fob, but there was no whirring unlock sound, and the dashboard didn't light up. Steering wheel also remained locked. After doing a lot of internet searches, I'm grateful to have come across many postings in this forum that seem to give me an idea of my issue. There are many forumers here talking about ESL failure (or "green key" failure). Tomorrow, I will arrange for the car to get towed to a workshop to try and get this fixed. Still trying to decide whether to go back to Cycle and Carriage, or to head to one of the workshops specializing in Mercedes (e.g. VTec Asia, Kompressor, Kee Yong, Chip Soon, SK Garage). From reading many internet accounts, it seems that this is an extremely common problem afflicting Mercedes Benz cars. 

For those who have experienced this issue, would like to ask what was the repair option you chose, and whether you would recommend it or not.

(1) Replace with a brand new ESL unit - my concern is that this might take time to source for the spare part, get it installed, wait for the green key to arrive from Germany. The coronavirus issue might also affect this service time. Hope to minimize downtime as the car is needed to run many family errands. Also, I'm worried that C&C may try to jack up the repair cost by also asking to replace the Electronic Ignition System, or the entire vehicle electronics system.

(2) Replace with a refurbished unit - the independent workshops I've contacted said that they would be replacing with a refurbished unit where the motor and chipset in the ESL has been replaced. I'm worried about how reliable these refurb units are. My nightmare is ending up with a "dead" car at the worst possible time.

(3) Install a bypass unit/ESL emulator - from the prices and timing quoted, seems faster and cheaper, and eliminates the possibility of future ESL issues. However, I am very reluctant to change any part of the original configuration, as I'm concerned that it will introduce issues in the electrical circuit further down the road.

Would greatly appreciate any feedback or advice that you guys who have gone through the same issue may have on this.

Thanks very much

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just to follow up - I eventually opted to install a bypass emulator unit, rather than install a new ESL unit. It worked out to be cheaper (around $800 range), compared to $1,200 range for the replacement ESL. The other reason is that there is a chance that the motor on the new ESL unit may have a chance of failing again in the future. It's a very troublesome experience to have a car that doesn't start - additionally, the steering wheels are locked, so that also makes towing more troublesome as well. 

Just one observation - when I collected my car at the workshop, they showed me the faulty ESL unit, but when I asked to take it back, they said that they couldn't release it to me, and they had to keep it for all ESL bypass emulator repairs. I didn't think too much of it at that time, but then later, I wondered is they kept these ESL units to replace the motors, and possibly the circuit boards, and then they can use it to install into other ESL failure cases. So, you guys repairing your car ESL have to check carefully if you're getting a brand-new ESL as claimed, or a refurbished unit.

As far as I know, there wasn't any need for a "green key" to be sent from Germany for the ESL replacement. 

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  • 1 month later...
  • 8 months later...


Just sent to workshop to replace the ESL unit. It cost me $1650. The unit itself $950 + $350 for labour and $280 for program and code. I like to know if the workshop (private) has unreasonably charged me. I should have taken the parts back

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  • 2 months later...

My W212 had a by-pass using ECU Emulator (new). Inclusive labor, program and wheel alignment, total cost $700 . Most Merc part dealers do not carry the ESL and motor (inside ESL) is hard to find. Pros in doing by-pass easily save $1000 and still get the job done. Cons is steering will no longer lock and there is beep sound each time ON & OFF the ignition.


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4 hours ago, Linsanity said:

My E200 had a by-pass using ECU Emulator (brand new). Inclusive labor, program and wheel alignment, total cost $700 . Most Merc part dealers do not carry the ESL and motor (inside ESL) is hard to find. Pros in doing by-pass' easily save $1000 and still do the job. Cons is steering will no longer lock and there is beep sound each time ON & OFF ignition.


@Linsanity Whichi shop did you get the work done at? Helpful in future for other members.

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Motronic Motor Works - 160 Sin Ming Drive, Unit #03-16, Sin Ming Auto City (575722). Phone 6454 4818 and ask for Ray. Down time is 2 business days.

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