The Story of the Smart

Okay, I went ahead of the curve and am now stuck. Before the American Smart came out, I decided to buy a Smart car and was pleased to have a Mercedes car with a Mercedes engine that yielded over 50 mpg (tracked mileage). This combined with the savings on parking here in New York City left me very happy. Members of my congregation nicknamed her Christina. I learned that American parts would not necessarily work when I had to replace a side window that someone broke overnight (yes, I live in the Bronx and no, that night I did not park it in the lot several blocks away) - after all they are two inches longer and get less gas mileage.

Well, all was well and good until the car started having some problems with its lights - police don’t like it when lights flash back and forth. Well, some work by my mechanic cleaning connections and stuff and all was okay. When the problem kept repeating itself and progressed to the headlights not coming on, I realized something more needed to be done - after all a daytime only car is not that useful. My mechanic could not get it to work right this time and the offending part was identified as the “fuse box” - actually the SAM. The time was March/April 2010.

The SAM was proving hard to find. The best deal that we were finding was to get a Canadian Smart dealer to get the part in and have a friend ship the part to me in New York, but this was still going to be just over $1,000 and the part would not be programmed to match the rest of the car. What little advice I could get about this (mostly from Barabus owners) was that it was best to get the original part to work as otherwise you need special equipment to do the programming. Well, then I was in luck and found a place that remanufactures Smart SAMs. Oh no, it was in England. Never mind, I persevered and pressed forward and got the part out and shipped it over to the UK.

Time passed. And passed. And passed. I got tired of getting weekly rentals to go out of town and bought a 1997 Ford Explorer (Christina’s little brother who became known as Christoph). This vehicle was meant as a short term solution and would then be available for picking up food for our soup kitchen and food pantry. Well, after months of waiting, I finally got back in touch with the person who was doing the remanufacturing. He was very apologetic that I had not been told but they were not able to remanufacture it, so I was again out of luck.

My mechanic then went to work to look into options. He checked with the local Smart dealers, he checked with our contacts in Canada, he checked with the converter that originally did the conversion in California, but no luck in finding someone who could get the part in a way that would be programmed or programmable to work in the car. This process was very frustrating for the mechanic and me. Then, finally, I came across a way to solve the matter and found a person who specialized in Smart SAM units (along with a few other items) and claimed he would be able to program it where he is at on the West Coast without the car having to go out there. So off goes the keys and another computer part that he requested. A couple of weeks later, he called and also needed the dash, so I shipped that out there, further scattering my car’s parts around the globe. After about another month, the parts were shipped back to my mechanic along with a new SAM unit he had programmed.

The moment of truth. Everything put back into the car, but still no start. The mechanic worked around this in a couple of ways. They even ended up with a specialist coming in and talking on the phone with the guy out West and a representative in Germany. It still did not work.

Things are programmed enough that the keys will unlock the car, but the ignition control system is not disarmed by the keys. So, now that we are in February, the mechanic still is not certain what to do. Is there a way to bypass the ignition lock system? or should we look into some other solution? I am hoping that we are not at the point to have to look at ways to dispose of the car - after all it will be fully paid off later this year and I have been keeping up on the insurance. I welcome your advice.

Now that you have working parts, why can’t the US smart dealer reprogram the SAM?? What if the dealer cut and programed new keys?? I assume thus us a grey market car??

I’m unfamiliar with the term “SAM”. What is it?

I too get the impression that this is a grey market car. Has your tech been in touch with the service organization that modified your car for U.S. compliance? Can you find out who that was? Perhaps they’ll have some insight.

I don’t understand how it progressed from no headlights needing a fuse box to a programmable module that cost a $1000 and affecting the keys. Regardless, if I couldn’t have fixed the bad part myself and someone said $1000 to fix the headlights, I would have solved it with a bunch of discrete parts (fuse, switch etc) for $10 and my time. Time to go old-school and live with a toggle switch. Now that your module has been modified and no longer works, you’re at the mercy of those who know this system and how to get around it. Best of luck to you!!

I’m so unfamiliar with the SAM term unless it means Security Alert Module or something of that nature. ???

Based on the references to Canada, conversion, and California could this mean the car was sent to CA originally to be modified so as to meet CA standards?

I’m zero help here but just offhand it sounds like a decision to modify the car is some way (different ignition with a standard key) or to simply dispose of it could be in order; although the latter would be hard to take.

Just throwing something out there for thought but maybe the problem is not the SAM. I have no idea how this was diagnosed but with security systems being all-encompassing maybe there’s a hiccup somewhere else in the car that is causing the problem.
A few years back I had a minor problem with the security system on my old Lincoln and it was determined to be caused by an erratic hood switch. Body panels shuffle and change shapes to some degree with miles and it threw the switch off just enough to cause a problem.

No help, but how in the world were you able to get this into the country and registered in NYC of all places?

There’re places that will modify a noncompliant car satisfactorilly to meet U.S. requirements they’ll take car of the appropriate paperwork too. From what I’ve heard it can be expensive, depending on the vehicle.

That used to be fairly common (‘federalization’) but it’s much more difficult now. That’s why I’m curious.

Something about the purchase of this particular Smart Car just doesn’t look too smart. Jumping the gun and getting a car that wasn’t yet available in the US seems to have backfired.

I think a MB or Smart dealer are your only hope. An independent mechanic is going to out of the loop on all the software and advisories on this car. Did you buy it from a Canadian Smart dealer? A MB dealer in the US? Or did you have it shipped in from Europe?