I’ve had a mobile phone for 14 years and Interent for at least 10, but the potential of modern communications still blows my mind, especially after the call I received a couple of evenings ago.

I was loafing in the office at around 7pm, when my mobile rang. It was a friend who teaches at school just down the road from Autocar’s Teddington offices.

I was surprised to hear he was actually calling from a village in the Swiss Alps with a problem. He, the missus and four children had piled into his 1999 Mercedes E320 wagon, heading for Tuscany.

Stuck in the traffic in southern France, the car had cut out. After half an hour immobile, it re-started and delivered him to his first overnight stop in otherwise rude health.

‘What did I think?’

Well, I’m a long way from being a mechanic or technician. So I busked it. ‘Well, it was probably electrical and a fault that is affected by heat. Could be anything. An air mass sensor or something.’

Funnily enough, he’d replaced the air-mass senor a few years ago because of rough running. So I suggested getting it to the nearest Mercedes dealer because fault diagnosis is easier with a relative modern car. Plug the laptop and download the fault codes. Simple.

He wasn’t keen on the idea of breaking his journey. Then again he didn’t want the Merc to die in a queue in the Mont Blanc tunnel.

So I suggested that it was a) much hotter in central Italy, which was likely to make the fault worse and b) easier to fix the Mercedes in France or Switzerland because he just happens to speak both French and German fluently.

So I booted up Google and clicked onto Multimap to locate him. The nearest big town to his overnight stop was Annecy, so I searched for ‘Mercedes, Annecy’ and found there was main dealer in the town.

I gave him the number and address of the dealer, but thought it might be a good idea to do another Internet search on the likely cause of the fault. I typed in ‘E320, stalling’ and found at least three enthusiast forums dedicated to Mercedes ownership.

In a minute or two, it became clear that what he’d experienced was very common with the W210 Mercedes for two main reasons. Either a dodgy air-mass sensor or a dodgy Crankshaft Position Sensor. The latter usually started to fail when it got very hot. Interestingly, the net forums suggested the CPS didn’t always store the correct fault codes when it was dying, making it tricky to pin down.

I was pretty convinced that the CPS was to blame, so I Googled onto an Internet translation site to find out the French for ‘crankshaft’. (Vilebrequin, according to Babel Fish) and sent my friend on his way.

24 hours later I texted him to find out what had happened. ‘Mercedes Annecy agreed that the CPS was probably to blame. I had it changed in less than a day. Now in Italy. I owe you a big one.’

Perhaps there’s future for me at Merc’s call centre…