Mercedes followup

I realized that I haven’t posted anything since July. Since then I’ve sorted out pretty much everything that was ailing the S600. After I finally had the dealer replace the ABS/ESP control module, that fixed most of the issues. I had a nagging problem with peeing coolant overboard after driving, but that turned out to be the cheap coolant tank cap I bought at AutoZone. Supposed to be a high quality part — nope. I bought a new one from Mercedes-Benz, and the problem went away completely.

The intercooler circuit has been working flawlessly since I put the new pump in and had the system bled, giving me full turbo boost under all conditions within its design limits. I replaced the conductor plate in the transmission, which fixed a shift issue that popped up. I replaced a seeping valve cover gasket, and while I was in there did all the spark plug boots as well… the parts are cheap. All of this was really just fixing things that had been ignored by the previous owner and his servicing shop. The only thing that pissed me off, really, was the ABS module — there’s no way in hell the dealer didn’t know about that.

In October, we took the car on a week long, 3,000 mile road trip. We drove through NE, KS, CO, UT, NM, AZ, and back. We stopped at the Four Corners monument, stayed at the Grand Canyon, saw Santa Fe and Albuquerque, visited the Petrified Forest, and more. The only thing I noted was what felt like a little bit of a lack of power when passing at high altitude. I decided not to worry about it… we were on vacation, I wasn’t going to dig under the hood. Wish I had! It was a simple thing. The air intake pipe between the intercoolers and the throttle body had popped off — some fool (me) had not sufficiently tightened a clamp and it blew off. The car still went like hell, with no problem passing even at 8-9K feet elevation. But imagine what it WOULD have done… wow. It took me all of ten minutes to fix that.

The cost hasn’t been as bad as I had expected. Parts have been surprisingly reasonable. The ABS control unit was the worst; you can’t buy used, and the dealer has to install it. Period. The rest, though, was not a big deal, really. Fortunately I found a local shop where you can rent a bay with a lift, which made doing the transmission service and conductor plate easy.

Overall… unlike some cars, you can’t just drive these things and not touch them except to change the oil and tires. It’s a high performance machine, and requires that the owner pay attention to maintenance or it will break. That’s all there is to it. So the maintenance cost is higher than, say, my F150 that I haven’t had to touch other than oil and tires since I bought it.

But the truck doesn’t massage my back while I’m cruising at speeds that would scare me in a lesser car, either.

That said, it’s time to part ways. I love the car, I truly do. But, when I bought it the plan was to sell the truck and not keep an excess vehicle. Well, that hasn’t happened, and we realize that we will probably need the pickup for another couple of years. I’ve got the car listed for sale (at a great price, I might add). I’m looking forward to shopping for an S65 in a few years…

A couple months of Mercedes ownership

I’ve been adjusting to “semi sort of exotic” V12 ownership.  Early May I bought a Mercedes S600 with under 48K miles on the odometer.  If you’re unfamiliar, it’s an exceptionally opulent luxury sedan with a 510 HP, twin-turbocharged 5.5 liter V12 and an active hydraulic suspension system, among other things. It hasn’t been trouble-free, but I don’t think anything new has broken since I bought it — it just had problems that weren’t obvious when I looked at it.  If I’d have had a proper dealer PPI done, I would have screwed the price down a few more thousand — but the logistics of doing that in a distant city are difficult to say the least.  Next time (and there will be a next time), I’ll do it differently.  

The real adjustment is in how these things are serviced.  Got a problem?  Unless it’s something mechanical that’s obviously broken, you’re going to absolutely need the Mercedes dealer level software (at the very least), on a dedicated laptop, and the hardware to get it to talk to the car.  Period.  Or, you take it to a dealer that charges a $160 “diagnostic fee” per symptom.  Or, you find an independent shop and hope they’re as good as they claim.  The mechanical systems are very complex.  The electronics are far, far more complex.  Just an example: You turn the thumbwheel on the dash air vent to control airflow.  It’s not a mechanical control.  It’s a potentiometer, which is read by a control unit that sits on the CAN bus, and talks to numerous other control units, and a decision is made how much to move the electrically actuated damper behind that vent.  Oh, the potentiometer went bad and can’t be read?  No A/C for you, pal.

I’ll be about $3K deep in repairs, parts, and vehicle-specific tools by the time I’m done, maybe a little less.  The good news is, half of that is the one thing that the dealer HAS to do — the rest I can do myself with parts sourced from Fleabay or a couple of dealers that sell factory original parts at a deep discount.  By the weekend I’ll be equipped to do anything the dealer can do diagnostic-wise, which will pay for itself quickly.  

On the plus side…  the thing is over-built, and the level of engineering and the build quality is fantastic.  Even at 13 years old, this car has features most new cars don’t.  You can cruise all day long in ridiculous comfort (the massaging seats help), and if the mood ever strikes you to see, for example, how long it takes to go from 40 to 130 MPH…  it will happily and very quickly do it, without drama, and you’re nowhere near the top end.  This model is limited to 157 MPH, and it will easily do it.  It’s not going to be as cheap to own and operate as my F150, for example, but once it’s fully sorted out I don’t think it will be punitively bad, either.  You don’t own a car like this (or a Ferrari, or a McLaren, or a Bentley, or whatever) because it’s cheap.  

More disassambly

Last night I got a little garage time. I pulled one valve cover, just out of curiosity to see what kind of shape things are in. There were no surprises; the engine seems to be in its original condition with 93K miles. I do see evidence that it’s been worked on over the years, of course — blue Permatex everywhere. No clear sign it’s been overhauled though.

I got the carburetor removed, and pulled the intake manifold (a first ever for me). I’m not going further with disassembly until it’s on the engine stand; in fact, I’ll put the valve cover back on to avoid dripping oil when we pull the engine. But, it’s easier now to get to parts of the engine and the various lines that will be disconnected prior to removing it.

Rearranging…

I took advantage of the good weather this weekend, and my wife’s suggestion, to do some cleanup and rearranging. I got the Mustang down off the jack stands, and we rolled it out into the driveway. I moved the big workbench, the mobile tool bench, and some other stuff to the second garage bay. In between moving stuff around in the garage I got out the power washer and cleaned up the front suspension, engine bay, rear springs, etc. Whatever I could reach without soaking down the interior too much, since there’s still a dash in there. I managed to get a lot of mud, crud, old grease, and some undercoating blasted off.

Once that was done, we got it turned around and into the third bay, nose-in so the front end is near the tool chest. It should be easier to work on now, since I won’t have to walk all the way around the car every time I need a tool. There’s enough room to work – there could always be more space, but it’s an improvement over the way it was before.

A little Mustang update

Last night Lisa and I attended our first MCCO meeting. It seems like a pretty decent crowd. We had a devil of a time finding the place, and didn’t know that all the Mustangs were parked out back. As a result, we didn’t actually see a single Mustang all night! We went ahead and joined. Also got the ENWICC book; I had no idea there were THAT many car club events going on in this area. Or that ENWICC existed, for that matter. Anyway, I think the club will be a very valuable resource for finding places to do media blasting, welding, body work, upholstery, etc.

Now, where was I? I’ve got both fenders off, hood off, etc. I drained and removed the radiator, got the fan and alternator off, and am working toward getting the engine out. There’s almost enough room in the garage for an engine stand. Also got some spring compressors, so I’ll be able to tear out the front suspension for IRAN (Inspect and Replace As Necessary).

The trunk floors… well… not entirely sure what approach I’ll take there. I really would like to avoid pulling and replacing both trunk floors. I may just mark out and cut out square patches on both sides where the rust is, then weld in patch panels. I guess it depends on how far this goes. Given the mount of rust remediation and patching that needs to be done on the rear quarters, I’m thinking I may farm all of it out to a restoration shop — now that I have a couple of them identified.

All of this restoration work has got me thinking about the pickup as well. I think I’ll start getting the underside of that cleaned up, the minor surface rust addressed, paint touched up, and make sure it won’t rust again.

It runs…

I’ve had the battery on a slow charger/maintainer for a couple of weeks. I had assumed the thing was toast, since it was stone dead when I got it… battery voltage was under 0.5 V. I had to use a battery drill pack to throw enough of a charge into it to get the charger to even try to start charging. Every day or two I’d go out, disconnect the charger, run the heater blower for a few minutes, and re-connect the charger. It wasn’t costing my anything, so I figured – why not?

Saturday afternoon, I decided to drop the battery in and give it another try. It cranked over OK, but of course the carb was bone dry. I gave it a shot of ether, and lo and behold — it fired up and ran. I ran it for a total of about 15 minutes or so, until the garage filled with gray smoke and I had to air it out. I’m not quite sure if it was just old-engine exhaust smoke with steam, or if it’s burning oil. Nothing has changed my plan to pull and rebuild the engine, but at least we know it runs.

First start in — how many years? Nobody knows.

Pete and I also got the left front fender off. The last idiot welded this one up even worse than the right side. A large patch was actually welded on, not just over rusted metal — but over the top of rusted metal covered with Bondo. Awesome job, dumbass. The fender is scrap, even the front corner is rusted out.

I’m debating what to do with the floor pans. If I can get someone who knows what they’re doing to finish welding them in place, great. I’m afraid I may end up needed to remove all the stuff that’s been done and re-do it. I hope not, but it is one option. The good news (aside from the engine running) is, I got the instrument cluster finished up and put back together, and it looks great. Brakes also seem to be in good shape, so that opens up options for getting it on and off of a trailer and in and out of the driveway when it comes time to use a power washer to clean up the undercarriage, engine bay and fender wells. Just blasting off all the accumulated grime and filth will make it easier to work on.

More body archaeology

The fender shield succumbed to my new Dewalt angle grinder in no more than five minutes. Then I spent some time using a scraper blade on my oscillating saw to scrape undercoat and gunk from the fender apron area. Looking much better now.

I started scraping seam sealer from the trunk to see how much work it would be to replace the trunk floor. What I found was about a pound of Bondo covering up several rusted out places in the trunk, fender well, and probably into the quarter panel as well. Obviously someone went to great lengths to conceal some body rot. I was disappointed but not terribly surprised. I did violate one rule of car inspections… I looked at this thing when it was bitter, bitter cold and I didn’t really feel like crawling around on the floor and stuff for an extended time. But, most of this was pretty well hidden. Obviously there will be more cutting and welding than I planned, but it’s not a show stopper. Maybe it’s just karmic payback for the cowl not being rusted out.

I’ve been recharging the battery to see if it’s going to be junk or not. I may just take it somewhere and get it load tested. I’d love to know if this engine runs or not. There’s gas in the tank, and it doesn’t seem to be ruined, so maybe I can get it started. The tank will get drained, though, and possibly replaced… the jury is out on that. It doesn’t LOOK bad, but then neither did the trunk floor.

A few more “Before” pics

Front end disassembled, but “mostly” there. The grille and headlight buckets are fine.
Power steering, no A/C, no power brakes.
Trunk floor LOOKS good. There’s a hidden rust hole in front of the bumper brace that some asswipe covered in Bondo and painted.
Someone installed an export brace… it will get put back in when the car is reassembled.
Gas tank and trunk floor look OK, other than needing a couple of small patches.
Does it run? Nobody seems to know. If I get a functional battery we’ll try to fire it up.
Fairly clean, actually. The valve covers will either get cleaned and polished, or blasted and painted blue like they should be.
The hood is toast.

Amazing work.

Found two rust holes in the trunk. Someone covered one with Bondo, then painted over it with undercoating. The other had a metal patch panel screwed over it. No rust removal, no attempt to actually FIX anything, just a cover-up. Sweet.

Right front fender had a patch panel spot-welded over the top of existing badly rusted metal. Again, no attempt to cut out the rust or anything… just weld a patch on top and take a grinder to it. Who the hell does this kind of crap?? Was this attacked by a 13 year old with a garage full of Harbor Freight tools? Then, since it was too rusted out to bolt to the body, the fender was brazed to the rocker panel (very badly), and welded to the frame. You just can’t make this shit up.