Oil Pan

Oh, the oil pan… what a mess. Rusty, nasty, covered with road grime, which is a combination of oil that’s been seeping for decades and dirt. Caked on in the corners, throw in a little RTV added over the years by previous owners in an attempt to stop oil seepage. Probably didn’t work, but it sure made a mess of things. Overall it’s not in TOO bad condition, with only one very small dent in the bottom corner that I may try to bump out — but it’s really not an issue.

I used a maroon Scotch-Brite pad and some Jet A (kerosene) to scrub out the flash rust and scorched oil residue from the inside. It looks fairly OK now, I’ll give it one more pass before the final installation. On the outside I tried scraping followed by kerosene and a nylon brush… with limited success. When I got the lip cleaned off enough to not trash the gasket, I temporarily mounted the pan on the bottom of the engine. The bolts — well, they look like what you’d expect of oil pan bolts that were on a ’66 Mustang. Serviceable, but caked with oily grime. But with the oil pan bolted in place, I was able to attack it with a steel bristle welding brush. THAT cleaned things up a lot. There’s more work to be done, but I’d say it’s halfway there now.

After cleaning it up and getting it ready for primer, I’ll pull it back off. The gaskets need a thin coat of Permatex, and maybe a dab of RTV where the gasket sections meet up. Besides that I want to to some de-rusting and cleanup that needs to be done off the block and without the bolts installed. The bolts will get a soak in parts cleaner, followed by a mineral spirits or lacquer thinner rinse. They’ll be fine to reuse.

I have ordered some metal prep, epoxy high temp engine primer, and high temp epoxy Ford blue engine paint from Eastwood. Just for fun I also ordered some paint for the exhaust manifolds. That stuff should be here some time next week. In the mean time I’ll be cleaning up everything that will get painted, then taping and masking everything off. I’m looking forward to buttoning this engine up. I still need to order an intake manifold and carburetor, but I’m going to wait until there are some significant sales going on. I’ve seen 10% and better discounts from Summit Racing before, and I’ll hold off ordering the expensive stuff until that comes around again.

Oh, and I decided not to replace the harmonic balancer. Turns out, there are repair sleeves for just that exact thing. I’ve got some rust dissolver coming to clean it up, and the repair sleeve, so I can keep the original and save about $70. Any time I can restore and use an original part and not buy a new replacement, I consider it a win.

Back to work!!

The Mustang has been sitting for far too long in a state of limbo. Sitting half torn apart, waiting on a couple of connecting rod nuts… then waiting on me to look up torque settings, the list goes on. I need this car finished, and it’s never going to get finished if I don’t do something.

Over the weekend I finished up the cylinder head work. I ported the exhaust ports a while back, and the new intake and exhaust valves have been lapped. I used a bore cleaning brush to run some mineral oil through the valve guide bores, followed by some oil. I got the seals, springs, and keepers installed, followed by the new rocker arms. I temporarily installed the heads, but pulled them off again because I’m missing one dowel pin and didn’t have the head bolts properly lubricated. They’ll go back on tonight, and I’ll adjust the valve lash and lifter preload.

I need all new bolts for the timing cover and water pump. I ordered them from Lowe’s and picked up the bag, only to find that the twit that pulled the order got nearly half of them the wrong size. Of the 16 5/16 bolts I ordered I got an assortment of 1/4, 5/16, and 3/8 bolts. So, I need to go back and return that entire order and just go pull the right bolts myself.

It turns out I’ll need a new harmonic balancer. This one has a definite groove worn from the front seal, plus it’s rusty and really looks like a pain to try to clean up and get reputable looking for a rebuilt engine. So, I’ll order that, plus a Weiand Street Warrior intake manifold. I’m shopping for a carb. Most of the resources tell me that a mild street 289 really only needs about 400-470 CFM. A 600 CFM carburetor is much less expensive and there’s a lot more selection, but I don’t want to over-carb the engine and hurt low end performance, throttle response, and street driveability.

The new oil pump is on the engine, along with its new drive shaft. The pickup is bolted in place, so once I get the timing cover on I’ll be able to mount the oil pan. That will let me pour some oil in the engine and, once the heads and valve train are done, run some oil through the engine and close it up. I can’t re-install it until after the body and front suspension work is done and the engine bay is repainted… but at least I can get it parked out of the way and get to work on the last couple of punch list items on the Mercedes.

2020 Vacation Trip (Days 1 & 2)

In late August we left on another road trip to the West. Our goal was to hit Yellowstone National Park, Devil’s Tower, and the Badlands including a stop at Mt. Rushmore. In all we were gone seven days and drove just a bit under 2,500 miles. Highway cruising in the Mercedes makes extended days of driving a pleasure.

We stopped in Powell, WY to visit with some of Lisa’s family. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Connie and Freddy and other family members before leaving for our first overnight stay in Cody, WY. The next morning it was on to Yellowstone.

Front brakes done

When I pulled the left front wheel to get access to the ABC accumulator and windshield washer pump, I was very surprised that the shop didn’t call out the front brakes. The rotor is worn significantly, and the pads looked like they had as little or less material than the rear brakes had (more on that later). I decided to go ahead and replace them — we’re launching on a week long road trip soon, planning to cover somewhere between 2 and 3 thousand miles, and I don’t want to have to worry about the brakes — or anything else, really.

A local Advance Auto Parts had the Akebono Euro pads I wanted to use to keep the front and rear pads the same. While they don’t carry Brembo rotors, I’m not as set on using those. The factory rotors are fine, as are (I’m sure) most others. With a nice little 20% off coupon code they emailed me, the total cost for pads and rotors was $167.75. I can re-use the wear sensor, since it hasn’t hit the rotor.

When I pulled the front pads, I found that they actually weren’t worn as much as I thought. Apparently the last time the brakes were serviced (at a Mercedes-Benz dealer, by the way) only the pads were replaced. I say that because the rotors had a good 3/32 or more wear, and the ridge around the outer edge of the rotor was overhanging the pad and made it look like they were much more worn than they looked. But, now we have nice new rotors and ceramic Akebono pads that will hopefully not turn the front of the car black with brake dust.

Suspension Done

One of the more expensive items on the shop estimate for the Mercedes was the suspension. The quote included replacing the front and rear accumulators and the pulsation damper as well as the pump. Finding no real evidence that the pump is actually leaking, I decided to defer that and replace the damper and accumulators.

I bought the new accumulators from FCP Euro for about $175 less than the shop quoted. The new damper came from M-B of Laredo at a $100 savings. The real heavy hitter was the pump; they quoted $1628, and I can buy it new from a dealer for $1106. There are rebuilt units out there for about half that, but I won’t criticize the shop for not wanting to use them. Given my experience with rebuilt mechanical parts, I wouldn’t use them either.

Shop quote: $3,612.72
Parts: $517.00 (after core charge for the damper, and including fluid)
Service bay: $200.00
Total cost: $717.00
Total savings: $2,913.72

To be fair, I’ll even knock the cost of the pump that I elected not to replace and a couple of hours shop labor off their quote. That brings it down to a $1073 savings. Not bad for four hours of work. But that’s just for now; I’m sure I’ll be replacing that pump at some point. Mine is seeping oil, though I believe it’s power steering fluid and not ABS fluid. But, it’s not urgent yet. I’ll put that down as deferred maintenance for the time being.

Fuel injection/misfire

I was able to get the fuel rail freed up enough to pull the #8 and #9 injectors. I ran them both through an ultrasonic cleaner for about 20 minutes and swapped them, so what was the #9 injector is now in the #8 cylinder and vice versa. So one of three things will happen…

  1. The problem is gone, meaning the ultrasonic cleaner fixed the problem.
  2. The problem moves to cylinder #8, meaning I need to replace an injector.
  3. The problem stays with cylinder #9, meaning I probably have a bad coil pack (which is still under warranty). There is a very remote chance of a bad plug on #9.

To avoid uncertainty, I am considering swapping the plugs between cylinder #9 and #10. I am however NOT a fan of pulling the coil pack again… if everything else goes well this afternoon and I have time to do it, I’ll do that

Cooling System Done

For a while now, I’ve been chasing a coolant problem on the Mercedes. You can drive the car as much as you want, and never loose any significant amount of coolant (more on that later). However, on occasion — sometimes every night, sometimes not for a week — it will dump anywhere from a half pint to a quart of coolant on the driveway as it sits overnight. Never when it’s hot; only when it cools down.

The shop I talked to said it was likely the radiator. There’s an aluminum radiator with plastic tanks, and as the materials cool down and contract at different rates it can open up a marginal seal and leak coolant. OK, I can see that happening. Radiators aren’t expensive; a good quality, brand new one can be had for under $175. I had plans to replace mine.

I have, however, had the cooling system open. While replacing the coil packs and the air/oil separator, I had to remove the thermostat housing. From what I have read, it’s virtually impossible to get the cooling system completely full and purged of air without using a vacuum fill tool.

How could this be something so simple as air in the system? After refilling the coolant, I ran the car for quite a while with the front and rear heat on full, and spent some time squeezing the upper radiator hose to encourage any trapped air to exit. Well, the other night I went to check the coolant level, and found it overflowing the expansion tank when I removed the cap. Slowly squeezing the radiator hose resulted in some gurgling and the coolant level dropped when I released it, so there was definitely trapped air.

So the question becomes — is this all just because there’s air that needs to be bled out? Or, is it sucking air IN through the leaky O-ring as the engine cools, perpetuating the problem? I guess we’ll find out. I have the tool to fill and bleed the system, and today I took a look. After draining the coolant, I pulled a vacuum on the cooling system. I was able to get about 0.65 bar of vacuum, but when I shut off the air it was obvious there was a leak. I decided to take a look at that leaking O-ring. It was worse than I remembered, with evidence of coolant around the area. I think it had been sucking air in during cooldown and wreaking havoc.

I did see what the shop referred to as corrosion on the driver side turbo frost plug. It was just a little evaporated coolant; the plug is directly below the coolant lone that was leaking. I managed (after a couple hours of cussing and all) to get the O-ring replaced and the line secured. Now I’m able to pull .8 bar of vacuum, with no leakage at all after a couple minutes sitting with no additional evacuation. I refilled with coolant and will watch what happens, but I think that will fix it. I found zero evidence of any other problems — no leaks around the radiator or anywhere else.

Shop estimate to repair cooling system: $3281.23
Parts cost: $7.88
Tools & Materials: $101
Shop time (service bay rental): $120.00
Total spent: $228.83
Total Saved: $3052.35

And that includes the cooling system fill/test kit, which I’ll no doubt use many more times.

Rear brakes done

Parts have started arriving for the Mercedes. The Rock Auto order arrived Friday with the brake parts and washer pump, plus a couple of filters for the Volvo my wife drives. On Saturday Pete and I replaced the rear brake rotors and pads. The old ones were not yet down to the wear sensors, and had maybe 3/16 or so of pad material left. Serviceable, but worn. The rotors looked to be in good condition, but of course there was a noticeable ridge at the edge.

Having two people really sped things up. The calipers and rotors came off without a fuss. We cleaned off the new Brembo coated brake rotors and installed them, followed by the new Akebono Euro pads. I got the two massive rear tires back on and torqued down the bolts. The test drive was utterly uneventful. Brake pedal feels just a bit more firm, and there is of course no shudder or noise whatsoever – as I would expect.

Cost quoted by shop (incl. tax): $698.85
Total parts cost (incl. tax and shipping): $188.82
Total savings : $510.03

In other words, we saved about $170.00 per hour for our labor to replace the pads & rotors. Put another way, I shaved about 73% of the cost off of the rear brakes by spending a Saturday afternoon in my garage.

Yesterday the box from FCP Euro arrived with the ABC accumulators and hydraulic fluid. One more parts order and I’ll be ready to tackle the ABC issues. I’ll have to remember to call DIY Garage and reserve a bay for next weekend.

How to Save Money on Car Repairs

So, I took the Mercedes in to a local independent repair shop specializing in Mercedes and other Euro cars. Everyone — and I do mean everyone – that I asked told me that these were THE guys to go to with problems. I had a few nagging little things wrong that I didn’t feel like fixing myself, so I took it in with a laundry list of stuff to look at. The car would frequently dump some coolant on the driveway overnight after being driven, for example. I have a persistent problem with the #9 fuel injector being clogged or sticky, which had me chasing non-existent ignition issues for months. The ride is harsher than it should be. The A/C doesn’t work for the first 5-10 minutes on a hot day, again only when you drive it for the first time before it’s warmed up. And finally, the transmission shifts from 1-2 and 2-3 are very harsh, but only when the car is cold — after a few minutes of driving, it’s smooth as silk.

After a week I got a call from the mechanic with their quote to sort out everything. It was (I swear I’m not making this up) $14,319.86. According to them…

  • The coolant leak was from the driver side turbo. I’m aware of that tiny little leak; it’s a $.35 O-ring that looks like a pain in the ass to replace, so I left it. I’d gladly pay a shop 3-4 hours labor to replace it. They want to pull the turbo and replace the coolant lines for $3200-plus. Unfortunately, they say the car didn’t puke any coolant while they had it like it has for me… a symptom for which they told me by phone before I took it in probably indicated a bad radiator. So, after paying over $3K to fix a bad O-ring on a coolant line, I’d still have the same original problem that I wanted fixed.
  • The A/C problem could be the compressor, or could be a bad suction hose. They propose replacing both for a little under $1750.
  • According to them, the ABC pump (actually the power steering pump, which also supplies hydraulic power to the ABC suspension) is leaking and the accumulators are bad. Another $3.6K plus to fix all that
  • $400 for a transmission fluid and filter change. I just did that a few months ago, but I didn’t flush the torque converter so it probably does need new fluid.
  • $700 for the rear brakes. No, they haven’t fallen off, nor does that include new calipers. Just the brake disks and pads.
  • $247.70 for an oil change. Right. I pay about $6 for a filter, and $23 for five quarts of Mobil 1 full synthetic. The air filters they want to replace (at $68 for the pair) were just replaced a few months back and are quite clean. And cheap, at roughly $26 for a pair.
  • $4,338.40 to replace the brand new spark plugs and both freshly rebuilt coil packs that I just put in back in March or April, to chase a non-existent ignition problem that I already know (and specifically told them) is actually a sticking fuel injector.
  • Though I specifically asked them to pull the fuel injectors and clean/flush/test them, there was no mention of that at all. The diagnostics point to the coil packs… just as I had told them when I dropped it off. Sigh…

Needless to say, I was a bit surprised. One thing that surprised me was that they are apparently using full retail Mercedes dealer parts counter pricing on parts, than marking that up. Marking it up quite a bit, in fact. An example: They listed the A/C compressor at $784.00. Now, I can buy a brand new one from a Mercedes-Benz dealer for $497.59 ( a bit over 33% discount) – or pay even less for the same part from one of a couple of very good parts retailers who guarantee their parts for life.

That’s just one example, end not the worst one. There’s a 55% markup on the brake rotors (plus I can buy new Brembo rotors for even less), and a whopping 68% markup on the power steering pump. Holy crap…

Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not complaining about their $117 per hour shop rate; I don’t think that’s too high at all. I also don’t have a problem with shops making a little on parts. They’re going to have to lay out the cash and wait for me to pay, there’s risk involved, yadda yadda yadda. But come on. That’s just egregious. I’m guessing they count on the fact that, first, not many Mercedes-Benz owners would consider turning a wrench on their own car; and second, some seem to take some sort of perverse joy in spending large amounts of money to keep their cars running. With some people it seems to be a point of pride to show off four- and five-figure shop bills. That has never appealed to me, to be honest.

So, I have parts coming to do this stuff myself. I am fairly disappointed that I have still not found a shop where I can take this car, have it repaired and maintained by a competent mechanic, and pay a fair price for the work performed. I’d happily pay their shop rate to avoid doing this, but I’m not going to shell out fourteen grand for what really should be a couple thousand bucks’ worth of parts and labor. We’ll just have to differ in opinion on the power steering pump… I’m willing to replace the accumulators and see how long the pump lasts before taking that step. Even so, that was a drop in the bucket of their $14K-plus quote. So here’s what I have planned for the next couple of weeks, as parts arrive and I have the time to devote to getting greasy:

  • Rear brakes: I ordered new Brembo brake rotors and Akebono pads. Let’s be generous and include the shipping cost and say that all cost me about $185.
  • ABC accumulators: I ordered new parts from FCP Euro and Mercedes-Benz of Laredo. Great people to deal with, by the way. Call it a little under $490, with shipping and 5 liters of hydraulic fluid.
  • I’ll do the transmission flush myself for around $60 to $80 worth of transmission fluid. The filter was just replaced, so there’s really no need to crack the pan open again for that.
  • The oil was just changed a couple of months ago, I’m not sure why that was even on the list. The car itself should have told them that. It’s showing 8 months until the next service due.
  • I’ll continue to feed it fuel injector cleaner to address the injector issue. I have been alternating between Techron and Red Line. The problem is about 90 to 95% gone… if I have to, I’ll pull the fuel rail and injectors and flush them myself, I just figured if I were going to have the car in for the radiator and all, I’d have them do that too.
  • I’ll look for another shop to do the A/C service. I can buy the hose for about $155 (the shop wanted $275 for it!) and have a place that specializes in A/C do the work. I doubt very much it’s the compressor; the collapsed suction hose is a known issue with these cars.
  • I put some fluorescent dye in the coolant, and I’m waiting for it to dump it again so I can trace where it’s coming from. While a new radiator is not terribly expensive, there are a couple of other potential sources for the coolant and I want to make sure I fix it once.

Some of this needs to be done soon, as we’re planning another long vacation road trip soon. I definitely want to fix the suspension and coolant issues and replace the rear brakes, and I’d really like to have it all sorted before we leave. We’re fortunate enough to have a place in Bellevue that rents service bays with hydraulic lifts, so I should be able to do everything in a day, possibly two. I’ll follow up with more details on the work performed and the total cost — I’ll even track the hours to estimate what a shop would have been justified in charging.

Oh, and when I dropped the car off, my windshield washer was fine… when I picked it up, it’s not working. Awesome. Don’t know if they knocked a plug loose, or if it was just a coincidental spontaneous failure. We’ll see when I get the fender liner out to replace the ABC accumulators and pulsation damper..

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…