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..

More engine progress

Last week I temporarily installed the camshaft, and after a bit of a learning curve got it degreed. I could have saved the effort; the cam reads within half a degree or so of the specs on the cam card. It’s well within my confidence of the measurement process, parallax errors when reading the degree wheel, etc. So, it’s getting installed straight up. The cam is a Summit Racing K3600, which has substantially more lift than the stock cam but not enough to require screw-in studs and the resulting head machine work. Once the cam was checked, I slathered it with the supplied assembly moly lube and re-installed it along with the timing gear and double roller timing chain.

With that done, I went to work on the heads. The stock ’66 289 heads aren’t bad for compression at about 9.3:1. They are not, however, renowned for their excellent flow characteristics to say the least. While this engine was not thermactor equipped, there were large lumps cast into the exhaust ports for air injection. I say there “were“, because they’re gone now. I’d never used a die grinder before, never modified a cylinder head, any of that… but the heads have the thermactor lumps ground out, exhaust ports smoothed as much as I could manage, and I even took the time to gasket-match the ports. I’ll do the same to the exhaust manifolds before re-installing them. I probably removed a pound of cast iron from those heads; what a mess.

Sunday the 5th I got all 8 pistons back in the block, just not torqued yet. And why is that? Because there’s one block, eight pistons, eight connecting rods, eight rod bearings, eight rod caps, and fifteen nuts to secure the rod caps. Where is nut #16? I do not know. My best guess would be, “Somewhere on the garage floor”… although “buried on the workbench” would not be an unreasonable guess either. Sigh. The hunt continues.

As the re-assembly moves on, I’m giving some thought to painting the engine once it’s all back together. One issue is the extreme grime on the oil pan, along with a few other bits. I believe I’m going to gather up the external bits — oil pan, heads, valve covers, timing cover, maybe the exhaust manifolds — and take them to a car wash with a can or two of oven cleaner. I don’t have access to a parts washer or hot tank (which would destroy the timing cover anyway). The valve covers won’t need much since they’re chrome… I’m debating whether to leave them alone or paint them to match. I’ll probably leave them chromed.

Crankshaft back in

Last night I was back in the garage. I decided to check the main bearing clearance. The journals are smooth and measured exactly where they should be. I had never used Plastigauge before, but the concept is pretty basic. Sure enough, the Plastigauge shows about .00125 to just under .002 main bearing clearance.

I applied a generous amount of Lucas assembly lube, which is a thick green lube that looks like it would be pretty good around Halloween. I had to drive the pin out of the rear main bearing to accommodate the new rear main seal. I cleaned up the area with brake cleaner, then plugged the hole with a little silicone gasket compound. I installed the rear main seal and the main bearing caps, tightening them all down to 65 ft-lb.

The Moore rebuilding book says to use silicone on the mating faces of the block and rear main bearing cap. I’m generally not in favor of using silicone sealant anywhere in an engine or fuel system. I have some Permatex Aviation Form-A-Gasket that I considered using, but in the end I used the silicone gasket maker that I had bought for this project. I figured that the amount needed between the cap and block would be so small that it really didn’t matter much what I used, so I wiped on a thin film and tightened the bolts down. I’ll probably re-torque them tonight just to be on the safe side.

I ground the lumps out of the other head; in fact, it’s better than the first one so I’ll have to do a little more on that one. The carbide grinding burrs I bought do an outstanding job of removing iron from castings. I’ll clean them up with a flap wheel later on, but I’m not going to go for a complete polished exhaust port. This is a street engine, and just removing those big lumps of cast iron will do a lot for air flow.

Back to work!

Has it really been two months since I touched this thing? Sheesh. Well, in the mean time I completed the annual condition inspection on the plane, solved a very pesky problem with the Mercedes (turned out to be gummed up fuel injectors, of all things), took a vacation in northern MN, and… umm… whatever.

I gotta get something going with this thing. It’s been taking up way too much space for way too long. I was supposed to have this car done and sold six months ago. But it’s awfully easy to put off things I’ve never done.

Tonight, spurred on by the bravery of a good stout Manhattan, I attacked the heads. It all started innocently enough. I had bought a new dial indicator with a magnetic base to check the valve guides for excessive wear. It was still in the case, so I tried it out. Can you believe I made it to 50-nevermindhowmany years old, grew up the son of a professional mechanical engineer who designed semitrailer tank trucks, and have never used a dial indicator? The valve guides are fine, thank goodness… the worst one I found had .005 wobble at the tip of the valve stem, in any direction. That works out to around .0015 clearance, according to Mr. Monroe’s book. I decided to lap the valves, as long as I was out there.

I got all 16 of the new valves lapped; the seats all look quite good now. While I was at it, I decided to finally try out the carbide burrs I bought a couple months back. One cylinder head now has all four of the big lumps removed from the exhaust ports… THAT was easier than I thought it would be. I’d never used a die grinder as a grinder before, either. I’ve used a cutoff wheel… anyway, I’ll finish the cleanup and polishing (to some degree at least) once the other head is done. I figure even if left rough it will be better than having the big restriction in the port… but I’ll clean and polish them up as best I can. I’m pretty happy with the results.

I was on a roll. I heard a tiny voice taunting me. Took me a while to track it down, but it was the Flex-Hone calling me all kinds of names I won’t repeat here. I swear that’s why I pulled it out of the box of stuff from Summit Racing and doused it with oil. I figured shoving it into a cylinder bore would shut it up. The taunting continued until I had beaten it into submission with a Ryobi drill and a number of passes through the cylinder. By the time I was done the cylinder wall looked so nice, I went ahead and did the other seven. No more taunting from that tool, I tell ya! And those cylinder walls look good now, too. 45 degree cross hatch, and a light coating of WD40 to keep them safe for a few days until they get something better. Like another Jet A cleaning, a light coat of oil, and pistons installed.

While I was out there, I pulled the main bearing caps off and dropped them into the can of degreaser, after removing the old bearings. I used some solvent and a brush to clean up the mating and bearing surfaces in the block, then dropped the new bearing halves into the block and set the crankshaft in place. Figured that was enough for one night, so I went in and spent almost as much time trying to scrub all the grease and iron powder off my hands as I did working on the engine.

Tomorrow I’ll pull those main caps out and try out Plastigauge for the first time, too. I measured the bearing journals with a micrometer early on (I HAVE used those before!), so everything should be OK… but Plastigauge is cheap. If I’m not careful, I may actually have this thing back together before the end of summer. Really, the biggest challenge looks like it will be getting the block and heads cleaned up enough to repaint.

A Mustang update

Heads are off, valve train completely out, everything more or less cleaned up. I sourced all new valves and rockers. The original springs are OK, the free height on all of them measures within spec and within a few thousandths from spring to spring. The cam I’m going to use isn’t too aggressive for the pressed-in factory studs or springs, I don’t think. Once I have the heads cleaned up a little more and check the valve guides with a dial indicator, I’ll start lapping and re-assembling the heads.

The block is ready for honing… but I’m holding off a bit until I figure out exactly what I want to do to clean up the water passages. I’d hate to have to replace the cam bearings, so hot tanking or electrolysis is probably not a good option. I may try some Evapo-Rust or CLR and see how well that works.

Too bad about comments…

I have had to go through every WordPress site I run and completely disable comments and responses on every post and page on all of them. The penalty for not doing so is a non-stop stream of assholes (both live and bot scripts) posting spam responses to nearly every one of them. So, if you have anything to say, sorry — you can’t say it here. I do accept email, though.

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…