Sunday, November 30, 2008

Significant Completion

The bathroom is mostly done. I need to seal the tile and get a shower door installed, but it's a matter of waiting at this point. It's been a big project. We started Demo the last weekend in September, so it's been about two months to this point. We haven't moved back into the space completely, but it's close enough. The picture above is our new shower, with a glass block window where the old one used to be.

In addition to saving thousands of dollars, I also amassed the following tools and supplies, which can be used at a future date:

A Jigsaw
A Tile Saw
Several miscellaneous plumbing fittings
Extra tile that I may use for a mosaic at some point
A 12 gallon shop vac

I also picked up some plumbing and electrical tips from my dad when we has out to help.

Now, I'm going to try and avoid as many home projects as I can over the holidays.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Life has been crazy. As mentioned earlier, we've been working on our main bath remodel. We started around the 1st weekend in October, and we're getting to the point of impatience with the family. My parents, who were in town to help out are long gone, so it's back to the routine of trying to perform at my day job, then doing what I can in the evening to complete projects. We are really close, and completing the tile shower is all that's left. It's complicated by the fact that I've never ever tiled anything before in my life, and that the shower is really the centerpiece of the bathroom remodel. We're working on the cheap, but I'm trying to shield the world from realizing it. Consequently, we're trying to take our time, and make it look really nice. Here's a quick pic.

As for our Benz, with the hardtop on (pic forthcoming), I'm still getting it out and about. I thought about canceling the insurance and letting it sit, but there are several reasons to keep driving it. So, as long as it's not raining too hard (or snowy), I get a chance to get it out and enjoy. It still runs really strong, and I'm looking forward to getting some projects done in the spring before top-down season starts again.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fall is here

I got the hardtop on the Benz a couple of weeks ago. It makes it a much more comfortable car, and we're still putting it to good use on a regular basis so long as it doesn't rain too hard. Last night, Kim and I went to a charity auction. We were dressed nicely - I was in a tuxedo - and we received numerous complements from the valets at the hotel. In a city where late model Benzes, Porsches, and an occasional Bentley can be found, it's nice to know that a 27-year old roadster still gets complements.

As for the bathroom, we're pretty much to the point of significant completion. There is some minor trim and drywall finishing to do, plus hanging accessories like towel racks, and some small touch-up painting to do. After that, we'll probably move most of our stuff back, and then get to the tiling. Neither of us has done tiling before, so we're trying to take our time with it and come up with a good plan. Nonetheless, we can at least start to use the space we've got done. The new vanity area is in the picture above.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Putting it back together...

We're to the point where the demolition and the ugly drain plumbing move is complete. We spent most of the weekend putting the floor back together. The picture above is the framing for the new shower. Contractors are coming on Wednesday to install the shower pan and backing material for the tile, so the plumbing rough-in has to be complete by then. I think we'll make it, and have a plan B in case something gets fouled up with the supply piping.

After that, it's a matter of peeling the rest of the wallpaper, painting, installing the floor, patching wallboard, installing the vanity, connecting the plumbing, replacing the toilet, and tiling the shower.

No sweat.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Where have I been?

Haven't done much over the last couple of weeks except for work and remodeling the bathroom. We had to pull up the floor to get to the drain pipes, which need to be moved. It's a cascade of things that need to get taken care of, but we have a plan, most of the materials, and contractors willing to work small jobs without a lot of lead time. I'll post pictures as we move along. We're in the middle of moving plumbing (supply and drain), electrical and framing in a pan for the shower. Once that's done, onto flooring and installing the new vanity. I'll try to do better with updates.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Still Here

My activity here probably won't win me any 'Blogger of the Year' awards. Yep - no dreams of internet riches for this guy.

Anyway, some updates:

The mystery oil pressure gauge is working pretty consistently. I had a nice road trip yesterday, going to the eastside to play some golf with some friends. By the end of the round, it was in the mid 70's and perfectly sunny. A beautiful day, and still doing what we can to enjoy the car before permanent winter arrives.

At home, we've started another project. Our upstairs bathroom has been in a state of mild disrepair for the last couple of years, and we've finally worked up the courage to tear it up. Since that will be the focus of my DIY activity for a while, I'm going to unofficially retitle the blog to be 'Old School Bathroom' because that's what it is. We'll do some updating, and I'll be sure to post pictures.

Here's one now. We ripped out the vanity and fiberglass shower insert today. That was the worst. It's in a pile behind our house until we can get to the dump, and I thought you could enjoy it too!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Mystery...

We're back up and running again. I had fully intended, tools at the ready, to start taking some stuff apart on Sunday and have a real good look-see troubleshooting session.

I undid some bolts. I looked at the engine. I undid a few more bolts. I looked some more. I grabbed a flashlight. I climbed underneath the car.

This was not going to be easy.

I reached under the hood, and unplugged the oil pressure sender plug again. It looks clean.

I also realize that there is no way in hell that I'll be able to get the tools or test equipment anywhere near where I need it to be. There is too much stuff in the way.

I sigh.

For giggles, I pop off the oil filler cap.

I start the car.

I look inside the valve cover. Oil is running very freely. There are tubes that drop a thin stream of oil right over the cam lobes. They are working perfectly, and it's really easy to see. My 6-year old is fascinated, despite the fact that she has no idea what she is looking at.

I check the gauge. Pegged to the top. Working perfectly.

The next day (Monday) I head to the gym. I start the car cold, and the gauge sits at zero for a three count, then pegs to the top.

At this point, I'm completely baffled.

I know that reseating the pressure sender plug will fix the problem temporarily, and I can always pop the filler cap to verify that things are working well. If I get the suspension rebuilt next spring, the sender will be much easier to get to with the subframe off.

FYI - this is the first September on record in Seattle where it has rained ZERO. I need to get as much usage out of the car as I can anyway!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

...And Off Again...

It was too good to be true. My often useful wire-wiggle electrical fix was only temporary.

Yesterday, Kim and I had a night out to ourselves. We were going to see a concert on the Eastside, and I had actually planned a back way to get to the venue that would take advantage of carpool lanes on I-90 and a nice windy road along the lake. The weather was also a drop-top perfect sunny and 75. Kim packed up a picnic basket, and I hopped in the Benz and started it up. The oil pressure gauge stuck at zero.

At this point, I'm pretty sure it's the sender. It's s small electronic sensor that attaches to the bottom of the housing where the oil filter sits, and is connected to a wire that goes back to the instrument panel. It's moderately easy to get to. It also happens to be covered in sludge, and there is a gasket that is between the housing and the block that I suspect is leaking. I may end up following the philosophy of '...Well, since you're in there and have it taken apart already...' and look at doing the whole assembly.

I think it's an easy fix, but will take some time and probably involve lifting the car. The part is about 80 bucks online too. I posted a note to benzworld (the best message board I have found for these types of issues) to see what someone more experienced has to say.

The concert was awesome.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Back on the Road

I scratched my head on this one. I did web searches, scanned message boards, talked to the experts. I was faced with a couple of possibilities:

The oil pressure gauge was reading zero correctly. This was unlikely, but Very Bad News if I was wrong about that assumption.

The oil pressure gauge was reading zero incorrectly. This was the likely problem, but meant more difficult troubleshooting

I went back out to the car. I pulled the fuse that was broken before, and turned the key to 'on'. I verified that everything that was broken before (gauges, power windows, blinkers, etc...) failed to work again.

I replaced the fuse, and turned the ignition to 'on' again. That which failed is now working again. I'm even seeing a small movement in the temp gauge. Oil Pressure gauge still pegged at zero.

Pop the hood. Locate oil pressure sender (this is a small electric sensor that sends the signal back to the oil pressure gauge). Of course, it's only mostly accessible from the top of the car. I reached down and unplug, then reseat the sensor. (It's truly amazing how unplugging and plugging something in can do wonders for electronic equipment).

Flip key to 'on' again. Everything seems to be ok, but this time, I see a slight movement in the oil pressure gauge.

Cross fingers. Move key to start.

Engine springs to life. After 1/2 second, oil pressure gauge indicates full pressure.


We seem to be back to normal. I have no idea if my quick wire wiggle did anything, but it's working for now, and most importantly, more good weather is in the forecast.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Well, I guess not

I received my batch of replacement fuses. I replaced the one in question and fired up the car. The tachometer and fuel gauge now read correctly, but the oil pressure gauge is still at zero.

Not wanting to take a chance that the oil pressure is REALLY zero, I shut the car down (and was not able to test speedometer and temp). This will require some more research. I'm stuck. I'll poke around and see what I can come up with. Searches on the message board I frequent says it may be a grounding issue. That may mean pulling the instrument cluster. Supposedly an easy job, just one I've never done before.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Culprit

the bad fuse is on the left. A good one is on the right, for comparison. The fuse didn't blow, but the bottom piece of metal that comes in contact with the fuse holder broke off. I think that may explain the intermittent trouble on the highway.

It took me three whole minutes to find a complete set of copper replacements on eBay for $10. In the mean time, there's not a cloud in the sky and it's in the mid 70's. The Benz is in the garage under cover. The good news is that this should be a quick and easy repair.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Milestone

It happened today.

For the first time.

Something that was working properly... broke.

On my watch.


I was cruising down 520 towards the Eastside of town. Sunny, 70 degrees. Perfect weather for a drop-top excursion. I took a cursory glance at the gauges, as I was told to do during drivers ed so long ago (Smith System rule - 'Keep your eyes moving...').

No oil pressure.

Mind races and tells me to stop the car (remember the '74 Corolla).

Wait a minute.

Tachometer reads zero.

Impossible... I'm humming along quite nicely in highway traffic, doing at least...





I'm sensing a trend.





Organize the following thoughts:

- The car is running nicely.
- Many indicators have failed at once, giving false readings.
- I likely have an electrical problem.


I continue on to my destination, all while thinking of a good troubleshooting plan. At one point in the drive, all gauges start to work again. Great.

I tap on the brake approaching traffic. In an instant, gauges go back to zero.


I arrive at my destination, I park, then shut off the car.

Cars need a good electrical system to start.

Cross fingers....

The car starts again. Gauges are still dead. Good. Only PART of the electrical system is dead.

I check the lights (it will be dark by the time I head home). They work. I determine that after my engagement, I'll have enough functionality to get home safely, and I do.

I've spent the better part of the summer working on improving the car. Making it better. Little repairs, detailing work, light maintenance... Today is the first time that something has gone awry since our ownership commenced in April. A true milestone. A step backward. I was due. It's a 26-year old car. What do I expect?

On the way home, I did some more troubleshooting and made a short mental list..

Interior illumination

Doesn't work:
Power windows
Turn Signals on dashboard
Any other dashboard warning light for that matter...

I checked my shop manual. There is a common fuse for the things that don't work, so I'll be checking that out. If it is the fuse, what causes it to blow? If not, tracking down a wiring problem will be a bear, I know.

I was just thinking that I hadn't updated the blog in a while and that it would be nice to have something to write about.

Be careful what you ask for...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back to Civilization

I've been away on vacation for a week. Just got back today. The place we go is fairly desolate, and I made a great attempt to make it a 'real' vacation. I didn't check email, voice mail, or watch TV (except an hour of the Olympics - Equestrian). So, I've spent the last couple of hours catching up on news websites, blogs and my email to try and get a feel for what's happening. What I know:

- Michael Phelps did get his 8 golds (we found out about this one early in the week, but only because we picked up a Vancouver Sun on an excursion to the nearest town.)
- There was another tropical storm/hurricane (Fay). I don't know where it hit land, if at all. We're already to the 'F's?
- There have been a series of metal thefts in my neighborhood. The Benz and the 325 are in a carport. I should check to see if they still have their catalytic converters. (Side note to potential thieves: The houses on all three sides of me are occupied by professionals that work out of their home. You'll be seen.)
- Despite heavy volatility, the DJIA is 35 points from where it was when I left.

One quick story -

We take two ferry boats to and from our destination, and while waiting in line for the second one, I left the lights on in the Toyota for about an hour (while listening to the iPod and using my GPS unit to try and find an alternate route over the border). Ferry loading can be a stressful thing, requiring enough patience so you don't start the car too early and look like a dork, and enough attentiveness so you don't hold people up when it's time to go. As you may have guessed, the battery was very well drained when it came time to load. After a few embarrassing moments, I coasted the car down the ramp in neutral and got it out of everyone else's way. The ferry people bring over a battery and hook it up to your car. They must do this at least a dozen times a day, because the universal disclaimer about injury and damage is actually printed on the back of a BC Ferries business card. They just hand it to you on the spot, make you read it and hook up the battery. I started the car, and by their instruction, revved the motor for a few minutes.

Now, the tricky part. You get one shot to turn off the car, and try to start it back up again. If the car won't start, you don't get on the boat, because they don't want to risk having you block everyone's way AGAIN. Fortunately, the car Gods smiled and the Highlander burst to life. The bad news is that I was in the ferry equivalent of the 'penalty box', the area of the boat behind all of the semi trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles. At least we made it, which made it easier to convince my six-year old that we weren't going to die (her words, not mine).

The Toyota battery is the factory original (10/03) so I may be replacing that one in short order. It's the family car, and I'd hate to see them stuck somewhere. Note to self: move jumper cables to Highlander.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Neat Freak

That's me.

Some will argue, which really comes down to the fact that everyone has their own areas of cleanliness about which they are particular. Kitchen countertops and automobiles are mine. In other areas of the home, I can tolerate pretty high levels of grime, so it really depends on what your cleanliness hot buttons happen to be.

Since I'm holding off on further maintenance for the season, I am spending more effort on the cleanliness of the car. I sometimes half think that it would make a great concours vehicle (an actual contest where judges look at your car, and deduct points for dirt) at a local level. Usually, events will have some sort of 'display only' category, where you can clean it up, bring it to the show, set out the lawn chair, and spend the day and afternoon wiping it down while spectators ooohhh and aaahhh at the sheer square footage of pristine automobile paint. It would be fun for me, but I'm afraid that not many others in my social circle (especially my family) would enjoy it as much as I would, so I haven't had the chance to partake yet.

One great thing about this car - it takes very little time to do a basic wash and even wax. You don't need to clean the roof, and the body is pretty small. Today, a very detailed wash took only 45 minutes. I also have been wanting to clay the car. It's when you take a small brick of clay (duh) and rub it across the body panels (you also use some sort of cleanser to act as a lubricant). The clay picks up all of the microscopic crap that has accumulated (bugs, bird doo, road tar, acid rain) and leaves the paint clean. It sounds weird, and I was skeptical the first time I tried it. Trust me - it works. From this point, you can polish (to remove swirl marks) and then wax. I already polished it when I received the car, so it's really not useful to do it again, so once it was clayed, I just waxed it. I also spent some extra time on the rubber molding, because it was thoroughly disgusting.

Here's a shot after I was done (which looks so good, it's now at the top...)

Here's the cloth I used on the rubber. Gross.

Another shot of the shine...

That's all for now... Enjoy!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Post-It-Notes (TM)

A side benefit to this blog is that I can use it as a place to virtually store good information about repairs I do, or plan to do for the car. On other posts, I've been compiling some ideas for longer term projects, but after driving it for approximately 1000 miles, I've developed a pretty good feel for driving it, and I've found some real specific things I could do to improve it even more. After some more research, and a discussion I had with another 107* driver who works out at my gym, I'm convinced that the car would drive really great with a suspension rebuild. At first, before I replaced the tires, I thought the car would always be a little soft on the handling. After new tires, with the right parts, I think I could get it to stick to the road like a go-kart and handle more like the Bimmer than a Buick. The roadster driver at the gym has an '86 560SL (it's beautiful), and shortly into our conversation, he suggested having some of that work done. One symptom of wear in those components is a little clunking sound when coming to a stop, or braking, which I do hear a lot. I did some searching, and found a great list of items to repair, replace or check, and I wrote them down on a sticky note, which I keep in my calendar. Now, given the amount of work already done to the car, taking into account the amount of actual sunshine remaining for the year, and funds alloted to car repair, this will likely be a winter or spring project. So, I need a place to keep some of these notes that won't get lost when I look for them in March of next year when I'm ready to go forward. If you are wondering, this is not a do-it-yourself project. It will require very special tools and a lot of under-the-car time, which I get freaked out about because I don't have access to a lift.

If you know me well, you'll know that I thrive on to-do lists on sticky notes. In fact, if I finish a project that isn't on a to-do list, I'll add it to an active list, then immediately cross it out, because I like the sense of accomplishment. At any given time, I have a row of sticky notes across my computer monitor at work with things like bus schedules, important phone #'s, or other work-related things that I refer to often. I also have 3 or 4 active notepad sheets that I use to keep track of current projects (one for quick notes about the current day, one for client birthdays, one for outstanding tasks and another for random scratches). It's a major milestone when I knock one of them out, but I usually create another one right behind it.

Needless to say, I'm developing a sticky-note collection for the car, but I'm running out of places to keep them. So, in the interest of saving trees and having the information readily available, I'm declaring this blog my Post-It (TM) repository for the Benz.

*107: The official M-B designation for this chassis.

If you don't care about suspension rebuilds, you may stop reading at this point. Enjoy your evening.

Note to self:
Suspension overhaul to-do-list:

F/R Subframe Mounts
Steering damper shock
Sway Bar bushings
Lower Control Arm Bushings
Upper control Arm/Bushings
Drag Link
Wheel alignment
Check and replace if needed:
Ball Joints
Tie Rods

One less sticky note.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Gassed up the car today. Got 16.8 MPG. This was the first full tank with new tires, and I'm also using midgrade (89) because of a little knocking I hear with the regular. Got about an 8% improvement over the last tank.

Not much else is new. Kim and I are going on a date night tonight, going to see a concert (Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings) at the zoo. I hope it doesn't rain.

Happy Sunday!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What I've been up to...

It's been a crazy summer week. With most of the Benz maintenance complete, I've spent much more time driving it than working on it. That's a good thing, but I don't have any cool pictures of the car in disrepair, or stories of multiple trips to auto parts stores. However, since this is a blog that highlights some of my do-it-yourself escapades, here are some pictures of other things I've been doing lately:

Here is my new walkway, that I did while Kim and the kids were away...

My latest handyman snafu happened yesterday. Our faucet in the bathroom was starting to drip. Usually, this is a pretty straightforward repair. You pop off the handles, take out the faucet stems, and there is usually some sort of washer that has worn out. I had trouble getting the stems off for some reason, and probably even broke them while trying to remove them. So, I ran over the to the store and picked up the cheapest replacement faucet I could find. I got it mostly installed, except that one of the supply lines snapped when I reinstalled it (It was old, I swear). I ran to the store (again), and got a replacement shutoff valve and supply line and returned home.

Keep in mind at this point, with the shutoff valve disassembled, the water supply to the whole house needs to be off. Of course, there are 4 loads of laundry, a full dishwasher and a large pile of dirty dishes on the counter. I had faith that I would be able to fix this and get to these chores before too long, but it was not to be. When I reassembled the shutoff valve and supply line and turned the water back on, water started to spray from behind the fitting.

We now have no water.

One important skill of a good do-it-yourselfer is recognizing your limitations. I have reached mine. I called a plumber this morning, and asked for a service call around noon. No problem, they said. It's now 3:51, and according to the receptionist, they are still an hour out. I am a bit of a control freak, so you can imagine that this is really ticking me off. I feel like I'm in that Seinfeld episode where Kramer keeps scheduling then blowing off the cable guy. I'm tempted to go for a run, then leave a note for the plumber that says 'back in 5 minutes' then return an hour later. Ha.

With regards to the Benz, while I was waiting for the plumber to call, I did go through and do an interior detail. Every now and then, I like to pick an area that doesn't normally get cleaned and go for it. Today, it was the convertible top boot. It was really disgusting in there.

That's all for now.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Catching Up

Life was a little disrupted over the last week or so. As mentioned before, Kim and the kids were out of town for a little more than a week. When I get the chance to stay behind, I tend to fill in my schedule with a bunch of things I wouldn't get to normally do. My goal is usually to find a good balance of three things: Work (Professional), Work (around the house/cars) and Fun. Happy to say, I succeeded. Since the real maintenance work on the Benz is complete, I did spend a lot of time behind the wheel. It was sunny and in the high 70's for most of the week, so we're finally being rewarded for the crummy winters over the last two years.

Related to cars, but unrelated to the Benz, I did make a road trip for work last week. I had to see people down near Hood River, about 60 miles East of Portland. Since it was a longer trip, I took the BMW, as it is more comfortable, has a better stereo, and gets better mileage. Gas prices being what they are, I decided to try and maximize my mileage for the trip down and see what I could do with regards to efficiency. I pretty much kept to the speed limit and was able to forget about the A/C for drive down. I was impressed with the mileage for the trip, and the odometer milestone that I achieved just as a arrived at our meeting place made for a neat picture.

Yep - 34 mpg at an average speed of about 67 mph for the trip down. Unfortunately, on the way home, the outside temp had approached 90 degrees. As much as I tried, going without A/C for more than a few minutes was not an option, so my mileage for the return trip dropped to 30.5. Still pretty good in my book. As fun as the roadster is, there is something to be said for the newer engines in cars.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Give me a Brake...

I was able to get the brake fluid changed today. It was easier than I thought, and the hardest part was really making sure that I was careful with the fluid receptacles, and didn't make a mess. Brake fluid is a very good solvent, and will eat away at paint, so there's a little bit of pressure to take your time and work through it carefully.

I purchased a brake bleeder a couple of weeks ago, which is a small pressure vessel that you can use to pump fluid into the reservoir. I also got two bottles with a hoses that attach to the bleeder nozzle, which helps with collecting the old fluid without making a mess. Of course, it wouldn't be a proper DIY experience without having to run to the store (again) to get another tool. The bleeder screws are 9mm. It figures that my wrench set goes from 8mm to 10mm, so I got to know the guys at the local parts counter pretty well today. Unfortunately, Kim is away with the kids and the camera, so I don't have any good photos, which would help clarify a lot.

The procedure works like this:

- Cover fender with garbage bag or other plastic to protect it from stray fluid.
- Remove as much old fluid as you can from the reservoir with a turkey baster (note to self: get new turkey baster for the kitchen...)
- Fill reservoir with clean fluid.
- Fill bleeder with clean fluid and attach to reservoir. Pump to 20 psi.
- Working at each tire, starting the furthest away from the master cylinder (Right Rear), remove the tire and bleeder cap. Loosen bleeder screw until clean fluid comes out of the tube (this is easy to see - the old stuff is brown. The new stuff is yellow). Close bleeder screw.
- When all 4 tires are done, leave last tire off. Tilt bleeder vessel so that the fluid tube is not taking in fluid, and you are pumping air into the reservoir. Open bleed screw one last time until fluid level in reservoir is at 'MAX'
- Close bleeder screw.
- Loosen cap on bleeder tank to release pressure (NOT the cap at the reservoir itself, unless you like to spray brake fluid everywhere..)
- Replace cap on reservoir.
- DON'T FORGET! - Torque lug nuts to 81 ft-lb.
- Drive slowly in driveway to make sure brakes work.

Everything seems to be fine. I also got some gas dryer (alcohol that will absorb water in the gas tank) and filled up, with midgrade this time. My last tank gave me 15.5 MPG. Much less than before, but there was almost no highway driving before this fill-up. I think the new tires will make a difference too. We shall see.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Baby has a new pair (2) of shoes...

Got 4 new tires for the Benz last week. The old ones were, well, old, but had new tread and were generally ok. The sidewalls were cracked, and not in the best shape, but passable. But, the car never felt quite right. A little thump here, a pull there. I thought that there might be a flat spot in at least one tire, because the car sat for a few months with low pressure. Tires are important, so why not get some peace of mind, right?

I completely underestimated how much of a difference it would make. I was out of the parking by abo0ut 100 yards before I realized I was driving a completely different auto. I let Kim run an errand. Without prompting, she noted how much better the car felt, and that it handled, accelerated, and generally drove so much better than before. Great stuff.

I also fixed the cover for the lower seat hinge. Just in the nick of time, Voila. Summer in Seattle has finally arrived. No rain, 75-85 degrees every day. We've spent quite a bit of time tooling around Seattle since the weather turned nice. We cruised up to the north side of the city for dinner last night and got a chance to do some real wind-in-your hair road tripping. Of course, I neglected to have Kim bring the camera, so you'll just have to imagine it for yourself.

This week, Kimberly is taking the kids away to see family for a few days. I have a few home projects planned (including redoing a flagstone walkway) so I am not sure how much time I'll get to do auto work, but I hope to get the brake fluid flush done. That will be it for the maintenance work for some time. We can then focus on what's actually broken, or not working the way I feel it should. Glad to finally be mostly done with working and onto enjoying the ride.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Quick Update - I received my vacuum extractor and brake bleeder over the weekend. It took about 5 minutes to take down the transmission fluid to the proper level. It also took 5 minutes to change the oil in my lawnmower. I've heard of great feedback in the past from people who use these extractors for their cars and small engines. I don't know why I never bothered to get one till now. I'll go back to rule #1 - Never feel guilty about having the right tool.

Tires are ordered, and will probably be installed this week. A brake fluid flush will complete my higher-priority list of things to do, and Summer is finally here. It's supposed to hit the high 70's all weekend. Perfect timing.

Now, for something that bothers me... (beware, minor rant coming). Some background - I am a member of the BMW Car Club of America, and they have one of the best auto magazines in existence (Roundel). A reader wrote into their 'Tech Talk' column (a fabulous resource) asking how to change the oil on a 2008 M5. To be fair, the engine in that car is probably one of the most advanced on the road right now (a direct variant of a BMW Formula 1 engine), and would cost upwards of $20K to replace. Why not take the time to change the oil regularly, right? Well, for new cars, BMW will cover all of your scheduled maintenance for 4 years or 50K miles but their service interval is a little longer than some car people are comfortable with (it's 15K miles for my 325, maybe a little more often for the M5). The dealership charges you full price if you want it done more than the manual calls for, which is $200-250 for an oil service. I assume, but can only verify anecdotally that the other luxury brands (Lexus, Audi, new M-B, etc.) have the same policies and similar pricing.

So, you get 'free' maintenance, but only if you follow a lax maintenance schedule. The solution for many is to perhaps do a quick oil change between services (as I do on the 325). It turns out that the engine on the M5 is so advanced, that you cannot actually change the oil yourself. It requires some sort of special diagnostic computer to run auxiliary oil pumps deep within the motor to clear out all of the oil, which also likely adds to the cost of a regular oil change.

Thus, it appears that the ability to do routine car maintenance on your own, on a newer car, is going by the wayside. Not a big deal for a lot of people, but the cost of ownership for new cars bought today or in the next few years is probably increasing at a rate that a lot of people aren't aware of.

The upshot to all of this? I'm feeling pretty good about learning how to take care of some of these items myself. I'm ok with leaving the big jobs for the pros, but I'm hoping that we'll be able to save some coin going forward, and keep the current fleet on the road for some time.

I love Summer.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

List Addendum

Looking back at the list I made for the last post, adding the following three items:

- Replace driver's side seat hinge cover plate:
There is a chrome/plastic cover that goes over the seat hinge (as the name implies). It broke off a while ago. I've found the part online for $30. If I order $50 worth of stuff, I get free shipping, so I'm trying to think of specific parts for the car I'll need. I don't know of anything off hand, but I'm sure I'll run into something before too long.

- Drain off excess trans. fluid:
I checked the trans. fluid after the change. I'm about 0.3L high, so I'll need to get that out. I'm not going the plug route like before.

Further proof that the human mind can justify anything, I ordered a fluid extractor and a brake bleeder this week. The extractor is a vacuum pump with a tube designed to take fluid out of a car (or boat, or lawnmower) right out of the dipstick. It prevents you from having to put a car on ramps and crawl around the floor, so it is safer and more convenient. I'll post procedures and pictures when I get them, but suffice to say, they are pretty handy to have.

I spent about $150 for all of it (including 2 reservoir bottles for draining brake fluid). I was organizing my service records for the Bimmer the other night. A brake fluid flush on the BMW was $90-120 at the dealer/independent shop, done once every two years. If the Benz is supposed to be done every year, this will pay for itself very soon between those cars. Plus, I subscribe to the theory that if a task is easy, you'll do it more often. Frequent oil changes are the best thing you can do for car longevity, so it's good news all around. And yes, I need to change the oil in the mower too.

- Tires:
The weather is finally turning sunny, so we're using the car frequently for driving around. I'm going to get new tires next week - the current ones have good tread, but the sidewalls are cracked and have gouges and at least one blister I could see. If you think about it - This is a 3800 lb car, that is in contact with the road with a total of less than 1 square foot of surface area. If you really dig into the physics of cars and tires (I'm a geek about this - I admit), I think it's pretty amazing the stuff works without blowing up more often. So, paranoia reigns and new tires are on the way.

Of course, in true old car fashion, the differential is leaking more than before. Dirty fluid is good at plugging leaks, and clean fluid can release some of that dirt. Differentials usually leak from the seals and that's a bigger job than I want to do myself. Another winter project for the shop. Since I changed the fluid, I do know how to add it, so it will be easy to keep an eye on throughout the summer.

Think Sun!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Happy Belated Father's Day

I noted in an earlier post that I was interested in a Mercedes-Benz hat. I have one with the BMW logo on it, but I felt like I couldn't cruise in a convertible Benz with that. So, a few well-placed hints to my wife, and we're good to go. The logo on the hat matches the hood ornament too. A very nice touch. Thanks!

I accomplished two more tasks yesterday. The carpet that covered up the rear partition between the shelf and the trunk had come undone some time ago. It wasn't a huge deal, but it made the car, shall we say, less visually pleasant. I have a plastic chisel used to stuff carpet into crevices and a rubber mallet. Took about twenty minutes, but it looks much better now! The interior of this auto is in fine shape, so having the carpet reinstalled really adds to the pleasure of top-down driving.

The last thing I did was to go under the hood and check the condition of the spark plugs. An interesting aside, this car (and my BMW for that matter) come with a pretty neat set of tools. Oddly, in the manual, it basically says that no mere mortal should ever change spark plugs, but it should be done instead by an 'Authorized Mercedes-Benz Service Center.' At the same time, the tool kit contains a spark plug socket and wrench, with a flexible head designed for getting into tight spaces. If they didn't want us messing around under the hood, why give us the tools?

Oh well. I took out one plug and was happy to see it is really clean. No corrosion, discoloration, and the electrode was nice and square. One less thing to take care of.

Time to take a look at the list again:

Timing Chain Replaced
Oil Change
All Accessory belts changed
Rotor/Distributor Replaced
Sway Bar brackets tightened and replaced
New Coolant
Differential Fluid Changed
Wheel Nuts retorqued
Rear shelf carpet reinstalled
Wiper blades replaced
Transmission fluid/filter changed
Spark Plugs checked and verified good
Throttle cable and linkages and convertible top mechanism lubricated

Brake Fluid change (High Priority):
It's supposed to be done once a year. It requires a purchase of a brake bleeder, and it's something I've never done before. Scary, but not impossible. It supposedly takes 1/2 hour if you know what you are doing, and everyone has done something for the first time, right? Once complete, I will have officially finished the car's 60K service. Probably need to check the pads and rotors as well, but I'm not getting the usual symptoms of brake wear.

New Tires w/Balance (Med.)
I'm starting to think they are next to be replaced. There is always some sort of vibration, and good tires are always a safe, smart thing to have. Anything I can do to get better mileage and peace of mind is a plus.

Dashboard light (Low)
I can still see the speedo at night. Not to worry.

Radio upgrade/fix (Low)
Can't hear it anyway with the top down.

Play in steering wheel (Med.)
Probably just a worn out steering coupler. Save it for winter.

Check leak at fuel distributor (Low)
Aside from the fuel smell, of which this may or may not be the cause, it's not as bad as it sounds. Plus, if it were really leaking badly, the engine would be giving me fits, which it's not. In fact, I would say the car is running very nicely, thank you very much.

Further evidence of a happy engine - I filled up for the first time over the weekend to get an idea of fuel economy - 307.7 miles with 16.9 gallons of gas, giving us (drum roll, please) 18.2 MPG. Mostly around town, with one 100-mile highway trip to Whidbey. Overall, pretty good for a quarter-century old V8 and a two-ton car. I believe the car was rated at around 16 City/24 Highway, so we're right inline with what I would expect.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The worst job yet...

As the photo attempts to show, my latest maintenance project was not without challenges. The goal was to change the transmission fluid and filter. According to the service manual, it's a once every 30K service. There are differing opinions on this and some say it can go forever, or until there is an obvious issue while driving (herky-jerky shifting is the most common symptom of something wrong). I look at it this way: The transmission is probably one of the most complicated systems in the car. There is a variety of spinning gears, valves, shafts and other components that make it work. Any car that is 26 years old that has seen limited use will probably benefit at least a little from the maintenance. So, we're giving it a whirl. Again, I got the parts online and fluid at the local store. All told, about 45 bucks.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are three shields that protect the chassis from heat, noise and who knows what. There are two small shields between the body and the exhaust pipes (which run along either site of the transmission pan, my ultimate target). Once those were off, there is another shield that covers exactly 1/2 of the pan and needs to come off too. It's held on by 8 13-mm bolts. I got 5 of them out pretty easily. The other three are directly above the exhaust pipe on the driver's side. A socket won't fit, and this is about the time I discovered that my open-ended wrench set does not have a 13-mm size. Well, I figured, 1/2 inch is real close to 13 mm, right? This got me two more bolts, and bleeding knuckles.

I was able to rotate the shield (held now by one bolt) and undo the drain plug (the shield normally covers it up). That got the fluid going, and gave me a chance to run out and pick up that 13-mm wrench while the draining progressed. I did read in the procedure that the longer you drain, the better off you are, because it can take forever for the fluid to completely run out. Once I returned, the last bolt came off pretty easily.

Lesson #1 learned: Never, ever feel guilty about purchasing the correct tool.

The next step is to remove the pan, which is the large metal bucket that covers the bottom of the transmission and holds fluid when not in use. The removal was easy, but there are two hoses or wires that are cable tied to the pan itself. Not wanting to disrupt those wires (I don't know what they were - vacuum? fuel? electrical? who knows!!) I got the pan off and let it hang down enough to get access to the fluid filter. Making it more challenging, once the pan was removed, the transmission started spewing forth anew more fluid (so much for the extra drain time). It looks like red wine vinegar, but has the consistency of olive oil, and I ended up with about a pint of it on the garage floor (see picture above). The filter came off easy, but resulted in a repeat dousing of the same fluid I had just cleaned up.

Once disassembled, I replaced the filter and the pan gasket. Since I like to post pictures of my projects in the furthest state of disrepair, here goes:

The section on the left is where the filter attaches, and the portion on the right is the valve body. The pan is hanging down at the bottom of the picture. The valve body is a very sensitive component of the transmission, so I was careful to keep my fingers away. (The procedure I used as a guide admonishes the mechanic from wiping away excess fluid for fear of ruining the component completely). According to the manual, you are supposed to go so far as to check the fluid level with a leather cloth or chamois, because any lint will destroy a valve body and screw up your tranny for good. Yikes.

Lesson #2 - This job is easier for someone with a lift. Not me.

Once I got the pan back on, I put some fluid in, drove it off the ramps and exercised the gear selector (P-R-N-D-N-R-P, etc.). I checked the level. Good. Exercised the selector again. No problems. I replaced the shields and went on the post-maintenance test drive. No problems there either.

Well, it looks like I managed to get this one done without messing up anything too badly. The work was done on Saturday, and I had a bunch of running around today as well. Everything ran great, and I do think it's shifting a little better. It could be my imagination or my own psyche justifying the work, but I definitely know more about cars than I did a few months ago.

Did some more minor repairs today, but it's getting late. Will post some more good stuff in the next day or so.

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Gave it the Old College Try...

I had a 4 hour window this evening to try and get some work done. Today's objective was the transmission fluid and filter. Based on what I saw on the web and in the service manual, it looked pretty straightforward. Drain fluid. Remove pan. Clean Pan. Replace filter. Replace Pan. Replace fluid.

I got the front wheels up on ramps, and took a look. The transmission pan is covered by some sort of shield. The bolts to that shield are covered by two other shields with bolts of their own, making two interleaved layers of shielding to remove before I got to the main objective of the whole thing (this car supposedly tips the scales close to 4000 lbs. I see why). I got 5 of the 8 bolts of the main shield off, but the last three are right above the exhaust pipe (hot!!). It didn't take too long to realize if I went much further, I would be passing the point of no return, and that I was lacking some tools that would make the job easier. Furthermore, Kim is away for the weekend and I'm on guard with the children through Sunday evening, leaving me precious little time to complete the task.

So, I did what any good shadetree mechanic would do. Put the 5 bolts back, put the tools away, and went for a drive - to the hardware store. Got some u-joints for the tight spaces and a new 3/8" drive torque wrench. Great stuff!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

It's a Gas, Part III

As I mentioned, last weekend I pulled the air cleaner and lubricated the throttle linkages. Underneath the air cleaner is what I find to be a really neat looking piece of machinery (but I'm strange in that way..). It is the fuel distributor and does exactly what you think it does. Gas comes in from the hose on the left (I think) and is sent to each of the 8 cylinders out of the stainless steel lines at the top of the unit. There are other outlets (off to the side) for fuel to head back to various other components in the fuel system that I don't completely understand (yet), but you get the basic idea. One fuel tank. Eight Cylinders. This unit is the business end of all that. Oh yeah - it bears mentioning, but you can probably assume - it's an expensive assembly.

Rewind back to delivery day. One thing that has concerned me a little about the car is that it smells like raw fuel. Most people I've talked to just assume it's normal - 'Old cars smell like gas' says Hot Rod Devin. Sounds reasonable. The fuel filter change gave me the chance to inspect the lines at the rear of the car up close, and I wasn't able to find any problems at all. The hoses are old and a little brittle, but no weeping, leaking or other problems I could see.

Back to present day. When I was working around the throttle linkages in this area, I noticed that the lines around the rightmost tube coming off the were was pretty wet, so I'm sure that there is a leak coming from around that spot somewhere. If you care to look at the picture up close, you can see some discoloration on the tube. Fuel is also pooled in the well where one of the connecting bolts sit, so I'm betting this is definitely the source of the smell.

Opportunity! We have discovered a potentially fruitful do-it-yourself repair! Let's evaluate, shall we?

Access to the parts: Fair - Good (If I end up having to rerun fuel lines to the back of the car, it gets ugly, but the unit itself is in the open)
Special Tools required: None that I can think of.
What the shop would charge: An arm, leg and my first born. Huge savings!

Sounds good, but let's think some more:

Danger level: Moderate (It's Fuel)
Potential to mess up something expensive: High (any one of those lines look pretty specialized, and I would be looking at expensive parts with long lead times. Messing up this repair would also render the car inoperable, leading to a hefty tow bill getting it to a place with some expertise)
Downtime if I screw up: Long

Hmmm..... Even though we can't seem to get two sunny days in a row out here, I think this will require some more research. I'm leaning towards making this a winter project?? Of course, the forecast this weekend calls for clouds with a chance of rain, so who knows if we'll ever get a real summer?!?

Changing topics, with respect to the mystery cable that I thought may have something to do with FM reception - The consensus was that it was a CB antenna connection. How retro!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Can't live without my radio....

I finally got around to troubleshooting the FM radio reception. I got the head unit out relatively easily, and found out how to get access to all kinds of other goodies as a bonus. My theory with respect to the radio was this: Earlier, when I took out the panel under the glove box, I found a stray wire that looked a lot like an antenna connection. I assumed that it was an unconnected cable that may be the issue with my FM reception. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), when I pulled the radio out, everything was neatly plugged in, and working properly. For fun, I went to the connection at the antenna mast (a regular repair item on these models) and reseated the antenna connection there. Same result. AM is great. All FM stations are dull static. I'm going to post a picture of the unconnected cable to my regular message board to see if those in the know can identify the cable in question.

At this point, I am starting to think it may be a problem with the Becker unit itself, which is yet another common failure point of this car. Now, knowing the extent of road and wind noise at anything over 30 MPH, and how inadequate the two small speakers are in light of all that racket, this project may be delayed until much later, until I can do some sort of effective, yet tasteful upgrade. There are lots of examples of pretty cool aftermarket stereo installations on the web that have given me some inspiration, but I'm thinking of holding off till some of the other issues are taken care of (refer to to-do lists in previous posts). Most of the message boards say that stereo systems in this car aren't really worth it unless you drive with the hard top anyway. Since I intend this to be primarily a top-down cruiser, I think it can wait, or I can listen to sports radio or the news if I get bored.

Speaking of top-down cruising, I went out to dinner and drinks with an old work colleague last night. Wouldn't you know it, the soft top was totally stuck closed. I tried for 15 minutes to get the darn thing to unlatch, to no avail. So, I had to drive from here, to Pioneer Square, through downtown all the way to Ballard for dinner WITH THE TOP UP! (I know, I know, whine, whine, whine...) Luckily, with some quick internet sleuthing, I was able to find some quick fixes and got it unlatched. I won't go into details, but suffice to say a long screwdriver is now a permanent fixture in the glove box to assist with emergency soft-top deployment. Once I got the cover unlatched, I got some white lithium grease and lubed the connections for the convertible top mechanism. It's never worked better - at least since I've owned it.

Since I was armed with a can of white lithium grease (handy stuff - I'm bringing my can of it to work tomorrow to stop the squeaking on the binding machine in the copy room across from my office!) I took off the air cleaner and lubed the throttle linkages. the pedal always felt a little sticky, so I thought it was a worthwhile 15 minutes of work. I've got to go on another middle distance road trip for work tomorrow, so I'll get a chance to see if the cruise control actuation is smoother and can be used without invoking nausea. Unfortunately, in the spirit of 'two steps forward, one step back' I did stumble onto another issue which will lead to a complex longer-term project, which I'll blog about later. In the meantime, hope you had a great weekend.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sea Trials

It's a little off topic, but it just wouldn't be fair to post without giving a big set of hugs to the fine group above that took in the annual Sasquatch Festival last weekend. Over the last couple of years, I've been fortunate enough to rekindle my passion for great live music. Thankfully, between this festival, and Bumbershoot over Labor Day weekend, plus some local shows that pop up every now and then, I get ample opportunity to get my fill of bands locally without having to travel. But, if I follow my 'bucket list', don't be surprised if you see me at SXSW, Bonnaroo, and New Orleans Jazz Fest someday.

The revelry with crazy fools above is also the reason that I still have no FM reception and a transmission fluid filter sitting on my desk at home. Nonetheless, I've done enough work on the car where I thought it was prudent at this point to do a real drive test - to get out for a few miles on the highway and check some of the systems and comfort levels on a longer excursion.

For my job, I have occasion to travel on local road trips, so I headed up to Whidbey Island this afternoon. It's about 100 miles round trip, mostly highway, so I got a chance to experience some good cruising mileage. I made the following random observations:

- Cruise control works. It's not smooth, and you can actually get a little seasick because the car accelerator pulses slowly. Lubricating the throttle linkages and cable may help (Ah! a new thing for the list...)

- Cigarette lighter works. I don't smoke, but with the few roadtrips I have planned for work this summer, I'll need to have power for the GPS unit and phone.

- With the top up, the road noise makes the radio useless. I'll definitely need to think about this before we do any sort of stereo mods.

- I have a BMW hat (see photo above), but not a Mercedes-Benz Hat. Father's Day is coming up.

- An 85-MPH speedometer just looks weird. The car is an '82, built just after the Iran Hostage crisis, and oil then was around $38/barrel (that's a lot for 1982 - trust me). The 380 was built as a more fuel efficient alternative to the 450, the original SL of this generation, made from '72 - '80. Remember the Honda CVCC and the Toyota Corrolla? It's a fun little history lesson to read the owners manual. It says stuff like 'Don't idle while standing still!' and 'Don't use the Air Conditioner - just because you LIKE to travel in comfort doesn't mean you should!' Still, this speedo cracks me up.

- The seats and the ride itself are pretty comfy.

- I hear engine knock. Thought I could get away with the cheap gas. Nuts.

- The car is very eager to engage a passing gear at higher speeds and seems more at home on the highway vs. the city streets. The burble and squat are actually startling.

A quick explanation is due here.

The web site message board I frequent for this model refer to a 'Burble and Squat' produced by the 380. The burble is the noise the engine makes starting at about 2500 RPM. It's a nice little V8 growl that sounds like a kid blowing bubbles in her milk through a straw. The squat is the result of the torque being delivered to rear wheels on soft springs; the car hood rises about 6 inches into the air and it kinds feels like you'll go airborne. Disconcerting the first time, but neat once you get used to it.

Step on the gas - burble and squat.

Unfortunately, the skies were not quite sunny enough to go through the exercise of dropping the top. The dark clouds in the photo below were directly on my path home and it wasn't worth the risk. But, a great road trip for sure.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cars vs. Computers

Well, we had to shift gears this week. Haven't touched the Benz since Sunday. It's been cold and a little rainy, so nothing lost. The big distraction for the week was the temporary loss of the main home computer (shown above). Little known by the public, most of the blogging here is done on a Sony laptop (Pentium III, circa 2000). It runs XP, iTunes and little else, and does so without trouble. I don't ask it for much, and it does a fine job for what I need it to do. A long time ago, I used to work tech support for a telecommunications supplier, and one thing I learned about electronics - the darn things worked pretty well when you didn't mess with them. You start to do too much (software upgrades, added features and functionality, etc.) and they get a little finicky. When there was a problem with a phone system, the first question we asked was: 'What were you doing when it crashed?' The answer was usually a) Testing, or b) A software upgrade. If the answer was, 'It was working just fine, then it died,' our B.S. detector sounded the alarm.

Anyway, the computer shown above is the one my wife uses for her work-from-home job. I built it myself four (or five?) years ago. I went through the process because I felt it would be helpful to be able to do upgrades and maintenance on it. Since I built it from the ground up, it theoretically should be easy to maintain since I know how it went together.

Therein, as they say, lies the rub.

Today's software, as you are likely aware, continually updates itself, downloads and installs companion code to join the party, and is always undergoing some bizarre Artificially Intelligent cyber-evolution. Thus, my ability to set a computer up to do what I want and have it maintain that functionality within my sphere of control is impossible. I haven't written a smidgen of code in years, and my lack of understanding of what goes on in that world prevents me from really being handy with computers. Putting the machine together was pretty easy. 4 or 5 years of cleaning up an auto-updating software suite is a different story altogether. So, the box is off site, undergoing an 'Operating System Reload,' after which I will spend a few hours, or days, getting it back to the way it was before.

Which brings me to the car, and how I am finding a new appreciation for the simplicity it has. Yes, there are electronics involved, but it's mostly motors, or spark, or lights. No networking, or firewalls, or viruses, or ports, or TCP/IP addresses. Identifying problems with cars is usually no more than a survey of your senses. A change in engine sound. The smell of a bad wheel bearing. Feeling the car pull right or left when braking. Common sense and intuition can take you far in the world of car repair. The computers? Well, it's tough to hear or smell an Operating System die.

Still planning on getting to the radio to check FM reception and changing the tranny fluid, but yardwork and the annual Sasquatch! music festival this weekend will get in the way of any lengthy repairs. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Taking the Weekend Off

It was difficult, but the great weather we had over the weekend ensured I didn't risk taking the car apart this weekend. I just had too many visions of it being so warm and sunny, all with the car inoperable because I was missing some hose, gasket, washer or socket to complete the repair. I was going to try and take some photos around the water, but the traffic and other goings-on this weekend ensured I didn't have much extra time. It was nice, but the lack of FM radio is starting to bother me a bit. I may have to rearrange my repair priorities.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's A Gas (Part II)

All done. I got the copper gaskets I was looking for today. They were such small pieces, the store didn't charge me. I felt bad so I bought some wiper blades, in case I ever drive it in the rain. Took about an hour to get it all together again, and once I got it started again (tricky, because there is a big air bubble in the fuel line after this operation) I verified that there were no leaks. To illustrate my confidence, I had Kim drive it to a board meeting tonight to make sure it runs right. I also noticed that the fuel pump whine from the back seems to have quieted down. I am not sure if it's my imagination, but wishful thinking says if the fuel filter is clear, then the pump needs to work less. I like the thought, even though that may not be the case.

Let's review:

Items Done:
Timing Chain Replaced
Oil Change
All Accessory belts changed
Rotor/Distributor Replaced
Sway Bar brackets tightened and replaced
New Coolant
Differential Fluid Changed
Interior/Exterior Detail
Wheel Nuts retorqued

Items to Do:
Transmission Fluid/Filter change (have parts - need time)
Flush Brake Fluid
Check/Replace Spark Plugs if needed
Fix dashboard light over tachometer
Troubleshoot FM reception
Check steering wheel play
Install new wiper blades

It is supposed to hit the 80s this weekend. I have an engagement tomorrow, and a friend in town Wednesday. I guess if I can keep from taking it apart this week, we'll definitely be crusing this weekend!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's A Gas (Part 1)

First of all, let me apologize for that previous interruption. Not quite sure what got into that one, but suffice to say, I'll be changing the password here a little more often. More importantly, I actually need the Bimmer this week, as the Benz is at this point completely disabled. I've got another busy few days, and I'm going to need some cooperative wheels.

The photo above is a shot of the fuel pump, above which normally sits a fuel filter. You don't need to know much about auto repair to see that this car is going NOWHERE in it's current state. I got this far before family obligations (remember, it's Mother's Day) and a lack of parts put a halt to the project. There are two small copper gaskets that go around one of the bolts, and every procedure I've seen says I'd better darn well change them out. This is a FUEL line, and if I need to spend a buck on two new gaskets in the name of safety and leak prevention then I'm all for it. Kim was nice enough to go to two stores before giving up, and I'll have some time in the afternoon tomorrow to check a couple of spots.

Overall the procedure wasn't too bad. Generally, it's recommended with a fuel injected car to relieve pressure in the fuel system before disconnecting lines. Usually, this is done by pulling the fuse for the fuel pump while the car is running. This car doesn't have a fuse, but a relay that sits behind the glove compartment. This relay has been known to go bad in these cars and is often a culprit in fuel delivery problems. If you read 'located behind the glove box' and pictured something really hard to get to, you are correct. Luckily, it's only a matter of removing the lower panel and once I was able contort myself like a Chinese acrobat (hooray for Yoga!), I could pull the relay. Then, it was just a matter of disassembling the connections to the filter, and letting the fuel in them run out. There was still some pressure built up in the system, so for those of you trying at home, wear goggles and gloves, and have a drip pan handy. If all goes well, we'll pick up some gaskets tomorrow and have her back together soon.

One more activity earlier this week was getting the nail puncture fixed. The tire was a son-of-a-b***h to remove. So, I bought a 24" breaker bar and re-torqued all of the lug nuts for giggles.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Guess Who?

You're wrong. It's not Chuck, it's me, his FORMER daily driver, the seldom-mentioned 325i that first turned our favorite blogger on to the fine artistry that is a German Auto. Yeah, buddy, I saw the post. You've obsessed about me for years, pal.

Look at the thanks I get.

First of all, how, do you ask, does this happen? A renegade blog post by a car? A machine? What is this, some twisted Asimov short story?

First of all, people. Cars are not as dumb as you think we are. Have you seen the stuff I need to keep track of? Wheel revolutions per second (all 4 tires, thank you!) throttle position (yeah, I drive by wire...) atmospheric pressure, fuel mixture, steering angle, not to mention taking care of valve timing on not one but TWO camshafts? Several times a second?!? Can't count how many times I've saved this guy's bacon with all of my technical wizardry. Hell, when we go through emissions, I don't even have to go through the indignation of having that tailpipe sniffer shoved up my privates. Just plug me in - I'll get ya the 411. Oh yeah. I pass. Flying colors. Every time.

You think hacking into this dork's blog is so difficult?

Here I now sit, driven what, ONCE a week? If that? I'm not quite sure what went wrong between us. I mean, I was getting a regular oil changes, dealer service, a nice rubdown with a clay bar twice a year, a gentle exfoliation with that wonderful fine cut polish....

And then SHE showed up. A Benz, too, of all things. Et tu, Brute?

For months, I shared my space with bikes, strollers, junk in queue for the next dump run. All of the sudden, the garage is spotless. New tools and fresh fluids lined up on the bench. Place looks like Jeff Gordon's garage. Who would have thought our guy was so handy? My differential had some issues too. So, I leaked a little bit. What happens to me? Do you take the care to work with me on it? NO! You just wait until I mess the floor and send me away to some cavernous garage with all of the other sick BMWs. I'm surprised you ever came back to claim me.

I know her type. She's all looks and no substance. No ABS, no OBD. No Traction control, or DBC/ASC or Double VANOS. She's got power windows, locks, steering, brakes. That's it. It's hilarious watching him try to put that top down. My nieces and nephews? One button and 16 seconds to sunshine. Oh, and what? She gets 16 mpg city? 25 Highway? Real help there sister, with gas at $4. I kicked off 32MPG at 80 mph to Spokane once. Those were some good times.

I am making some headway though. The wife has been taking me around this week. I think I got their attention last night when I failed to start 3 times in a row. I've only had to pull that trick once before (luckily, I remembered to keep that fault code handy in the computer, so Chuck had to fork out for the 'Software Upgrade' at my last service! Hahahaha!!). I've also been spending some time on my bird calls - that has been working great! I got some pigeons to hang out with me the other day - and those guys did a real number! Their aim was perfect! Of course, our guy responded, promptly wiping up the mess and giving me the love I need (took several ounces of cleaner and three cloths to take care of it all!). I think I have been able to get my point across. Case in point - Chuck had to drive to work today, and take a meeting in Renton this afternoon - guess who got to drive! It was nice to blast down 405 - no traffic, keeping with the flow, my inline 6 letting fly with that wonderful guttural baritone I love to sing. Just like the old days.


I had to help him cart home 8 quarts of new transmission fluid. I've got a bad feeling it ain't for me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunday in the Garage

Had some great sunshine today, so I actually made my first drive in TDWD (Top Down, Windows Down) Configuration. This is how I spent my day:

9:15 - Gratuitous drive around the beach with top down. Freeze.
9:30 - Car warmed up. Get coffee at drive thru.
9:45 - Continue drive. Celebrate 1st annual Sustainable West Seattle Fair by burning some extra fossil fuel. (Before you freak out at me, I take the bus to work 15-18 times a month, so I feel like I do my part and am entitled to a little Sunday cruise every now and then...)
10:00 - Guitar lesson - work on some Ted Leo solos and the acoustic version of "Psycho Killer"
11:20 - Wrap up lesson
11:23 - Receive first in-transit vocal complement from pedestrians. Euphoria can't prevent me from nearly running over traffic circle.
11:45 - Auto parts store. Deliberately park next to new black SLK 320 with its top up. Shameful.
12:00 - Leave with gear oil and air chuck for compressor (I now have 12 auto tires, and 6 bike tires - time to make the investment).
12:15 - Arrive home - eat lunch.
12:20 - Begin interior detail
12:25 - Wife returns with kids from the park. Hide stomach ache that resulted from eating lunch in 5 minutes. Wife laughs at my collection of detail equipment and starts snapping photos.

2:00 - Interior detail done. Found 2 pens, a fuse holder (note to self - look for non-functioning electrical equipment), several candy wrappers (Nana had a sweet tooth) and Nana's keychain with the Norwegian flag. Find excuse to do another drive
2:20 - Go to hardware store. Buy 8' of 3/8" rubber tubing
2:40 - Return home. Wife is leaving with kids to go on a bike ride. They offer help when they return. I accept.
2:45 - Go through process of opening fill plug on differential - (Pull on wrench, nearly burst blood vessels in head, go to basement for bigger wrench/breaker bar, repeat 4x)
3:05 - Differential is finally draining. Discover that used gear oil is the aromatic equivalent of rotten mushrooms steeped in turpentine marinated in a dirty baby diaper.

3:25 - Wife and kids return home. I am too cheap to buy a pump, so we use aforementioned rubber tubing to fill differential. New gear oil doesn't smell much better than the old stuff. Our 5-year old is the only one with a free hand, so she takes the picture. Create your own caption.

4:00 - Car is put back together, and I take one last test drive. Differential is not making noise. I take pride in completing a successful $13 gear oil change.
4:30 - Return home, put up soft top. Just as I'm packing it in for the day, I find one more thing to have taken care of...

5:00 - Leave instructions with wife to get tire fixed. Enjoy dinner out with the family.

Friday, May 2, 2008

She's back...

All put back together. The work discussed below is done. Those were the big things to worry about, from my perspective, so I'm moving on to the simpler maintenance now. For giggles, I called the local dealer to see if they had fuel filters in stock, thinking I could pick one up on the way. They did, but for $54. On the internet, they are $19. Looks like I'll be buying a lot of parts online for this thing. However, with that, comes the risk that it will be all taken apart, and then I'll need something else to fix whatever I'm working on. So, we'll just drive it for now. Maybe I'll get to that interior detail this weekend, and order a couple of parts. On the short list:

- Fuel Filter (I'm foregoing the pump at this time, after consulting with Hot Rod Devin.)
- Transmission fluid and filter change parts
- Brake bleeder (purchase - I'll get some use out of it) and fluid change
- Spark plug check/replace (the engine felt like it was missing a little bit on the way home).

Sunny and 63 on Sunday? Let's hope so.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good (Car)ma

An update from the shop... (this gets technical, and tough to explain without a picture.)

It's a good thing we got the timing chain taken care of.

Some background - Imagine, inside the engine, there are rails that help guide the timing chain on it's happy journey around the engine, keeping everything moving and firing at exactly the right time. This happens really fast - think of the RPM gauge in your own car, how fast those parts are spinning and you get a rough idea. The main failure mode of this equipment is that the single chain stretches and/or the tensioner starts to go, so the chain beats the hell out of the rails on its rapid journey. Eventually, a rail breaks, and some piece floats around and gets caught between one of the sprockets and the chain (remember, moving very, very fast...). This can lead to an instantaneous chain break. When this happens, the best case is that the engine dies because the whole internal combustion mechanism can't happen without proper valve opening/closing. Worst case - uncontrolled detonation in the cylinders, and some valve stems are shot into the hood like little bullets. The valves that are spared this fate instead are smashed against pistons (heavier, and still moving pretty quickly) and are bent like paperclips. The car is then parked in a front yard somewhere or parted on eBay.

Now you know why I have been somewhat obsessed about this particular repair.

On this particular auto, one rail did break at some point. Luckily, the automotive gods smiled upon us, and that chunk sunk harmlessly to the bottom of the motor, deftly avoiding whirring engine parts and providing us a chance to make it all good. So, the chain and associated hardware have been fixed. Since I had it in, we're also changing the oil and filter and a couple of belts that needed to be removed anyway. I tend to think of small dollar projects that can prevent big dollar problems later on. A belt is 12 bucks - losing a power steering pump, alternator or something else on the freeway is much worse.

Additionally, the distributor cap and rotor were in pretty bad shape (what do you expect after 26 years!) so we're getting those knocked out too. Finally, when the car went on the lift the mechanic "couldn't help but notice" that the driver side bracket for the front sway bar was missing (the sway bar connects the suspension for the two front wheels and provides some stability in that area). I was starting to think that there was a little too much play in the steering and that it wasn't quite handling like I expected - that could have been the issue. We'll check it out on Friday when I get it back.

The intention of course, was to do some of this myself, and document the work here. Practicality has taken over from here, so for this time, outsourcing was the way to go. I still have a list of fun things to do, so watch this space!

Sunday, April 27, 2008


...That will be the bane of my existence when dealing with this auto. First, with a roadster as a third car, it seems necessary to only drive when it is sunny. I hate to be one of THOSE people, but getting it out in the rain for extended periods seems shameful. Second, and more importantly, we have a carport, and not a garage (for shame!). Thus, it's difficult to spend a rainy afternoon working on it, when in fact, I am not completely shielded from the elements. On the bright side, I have no immediate maintenance plans before the engine work is started on Wednesday, so I was able to take it out for a few quick errands this morning while it was nice. I do want to get an interior detail done, which would be much easier on a sunny day. Besides, it's always best to clean and condition leather when it's warm. I took it through our favorite coffee shop (it's a drive through, and they know us by cars). Of course, after years of visiting in the Highlander with kids in tow, they were rather surprised to see me drive through in this ride. Turns out, the two people working there drive Benz's as well, so it was joyful conversation.

Not much else to report. I'm hoping that the engine work won't take too long, so I can get to work on some other things. My to-do list is only getting longer. I found an instrument cluster light bulb burned out. Think sun, and think good thoughts for the repairs on Wednesday!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Movement Forward

The responses I received from the online board I posted to last night were very helpful. Most people suggested that finding someone to replace the single-row chain would be the best course of action. Wouldn't you know it, I have an appointment to bring it on Wednesday to have the work done. The plan is to replace the chain, tensioners, guide rail liners, and probably change the oil and some belts too, as they'll be removed as part of the procedure. Getting to the rails and tensioner require the removal of the alternator, power steering pump and a couple of other critical components, so I'm happy not to be doing this one for my first big repair. The covers for the rails are essentially plastic, and it has been noted that they (and the tensioner itself) get brittle over time. With extended rest time, and not having oil pumped through that part of the engine for long periods, well, I can see how they may be a bit on the crusty side.

Interestingly, many people commented on the look of the car, and how a) The color (Golden Brown, MB code 476) is pretty uncommon and b) how strangely nice it looks - Brown is generally not the color that comes to mind when thinking of classic autos, but it seems to have struck a chord with others. Once it comes back from the timing work, I'm looking forward to tackling my own to-do list, with the peace of mind that the chain issue is dealt with and that there is fresh oil in the motor.

Been spending too much time on this lately - off to veg in front of the tube.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not Much New

I did get my first professional opinion that I should upgrade the timing chain to a double row configuration. I am having a hard time seeing the cost/benefit pencil out, so I'm moving onto my second (and possibly third opinion). I also posted a message on a fairly active Benz community board which has been a great resource for me personally. Maybe someone out there will have some great advice. How did people do this before the internet?

Slightly off-topic, my conversations with friends and colleagues about this project has sparked some great discussions about automobiles, especially our early ones, and their place in our lives. Some view them as utilitarian machines, getting us to and fro. Others I have found seem to have a genuine love for their early machines. Over the last couple of weeks, I've enjoyed discussions with those with strangely fond admiration for, among others, a '66 Karmann-Ghia, a mid-60's Triumph, and my personal favorite, a 1960 Ford F-100 named Blue, which sadly threw a rod on 520 a couple of weeks ago. There are more, like my friend Devin's absolutely insane 1969 Charger, which will eventually get a post all it's own (he may know something about timing chains too, and for a fifth of Maker's Mark, I may be able to con him into helping me over a Saturday). My own passion was sparked the first time I saw a 325i up close (the E30 designation, in 1986 or '87) at a local shopping mall where I grew up. I had to have that car, and was finally able to get one of my own in 2001. Most people I have run into seem to have a fairly black and white view of their cars - either the practical view, or the slightly nutty and bizarre emotional connection to a machine that can provide us our freedom, if only for a short Sunday cruise or over an epic road trip. The associations are powerful too - I remember my good friend in High school had a fleet of neat vehicles we would use for double-dating, including a '57 Chevy Bel-Air, and a 1969 Toyota Land Cruiser with a Chevy 283, camouflage paint and a bumper sticker that said ' I Eat My Road Kill.' The topper, of course was his '74 Toyota Corolla which we managed to kill for good, the same night I had my first real date and first real kiss. Had to walk home after the engine seized, but I didn't care. Ahhhh..... Memories.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Empty Space

Took the car to the shop today. The timing chain issue still has me bothered and I wold really like to get it taken care of without an overwhelming expense. The shop confirmed that it is a single row chain and I don't know that they're too keen on replacing it and leaving it a single as I have requested (see previous posts about this issue). The good news is that I actually got to drive it out of West Seattle today, and up over the viaduct. I actually got the thing to around 60 mph, and the drive is real smooth. There are some real soft springs there, so it feels a bit like an old Buick or some other land yacht twice its length. I'm starting to get a real appreciation for the roadster feel as well - heavy car, a torque-laden (relatively speaking) V8, supple suspension, smooth tranny - a real cruiser. It will take a little getting used to geometrically. With the long hood and short rear deck, I think the driver sits about halfway between the front and rear axle. Getting in and out of parking spaces takes a slight adjustment in knowing the four corners. Anyway, the garage is 1/2 empty, and of course, there is a little reminder of the missing roadster - kinda like a dog that messes the rug when you leave the house.

On the plus side, I did get my first real complement on the car today. I was sharing the courtesy shuttle, from the shop back to my office with two other riders. One of my co-riders made mention of the car, and how it looked to be in such great shape. She was wearing a long brown fleece overcoat and thought it would match it well.

Will keep posted on the shop's prognosis. Think sun!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hail, Yes!

Got the bug a bit today. It wasn't pouring down raining and the sun was doing its best to push the clouds aside. Seven consecutive months of rain will make you do strange things, like take a freshly detailed classic convertible out from under a cover, and drive it to the gym. Sure enough, a few blocks from my house, it sprinkled. Sprinkles gave way to sleet, then tiny bits of hail. Luckily, it wasn't the golf-ball or grapefruit sized nuggets you see every now and then in Texas, but hail nonetheless. I Returned home unscathed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Quick Updates

It has been a busy week already with work, and it will not let up till the weekend, so not much physical work with the car is happening. I do have a couple items to post as updates, however. I received the M-B factory service manual on CD yesterday. I spent way too much time looking at it after the kids went to sleep. Complete, yet daunting in complexity. I'd also like to get an interior detail done (should be a quick job - it looks great already!), but family travel and other obligations may keep me from that for the immediate future. Ironically, it is supposed to be rainy and cold for the next several days, which buys me some time to get some real maintenance in before the sunshine arrives full time for Summer, however long that may be this year.

I was able to get a service appointment on Tuesday with an independent shop to have a look-see at the timing chain and related engine maintenance. I fear the end result, but it hasn't been easy to find anyone too excited to work on this car (aren't we in an economic slowdown or something? Shouldn't it be easier to find a good luxury auto mechanic at reasonable rates? - but I digress -), and I'm glad to be moving forward with some of the bigger issues.

I looked back at the to-do list, and there are some things to update there too. I think the A/C is working just fine. It hasn't been hot enough to put it to the test, but it did feel cold last time I cranked it up. Also, the oil pressure gauge, according to my research, is usually maxed out during normal operation. It does drop slightly when idling, but that's one less thing to troubleshoot. However, there is a fairly loud whine from the rear of the car when it starts up. Even when the car isn't moving, just at idle, it's there. That rules out differential and drive shaft, so I think it's probably the fuel pump that needs some attention. It's pretty accessible though, and the replacement procedure in the manual is clear. Maybe I should just focus on getting the radio fixed and these pesky noises will just go away. My BMW doesn't seem to make random noises, but maybe it does and I just don't know it because I'm always rockin' out...

Unrelated to the car, I am intentionally omitting mention of specific shops, products, or other resources I use for the project. I know it goes against Google's idea of leveraging the 'user-generated content to drive ad revenue model', but I'm not ready to give anyone a free ride yet. Plus, if something goes south, I would rather complain in anonymity than shout out their name and invite trouble. I'm all for free speech, but I got work to do, and if I got a reputation as a chronic complainer, it just wouldn't help the cause. That said, if you are interested in finding out what or who I use for a particular project ('Wow! Is that Carnuba Wax?'), comment the post, leave an email and I'll get back to you directly.