Friday, January 15, 2010

Less and less standard

It's a lot of fun and games to keep an old car on the road. My 81 Mercedes Benz 240D (diesel) won't win any prizes for best in show. It's reached that getting pretty funky point in its life. Okay, maybe it's best to say it's at the zombie point -been resurrected from the dead.

Not sure exactly how many miles on it. The instrument cluster's been changed a couple of times. The odometer reading is nothing but a lie. Best I can figure is that the car has something around a half million miles on it. No kidding or exaggeration.

Some guys are car guys; they've got it in their blood. That's not me. I like being able to fix cars, but I like being about to fix all kinds of stuff. Car guys live and breath cars. Fixing cars is a form of recreation for them. One of my friends actually sold a car because it never broke down. He was bored. I would not have sold that car. In spite of not being a car guy, I work on my own vehicles a lot more than I'd like. That's what you do when you've rather do something yourself than try and earn the money to pay someone to fix it.

The big thing with this car is the bullet proof diesel engine. Eight years ago the car was purchased for conversion to waste vegetable oil. With a lot of trial and error, research on the Internet, and picking the brain of a really good and patient car mechanic, the veggie conversion was a success. For the past eight years it's saved me about 95% of my fuel costs. When you have a car that's so cheap to run, you keep it on the road.

There's only one mechanic that I'll take the car to. He's seen the vehicle change over the years. When the automatic glow plug switch went, he put in a manual one under the dash. The ignition failed and no original equipment was available. We put in a universal ignition, but those only turn off the electrical part of the car. To actually turn off the car I put in a brass needle valve in the vacuum line. That has to be opened to shut the engine off.

It's got some other weird things. In addition to the regular engine oil filter, it has an addition spin on oil filter mean to for a Ford. Engine oil lasts longer if it's kept cleaner.

Now the vacuum pump is starting to fail. The vacuum operated locks no longer work, the brakes need a bit more foot pressure, and the shut off no longer works. My quick and dirty fix for the shut off was a 4 foot piece of vacuum hose run from the shut off valve on the engine to inside the car. To shut the car off I can suck on the hose, which operates the valve, shutting off the engine. Weird, I know. Hey, it's temporary.

Since the vacuum pump is necessary for the brakes to work right, it'll have to be fixed. Replacing a vacuum pump is expensive. Even just rebuilding one is a time consuming job. Believe me, that's something I don't want to do outside in the cold, and I don't have a garage. There is the possibility that I could hook up an electric vacuum pump like what's used in electric vehicle conversions. I might have a lead on a salvaged unit.

The point of all this is that when times get tight, you do what you have to do. It's no longer a matter of just changing parts. I used to be a cook book mechanic. A part was bad, I'd get the manuals out, follow the directions, and change the part. Now I have to think in terms of systems. What does the part actually do? Are there work arounds?

My inspiration comes from Cuba. The island is full of old American cars from the 50's. They've been unable to get replacement parts due to the trade embargo. They done things like make their own parts, or adapt Russian parts to do the job.


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