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Scrubworks Fleet: 1990 Mercedes 190D


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This car was sourced with the help of the ASDA (AutoShite Detective Agency), particular thanks to tommotech for putting me in touch with the previous owner.

There's a lot of talk in the car industry these days about sustainability, and it got me thinking, what is a classic car that one could run more or less indefinitely, preferably with minimal cost to the environment? My 1988 Corolla seemed like an obvious answer. Built to last, easy to maintain, cheap to run. But, it uses a petrol engine. In the distant, but sadly inevitable future when the average person is driving an electric car, will I still be able to get fuel for it? Will the petrol stations have all disappeared? Who knows. Of course, there are ways, but ease of availability of fuel is the only realistic way to use a classic car daily in the long term.

Now, I should say at this point that I'm not really a fan of German cars, I despise automatic gearboxes, and I simply can't stand diesel engines.
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This is a Mercedes 190D, with a 2.5 litre, 5-cylinder OM602 diesel engine, and an automatic gearbox. Funny how circumstances can affect our principles. In truth, I've always wanted an old Merc, the W123 and W201 chassis being my favourites. As much as I hate to admit it, the build quality of these pre-Chrysler era cars is top notch, second only to the likes of Rolls and Bentley. They are legendarily rugged and long-lived. The diesel-engined models, in particular, are known for clocking up galactic mileages that few, besides old Volvos, can rival. The automatic gearboxes have similar reputations, often outliving the rest of the car, hence my decision to choose one of those over the 5-speed manual. The lack of a clutch to change is also nice. As for fuel, those diesel engines, because of the comparatively crude injection systems and emissions regulations of the time, can be run on straight vegetable oil. That is what clinches it for me. No matter what happens to petrol stations in the future, people are always going to want fried food. The fact that I can get veg oil for 75p a litre at Costco is a definite bonus.

So, you have a car that is built to last, is extremely durable, and can be run on an indefinitely available, completely renewable fuel. For my money, that makes it one of the most sustainable cars ever made.

Right, onto the car itself. It came to me with 128,000 miles, no MOT, a nose-down stance, some slightly scabby panels, and some very scabby AMG monoblock alloy wheels.

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The wheels are not to my taste; maybe on a more sporty  190E they'd work, but they don't fit the aesthetic I have in mind, so will be sold. I'm replacing them with a set of original 15 inch steelies, complete with the lovely moondisc hubcaps that 80s Mercs often sport. Another benefit of this is that the original tyre size, 185/65R15, is apparently still a popular one, as there is a vast selection of decent tyres available in that size, rather than the half dozen or so ditchfinders you often have to make do with in more obscure sizes. This is so important, as the ride of an older luxury car can often be ruined by a set of crap tyres, like the Landsails the AMG wheels are wearing.

The nose-down stance I have yet to investigate, but my friend SKCat thinks it may be because the front springs, which were replaced last year, are actually ones from a 4-cylinder 190E, and are too soft to take the weight of the heavier OM602. He's probably right, but we'll see.

The scabby panels amount to a couple of patches on the driver's door and bootlid, and the usual wheel arch rust you see on cars this age. All should be simple to deal with, as long as they're done soon and not allowed to spread. There is some more serious rust in the front right corner of the engine bay, but I'll get onto that later.

The MOT was done on the day of purchase. I was over an hour late due to traffic. The tester was not happy. In return, he gave me a nice little list of advisories to work through:

  • Nearside rear tyre worn close to legal limit - No bother, changing all four.
  • Offside front brake pipe corroded, covered in grease - I'll look into that.
  • Play in steering rack inner joints - Oh joy.
  • Nearside front wheel bearing slightly noisy - Easy enough.
  • Front brake discs worn, pitted or scored, but not seriously weakened - Ditto.
  • Oil leak, but not excessive - I'll keep an eye out, but probably won't go actively searching for the culprit.

Other issues? Well, the glow plug light remains lit for a while after the engine has been started, which apparently indicates that one of the plugs is on the way out. That said, it starts from cold beautifully, so I'll leave it for now. There are also some electrical gremlins that are probably being caused by a bad earth or some dead fuses. When you indicate right with the headlights on, the wiper turns on as well. When you turn the rear fog light on, the rear right indicator lights up solid instead. The seatbelt warning light sometimes refuses to turn off, even with the ignition off and the key out. Fortunately it does turn off when you buckle up.

Besides that, the car works very well. The engine runs like a top, pulls nicely and has very little smoke. The gearbox shifts properly, though sometimes a bit suddenly, which I'm hoping a fluid and filter change will help. The brakes are strong, the steering is good, and despite the funny stance and awful tyres, it rides pretty well. The interior is also in excellent condition, though I would love it to have the MBTex vinyl seats. I have to admit, the constant reminder that the gunsight on the bonnet gives you that you're driving a *proper* Mercedes is very cool. It also gives you an intolerable air of smugness when you find yourself driving behind a lowered, stickered-out VW Transporter. Despite his efforts, you are still cooler.

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2 minutes ago, Scrubworks said:

There are also some electrical gremlins that are probably being caused by a bad earth or some dead fuses.

I think these use "continental" fuses which are notorious for getting cruddy and corroded on the end contacts.

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The first thing I did after getting home from the MOT was drop the oil. It was absolutely feral, as I've come to expect from diesels. It was also, according to the most recent service receipt I have, the wrong grade; 5W30, not the 10/15W40 this engine requires. I dumped in a load of excess 10W40 I had left over from past oil changes. This should help flush out extra filth when I do the proper oil change later. Talking of which, I also placed a huge order with Autodoc for every filter this car has, including the gearbox filter, PAS filter (never seen one of those before), and a load of Febi Bilstein PAS fluid and ATF, as recommended by Kent Bergsma of Mercedessource, who I've learned is the patron saint of old Merc drivers. For the engine, I'll be using Fuchs 10W40, fully synthetic. I also bought a litre can of Liqui Moly Diesel Purge, which is pretty much a necessity on these engines every once in a while. The purge should hopefully solve the excessive clickety-clackety of the injectors when cold (and sometimes when hot, the noise comes and goes seemingly at random).

Since I now have to wait for my parts to arrive from the Fatherland, I decided to clean the engine bay the other day. 
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A vast improvement. I always enjoy doing this on a newly-acquired car, especially as it's surprisingly easy. Autoglym Engine Degreaser, some pound shop paintbrushes, a hosepipe, then afterwards a spray of vinyl & rubber cleaner, then just let it dry, and buff off the excess.

Following that, yesterday I journeyed out to Hubnut country, Caerphilly to be exact, to pick these up:

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Factory steelies for a 190. These were surprisingly scarce on eBay, and most were actually the wrong size. Apparently the W124 and W126 use the same size wheel, but half an inch wider. This chap in Wales seemed to be the only one with a full set of 6J wheels from a 190. He'd swapped to alloys and thus these were no longer needed. Why two of them have tyres and the other two not I don't know. They are very nice and straight, but 30 odd years of use has taken its toll on the paint. A basic respray to the faces of the wheel will need to be done; nothing fancy, they will mostly be hidden by the hubcaps.

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3 minutes ago, 3VOM said:

I think these use "continental" fuses which are notorious for getting cruddy and corroded on the end contacts.

Yes, you're right. My Volvo 240 also used them, did have one or two issues I seem to remember. 

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Check lower ball joints. They seize up and then snap when your driving, allowing the wheel to tuck back up into the wheelarch. At low speed it leaves you stranded. At high speed it will put the car on its roof.

As mentioned they use continental bullet fuses and these are often the cause of strange electrical maladies. Giving them a wiggle can cure a malfunctioning circuit.

Remove the restrictive pipe at the front of the air intake pipe for a few extra ponies. Dont know what its function was supposed to be, but it just restricts air going in.

If running on vegoil, bypass the fuel thermostat. It lives under the airbox and is very easy to do. It sends the fuel inside the block to warm it up quickly. The thermostat then shuts to send it directly to the filter.

When bypassed it goes through the block all the time so is preheated when it arrives at the filter.

Use a big inline "rockcatcher" filter where the fuel lines come up into the engine bay from the tank, although if your using new vegoil you should be ok without this.

Buy some sock filters and experiment with WVO. Its free motoring and makes your wallet very thankful.

 

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2 hours ago, Bradders59 said:

Check lower ball joints. They seize up and then snap when your driving, allowing the wheel to tuck back up into the wheelarch. At low speed it leaves you stranded. At high speed it will put the car on its roof.

As mentioned they use continental bullet fuses and these are often the cause of strange electrical maladies. Giving them a wiggle can cure a malfunctioning circuit.

Remove the restrictive pipe at the front of the air intake pipe for a few extra ponies. Dont know what its function was supposed to be, but it just restricts air going in.

If running on vegoil, bypass the fuel thermostat. It lives under the airbox and is very easy to do. It sends the fuel inside the block to warm it up quickly. The thermostat then shuts to send it directly to the filter.

When bypassed it goes through the block all the time so is preheated when it arrives at the filter.

Use a big inline "rockcatcher" filter where the fuel lines come up into the engine bay from the tank, although if your using new vegoil you should be ok without this.

Buy some sock filters and experiment with WVO. Its free motoring and makes your wallet very thankful.

 

That's all excellent advice. Ball-joints should be ok, didn't come up at the MOT and no noises when driving, but I will inspect them when doing the front discs and such.

At this point I'm sort of resolved to replacing all the fuses as a service item. There's also those bladed fuse holders in the engine bay just above the driver's side chassis rail that could probably do with a closer look.

I don't have any plans to run WVO at the moment, I just don't have the time to go around collecting the stuff and set up the equipment to filter it, though that may change in the future. I have a Costco almost on my doorstep and can load up with fresh oil cheaply on a daily basis. I'm also reducing the service interval on the fuel filters. They're so easy to change it just makes sense to.

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Most testers don't know how to check these ball joints  correctly, please check them just for piece of mind.. jack the wheel up under the lower wishbone, then get a lever ( I use a shovel...) under the tyre and lift. Any upward movement between the hub and Lowe wishbone, get them changed. If you check them in a normal manner, or worse still on a one man test lane, you can believe they are perfect. Hopefully your mot man is old skool

 

Also, I wouldn't put fully synthetic oil anywhere near my old Mercs.. firstly no need , secondly the cost, and last.. it tends to eat it..  Good quality 15/40 semi all day long..

 

..

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59 minutes ago, twosmoke300 said:

Ref the mot advisory on rack inner joints - do these have a rack ? Something in my mind says they are still steering box but I may be getting muddled with the vx omega 

Steering box, certainly on the two petrol cars I've had and can't think that they'd be any different for DERV.

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17 hours ago, Scrubworks said:

...

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Factory steelies for a 190. .....They are very nice and straight, but 30 odd years of use has taken its toll on the paint. A basic respray to the faces of the wheel will need to be done; nothing fancy, they will mostly be hidden by the hubcaps.

These would look alright if sprayed silver. Instead of having full standard wheel covers, are simple plastic caps available just to cover the stub axle ends, leaving the wheel nuts exposed?

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Lovely! I'm a great fan of these cars, I ended up having six of them! Albeit all petrol engined. Scabs on the body don't look too serious, even looks like that o/s/f wing should be saveable. At the right ride height with original steelies and trims, it'll look great.

Bonus points for a Middlesbrough reg too!

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35 minutes ago, Tadhg Tiogar said:

These would look alright if sprayed silver. Instead of having full standard wheel covers, are simple plastic caps available just to cover the stub axle ends, leaving the wheel nuts exposed?

When I had 190s, I always wondered if these caps from the old shape Sprinters would go, as they would be the same stud pattern. I always thought they'd look alright on silver steelies.

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2 hours ago, Tadhg Tiogar said:

These would look alright if sprayed silver. Instead of having full standard wheel covers, are simple plastic caps available just to cover the stub axle ends, leaving the wheel nuts exposed?

Too late, I've already bought a set of moondiscs and am in the process of spray the wheels black :P. I prefer that look anyway, and it's what the car would have left the factory with.

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What a machine!  You’re a man of impeccable taste 😉

Re the gearbox and its occasional rough shift...  There’s a little spring / widget that can be replaced inside the box that will restore shifts up and down the box to the factory standard aka imperceptible!  Mine has done a good few more miles than yours, has had this mod, and I can’t feel it shift gears at all!  Do this when the sump is off for the oil change.  You can drain the torque converter too to do a proper job.

Engine oil.  I run mine on 5w40 fully synthetic.  Oil consumption is zero.  I’ve never had to add a drop between changes.  You’ll see it build oil pressure from cold much faster with 5w40.  Important when you have a timing chain...

Note there are two oil change intervals, dependent on intended use.  The owners manual gives them in kms but converted to miles:

Predominantly short journeys - 3,750 miles

Predominantly long journeys - 6,250 miles

I have always used Mann filters in my own as they seem to be good quality and readily available.

Get some Bilt Hamber inside all box sections and pay attention to the rear subframe mounts.

If it’s a year round proposition, I can recommend Michelin Cross Climate.  They’re relatively affordable in the factory 185/65 R15. It’ll drive nicely and they’ll last at least 30,000 miles.

Looking forward to seeing this progress!

 

 

 

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7 hours ago, AndyW201 said:

When I had 190s, I always wondered if these caps from the old shape Sprinters would go, as they would be the same stud pattern. I always thought they'd look alright on silver steelies.

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Must be worth a go.

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6 hours ago, MJK 24 said:

What a machine!  You’re a man of impeccable taste 😉

Re the gearbox and its occasional rough shift...  There’s a little spring / widget that can be replaced inside the box that will restore shifts up and down the box to the factory standard aka imperceptible!  Mine has done a good few more miles than yours, has had this mod, and I can’t feel it shift gears at all!  Do this when the sump is off for the oil change.  You can drain the torque converter too to do a proper job.

Engine oil.  I run mine on 5w40 fully synthetic.  Oil consumption is zero.  I’ve never had to add a drop between changes.  You’ll see it build oil pressure from cold much faster with 5w40.  Important when you have a timing chain...

Note there are two oil change intervals, dependent on intended use.  The owners manual gives them in kms but converted to miles:

Predominantly short journeys - 3,750 miles

Predominantly long journeys - 6,250 miles

I have always used Mann filters in my own as they seem to be good quality and readily available.

Get some Bilt Hamber inside all box sections and pay attention to the rear subframe mounts.

If it’s a year round proposition, I can recommend Michelin Cross Climate.  They’re relatively affordable in the factory 185/65 R15. It’ll drive nicely and they’ll last at least 30,000 miles.

Looking forward to seeing this progress!

 

 

 

I had already bought the oil before even starting this thread, so will use it and see how I get on. My research on the subject, as is often the case, brings up conflicting opinions. I'll just have to see what happens with my own engine. It does sound strange that the engine would consume synthetic oil, surely then it would consume a lot of part synthetic as well?

Can you link me to the spring/widget? Sounds like just the ticket.

I'm with you on Mann. All the filters I ordered were from them. Hengst, Meyle, Mahle and SWAG also tend to be good for Euro cars. The filters on it are a mix between Mann, Mahle and Bosch, which is a good sign.

As for the Cross Climates, I've never used them, but I'm not a fan of all season tyres in general, I found them noisy and a bit numb in feel. I know tyre tech moves on quickly, but I'm gonna go with my gut and get Goodyear Efficientgrip Performance 2s, they're an excellent tyre, and last at least as long as comparable Michelins (Primacy 4 etc).

Oh yeah, woman of impeccable taste, actually ;)

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Cross Climates do make a little noise so perhaps scratch them from your list!

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There’s the bill for the gearbox service and replacement of the Spring / Plunger as it’s called.

Could it be this? :

https://mercedessource.com/store/search?keys=modulator
 

Video below describes the symptoms I had on my old W124 230E that are absent from my much higher mileage 190D:

 

 

 

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Had 2 190D's. A 2.5 auto and a 2.0 manual. Far preferred the 2.0. Just such a relaxing car and couldn't be hurried, so the world just slowed down to suit. Often thought of buying another w124 , preferably a 200d manual, in white, pre sacco board base spec on wheeltrims and it being my car for life.

Sadly, most around here are tatty, have been slammed to the ground,  have 3/4s of an 80s body kit and badly kerbed fake AMG alloys. 😔

I do have first dibs, however, on an 87, smoke silver base spec 190e 2.6.  Shame by the time it may be possible to buy, I won't be able to afford it!

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My Autodoc parcel of filters and fluids arrived on Saturday, so on Sunday SKCat came round in his Buick land barge and we set to it. Changed the oil, filter, air filter, PAS filter, PAS fluid, and both fuel filters. It took longer than necessary because Cat insisted on grabbing my tube of Autosol and polishing the filter lids for both the oil filter and the PAS pump. We also performed a diesel purge, with the aim of quietening the injectors. This was pretty successful; the noise is not gone, but is 95% reduced. It can now only really be heard with the bonnet open at idle, as opposed to before, when it could be heard from the next county. As you're supposed to run the engine at various different speeds during the purge, this also had the effect of infuriating two of my neighbours. There's something oddly serene about watching two people shout and wave their arms at you while you're wearing big ear-defenders, and have a 5-cylinder diesel humming along at 3000 rpm right next to you.

I also set to smartening up the steelies I brought back from Wales. I brushed back the face of one of them with a wire brush wheel on an angle-grinder, prepped it, primed it, wet sanded it, hit it with two coats of satin black, then finally two coats of polyurethane lacquer, and let it dry overnight.

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I pretty decent result, I think. I would prefer the finish to be slightly less glossy, and the paint surface is not amazingly smooth, but plenty good enough for my purposes. I can thoroughly recommend the PU lacquer though. It forms an almost gel-like surface and is extremely tough, and far more flexible than normal lacquer. I've used it in the past to paint brake calipers and it's the business. Brake dust basically just wipes off it.

We would have changed the ATF and trans filter, but we had to go and look at a W123 diesel that SKCat wanted to see. He ended up not buying it (boooooo). ATF change and other three wheels being painted will happen shortly.

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Decided to give the front suspension an inspection this evening. I also took the opportunity to jet wash off the years of caked-on dirt from the wheel arches. The metal underneath is in excellent condition.
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The only service history I got with the car are some bills going back to 2017. It indicates that within the last two years, this car had new front dampers, damper top mounts, brake calipers, pads, and wishbones, though it doesn't say whether front or rear wishbones. I would guess front though, as besides a bit of grime and a couple of small rust spots, they look fairly recent. Bodes well for the front ball-joints. The new KYB dampers are present, as are the rebuilt calipers, still genuine Mercedes ones which is nice. The still almost-new Pagid pads will have to go in the bin though, as the discs, as indicated on the MOT, are fairly worn and have a lip. They should have replaced the discs last year along with the pads really.

What instantly drew my eye though were those front springs. They should be black, not red. Red is the usual colour of lowering springs, which makes sense if you know the car's history. This car, at some point in the past, had HID headlights fitted. These have since been disabled and proper headlight bulbs reinstalled after failing an MOT, but parts of the system remain. I suspect that the front lowering springs and the HIDs were fitted by the same, probably quite thick person. I suspect they're also responsible for the AMG alloys; this all predates my service history. The rear springs are a lot older and appear to be standard ones. For me, this answers why the car has the nose-down stance. I'll be ordering a set of standard OM602 spec front springs to replace them; KYB brand, to match the new dampers.

As for the "steering rack" inner track rods, I gave them a decent push and shove, and there is a little bit of play, so a new set of rods and rod ends will be ordered for both sides. At least, because it's actually a steering box system, they'll be easy to change.

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On 8/16/2021 at 1:20 AM, Barry Cade said:

Often thought of buying another w124 , preferably a 200d manual, in white, pre sacco board base spec on wheeltrims and it being my car for life.

 

Only feasible if you could live with LHD or some obscure import as Mercedes did not sell 200Ds in the UK. The smallest dizzler W124 in the UK was the 250D.

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6 hours ago, Peter C said:

Only feasible if you could live with LHD or some obscure import as Mercedes did not sell 200Ds in the UK. The smallest dizzler W124 in the UK was the 250D.

Yeah, I know. Lhd is normal to me now but brexit has made importing stuff a whole lot more difficult. My uncle bought a brand new white 200D in 1986 ( I still have the German brochures) and it made a big impression on me. It was either the Merc, or a Scorpio shape Granada, to replace his better than new 1976 Granada 2.0L. He'd been a Ford man all his life every 10 years, the Granada replaced a Taunus. Had an identical 200, but not quite the same..

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On 8/16/2021 at 1:20 AM, Barry Cade said:

Often thought of buying another w124 , preferably a 200d manual, in white, pre sacco board base spec on wheeltrims and it being my car for life.

I too prefer the pre-sacco plank versions. One of my long term projects with this 190 is to remove the planks and reinstall the early door trims. Fortunately being a 1990 model it still has the 80s interior. There is a really lovely LHD Spanish import A-reg 190D on eBay right now, but the sellers want 7 grand which is a bit of a pisstake.

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Well, a mixed day today. A win, and a bit of a fail achieved.

My new KYB front springs arrived, so I thought today I'd do the tedious struggle of swapping them into the car. When I got round to the driver's side, I had a poke at the big rust hole, and saw this:
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See that dangling gather of wires with a bolt going through? That should clearly be attached to an earth point? That turned out to be the source of my electrical gremlins.
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Ran it an extended earth connection up to a damper top mount bolt, and everything was hunky-dory. I knew this problem would be caused by a bad earth; you can't get a much worse earth than physically not existing anymore. Oh yeah, there's a big rust hole under the driver's side headlight. Meh. Shouldn't be too hard to fix, just pop off the headlight, indicator, wing, washer bottle, and bumper, and rebuild it all. Fortunately the passenger side is in perfect condition, so I have a template to work from. It seems the excellent Mercedes rust-proofing actually contributed to the rot here. The water got behind it and became trapped. I had to peel it back a couple of inches to find the edge of good metal.

Now for the day's fail. The new springs seem to have done fuck all for the front ride height. Here's the stance after a lap round the block with the new KYBs:
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Still too low at the front. It is a tad better than it used to be, but overnight the springs will no doubt settle, and it'll be the same as before. I suspected this might be the case, as I found the "lowering springs" I took off were the same length as the new ones. Welp. I may have to fit some thicker spring hats after all; they are available in up to 23mm thick. Only £13 for a new pair, but the idea of getting the springs out again fills me with apathy. Ugh.

One step forward, one step.... sideways?

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