How I Got My Mercedes-Benz To Level Ultra-Dead

Image for article titled Project 190E: I Done Killed My Mercedes-Benz Good And Dead, Again

Photo: Lalita Chemello

The whole thing is a blur. I vaguely remember grabbing the key from our kitchen. Suddenly I was in the driver’s seat, looking through the windshield at my husband in a panic when I realized things had gone perma-black. There was no light left in my beloved 1989 Mercedes “Baby Benz”. She was now really dead, and the trail of evidence was leading to me.

But before I could wash the grease from my hands, I decided to retrace my steps in the hope that I could figure out how I ensured her further demise — or if it was just an act of the gods. Hopefully, just maybe, I could make things right and put this all behind us.

At this very hour, I’m not actually sure that the Mercedes is beyond repair, but after Sunday, she is at a new level of dead. If we could categorize the levels of a dead vehicle, like you would our Homeland Security Advisory System chart, the Mercedes’ stands at an orange. It may not be the end, but there’s going to be some work to ensure we do not elevate our situation to red.

When I actually retrace my steps… this all appears to begin just a few weeks after my last update on the Mercedes. My husband called me into the garage late one evening on the premise that “I would want to see this.” Oh boy.

The Mercedes, in a move I guess to act out for attention, started to make this awful grinding noise. Hoping it was a relay malfunctioning and not a rabid animal, I grabbed something to swing at whatever might be living in there.

I was relieved to not find an animal underneath the hood, verifying the noise was in fact, the relay, specifically the washer relay (a big sucker tucked up under the dash). I disconnected the battery to stop the noise and prevent any further damage. Within the month, we purchased a battery tender to keep it at a healthy charge while everything sat.

(I’d like to add that at one point, I did have a video of this phenomenon, but could not find it.)

Fast-forward to this weekend, where Michigan decided to grace us with both snow and 60-degree weather and I could finally get back into the garage to work. Manual in-hand, I set up shop to look over everything. I also figured with a fully-charged battery, I might even try to start it — thinking maybe, just maybe, it would start right up. How naive of me.

Instead, turning the key to just the on position, I heard most all of the obnoxious Mercedes startup sounds (and a lack of the fuel pump). Cranking the key led to a thunk and everything going black. Another attempt ended the same way. The third and fourth attempts? No noise. No lights. Nothing. The Baby Benz was now ultra dead.

Remembering the relay issue from weeks ago, I decided to start there. The smaller relays, as well as all of the fuses I had replaced, looked alright. After 20 minutes of trying to find the fuel pump relay (which in the ‘89 Mercedes 190E is behind a secret panel near the battery and on the firewall), and another 25 minutes trying to pull it out, I found that both relays had seen better days. An even larger relay, charged with things like the wiper motor and lights, was also worse for wear.

Because I’m at a point where I need to narrow in on the electrical issue, my work stopped there. I ordered some $200+ of new relays, and treated myself to new lenses for my headlights, since they’re still sporting the masking tape look.

The plan is to reinstall the old relays (if/when they arrive) after my return from the auto show in New York this week, then move to reconnect the battery to ensure that also is not the issue. From there, I’ll start swapping new relays in and hopefully mend just one of the many electrical issues that car has. Eliminating the battery/relays issue will help me move onto the next, which I still feel like I will be looking at a fuel pump or shift cable issue.

Oh. And I can’t forget the mystery cable connection. Gonna have to look into that one.

This weekend’s couple of hours of tooling in the garage were beyond frustrating, but also incredibly gratifying. I am likely in over my head, but I like the idea of solving this large, expensive puzzle. Will I figure out the problem? Eventually. Am I’m preparing myself to accept there’s even a chance the engine is toast? 100 percent. But I can’t find out unless I give it a try. I get why people put themselves through the pain and suffering — because each little discovery/fix is a monumental win.

One last thing while I’m here: I had one hell of a time tracking down parts for the Merc. My Eurocar people, I have to ask, what are some of your go-to places/sites for older import/foreign auto parts? If you’ve got some suggestions, throw ‘em in the comments. I also want to hear about what projects you’re tackling or struggling with in the garage this spring season. Let’s commiserate together.

Happy wrenching!

Katherine T. Burrows

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