As it stands today we have a little fleet of 3 vehicles:
1. 2003 Ford Ranger XLT: The only gasser in the fleet the Ranger provides 4wd and hauling capacity. What it lacks in size it makes up for in offroad prowess courtesy of a limited slip rear differential. Unfortunately the Ranger had sat at some point before we got it (in 2008) and suffers badly from under carriage rust. Lately rust is bubbling the paint under the passenger side rear door.
2. 1984 Mercedes-Benz 190D: I don't think I've written, or at least written much about my addiction to old diesel Mercedes. This one I scored for $250 because it had a "broken timing chain" which turned out to not be broken at all. The timing chain cover was broken and my friend Fred had a replacement. Sadly this car had been poorly maintained and has required rather a lot of work to sort out. On the plus side its still just under 200,000 miles and starts nearly like a gas car.
3. 1978 Mercedes-Benz 240D: My friend Dwight sold me this old solder when my '83 240D met an untimely end due to a ruptured oil cooler line. I've had it since 2010 and put about 35,000 miles on with relatively little trouble until just before Christmas 2012. In fact it was that incident I wanted to talk about.
We were heading to Maine to see my parents, on rt 495 heading north at about 75mph when I smelled something funny, a glance at the gauges showed the temp gauge absolutely pegged, I went from the left lane to the right and got us stopped fortunately just beyond a rest stop which we were able to roll backwards into. An inspection showed a hose clamp on the lower radiator hose had sheered and broken allowing the hose to fall off and the coolant to fall out. I was lucky enough to have a zip tie in the car along with a couple gallons of water and astonishingly we were able to drive back home...
A couple days later I played around with the car and amazingly it seemed to run pretty well. It clattered like crazy on startup but that noise went away after a minute or so. I changed the oil and kept on driving it. Fast forward 5,000 miles until last Tuesday. I was on my way to work and smelled coolant. I was in heavy traffic and the temp gauge was starting to climb. I flipped on the heat full blast and fortunately as the traffic broke up the temp went back down. At lunch I managed to get a quart of coolant into the radiator. On the way home, again in heavy traffic it heated up again. This time I got most of a gallon of coolant in. The next day the problem became clear. I can pour in all the coolant I want but something pushes it back out again. That something is exhaust gasses passing from the cylinder to the water jacket through a failed head gasket almost certainly caused by a massive overheat. I'd left the radiator cap loose as I was worried that putting pressure in the system would cause this but I guess it was just a matter of time.
Angie quickly decided it was time for a new car but has balked at what new cars cost (more on that next time) and frankly I'm not real excited about a big car payment. I put out a note on the OkieBenz email list about the issue and suggested that if my friends pushed me I'd probably do the head gasket but if I had to pay somebody to do it the cost would quickly run up to the value of the car. As I expected my friends responded that I should do it and they would help.
This my friends is a big step into mechanic-dom which I've never made before, the head gasket is under the head which is connected to the engine by not only the bolts but also the timing chain. Breaking the timing chain (which you have to do to take the head off) is a big deal and I'm scared of it. Get it back together right and everything is good, do it poorly and the valves meet the pistons and the whole engine is junk. Currently I'm tentatively planning the job for May 11, probably going to order parts tomorrow. If worse comes to worst I'll haul the car and the parts to my mechanic for installation but considering the low value of the car I'd like to be able to do it myself to hold down costs...