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Classic car---do i use a dealer for repairs or a foreign car guy?

i am not a car gal. but i do own a 1981 mercedes 380 SLC…a beautiful car in great condition with about 12K miles, and still has the original toolbox in the trunk.

anyway, it has a slow leak somewhere in the coolant system that needs repair. Has been there a while but since i only drive this in the summers for 200 miles, i haven’t gotten this fixed.

I can just take it to the local mercedes dealer who has estimated about 1500$ to fix–or go to some foreign car guy—I don’t know any…i am in lower michigan…

so what do you think?

First you need coolant in the summer and the winter…second what was the 1500 estimate for? it is more lucrative to replace parts than repair…certainly get a second opinion.

If you can find a Mercedes specialist, do it. Your car would tickle the imagination of a true lover of the cars, and your problem could be a very small issue requiring a small adjustment or a new hose. A dealer is unlikely to be well informed on such an old car.

The Mercedes dealerships are probably not even required to train their mechanics about cars that old. If so, there is no particular advantage to going there

Nothing made in 1981 is a “Classic”…I would take it to ANY decent repair shop and ask that the cooling system be pressurized and the leak located and repaired.

You might feel your car is special and unique, but it’s not. It’s just a car. There is no need to Benz over…

Geez Caddyman, take a deep breath and relax.

The 81’ SLC is a very spacial car to many. It’s elongated chassis and hardtop coupe design made it a favorite on the rally circuit.

The 3.8 liter engine is an all alloy block and head design. The factory used special coolant to prevent corrosion in the alloy. Make sure the proper coolant gets put back in when the system is repaired.

The biggest issue with the '81 3.8 liter block was the single row timing chain. It is absolutely essential that this chain be converted to a dual row chain. If you don’t know if it’s been converted it can be easily checked, but don’t drive it until it’s been converted.

The are many qualified independent mechanics who work on this vintage of Mercedes. Find one through word of mouth or check with the local MBCA chapter.

Your car is a unique and special model. Treat it right and it’ll last a long time.

 It is special, but from a cooling perspective, it is not much different than any other car from that time period.  Frankly a dealer today likely knows less about it than a good radiator shop.  I would take it to you local radiator shop (in you are in the south that will be an Air Conditioning shop) and let them find and fix the problem.  

I do agree that you need to be sure to use the proper coolant for that car.

I would take it to the dealer and bite the bullet. Mercedes Benz is one of the few companies from which you can still get original parts for just about anything they’ve ever made.

With the low miles on this car you want to keep it as original as possible. Any mechanic can probably fix this, but this is not just any car.

How do you avoid trouble with gasoline going bad in this car? You’re not even using a tank of gas a year.

I would find a good local independent MB shop, and use them for all the periodic maintenance, along with repairs. That way they get to know your car, can help prevent problems.

You’re lucky to have such a fine example of a great Mercedes chassis. Whether it’s a true “classic” yet or not is irrelevant, it is a vintage model and needs special care. I would echo Benzman’s suggestion about contacting the local chapter of MBCA to get recommendations for competent MBz independent shops in your area, not just for your coolant leak but, as Texases says, because you need to have a working relationship with a good mechanic who can get to know the vehicle. (While you’re at it, consider joining MBCA, it’s a modest annual fee, and it’s a good source of info from other marque enthusiasts.) Dealership service departments are not generally the best for a near 30-year old car. Dealerships work largely on cars during their warranty periods, so it’s possible there wouldn’t be any techs who have even seen an SLC. Fortunately for you, coolant systems tend to be fairly standard systems, so shouldn’t be too difficult to fix. BTW, what is the dealer going to do for $1,500?