Need advice about my 1979 MB 240D

Can you offer any advice on maintaining a '79 MB 240D in Alaska, probably in the Mat-Su Valley area? My family are moving there in about three years. My car will have a heated garage, but I guess I won’t be able to drive it for six to eight months a year in the coldest weather. Also, has anyone had leaks in the vacuum system (it controls locks and ignition cut-off)? This problem gets fixed, then moves to another area to spring a leak. I have magic rituals and fairy dust to get the locks and engine cut-off to work (and Mercedes provides a handy “STOP” button under the hood if all else fails). If there’s a permanent fix, I’d like to hear it. And, no, I won’t sell the car! The old bus will be 39 years old next month, and is still as classy as when it was new. Driving it is rather like walking the dog to meet people: I do get interesting comments and offers from strangers about once a week, even when stopped at red lights. I’d appreciate any thoughts on the two questions I’ve stated. Thanks to all, from Austin TX.

Any old car with vacuum leaks is a challenge to deal with. The rubber / plastic degrades with age, oil & heat. It may look good from the outside but may be brittle and full of cracks. Get a propane torch, open the valve but do not light it, start the car and run the propane slowly over each hose. When the engine speed picks up you found your leak. Be very careful when you do this. No loose clothing that can get caught in the belts or fan. It is easy to get focused on getting to a tight spot and put your hand on something that is hot or moving, you will have a bad day if that happens.

You have 3 years to worry about this. Find a good independent Mercedes shop and make arrangements to have a little done at a time so when you actually move the vehicle will be ready.

Thanks, Steve. Sounds like you’ve had plenty of experience with ancient
vacuum systems. I’ll pass your info on to my mechanic. This old lady
(79) would be an environmental hazard with an open flame. In the
meantime, it’s fairy dust and prayers to the Great Auto Spirit.

Thanks, V70. I actually have a good shade-tree mechanic who’s been
chasing this gremlin for a while. It’s Whack-A-Mole with these leaks: As
soon as he plugs one leak, it works for a short time, then springs a new
leak. Other than this perennial leak, the car’s in excellent shape,
perhaps better than its elderly owner. I appreciate your writing me.
Sara in Austin TX.

The very first thing you do is make sure the vacuum pump is in good shape . . . it wouldn’t surprise me if it needs an overhaul.

Do you happen to know if you still have the original design, or the updated version?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably still have the original design

I’m not sure why you think it can’t be driven year-round

Lack of traction will keep it at home, not the temperatures

Do you have the factory service manuals? Chilton and Haynes don’t count. For an old car like this, if you want to use it on a regular basis, I highly suggest getting your hands on those manuals. Look on ebay. Do NOT be tempted to buy some aftermarket manuals, cd-roms, dvds, etc.

If you don’t have any of that, let me know, and I’ll try to provide you with a website, where you can find a lot of technical information . . . straight from Mercedes-Benz . . . for free

But you are right about one thing . . . the vacuum system is interconnected on this vehicle. It controls EVERYTHING, and I literally mean that. Problems with the vacuum locks can affect the ability to shut the engine off, as you may or may not have already discovered.

There is no permanent fix or silver bullet . . . get that idea out of your head

Here’s my suggestion, as to finding a shop to work on the car

A shop which specializes in diesels, preferably very old diesels, such as yours

A shop which is comfortable working on vacuum systems. For your information, Benz was not the only one to use vacuum to control various systems, but they were probably one of the few that used it to control everything

A shop that is known for their tenacity to fix what others can’t or don’t want to. There are a few out there. Ask around

What size tires and rims are you planning on running?

Stamped steel?

factory aluminum alloy?

Is your vehicle even in good mechanical shape?

What’s the deal with rust?

Texas car its whole life?

Good to go?

Swiss cheese?

Replace all the vacuum hoses and t-connectors with new ones. That worked well on my 45 year old truck. There probably aren’t going to be many of those 240D in auto recycling yards in Alaska, so any parts you think you may need that aren’t available new from MB or the aftermarket, get your local junkyard looking for them where you live now (presumably the lower 48), and bring them to Alaska with you. Look into block and radiator heaters too.

There is a MB dealership in Anchorage, not far from where the OP will live. It’s part of a fairly large automotive group in Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. I imagine the dealership can provide parts and service for this old car.

They certainly can provide parts . . .

As for service, that’s the question

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s not a lot of guys at the dealership, who are comfortable diagnosing that particular vehicle

@1979MB240D You might want to rethink the idea of taking this old thing to Alaska. If Google search is correct they have emission testing . Mr DB might know but I doubt if it would pass and then you would have a vehicle you could not give away.

I suspect this vehicle is so old, that he won’t have to take it in

Emissions testing was discontinued in the state of Alaska in 2012.

You never know until you check the service department out. The family of dealerships has been around for 75 years. Their dealership info doesn’t say how long the Anchorage MB dealership has been in business, but they do have other MB dealerships. If it is a new franchise, they could depend on the older ones to solve mysteries. Given your experience, you may know better.

In my experience, owners of older Benzes don’t bring their car to the dealership. They establish a relationship with an independent shop specializing in Benzes . . . and possibly other european brands . . . and bring their cars there, because they trust them

Another thing, some service managers don’t want to tie up their “young golden boys” working on yesterday’s technology

Not saying that’s the case everywhere

Just a few observations

I looked up Anchorage in the Mechanics Files. There are three pages of shops listed, many have “import” in the name. Thar probably means Asian cars, I’m willing to believe that European imports are serviced outside the dealers too.

Holy cow! I didn’t expect much, if any, response to my query. Was I wrong! Thanks to you all for your interest and suggestions. In reply to some of your responses: I have replaced the vacuum pump, but the problem is always in the old, brittle lines which I periodically have replaced. I’ve learned to live with the leaks with little inconvenience. As to not driving my car year-round in Alaska, we’ll be out in the sticks with iffy roads, and I don’t want to trash my car driving through brush and axle-deep mud - so only warm, dry weather (the rest of the time, it’s going to be ATVs, snowmobiles, and bush plane - no dogs). I have a good mechanic here in Austin, and he’ll have my car is good shape for Alaska. I’ve been able to locate a surprising number of possible shade-tree mechanics in Alaska for my old diesel. You’re right about not using a dealership. My local dealership was good for ordering replacement MB-logo floor mats, forget repairs! The car’s in good shape mechanically, with little rust (which I treat as I find it). Most of the body and paint are original, as it’s been garaged its entire 39 years. It was purchased in Houston and moved immediately to Austin. Emissions testing of such an old car isn’t part of vehicle testing here in Texas, but I plan to check all vehicle and driver requirements in Alaska. I doubt I would have to leave my car behind. I love driving it, as it truly engages the driver’s strength and alertness. I don’t know if you can see my profile picture here on my CarTalk account, but it’s a recent picture of the car - you’ll see why I won’t part with it. Thanks again, from Sara in Austin

Looks stock to me . . . keep it that way

Be careful with those wheel covers . . . they’re quite expensive to replace, were you to lose one

Now that you’ve mentioned the kind of roads you’ll encounter, I agree with you. Keep to paved roads, as far as the Benz is concerned.

What shape is your cooling system in . . . ?!

Exactly how are you planning on getting your car to Alaska?

Thanks, db4690, for your interest. I lost one wheel cover several years ago. After searching for several months, I found one in the wrong color, and had it repainted by a shade-tree mechanic for $25. He did such a good job that, after several tire rotations, I can’t tell which one it is. My cooling system is in good shape. I replace or repair everything as soon as needed on this beast, and the cooling system is in great shape. I’ve replaced motor mounts, all belts and hoses and filters many times over the years, and recently treated it to FIVE new top-of-the-line tires. I learned the hard way to buy and rotate all five tires. Several years ago, I stopped rotating all five tires on the advice of a relative - never again, trust my instincts. After a couple of years of not rotating the full-sized, never-used spare tire, I discovered a fist-sized hole rotted in it by the ferocious Austin heat. I listen to the car now. As for transporting it, I’ll probably be shipping it to Anchorage, by land and sea. The current cost would be about $2400, higher probably in another three years. It’s the most beautiful, elegant thing I’ve ever owned and don’t want to part with it. Typical of elderly women of my generation, I never earned or owned much, and the car represents the a beautiful reward for decades of (underpaid) work. Maybe I should be buried in it, like some fellow did with his Cadillac years ago. Thanks for your help. Sara in Austin