USA Junkyard visit 2022

I’m currently in the USA for work.   I arrived the day before the event I am attending, so had a couple of hours to spare before work started.   I’m in Las Vegas, so most people would have hit the casinos or shopped at the outlet malls.  Instead, I headed to a self service junkyard to grab Mercedes Parts.    I’ve been to Las Vegas many times before for work, so I’ve seen all the main tourist stuff, and I have no interest in gambling.   Driving old cars exclusively is a gamble enough.

Online, I had spotted a junkyard in northern Las Vegas that had a few cars of interest – principally three W126 models.   Those were a 1988 560SEL, a 420SEL and a 1990 350SDL.   In addition, there were two W123s – a 300D and a 240D.   The 560SEL was intriguing – the 560 was the only model with SLS sold in the USA.   It had only been there a couple of weeks, so there was some chance the SLS struts were still there.   Even if not, there was bound to be something useful to me over the three cars.  Even if they were gone, a trip to the USA junkyards is always worth it.   The prices are very reasonable and there is almost always something worth having.

USA junkyards

I decided to rent a car instead of taking Ubers.   In the end this was a mistake.   I had found a good special online (AUD$86 for the day), and given I wanted to pick up some tools, plus visit a few other shops, I thought it would be better.   What I hadn’t accounted for was how much the standard insurances have gone up since I last rented a car.   Those proved to be more than the rental fees.  Plus I had the uber to and from the rental facility and 3/4 of a gallon of petrol.

I headed over to Harbor freight to get some cheap tools.   Given all of the costs of chipping and trade wars with China, it’s surprising they are still as cheap as they are.    I didn’t mind getting a few new things, as I want to built better tool kits for my cars than the factory ones.    It was useful on the drive to Adelaide to have a bit more than the factory tool roll available.    I also stopped by Walmart to get a bag, a hat and some sunscreen.   It was getting really hot.

After all that, I finally got to the junkyard.   The easy stuff had already been stripped from the cars, such as the grille, alloy wheels, radio and so on.  Importantly for me, the SLS struts were still there.    There were still other useful parts too.

I set about getting the struts off the car.   The ball joint at the bottom is held on with two 17mm bolts.   They were easily removed.   I also wanted the valve, so I cut the metal lines, and attempted to unscrew the two bolts holding it to the car.   The heads broke off both, but I was still able to grab the valve.  It looked quite clean and wasn’t leaking, and plenty of fluid came out when I cut the lines.

Inside the car, the rear seat must be removed.   On cars such as 560SEL with a power reclining seat, this bolts to the power seat frame, rather than just popping out.     I was able to get the seat out with no problems.   Being a US market 560SEL, it had front and rear heated seats, so there were additional electrical plugs.

Once the seat is removed, two plastic covers are all that is in the way of getting to the strut connection.   The upper one reveals the top bolt and the lower one reveals the hydraulic hose connection.   Unfortunately, my sockets were not deep enough to grip the bolts, so I had to use an adjustable spanner.    It was very slow work, 1/8 of a turn at at a time.   I found it easier to remove the top bolts first, let the strut fall down, and then remove the hydraulic fitting.

USA junkyards

Once I had the top bolt and hydraulic fitting out of the way, I was then able to compress the strut and remove through the hole in the trailing arm.    Hydraulic fluid squirted everywhere.   The struts were not all oily at the start of the job, so I am hopeful they are OK.   The issue is not just leakage, but also the bottom ball joints can fail.   It’s easy to have the leaks repaired by rebuilding the strut, although the  ball joint can be more of a problem.

strut out

The second strut was similar to the first, but the angle meant I couldn’t get the bolt started with the adjustable spanner.   I even tried removing the power seat frame, which I didn’t have the right socket for, but made an imperial bit fit.    At that point I noticed that the fuel tank had been mostly removed.  I was able to get it out, and sit in the spare tyre well to remove that last nut.

USA junkyards

At this point it was getting close to when I had to be back, so I grabbed a few other parts that were easily accessible and small.   The most useful was all the connectors for a Becker radio with the premium sound package.   For some reason this was never offered in Australia – which is odd as its the main thing that makes the update interior better.   Without it, its just ribbed panels on the doors and a slightly different seat design.

I also grabbed a few of the extended lug bolts, a tool roll without tools and a few other misc bits.   I could have grabbed the rear amps, but since there are no cars with the system in Australia, it seemed pointless.

While I had to get back from work, by this time I was really starting to feel the sun.   The hat and sunscreen had prevented sunburn, but a few hours in 108F (42C) temperatures starts to take its toll.   I needed to get out of the sun and re-hydrate.   Even though a lot of the work I was doing was from under the car, or inside the cabin, the sun would make any exterior metal surface of the car too hot to touch.   Even leaving tools out in the sun for a couple of minutes made them burning hot.

On leaving, I paid for my purchases – the grand total for everything being USD$36.    Not bad for what I got, although the real price includes the rental car, tools etc.    I took everything back to the car and then made a really stupid mistake.   I had put the keys down in the boot to arrange my bag, and I forgot to grab them before closing it.   Now I was locked out of the rental car.

USA Junkyards

After 30 minutes of various dropped calls, being on hold and providing my life story to the rental company, I finally managed to arrange roadside service.    I was really suffering from the heat by then, but I noticed a service station a few hundred meters away.   I walked over there and managed to drink two liters of cool water.   In the end roadside assistance got the car open in a matter of minutes (great security Hyundai) and I was on my way.    The meeting I was supposed to be back for was delayed, which was lucky.

USA Junkyards

I spent most of the time on the 560SEL, but spent a few minutes looking at the other cars.   The 420SEL had suffered a bad engine fire.   This was obviously the reason why it was there.  I didn’t get a chance to get the year of this car.   The 350SDL was an interesting one.   It had good paint and a lovely interior, better than many cars asking quite high asking points.   It probably still had its original Becker before hitting the junkyard, as this as the car that yielded up the Becker connections.   I can only assume it had a severe mechanical problem.

The 3.5 diesel was known as the rod bender in the day.  From what I understand though, if the engine didn’t grenade early in life they were generally OK later.  It’s a shame to see such a nice car in the junkyard, especially a rare one like the 350SDL.

350SDL
The 240D had been in the yard for quite some time, was tired and fairly well picked over.   The 300D has suffered a bad side-swipe.  It was a great illustration of the Mercedes-Benz rigid passenger cell, 40 years later.

rigid passenger cell

I’m pretty happy how the day went.   I’ve wanted some more spare SLS struts and now I have two sets.  Between this and the struts on the parts 420SEL, I should have enough for my needs.   The second set provides backup if the first set are too damaged to be rebuilt.   I was also able to get a few other things as a bonus.    Not only was the range better, but this junkyard, being in Nevada was not full of rusty wrecks like the Ohio junkyards I visited a few years ago.   The USA junkyards have yielded again.

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