Home » How I Found Out A Previous Owner Crashed My Car

How I Found Out A Previous Owner Crashed My Car

Fixedfor
ADVERTISEMENT

Last time I told you all about my wrenching woes, I took a lot of flak. People told me I shouldn’t own German cars, and that I should be able to change a radiator in no time flat. People questioned whether I knew what I was doing in the slightest. But recently I realized why I was struggling so much.

This past weekend, I got my sweet vindication. Everything that went wrong was not my fault! Better still, I rose triumphant over my struggles.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

But first, let’s get you back up to speed. Just as I’d finished fixing my BMW, my Mercedes sprung a coolant leak. It was hard to trace, but I eventually pinned it down to the radiator. Before I could replace it, I had to pull it out first, and that proved to be an almighty pain in my ass. It just wouldn’t come free!

20240323 132200b
This is where we pick up our story. We need to get a radiator in this thing!

What Aren’t You Telling Me?

Typically, pulling out a radiator is easy. First, you pull the hoses off and undo any mounting bolts, Then the radiator normally slides right out in the vertical direction. The Mercedes made it a little more complicated; I had to pull off a mounting panel first, and a bunch of other hardware, too. With all that gone, though, the radiator still wouldn’t come free. It had taken an hour or so of wrestling before I was able to wrench it out.

That confused me, but I didn’t think too much about it. I ordered a new radiator, and waited patiently for it to arrive. Thanks to some confusion about the right model, it took weeks before it showed up.

ADVERTISEMENT

20240323 133114

20240323 133259
I had to swap over the transmission cooler lines from the old rad to the new one. A flare nut spanner made it easy. [Editor’s Note: That’s an in-tank cooler. This is a heat exchanger for the automatic transmission that uses coolant in the radiator outlet tank (i.e. the side of the radiator where the coolant temperature has dropped from the oncoming air) to cool transmission fluid before it goes back into the transmission. These are fairly cheap and easy to package compared to a dedicated transmission cooler, though sometimes they fail and you get a pink milkshake of coolant mixing with ATF, potentially harming your transmission. -DT]. 
By this point the car had been sitting in the driveway for a month, and I was raring to get it back on the road, post-haste. On my first free weekend, I eagerly unwrapped the new rad and rushed over to the Mercedes to bolt it in. Only… it wouldn’t fit.

I was perplexed. I checked the measurements online one more time. I’d ordered the right one for sure. I checked the radiator in front of me. I checked the old radiator. All the outlets matched. And yet, the new radiator wouldn’t drop into place.

I was incredibly frustrated with the Mercedes at this point. I’ve swapped out radiators a million times, in Hondas, Mazdas, and Volvos. Normally it’s a straight swap that takes nary more than an hour. And yet, the Mercedes was fighting me all the way. At first, I figured this was just how the Germans did things. The battle I’d faced wrestling the radiator out was fresh in my mind, so I assumed it was just a tight squeeze and I’d have to get the angle just right.

Screenshot 20240323 140621 Chrome E1712122587654x
The radiator was right. So what was wrong?

After another useless bout with the front end, though, it was clear something wasn’t right. I measured the end tanks and noticed the new radiator was just over half an inch wider than the original part. That explained my issues to some degree, but I felt like this wasn’t the whole problem. This aftermarket radiator was built exactly for this application. I’d checked that three times by this point. It seemed like there was something else going on.

ADVERTISEMENT

I peered into the engine bay once more and started playing with the old radiator. It was becoming obvious to me. The cradle that accepts the bottom of the radiator protruded on either side. If those protrusions weren’t there, the radiator would drop right in. I’d noticed these earlier and merely cursed the over-complicated German design. But the more I looked, the more it became obvious. The radiator support wasn’t supposed to look like that at all.

Image140

Image140 3

Image152

Image164

ADVERTISEMENT

I got under the car and the problem became immediately obvious. The bottom radiator frame had been pushed back towards the rear of the car, and bent upwards in the process. This caused the sheet steel of the frame to bend where it was attached to the chassis, forming the protrusions that were stopping the new radiator from sliding into place. They were also what made the original radiator so hard to remove in the first place. Indeed, I suspect it was the bent frame rubbing on the radiator’s end tank that caused the leak in the first place.

My first assumption was that this car had some kind of front-on crash in the past. Weirdly, though, I’ve been unable to find corresponding damage to the rest of the front end. My leading theory is that perhaps a previous owner ran into some kind of low pole or bollard. This would have damaged the bumper and forced the radiator mount backward while leaving the fenders unscathed.

Alternatively, it’s plausible that the owner perhaps ran over a concrete stop or barrier at the end of a parking spot. However, as stock, the Mercedes sits high enough that this shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, it had a plastic undertray that would have fouled before the radiator support was bent.

Looking back at the videos I took in February, the problem was staring me right in the face. I suspect the bent radiator support is what creased the radiator end tank, causing the leak.

ADVERTISEMENT

In any case, it’s clear something significant happened to bend the radiator support so badly out of shape. I can only assume it was a minor crash, given I had no idea until now. I’ve owned the car since 2021, and have done plenty of work on it over the years. I’ve swapped out the rear diff, serviced the automatic gearbox, and done numerous oil changes. And yet, at no point did I notice the radiator support was bent out of place. If I’d ever cast my gaze upon it, I just assumed it was supposed to sit like that. It was only once I had the radiator out that it became clear—the support had been bent so severely as to make it impossible to install a new radiator.

Despair and Deliverance

I found myself at an impasse. wanted to fix this car, badly. But try as I might, I couldn’t get the new radiator to fit. My biggest hammer wasn’t doing shit to knock the rad support back into shape. There was precious little room to swing it anyway. It seemed hopeless.

I quietly raged for a spell, muttering that I should just send the car to the junkyard and be done with it all. But I don’t give up that easily. Instead, I shared word of my trial with the car gang around—The Autopian slack channel!

Lewin Boned

 

ADVERTISEMENT

While I had no trees and no space for a dynamic adjustment, the Brothers in Bodge nonetheless got my brain ticking over. A quick rifle through the garage turned up my ratchet straps, and I started eyeing off the roof support posts on my front porch.

My idea was simple. I’d wrap ratchet straps around the rad support and the post, and then tighten them up until they pulled the rad support back into place. I was a little worried about this course of action. If the straps failed, they could end up whipping around at high speed, potentially causing significant injuries. I intended to tread carefully during this ridiculous exercise.

20240323 145839

20240323 145651

With everything in place, I began to crank the straps tighter. Alas, it was to little result. Despite plenty of tension on the straps, the radiator mount had barely moved. But then, just before true despair could set in, inspiration shined.

ADVERTISEMENT

I put my boot upon the tight ratchet strap and I forced my foot down, hard. The ratchet strap tugged hard on the rad support in turn, and bent it an inch closer to where it used to be. It was magic! I quickly retightened the straps and stomped hard once more, and the metal duly obeyed. This was working!

The strap-and-stomp method was working perfectly. I used the straps to tug at different parts of the radiator support until it was vaguely straightened up. This only took about half an hour.  It hadn’t gotten the support back into its original position, but closer. It was straighter now, but the bottom of the support was still an inch higher than stock. Plus, the bracket was still bent enough that those protrusions wouldn’t let the new rad slide in just yet.

Ideally, I’d have had a winch and a pull point on the floor of the driveway. Then I could have tugged the bracket downwards to its original position. Instead, at this point, it was time to rely on Mr. Hammer. With the bracket sitting straighter in the chassis, I could hammer away at the protrusions to flatten them out. This forced the bracket back into something approximating its original shape.

After a few attempts, I was able to slide the new radiator in without too much trouble. I then spent the next hour trying to figure out the arrangement of the various plastic supports and guides that hold the radiator, engine fan shroud, and condenser together. Forcing the airbox intake scoop into place was probably the hardest part, but I got it all together.

ADVERTISEMENT

20240324 112359

I did have to make some sacrifices along the way. Despite my best efforts, the new radiator was sitting about half an inch higher than a stock one would. This caused some issues with the power steering lines that sit in front of the electric radiator fans. With everything bolted down as Mercedes intended, the power steering lines rubbed on the radiator fans which would surely cause a leak down the road. Thankfully, I was able to make everything fit by adjusting the position of the mounting brackets to suit.

With everything in place, I simply topped up the radiator with fresh coolant and started the engine. Much to my joy, nothing leaked. Even better, after a good few minutes idling, the heater was blowing hot air and the coolant temperature was sitting right in the healthy region.

Spat In My Eye, One Last Time

So, all was well, right? I slammed the hood shut and went on a drive, and everyone smiled? Well, not quite.

ADVERTISEMENT

did slam the hood shut, just after topping off the coolant. I wanted to check all the latches lined up after I’d reinstalled the top rad support. The support uses the same bolts as the hood latches, and I wanted to make sure everything was still aligned.

And what do you know? The hood got stuck.

I tugged and I tugged at the hood release to no avail. The driver’s side latch would pop free, but the passenger side was stuck fast. Nothing I did worked. Once again, this car was testing me.

After plenty of swearing and nearly a few tears, I calmed down enough to reassess the situation. I was so close to success. Surely I wouldn’t have to cut the hood open or something ridiculous, right?

20240324 165557
There’s nothing quite like the intense anguish caused when you can’t get the hood to pop. Thankfully I was able to reach this latch from underneath the car. Note how the Bowden cable is out of position, preventing the hood release from actuating normally.

Heavens be blessed, it wasn’t so bad. The stuck latch was thankfully accessible from underneath the car. Reaching my arm up, I was just able to flick the right catch to release it from below. With the hood now open, I rushed to inspect the latches to figure out the problem. The Bowden cable for the latches had simply come out of its brackets at either end during the disassembly. Reseating it got the hood release working again.

ADVERTISEMENT

To say this was a relief is an understatement.

20240328 142327
I was able to drive the car to a lake to take this photo! And it didn’t die!

My first drive was a joyous one. I’d come back from the precipice and got the Merc running and back on the road again. I was very pleased with the results of my hack job repair. I’ve never had to beat a chassis into submission like that before, but I’d feel a lot more prepared if I had to do so again.

The Mercedes won’t be with me forever. I need other cars—specifically, more manuals—in my life, and I’ve already sampled the motoring experience this car has to offer. Nonetheless, it’s serving me as an adequate daily once more. For that, I am cheering.

I’ll be sure to inspect whatever manual car I decide to buy next a little more closely. Because this hidden frame damage could have been so much worse.

Image credits: Lewin Day

ADVERTISEMENT

Post-script: My BMW still runs and the torque-to-yield bolts have held up just fine over 1000 miles of driving. Pretty rad.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
65 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Morgan Thomas
Morgan Thomas
11 days ago

I used a similar method to ‘fix’ a Datsun 510 I bought for $50 for cheap transport while I fixed another. I got it cheap because it had the passenger side doors both bent inwards in an accident, which also bent in the B pillar. I had a spare set of good doors in the same colour, and I ‘fixed’ the bent pillar with a cable winch by hooking one end to the middle of the pillar and the other to a tree beside the car. I tightened the cable until the car was pulled up on 2 wheels, but the pillar stayed bent. So I opened a door on the other side, stood on the sill and jumped up and down until the impacts slowly yanked the pillar back almost perfectly straight. A handful of washers as shims under the hinges, and with the new doors it looked completely undamaged.

Lost on the Nürburgring
Lost on the Nürburgring
11 days ago

I’ve never done it, but isn’t toothpaste supposed to be able to deglaze headlights that look like that? Or is that just an urban myth…?

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
11 days ago

Works just fine (thumbs up emoji)

Dolsh
Dolsh
11 days ago

If I did that ratchet strap to the front porch trick, my luck would have had the car pulling the house down.

Ricardo
Ricardo
11 days ago

I used to be a BMW tech in a previous life in Metro Melbourne and we saw a lot of 80s/90s vehicles with impact damage under the front end.

Plastic undertrays, sumps, oil coolers, transmission pans being the lowest parts of the car would get a hit from underneath from people hitting the end of driveways too hard or speed bumps especially once the front struts would soften up a little.

That may well explain how the support panel has been pushed back both nothing else seems damaged…. that and a non genuine radiator that someone had to ‘make fit’. It probably came from Repco.

Sometimes the lack of details around European car parts in our local Repco/Bursons would stun me hence why specialist Euro parts suppliers where always worth the effort to deal with.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
11 days ago

Rather than ratchet straps I used a come-along connected to the tow hook on my Suburban as an anchor to pull out the radiator support when my son wrecked his car. Doing that got things much closer to where they needed to be without doing additional damage. At that point we were able to replace the trashed radiator support and handle some of the adjacent sheet metal back into place.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
11 days ago

Nice use of Dynamic Loading. Good job.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
11 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

I think I’m going to make that my new name for my private parts. Lol!

Ben
Ben
11 days ago

When I got a hammock I was a little concerned about the way my studs were creaking when I hung it in the basement. After a little research I learned that when you put a vertical force on a line hung between two points you can put immense pressure on the mounting points. As a result I am 1) unsurprised this was enough to bend the radiator support back in place and 2) surprised you did not rip the porch post off the house. 🙂

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 days ago
Reply to  Ben

That was my fear, porch collapsing. I was expecting photos.

Stacks
Stacks
11 days ago

I’ve never yanked a radiator support back into place, but I have built countless porches and roofs, and let me tell you, your concern should not have been breaking the strap, your concern should’ve been ripping the porch roof right off your house. You are very lucky!

Stacks
Stacks
11 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Oh man, if nobody was hurt? HUGE clicks.

Rod Millington
Rod Millington
11 days ago
Reply to  Stacks

This was my exact thought. I’ve used a come along and some slings to help pull some bushes out of the front of a house before and the anchor point was the base of a trunk of an established tree about 200mm of diameter. Even then I still wounded that tree with the tension.

Chronometric
Chronometric
11 days ago

I once screwed a big eye bolt into the garage wall for a come-along. Then I forgot to release the parking brake and pulled my wall down.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
11 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

D ‘ O H !

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
11 days ago

Please address the cloudy headlights, it’s driving me crazy. 🙂

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
11 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Hours? My dude! 1000 grit, 3000 grit, 5000, then polish. On that cursed Sonata the other weekend it took me an hour

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 days ago
Reply to  Mechjaz

Maybe add $50 of value, but it could easily add a thousand to the price. It’s literally the first thing we see. Do it and post a tutorial for me to do it to my old Ford.

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
9 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Once you’ve done it once, it should be a 30-45 minute job, tops.

Superfluous
Superfluous
11 days ago

I bought an Eagle Talon with an undisclosed accident that I only discovered after a radiator leak. Instead of bending the vehicle back into it’s proper position, I had the radiator brazed

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
11 days ago

First, hell yeah on an awesome fix.

Second, did you consider heat? (This is not a tut-tut, it’s a real question.) For the number of times I’ve experienced metal work-hardening before giving out, I’d be anxious about correcting things like this purely mechanically, especially when you consider it’s already “worked” once towards the aft. With my luck I’d have snapped off the mount, torn down my porch or both.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
11 days ago

Triumph: the feeling of using tools at hand and creative engineering to solve a problem. Well done, sir.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 days ago

I don’t get spending this much time on roached base models. If this was an AMG or something, sure… but it’s not.

Jb996
Jb996
11 days ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Must be read in JFKs voice:

“We choose to repair base models… We choose to repair base models and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win”

Last edited 11 days ago by Jb996
Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
11 days ago
Reply to  Jb996

I personally prefer Churchill’s speech about his time owning a british car.

We shall wrench on the beaches. We shall wrench in the driveways. We shall wrench in the fields, and in the streets, we shall wrench in the hills. We shall never surrender!

Jb996
Jb996
11 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

Did you know Shakespeare had a car? He was quite passionate about it.

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that fixes a shitbox this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had wrenching Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that wrenches with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen at home, driving new cars with warranties,
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That wrenched with us, upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
11 days ago
Reply to  Jb996

You silly guy, Shakespeare didn’t have a car. He was writing about King Henry V’s car troubles. Shakespeare was more of a motorcycle guy.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
10 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

I guess I don’t get why you purchased it in the first place. It’s just so easy to wind up underwater on base models.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
11 days ago

I damaged a radiator bracket in much the same way when I hit a kitchen sink that was sitting in the middle of the highway

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
11 days ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

Hope you didn’t get a sinkhole in your radiator.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
11 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

It would have almost been worth it just for the pun.

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
11 days ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

Were you driving a beige Mercedes which you sold promptly thereafter by any chance? #ThePlotThickens

James Carson
James Carson
11 days ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

Blame Elon!

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
11 days ago

All of your problems stem from not buying the OM606 equipped model. In diesel 2JZ we trust.

TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
11 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

I have an ’86 300SDL. Not gonna lie, they’re pretty great.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
11 days ago

You should celebrate and give that thing a nice wash!

Jb996
Jb996
11 days ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Then by polishing the headlights!
That will really help the appearance.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
11 days ago

I bet your front end is in alignment now too.
Glad you didn’t pull the porch down while you were at it.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
11 days ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Same thought. Not knowing how that porch pillar is attached, some are just relying on gravity, seems like a bad idea. I’ve used jacks to straighten supports before, and come-alongs to something of known security.

Lardo
Lardo
11 days ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

and put some blankets on the straps so that if they snap the energy can be absorbed/dissipated.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
11 days ago
Reply to  Lardo

Nice tip!

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
11 days ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

I used to have a house with decorative porch pillars. They looked sturdy, but they were made out of soft pine that eventually rotted away at the bottom ends. When we redid the porch we had them removed and left everything open.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
11 days ago

I see your rotten pine and I raise you lolly columns wrapped in cedar (to make it square) wrapped in aluminum. Of course the lolly columns are rusted to shit and aren’t actually holding anything.

Sometimes I wish the wind would just blow this whole goddamn house down. Barring that, I’m willing to wait for a big bad wolf (Wulfgang, if the wind happens to be MB/BMW/VAG).

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
11 days ago

The kid from Adders
Fixed his frame matters
When he did the Strap and Stomp.

(Apologies to The Dovells)

AssMatt
AssMatt
11 days ago

Probably happened trying to get to the riverwalk.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
11 days ago

Oh man, as a former house remodeler, I can completely commiserate with you Lewin. The amount of times we would be called in to find that a small issue was just the signal that there was a larger problem…about 50% of the time would be my guess.

“There is a wet spot on my ceiling” = major plumbing leak that has been ongoing for about 2 years.

Outofstep
Outofstep
11 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

Oh man this just reminded me. I had a friend who rented an apartment in college and there was a wet spot on the kitchen ceiling. This was a second story apartment of a two story building. So it’s got to be a leaky roof right? The slumlord never did anything about it even though they told him multiple times about it. Eventually it became a hole in the kitchen ceiling and he was like how could this have happened?! Negligence is how.

R Rr
R Rr
11 days ago
Reply to  Outofstep

Bonus points if the slumlord then blamed your friend and refused to return his deposit when he moved out

Last edited 11 days ago by R Rr
Outofstep
Outofstep
11 days ago
Reply to  R Rr

I don’t know if he did but considering he ignored their calls to check on the issue I bet he did. I know they didn’t pay the last few months rent because they were graduating so it probably worked out for them in the end.

65
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x