21 June 2013

Old-fashioned Family Vacation: Things need to get smoother

After a rough start, the Suddard clan’s trip did get a bit less crazy. Son Tom was able to use a $10 multimeter to help him locate the source of the charging problems: A failing alternator. Unfortunately, the family’s paltry toolkit offered little to aid in a fix, save for a couple of basic hand tools and a spare used alternator. Unable to remove the faulty unit from the car, Tom was forced to use an adjustable wrench and a common screwdriver to crack it in half so he could replace the failing diodes by mating up the (hopefully) good back end of the used alternator. Thankfully, it worked.

Restored to the road, the family headed northeast to the new River Gorge area of West Virginia, where they spent another couple of days exploring this area. After that, it was on to Ohio. By the time the group got to Athens, a persistent vibration was about to drive the family nuts. Says Tim, “It was weird: fully loaded we were vibrating like crazy, but as soon as we pulled the luggage out of the trunk, the vibration went away.”

A quick call to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center (www.mbusa.com/classic) helped solve the problem. Suddard was told that that model Mercedes was originally equipped with a hydraulic camber compensator in the rear suspension to solve the problem of the car being overloaded. Somewhere during its long life, the Suddard family truckster had had a cheaper compensator spring installed that allowed the back end to sag. It was this sagging that was causing the internal joints in the independent rear suspension to work at extreme angles, causing the vibration.

Although obvious solutions included overnighting and installing the expensive hydraulic compensator, or throwing out their luggage, the family needed a faster and more practical fix. That brought the senior Suddard back to memories from his youth, when he had seen kids install rubber spacers in their coil springs to jack up their hot rods. Did these spacer blocks still exist and would they solve the problem?

A trip to the local Autozone parts store affirmed that the blocks were still available, in three different varieties, no less. A quick purchase and a ride over to a local automotive repair facility saw them installed for $20. Voila! For a total investment of $30, the vibration was gone. The group arrived in Detroit with no further problems, more relaxed and in better spirits than any had a right to expect.

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