A Little Solder Keeps an Old E320 Running

Living the good life means helping things last longer. It feels good to keep something from having to be replaced, plus it’s good for the environment given the resources necessary to make something big like a car. Last weekend it was a 1999 E320 that I’ve been slowly bringing back to “kicking strong” condition. After replacing the transmission and steering rack (I didn’t do that myself), the old machine needed new headlights. A previous owner had replaced the factory units with these super cool looking ones that worked like … well they didn’t really as far as I was concered. They were actually dangerous to use at night at any speed above 50 mph, wait make that 40.

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So I headed to eBay for some used original Mercedes headlights. I found a set for less than $140.00 with shipping, that were in fairly good condition. As you probably know, modern cars are required to use plastic lenses, and that plastic doesn’t hold up well to the Sun’s UV. So getting used headlights that aren’t completely “crazed” is a challenge. Fortunately some dismatlers (aka junk-yards) remove the parts off the cars they receive, then inventory and store them indoors. You pay a bit more than going to the open-air junkyard, but you’ll be more likely to get parts that have been basically “garaged” for the last decade or so.

I received the set and they looked as described in the Buy It Now auction. But one of the headlights had a surprise for me when I opened the back panel to check the bulbs. The wiring insulation was falling apart, and someone had previously used electrical tape to keep wires from shorting out. Cool, a new project!

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Car manufacturers experienced many problems when they transitioned to bio-degradable plastics in the 1990’s.  I’ve read that Mercedes was one of the first to adopt this practice and paid the price.  They lost a lot of loyal customers that had become used to the legendary longevity of their 60’s through 80’s cars.  Not only did the insulation fall apart after about a decade, but some car owners found out the hard way that rodents really liked the new flavors being used in the wiring. Many manufactures in an attempt to go green had used soy, vegetable oil and other natural materials in their manufacturing processes. The unintended consequence was that criters were finding a new mobile home with a good food source while the owner was sleeping.

I had to bring this unit back to like new condition before I was going to install it. Fortunately one lifelong hobby of mine has been tinkering with electronics, so I didn’t hesitate to pull out the solder and soldering iron. Since I was using non-biodegradable wiring from my used parts bin, my only expense other than time was solder and some shrink-wrap tubing. In a little over an hour I had replaced all of the wiring from the connector to each of the bulbs in this light assembly.

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Now I have a vehicle with industry standard lighting that should perform as designed for many years. Had I gone to Mercedes for a replacement set I would have been out over a grand, and the wiring would experience the same issues in a decade or less.

So in effect I undid a bit of the “green” work originally done by Mercedes. But, one could say that by keeping this machine out of the landfill with just a little bit of effort, I’m reducing an even greater need for energy and resources to make another. I don’t really know actually, I’m not a manufacturing or recycling expert. All I know is that it’s a tiny amount of plastic to keep this machine out of the landfill.

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About sandiachris

I love the diverse people and cultures in the United States and especially New Mexico & Colorado. I enjoy exploring new trails, as the South West USA is amazing. I'm a small business owner and software developer. I've taught economics, built computers, vegetable oil powered cars, software, and like to write about things that could make our lives more meaningful, pleasant and less stressful.
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