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1984 Mercedes-Benz 380SL Silver Blue Metallic w/Navy Interior
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My steering wheel was loose/had a lot of play in it, steering column had a little side to side motion, and steering wheel made a clicking sound when turned CCW on my '84 R107.

Had the steering column coupler and upper and lower steering column shaft bearings replaced (steering coupler, horn contact bushing, needle bearing lower, roller bearing upper).

Steering column side to side movement has been eliminated but, although improved, steering is still loose (can move steering wheel 3"-3.5" back and forth without turning wheels) and clicking sound has reappeared when occasionally turning steering wheel hard CCW (i.e. left). Mechanic said, "With the new parts, we've eliminated as best possible the steering column side to side and rotational movements."

The looseness in the steering wheel drives me nuts. Does the mechanics comment make sense or did he simply do an inadequate repair? Any possible other causes of the play in the steering wheel?
 

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1976 450SL, 1992 190e 2.3, 1984 300D turbo, 1966 VW bus
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392 Posts
Make sure the steering wheel coupler is fully seated on the shaft, many people install incorrectly without removing the bolt.
 

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1976 450SL, 1992 190e 2.3, 1984 300D turbo, 1966 VW bus
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392 Posts
 

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1984 Mercedes-Benz 380SL Silver Blue Metallic w/Navy Interior
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Make sure the steering wheel coupler is fully seated on the shaft, many people install incorrectly without removing the bolt.
Thanks. Is that an easy visual inspection? If so, I'll take it to another shop and have them look at it and then go back to my mechanic and have him do it correctly if done wrong.
 

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1976 450SL, 1992 190e 2.3, 1984 300D turbo, 1966 VW bus
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392 Posts
yeah its easy just look straight down with a flash light near the break booster, This may not be your only issue, just something to check.
 

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1984 Mercedes-Benz 380SL Silver Blue Metallic w/Navy Interior
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Wow! Thanks!

From the reply:
"One thing not mentioned in this thread is you must completely remove the bolts from the coupler in order for it to seat properly. The bolt is not simply a pinch bolt, it acts as a key that prevents the steering shaft from separating from the coupler. Unfortunately, if the bolt is inserted before the shaft, it will instead refuse entry of the shaft, causing the problem that this thread warns about."

I really know very little mechanically speaking so I'm assuming w/o the bolt being removed, the shaft can't be properly inserted all of the way/fully. As a result, it's barely positioned into the coupler and can easily break or slip loose.
 

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1987 300SL
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I really know very little mechanically speaking so I'm assuming w/o the bolt being removed, the shaft can't be properly inserted all of the way/fully. As a result, it's barely positioned into the coupler and can easily break or slip loose.
Correct, resulting in loss of steering :oops:
You really need to check the rest of your steering components too, such as the steering box
3.5" is a lot of play
 

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1984 Mercedes-Benz 380SL Silver Blue Metallic w/Navy Interior
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Correct, resulting in loss of steering :oops:
You really need to check the rest of your steering components too, such as the steering box
3.5" is a lot of play
Agreed which is what concerns me about the mechanic. The fact that he didn't mention any other possible causes for the play after replacing the coupler and bearings makes me question his knowledge.
 

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1983 380SL, ivory/dk brown, 46k miles, dual roller timing chain. 1986 560SL, red/white, 190K mile.
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8,051 Posts
Sounds to me like the classic Steering Coupler problem.
The rubber in the Steering Coupler deteriorates over time, crumbles, and falls out.
When it does, the joints are lose, click when you turn the steering wheel.
Changing the Steering Coupler is difficult and often fraught with its two hex head bolts being stripped.
Are you saying the Steering Coupler was replaced? I don't believe it.
You can verify with a flash light and looking down close to the Firewall on drivers side while someone slowly wiggles the steering wheel.
 
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1977 450SL
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They are all correct about the steering coupler. The other thing is that to get the allen head bolt really tight you need a ball driver as getting a straight allen wrench into the hole is impossible, at least it is impossible on 75,76 and 77 models. While you're looking down at the coupler, get someone to turn the steering wheel and see if anything else is maybe loose. If you are still driving this in this condition... I thank God you are 3000 miles away from me.
 

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1984 Mercedes-Benz 380SL Silver Blue Metallic w/Navy Interior
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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
They are all correct about the steering coupler. The other thing is that to get the allen head bolt really tight you need a ball driver as getting a straight allen wrench into the hole is impossible, at least it is impossible on 75,76 and 77 models. While you're looking down at the coupler, get someone to turn the steering wheel and see if anything else is maybe loose. If you are still driving this in this condition... I thank God you are 3000 miles away from me.
Thanks. I'll look at it today and see if a different MB mechanic near me (haven't used before) sees anything. Appreciate all of the input and advice!
 

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1984 Mercedes-Benz 380SL Silver Blue Metallic w/Navy Interior
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Sounds to me like the classic Steering Coupler problem.
The rubber in the Steering Coupler deteriorates over time, crumbles, and falls out.
When it does, the joints are lose, click when you turn the steering wheel.
Changing the Steering Coupler is difficult and often fraught with its two hex head bolts being stripped.
Are you saying the Steering Coupler was replaced? I don't believe it.
You can verify with a flash light and looking down close to the Firewall on drivers side while someone slowly wiggles the steering wheel.
Yes, the coupler was replaced in addition to the horn contact bushing, needle bearing lower, roller bearing upper.
 

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1983 380SL, ivory/dk brown, 46k miles, dual roller timing chain. 1986 560SL, red/white, 190K mile.
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Yes, the coupler was replaced in addition to the horn contact bushing, needle bearing lower, roller bearing upper.
IF you are absolutely sure that the Steering Coupler has been replaced,
AND you are still getting a lot of looseness turning the Steering Wheel right and left
THEN you should tightened the Steering Gear Box. Not hard to do.
Here is how I adjusted to tighten the Steering Gear Box:

 
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2007 ML320CDI, 1959 220SE, 1971 280SL, 1982 380SL
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You must check to see where the looseness is coming from. Someone turns the steering wheel while someone else exams the steering shaft, pitman arm, steering box, etc. looking for the source of play. The steering box is adjustable with a screw on top of the box which affects the sector shaft., but this can be the source of your problem! Most steering boxes are adjustable by turning the screw on top in a clockwise (tightening) direction. This box is different. It is tightened by turning in a counter clockwise direction, which for a lot of mechanics seems wrong. Turning in the normal direction (clockwise) will result in a very loose steering box and I have seen this confuse many mechanics and they give up.
 

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1971 w108 280SE 3.5 & 1982 w107 500SL
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You must check to see where the looseness is coming from. Someone turns the steering wheel while someone else exams the steering shaft, pitman arm, steering box, etc. looking for the source of play. The steering box is adjustable with a screw on top of the box which affects the sector shaft., but this can be the source of your problem! Most steering boxes are adjustable by turning the screw on top in a clockwise (tightening) direction. This box is different. It is tightened by turning in a counter clockwise direction, which for a lot of mechanics seems wrong. Turning in the normal direction (clockwise) will result in a very loose steering box and I have seen this confuse many mechanics and they give up.
Agree with this. I don't know if correct diagnosis has been done, and it could be a number of components. Start from the steering wheel column above the coupler with a flashlight, have someone in the car play with the steering wheel back and forth, and see where your slack is coming from. If the component corresponds to the steering wheel movement on one side of the joint, but not the other, then this is your problem. 3 inches of play could be accumulated in a number of components, which can become tricky but not too difficult to diagnose correctly. Then change or adjust those parts as needed. Otherwise you're just guessing and throwing parts at a car for no reason, which can also get expensive if you're not doing it yourself, and frustrating because you're not actually fixing the problem.
Once you have the steering sorted, out will be a big improvement to your driving experience.
 

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1984 Mercedes-Benz 380SL Silver Blue Metallic w/Navy Interior
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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Found a mechanic who specializes in older MBs (owns a few himself). Nice enough to look at the car and put it up on the lift as well as walk me through what we were looking at as well as explain how they work. Like others have mentioned on this post, he said there are so many moving parts in the steering that it could be anything but the coupler would be the first thing he'd look at. He determined the coupler was correctly installed as were the bolts. Given the miles (120,000), thinks it's the steering box (or that's what he'd replace next in the process). Mentioned adjusting the screw on top of the steering box but given the miles didn't think it was a good idea. Said he'd have replaced steering box when coupler was replaced because the steering box already has a lot of miles on it and if you're already replacing the coupler might as well replace the box while you're at it.

He looked at other work that I had done (new radiator, fuel pump, water pump, exhaust, rear left axle, shocks, motor mounts, etc.) and said everything looked really good. Mentioned 380SLs and 450SLs have a history of frame cracking. Didn't see any cracks which surprised him but he said was great. Said he thought MB had a lifetime recall to fix the frame and that I should call local MB dealer and find out if car qualifies for the recall.
 

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1988 560SL Currently, 1972 350SL (RIP)
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Steering box may be your best bet but don’t rule out the sway bar, tie rods, idler arm. It’s probably going to be the box but even after you replace that don’t be discouraged if it’s not factory tight. Look at the other parts of the steering system and replace anything original or well worn. I replaced tie rods, steering box and inspected the other rubber bits to be good enough to not need to be changed but still had enough play to be a little discouraged. After my recent sway bar bushings change everything tightened up immensely. It didn’t even seem that bad but one side couldn’t fully torque down, the thread was messed up and the nut wouldn’t travel the full length the last few turns. Looked fine but when i pulled on it hard the metal tube was loose. So glad I changed that. Best thing is a lot of these parts besides the box are cheap and easy to do yourself or won’t break the bank getting a mechanic to do it, but I’d suggest lumping a few related things together as doing these somewhat simple jobs add up in labor.
 

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1980 450 SL
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The steering box may need to be replaced but the coupler almost always needs replacing because the rubber deteriorates. I wouldn't link the wear on the steering box with the coupler needing replacement. I had to replace the coupler on mine which only had 46K when I got it. It's was from age not millage. At 120K he may well be correct that it needs replacement and I am sure it would help but I would try to adjust first and check out the idler arm and tie rods as BayAreaBenz85 suggested.
 

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2007 ML320CDI, 1959 220SE, 1971 280SL, 1982 380SL
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Steering boxes are a potential problem source, but verify what all might be the issue so you get it all. Loose steering is really no fun. You cannot buy a new steering box. Many rebuilts have shiny paint but are not really rebuilt. Do not buy a rebuilt from just anywhere or any supplier. You will be unhappy. C & M Hydraulics has been the rebuilder which seems to do a good job. C & M HYDRAULICS, INC. You order the box and then return your old box to them later.

The subframe is the issue on these cars. The 450SL had the recall, not the 380SL. But- the 380sl has the same subframe as the 450sl and has the same problems. Mercedes somehow convinced NTSB the the 380 series didn't need any changes??? Check carefully, These cracks can start right next to the attaching weld and be very hard to detect. When it fails, it can fail suddenly and completely. I suggest having the gusset kit installed on any of these cars as a preventative measure before something happens.
 

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1983 380SL, ivory/dk brown, 46k miles, dual roller timing chain. 1986 560SL, red/white, 190K mile.
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How about the Euro 500SL's?
Did those cars have the same subframe issue?
How are they holding up?
 
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