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Old 02-15-2010, 02:12 PM
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Self-Leveling-System - How it works, and troubleshooting the system

What does SLS Do?
First a little explanation of the Self-Levling-System suspension in the rear. The Self-Leveling-System(SLS) adjusts the ride height of the rear end when it is loaded to keep the rear end at the proper riding level. The springs and the SLS maintain the unloaded height. The SLS maintains height when loaded by pressurizing the system which lifts the rear. The springs, struts, and accumulators work together to dampen road bumps.
The system is made up of several parts, there is a diagram at the end of this post that shows all the parts. Here are the main components and what they do.
1. Pump - supplies pressure to lift the rear.
2. Fluid Reservoir - for maintaining fluid level.
3. Leveling Valve - the brains of the operation, it tells the system wether to lift or lower the rear end.
4. Accumulators(pressure reservoir) - Helps dampen the changes in pressure due to bumps on the road.
5. Struts - Works much like a normal shock for dampening bumps but is able to be adjusted by pressure from the system to change the ride height.

How it all Works?
The pump is always creating pressure and pushing fluid through the system. The leveling valve maintains the level of the rear end. It does this by maintaining pressure or diverting it to raise or lower the rear. When the car is unloaded and sitting at the proper ride height the leveling valve is in the Neutral position. In the neutral position the struts and accumulators are still pressurized which maintain the unloaded hight along with the springs. The valve maintains the neutral position pressure in the struts and the accumulators by not allow the pressure to bleed off and also directs the pressure that the pump creating to back to the reservoir. When a load is put into the back, the lever arm on the valve is deflected into the Fill position which which diverts the pressure and fluid flow to the struts and accumulators. This pressure expands the struts which lift the rear until the lever arm is in the neutral position again, a check valve in the leveling valve keeps the increased pressure from bleeding off until the arm is deflect into the Return Flow position. When the load is removed, the arm on the leveling valve is moved to the Return Flow position which allows the increased pressure in the system to drain off, until the valve returns to the Neutral position and the rear of the car to it's normal unloaded ride height.

Now Some Troubleshooting-

Failure - Symptom
Pump failure - Rear doesn't rise when loaded.
Leveling Valve failure - The rear settling or sagging after sitting for many hours, and in extreme cases the rear doesn't rise when loaded.
Accumulator failure - Rides bouncy and/or hard, rear bouncys like when you have bad shocks.
Strut failure - Rides bouncy but not hard.

Diagnosing a failed part
Many of the problems that arise in the SLS are caused by leaks, so the main thing is to look for leaks.
Leveling Valve - This valve is located just in behind the rear axles and differential, slightly on the drivers side. The valve can leak internally, in this case you won't see fluid on the valve. It can also leak so there is visable moisture on the outside of the valve. If it is leaking I have available a o-ring kit to solve the leaking problems. Visit here for more information - SLS Valve O-ring Kit Info - Also make sure to visit the DIY on replacing the O-rings - O-ring DIY
Accumulators - Diagnosing this isn't as easy, the accumulators have a rubber bladder in them, with suspension fluid on one side and gas on the other. They can get holes in the rubber and then the fluid gets into both sides and the accumulator is shot. By poking the eraser end of a pencil into the accumulator you fan feel around the diaphragm for a tear. The pencil should only go half way into the accumulator. If there is a tear in the diaphragm you'll be able to poke the pencil all the way in.
Struts - Struts aren't often the source of problems with the SLS, the rarely go bad. But when they do the usually start to leak, so they will have suspension fluid on them and they shouldn't.
Pump - The pumps general don't break they usually start leaking. They leak internally usually, and cause one of two things to happen. They allow engine oil to be introduced into the SLS system, or they allow the SLS fluid to go into the motor oil. If the SLS fluid in the reservoir is black it has motor oil in it, or its really old fluid. Either way it should be changed. If you keep loosing fluid but it's not leaking anywhere else then it is going into the motor oil. Either way you've got to rebuild the pump. There are kits available for this. The other thing that can happen associated with the pumps are the hoses. There is one going from the reservoir to the pump and one going from the pump to the leveling valve. Make sure they aren't leaking. The one going to the valve is high pressure so if it gives out you'll have a big mess on your hands.

Attached Thumbnails
Self-Leveling-System - How it works, and troubleshooting the system-sls_parts_diagram.jpg  
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Last edited by whunter; 07-24-2010 at 03:14 PM. Reason: attached picture
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Old 02-15-2010, 02:55 PM
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This should be a sticky somehow.
Questions come up regularly enough that would be answered by this.
It also showcases that the system is not as complex as first glance would indicate, and that replacing with standard shocks should only be a worst case scenario.
Black SLS fluid can also indicate bad accumulators or a very dirty system w/o pump motor oil leakage, too, in my experience.
But if a pump is leaking, where are rebuild kits available for the seals?
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Old 02-15-2010, 03:31 PM
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What type of oil does the system take?
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Old 02-15-2010, 04:11 PM
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Here is where I have gotten rebuild kits for the pump. He doesn't have a website, but he'll send you a catalog. He has lot of other MB parts and kits as well.
George Murphy
Performance Analysis Co.
969 Oak Ridge Turnpike, Suite 258
Oak Ridge, TN 37830
865-482-9175

This is the fluid you want to use
Attached Thumbnails
Self-Leveling-System - How it works, and troubleshooting the system-sls_fluid.jpg  
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Old 02-15-2010, 07:02 PM
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Wow, excellent write-up. Thank you.
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Old 02-16-2010, 12:34 AM
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Andrew has become the authority on these systems, which we appreciate!!
Andrew, I hope you source the large o-ring that seals the two halves of the hydraulic pump together. I have one that I can rebuild if I get that seal. The two halves just poured the fluid out, and the o-ring had flattened. That "half" seal isn't included in any of the kits out there.....
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Old 02-16-2010, 02:07 AM
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Damp.

Not "dampen". The SLS only "dampens" bumps (or your driveway) if it is leaking fluid.

Jay.
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Old 02-16-2010, 10:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by babyjames View Post
Not "dampen". The SLS only "dampens" bumps (or your driveway) if it is leaking fluid.

Jay.
According to the dictionary; it dampens the ride, but it can also dampen the driveway when it's leaking.
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Old 02-16-2010, 12:10 PM
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Good timing as my wagon began sagging a little over night recently. The PO had extensive SLS work done years ago, so the only SLS repair I've had to do is replace the resevoir itself. Darn thing developed tiny holes all over and began leaking. The resevoirs are dealer only and cost more than $400, so if you see a good used one at a yard or elsewhere, might want to pick up a spare...
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Old 02-16-2010, 05:10 PM
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Awesome write up. Thanks. Does this apply to W123 and W124 wagons? Same system on both?

I'm looking forward to seeing mine in action towing and hauling. How much is the towing capacity for the W124 wagon? anyone know ?
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Old 02-16-2010, 05:22 PM
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Different pump and valve on the two different models but in theory the systems work the same.
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Old 02-16-2010, 06:18 PM
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Quote:
When the car is unloaded and sitting at the proper height the leveling valve is in the "Neutral" position, which allows the pressure that the pump is creating to just flow back into the reservoir without pressurizing any of the components.
I understood it that the springs combined with a base pressure through the valve in the neutral position maintained the unloaded ride height. what are your thoughts on that ?
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Old 02-16-2010, 06:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sd300td View Post
Good timing as my wagon began sagging a little over night recently. The PO had extensive SLS work done years ago, so the only SLS repair I've had to do is replace the resevoir itself. Darn thing developed tiny holes all over and began leaking. The resevoirs are dealer only and cost more than $400, so if you see a good used one at a yard or elsewhere, might want to pick up a spare...
What makes these reservoirs so expensive?

The Citroen and Rolls/Bentley versions are nothing more than metal cans with plumbing in the bottom and a cap + fitting in the top. Are they pressurized? They wouldn't seem to be. How much do they hold?
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Old 02-16-2010, 06:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johninva View Post
I understood it that the springs combined with a base pressure through the valve in the neutral position maintained the unloaded ride height. what are your thoughts on that ?
It's my understanding there is pressure in the shocks and accumulators when it is not being adjusted but the pump pressure is just being recirculated back to the reservoir.

For instance, when my main pressurizing hose failed in the middle of nowhere and I was towing a trailer, everything worked fine (car was holding level with a heavy load) until I made the mistake of stopping at a gas station and letting everyone out of the car. The valve opened to adjust to the lack of load. When everyone got back in the car, the car sunk down and wouldn't pressurized back up again. The lesson is, when you know the pump is not going to be able to pressurize the system again, don't let the adjustment feature activate unless you are happy to let the system drop down to the bottom.
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Old 02-16-2010, 08:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johninva View Post
I understood it that the springs combined with a base pressure through the valve in the neutral position maintained the unloaded ride height. what are your thoughts on that ?
This is correct. My wording it kind of poor, I will change it. The pump is always creating pressure, which is just sent back to the reservoir when the car is in the neutral position. When the car is loaded the valve then sends the pressure to the accumulators and struts which expands the struts and causes the rear to lift until it hit the neutral position again.
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