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  #1  
Old 11-22-2014, 01:47 PM
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Warning to Benz owning surfers - ignition key tumbler failure imminent!

A couple days ago the ignition key in my 1990 300 SEL started getting sticky. Yesterday it got worse, so last night I decided to stop at my garage that I rent a couple miles away from home and spray some WD40 into it, hoping this would alleviate the situation a bit until I got home and could investigate it further.

The previous time I had started it during the day, it had taken me about a minute to get the key to turn from 0 to 1, so when I tried it again at the garage twice with success, I figured I would be OK long enough to at least get me home, especially with the extra lubrication. Maybe the stickiness would even be gone forever… right? Wrong. After spraying in the lube, the key would not budge off 0. Tried for two hours to jiggle it free, then called a tow truck.

One thing I noticed when I took the key out after the last time it worked correctly was that the door buzzer went on briefly on the way out, and the key slot seemed to kind of slam shut when the key came out and the buzzer stopped. I don't recall the buzzer having worked for a while, so I thought this was odd. When I first got the car about a year ago, one of the first things I replaced was the relay under the dash that turns on the interior lights and key buzzer when the door is open. I'm wondering if that relay (perhaps in conjunction with another switch or relay connected to the shifter to make sure the trans is in P or N) could have anything to do with the key not turning? In trying to research this I read something about a "lock out cable" in one thread, but it was only mentioned in passing regarding removal of the whole switch/lock assembly from the car. What is a "lock out cable" anyhow…?

Anyhow... all of the above is strictly hindsight at this point, because after my and a friend's repeated attempts to jiggle the lock free, including using a clutch drill driver as suggested by one poster here who works at a dealership and insisted it "worked every time", the key is now broken off in the lock and the whole thing feels quite sloppy.

And assuming none of the above were the direct cause, and that the tumbler just froze up, what's the likelihood of successfully drilling/Dremeling out the tumbler assembly and replacing it with another one without dismantling the steering column and dash? I'm quite handy with finesse grinding, back in the day I used to take Lambrettas from 9hp to 32hp with some judicious porting and whatnot. Also, am I correct in assuming that if I successfully get the whole tumbler out, I'll be able to: A) start the car with a screwdriver; B) assess the condition of the switch and steering lock?


Last edited by ThePhoenix; 11-23-2014 at 11:20 AM. Reason: I found rust in the key switch thanks to my surfing habit
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Old 11-23-2014, 06:34 AM
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Hmmm that sounds bad. My understanding is that once the cylinder fails there is nothing you can do other than replace the whole assembly including the steering lock. I caught all of mine before they failed so I never had to go that route.
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1977 MB 240D 4 speed 145K - Nearly Perfect
1995 MB E420 197K - Weekend Toy
2018 Ford F150 5.slow 23K - My DD
2020 Subaru Ascent 10k - Wife's DD

1979 MB 280E 90K - Sold
1983 MB 240D 238K - Scrapped
1984 MB 300D 347K? - Sold
1984 MB 300TD Wagon - 188k - Sold
1987 MB 300E 5 speed 258K - Scrapped
1991 MB 300TE 5 speed 276K - Sold
1993 MB 400E 218K - Sold
1993 MB 400E 130K - Sold
1995 MB E320 Wagon 190k - Sold
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Old 11-23-2014, 06:53 AM
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Phoenix, in the future better to use graphite powder on a sticky lock assembly than WD40. From what I have read you have a major project ahead to replace the ignition lock cylinder. Good luck, and let us know how it goes.
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Old 11-23-2014, 10:56 AM
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The jiggle is just pure luck. Many times the inside pieces break, and it's not just a case of needing more lube.

As to the drilling, if you can drill holes at the spots where the insertion tool goes, then it could work. I saw a template for sale years ago for that, but couldn't find it last I looked.
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Old 11-23-2014, 11:05 AM
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Good news, of a sort

Quote:
Originally Posted by gatorblue92 View Post
Hmmm that sounds bad. My understanding is that once the cylinder fails there is nothing you can do other than replace the whole assembly including the steering lock. I caught all of mine before they failed so I never had to go that route.
After all the reading I did that seemed to be the case too. Yesterday I got prepared to start drilling and grinding by hitting up Harbor Freight for their Chicago Electric "Heavy Duty" rotary tool, but luckily I watched this one last video before starting in. Cutting off the face of the black bezel was a huge step forward in getting access to the tumbler assembly. I went through about a half dozen of the little carbide cutting discs to get through all that hardened steel. When I finally got it removed, the face plate of the tumbler and about 12-14mm of the key slot came off in my hand, revealing just the naked guts of the tumbler behind it. The tumbler had snapped in two thanks to the drill driver method employed the day before.

From there some judicious drilling, starting with about a 4mm (~3/16") bit and working my way up to about 12mm (~1/2"), staying as centered as possible the whole time, then some precision attacks on the remaining bits of tumbler with diamond bits on the rotary tool, followed by some meticulous chisel strikes against any stubborn bits to get enough of the original tumbler removed got me to screwdriver mode. It was getting dark at this point, but at least I am now able to roll the windows up and start the car. Yahoo!!!

One thing I should note is that the key switch is loose in the dash. It can move up and down about 5-6mm in each direction, and I assume this is because the clamp that holds it into the steering lock housing is not as tight as it should be. This actually made it easier to do both the grinding of the black bezel and the drilling of the tumbler, because I was able to gain crucial clearance top and bottom as needed, without marring the dash or removing the steering wheel. Anyone else stuck in this situation may want to loosen that clamp first before going forward.

My initial thought is that the switch and steering lock are in great condition. The turning action with the screwdriver is actually much smoother and more precise than it ever was with the key, so this points to strictly tumbler failure. Now if I've done a clean enough job of removing the old tumbler to allow a new one to work in the housing, I'll be home free. We shall see...

One more thing I should note is that when the front portion of the tumbler fell off, there was a fair amount of rust that had collected inside it. I'm a surfer, and I take my key with me out in the water when I surf. The key gets a little rusty, but I never thought it was an issue until now. It's not like huge chunks of rust were flaking off, but apparently enough small particles over time led to the tumbler's early demise. Let this be a warning to other watermen out there, get a waterproof case for your key if you're going to take it with you into the ocean, or find another way to hide your key while you go play!
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Old 11-23-2014, 11:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferdman View Post
Phoenix, in the future better to use graphite powder on a sticky lock assembly than WD40. From what I have read you have a major project ahead to replace the ignition lock cylinder. Good luck, and let us know how it goes.
Thanks for the tip, duly noted. See my update, I made good progress yesterday. Oh, and you can call me Panther from now on... The Phoenix bit the dust after being stolen and vandalized... :-(

Now if only I could figure out how to change my user name...
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Old 11-23-2014, 11:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hirnbeiss View Post
The jiggle is just pure luck. Many times the inside pieces break, and it's not just a case of needing more lube.

As to the drilling, if you can drill holes at the spots where the insertion tool goes, then it could work. I saw a template for sale years ago for that, but couldn't find it last I looked.
Well I guess it wasn't my lucky day... couldn't get the jiggle right before the tumbler disintegrated.

If you read my latest post you'll find that I was able to get to screwdriver mode by drilling from the center. If I were to drill out the insertion holes, would it render the housing useless as far as inserting a new tumbler? I'm hoping to be able to do that without replacing the whole kit and caboodle.
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Old 11-23-2014, 08:36 PM
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This is what the tumbler from my 300TE looked like when I replaced it. Not sure if yours is similar or not.

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1977 MB 240D 4 speed 145K - Nearly Perfect
1995 MB E420 197K - Weekend Toy
2018 Ford F150 5.slow 23K - My DD
2020 Subaru Ascent 10k - Wife's DD

1979 MB 280E 90K - Sold
1983 MB 240D 238K - Scrapped
1984 MB 300D 347K? - Sold
1984 MB 300TD Wagon - 188k - Sold
1987 MB 300E 5 speed 258K - Scrapped
1991 MB 300TE 5 speed 276K - Sold
1993 MB 400E 218K - Sold
1993 MB 400E 130K - Sold
1995 MB E320 Wagon 190k - Sold
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  #9  
Old 11-24-2014, 12:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gatorblue92 View Post
This is what the tumbler from my 300TE looked like when I replaced it. Not sure if yours is similar or not.

Is that how it's supposed to be, in two pieces, or is that the broken one? The face of the lock around the key slot looks pristine.
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  #10  
Old 11-24-2014, 05:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ThePhoenix View Post
Is that how it's supposed to be, in two pieces, or is that the broken one? The face of the lock around the key slot looks pristine.
That is the broken one.
__________________
1977 MB 240D 4 speed 145K - Nearly Perfect
1995 MB E420 197K - Weekend Toy
2018 Ford F150 5.slow 23K - My DD
2020 Subaru Ascent 10k - Wife's DD

1979 MB 280E 90K - Sold
1983 MB 240D 238K - Scrapped
1984 MB 300D 347K? - Sold
1984 MB 300TD Wagon - 188k - Sold
1987 MB 300E 5 speed 258K - Scrapped
1991 MB 300TE 5 speed 276K - Sold
1993 MB 400E 218K - Sold
1993 MB 400E 130K - Sold
1995 MB E320 Wagon 190k - Sold
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  #11  
Old 12-22-2014, 08:13 PM
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I just had a tumbler go bad, and it was brand new. Got to use it twice, then the key wouldn't turn. Spent an hour trying to work it open to no avail.

I removed the whole ignition and then drilled down on the spot that gets depressed, when you can push the release tab down. The lock cylinder popped right out after that with a tap on a chisel. All it has to do is clear the rim around the housing. I wish I knew how to post pics here. It was very easy.

It was actually harder to shove 2 different screwdrivers into the bottom of the ignition cylinder void, and get the spring loaded tab depressed while turning the ignition switch to the position it needs to be in to insert the new lock tumbler.
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  #12  
Old 12-22-2014, 08:19 PM
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This is how I got the whole ignition out.

http://www.dieselgiant.com/repairignitionlock.htm

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