Main.TrailIndexPage | Drive Shaft and Rear Axle | Rear Axle

Rear Axle

This component is part of Driveshaft and Rear Axle.


The rear axle distributes the energy to the road wheels and is pivoted at the differential housing. The rear axle is held up and suspended by coil springs, shock absorbers and trailing arms with rubber bushings. The movement is controlled by a heavy duty compensating spring. At the ends of the axle, the rear brakes are mounted.


Following are the most common maintenance jobs on the rear axle:

  • Rear Wheel Bearings renewal
  • Trailing arm bushings renewal
  • Flexible bellows renewal
  • Shock absorbers renewal
  • Suspension carrier mounting renewal
  • Suspension carrier bushing renewal
  • Locating strut renewal of bushings
  • Rear axle alignment adjusting

Alignment Tool

If the rear axle is removed, it will have to be re-aligned on installation. Arthur Dalton came up with an easy-to-make alignment tool made out of standard copper pipe fittings, soldered together. If you can sweat pipes, you can make this fixture. Here's how

Arthur's notes on constructing the tool follow:

  • Easy way to make tool is to set up geometry on 2'x4' plywood
  • Screw in some screws where step-bearings measurements are, leaving heads 1/2" protruding out to slip tubing over
  • Drill hole in wood for pointer wire at proper dimension
  • Assemble all pieces by hand and when in place on ply template, solder all joints. Unit is now perfectly set.
  • When making tool in this manner, offset is is reverse because tool is being made upside down
  • When making ply, reverse 466mm and 411mm
  • When tool is uprighted it will then be in proper geometry for use
  • Tool can be used without even jacking up car for quick checks

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Rear axle mount

My mechanic pointed out something that needs to be fixed. He opened up the trunk, took off a plastic cover, and showed me some flaking rubber - what used to be a mount for the rear axle. The lack of the mount causes a big thump whenever I decelerate quickly. He wasn't sure if it would be a big job to replace it. Finding the part wouldn't be bad, but he was worried about gaining access to the area. Has anyone dealt with replacing this axle mount?

This morning I took my 1967 230 SL into the shop, where they installed a new differential mount. This has smoothed out my ride very nicely. I'm due for some more rubber replacement; a bushing related to this mount, which will smooth things up even more, but my mechanic has to figure out how to install it without taking the entire rear-end apart.

If you have shifting stiffness, excess mirror vibration, driveline clunk, or a noisy differential, check your motor and differential hanger mounts. I have changed both motor mounts and the hanger mount and this has made a HUGE improvement in my car. It now feels tight, firm, MUCH quieter, glued to the road, in short a total transformation. I was convinced that I had a differential problem, and contacted several people about it. Will Samples mentioned that these differentials were seldom noisy and I would be better off looking for a used one than trying to rebuild one, not very encouraging. I did have a broken motor mount rubber and a badly worn-out hanger mount, but these weren't obvious to me and even a MB mechanic told me the hanger was fine, until I noticed the shiny metal beneath the large washer that secures the mount to the floor. The washer itself(approx. 4" dia.) had worn away significantly from contact with the surrounding metal, and even the garage owner, himself a retired mechanic and owner of a 280 SL, wasn't sure that there was a problem with it, when I pointed out the thin line of shiny metal to him. When I got it out it was literally in two pieces. Long story, but it does point out that sometimes things aren't as they appear or sound.

I can totally confirm your observation about the motor mounts, etc. I replaced my differential mount, and it made all the difference. I was amazed at how smooth the ride is now.

I pulled the right axle of my 230 SL, convinced the noise and vibration I'd been experiencing when under power, was a wheel bearing. The bearing was good, so I pulled the entire rear axle. I disassembled the entire axle and found little to no wear in the ring gear and pinion, nor any of the roller bearings. The right axle contains a u-joint fastened to the differential side gear, under the rubber boot. Since Mercedes didn't want the axle splines to take the sliding motion, when the axles pivoted, they incorporated a slider, with three sets of 36 rollers in an oval track (108) next to this U-joint. This setup performs the same functions as the current C V joints, I.E. angular as well as linear motion. When assembled on the axle spline, I had sufficient angular motion to cause the vibration. The cause of my noise, was the top rubber mount, located in the floor of the trunk, below the top cavity. I found the rubber center of the mount separated from the outer portion, allowing the large top washer to rub, when under power. This would have been a easy fix for the noise, but wouldn't have fixed my vibration. Tom Hanson, Caliber Motors was able to find all of the parts, except the slider (and rollers) and ship them to me within a few days. I replaced all of the rubber on the ends of all 3 coil springs, as well as the rubber on the body ends of the thrust arms, and locating strut. I want to thank Arthur Dalton for instructions of the axle centering tool, made out of 1/2 inch copper tubing. It works great. I waited several weeks on the slider and rollers, which was back-ordered to Stuttgart. We received the wrong one (there are two sizes of internal splines that slip on to the axle). This part cost almost as much as all of the other parts. I also had to replace the axle pivot shaft and one bushing and sleeve, as my PREVIOUS lube man had either been missing it or didn't have the sense to know that it wasn't taking grease. One last caution to those of you with 230 SL's with drum brakes on the back. There is a special thick washer on the lower fixed shoe pivot. This is not clearly identified, if you're using the Haynes manual. I got the car on the ground and had a rubbing noise in the left brake. I pulled the wheel and drum, and determined the top of the shoes was rubbing the inside of the drum. The shoes were cocked. With the 2.6 inch shoes, the washer must be on the inside, next to the spring. I dug out my dilapidated Mercedes shop manual, which identified it's place on the outside only with the 2 inch wide shoes.

Does anyone know if it is possible to replace the flexible mounting around the pivot shaft of the rear axle carrier for a 230sl, without having to remove the complete rear end?

If you are referring to the flexible mount in the trunk, the answer is yes. If you raise the car and place it on jack stands, then separately support the rear end on a jack. You can unbolt the mount and lower the rear end. Then you can replace the mount, raise the rear end back into position and tighten the center bolt.

No, I was referring to the flexible mount around the pivot bolt. I think you're referring to the top of the carrier mount, I'm referring to the lower end, around the pivot bolt. Same piece, just different end.

It'll make an ugly noise if it's out... and it's pretty simple to replace... the bang noise when going over bumps sounds very typical for that... It costs around $55. Maybe a 20-30 min. job at most... just put a floor jack under the diff, take the load off of it, loosen the big nut, take off the four smaller bolts, replace the mount, bolts back in, nut back on, take out the jack and you're done... it's worth checking before you replace and entire rear diff.

Can anyone out there explain the steps to replace the steel sleeved rubber axle support bushing that sits just to the passenger side of the pinion seal on the transaxle. Do you have to take apart the front of transaxle case in order to slip it out, or can it be removed some other way. The replacement bushing is a cylinder, about 6" long and about 1.5 inches in diameter, with an inner and outer metal sleeve with the rubber in between. It is clamped to the transaxle with several bolts, but it doesn't appear that it will just slide forward after the large bolt in the front is removed.

I had my whole rear axle out and this is just one of the things that I replaced. There is a small wedge bolt that retains this shaft, in the bottom of the differential. loosen the nut several turns, and tap it in, loosen again and continue again until you can remove this wedge bolt. I'm not sure the pivot-shaft that runs through this bushing and retains the RH axle, will come out from under the car. One of the PO had tried to remove this shaft, and messed up the end, so I ended up having to replace the shaft and nut also. You'll have to remove the bow spring and the large support mount in the trunk.

So you don't have to unbolt the front of the differential (the part that the pinion seal rides in) in order to get enough clearance to free the support arm? When I was under the car the other day, the support arm looked to be attached to the differential and the only way to take it apart looked like it was to remove the front part of the differential housing... Any clarification possible?

Rear axle centering tool

Anyone interested in plans for making a pivot point rear axle centering gage, I have made some up. Easy to make, about $5 worth of tubing. Send me an email and I will scan plans for members.

An added note for assembly, I have found that by laying out the geometry on a piece of plywood and installing screws at the step bearing and pivot points allows you to set the tubing over the screwheads and then solder all joints at one time. This assures accuracy and simplifies construction. The trick here is to flip the pivot measurement to the other side of the line as you are assembling up-side down. When done and flipped over, it is correct and ready. Any fine-tuning can be done by tweaking the pointer.

I've notice quite an oil leak from the rear end. Thought it might be a torn swing axle boot, but after crawling around under the car, noticed it looked OK. Reading my Haynes manual, I think it's a pinion oil seal. Looks like a big job to replace. Anyone done this? I'm very much a shade tree mechanic (literally, I can't work on the car when it's in the garage). Do I tackle this myself and gain valuable experience? Do I sub the job out and spend valuable money. I also think it's time to change the rubber bushings in the rear suspension ... probably front too. Is ripping the entire rear end out and doing a refresh of all the rubber a valuable pursuit? I'll tell you, the more I look into one problem, I discover 10 others.

I have a nice red trans fluid drip from the differential. Its not huge but it is leaving drips when I got under the car I saw a nice one hanging off. So can I just tighten the bolts or do I need to go to the mechanic. How dangerous is this?

Will Samples says: Red fluid is usually from the transmission or the power steering. I know that there is a mfgr of red differential oil. So, either you have that oil in the dif or you have attributed the red fluid to the wrong source. Either way, drips are irritating, but not critical and to be expected from old rubber parts. Wipe the area clean and watch where the drip actually originates. Tell the group and we will tell you how hard it is to fix. In the meantime it might be prudent to check the oil level of what is dripping. Is this a manual or automatic trans car?

Mine is leaking too. Very annoying. About 5 drops in 7 days. I have not looked at this yet but I suspect the rubber cuff. I just have just replaced the seals and O-rings on my manual transmission so that is nice and dry now. I also still have a leak in the power steering box. When the car runs, it drips out of there at regular intervals. Needs a new kit...

Take a close look to the rubber covering the swing axle, just behind the spring. I just replaced it by the split kit from MB.

Rear axle general

My car developed some scraping noises, when under power, but no noise while coasting. I lived with this for a while, but then it developed a vibration, on the right side at highway speeds. With some side to side, and top to bottom play on the tire when jacked up, I was sure it was the right wheel bearing. Pulling this axle, the bearing was only slightly worn , so I put it on stands and dropped the entire rear axle; now after 6-8 hours I have it on a bench. I tore it completely down, and everything appeared fine. The right axle has a U-joint inside the rubber boot, connected to the Rt diff side gear with a long bolt. Since the hinge point is below the axle CL, the axle slides in and out by means of a "slider assembly" at the end of this u-joint. This contains 36 small rollers arround each of three oval tracks. Although wear was bearly noticable, when I slipped the u-joint and slder assembly together on the axle end, I could noticably rock it.allowing the axle to whip at higher speeds. The Noise? The top rubber mount, located in the trunk, had come apart, allowing the large retaining washer to rub on the side. Thus my scraping noise when under power. This would have been an easy fix, but I'm glad I found the bad slider. I made the rear axle centing tool from 1/2 copper pipe, it worked great. I talked with the PO who lives nearby. He told me that the rear end assembly is the only component that he did not remove from the body, when he rebuilt it. (So now I feel like I'm a front end, Power steering box, rear end and AC expert. HA!) Moral to this story: change the rear axle grease as I found some grit in it that I believe caused the slider to wear. Ring gear and pionion were unaffected, however I replaced most all of the bearings and all of the seals and rubber parts. Also, make certain all zerts are taking grease, as I also had to replace the right axle trunion shaft, and all bushings as my lube man had not been greasing one of the two zerts. Just replacing the suspension rubber is probably about a half day to a day job. The upper and lower rings on the main springs is really pretty easy, if you'll put a floor jack under the arms where they fasten to the floor. Removing the bolts and letting the arm down, relaxes the spring allowing you to easily remove the spring and replace the rubber ends.and the rubber donuts when rebolting to the floor pan. The compensating spring requires a spring compressor and is a slow job.

230SL had rear axle ratio 3.75 except the US version had 4.08 and the 5-speed-manual had 4.08. The 250SL/280SL had rear axle ratio 3.92 except 3.69 could be ordered, option code in data card "230". The US version had 4.08 until April 1969 the US version had 3.92 from May 1969 on and the 5-speed manual had 4.08

I am having my rear axle (1969 280 SL US spec 4.08) replaced with a 3.69. The effect should be roughly that of "half of an extra gear" i.e. approx. 400 RPM at 75 MPH - from 4.200 to 3.800 RPM. Since I do a lot of highway driving, usually around 75 MPH but sometimes 85 for prolonged stretches, I look forward to the change.

Changed my 4.08 out for a 3.69 last year to cut the rev's down at highway speeds. Mostly happy with the results, but now tend to shift the automatic low to high while in the city. Switching out is more involved than appears (brake lines, emergency brake cable, exhaust work etc.) but worth the effort.

My 1969 280SL sometimes makes a "bump" when I first let out the clutch in first. It also makes a distinct bang when going over a bump with the rear wheels. My mechanic says that I need a new rear end.

First, check to see that the exhaust mountings are tight and in place (the little rubber "donuts" will often stretch/break/become disconnected from the hooks to which they are supposed to be attached). Next, be certain that there are no other mountings back there that are loose (an inspection of the undercarriage whilst the car is on a lift should (a) answer these questions, and (b) broaden your knowledge of your car. It tends also to "de-mythologize" it as well. For what it is worth, my ('69 280SL) rear end hasnt been changed/replaced/generally fiddled with in some 160,000 miles. I think that they are nearly bullet-proof.

Check the center bushing/mount also, it's the one that you get to from the trunk (in the center under the soft top bin), it'll make an ugly noise if it's out... and it's pretty simple to replace... the bang noise when going over bumps sounds very typical for that... It costs around $55. Maybe a 20-30 min. job at most... just put a floor jack under the diff, take the load off of it, loosen the big nut, take off the four smaller bolts, replace the mount, bolts back in, nut back on, take out the jack and you're done... it's worth checking before you replace and entire rear diff.

Tom Hanson: differential rebuilds on these cars is not very common. That's about it.

Have you checked the exhaust system? You need to have a lift or get under the car. Mine after full restoration was making all kinds of bumping noises like you describe--the worst offender was part of the exhaust system hitting the body over rought roads (we've got plenty here in Michigan) and bumps.

The center mount which attaches to rubber mounts in the trunk attaches at the other end to a shaft on the rear end. The bushing at this mount point is completely gone. My mechanic said that replacing it requires a special tool which he had to manufacture, and was almost impossible to do without removing the rear end. His recommendation was that if we were going to extent, it was cheaper to just replace the rear end. So, if anyone has any experience here, and knows were I can find the necessary tool, I'm really into finding the least expensive solution.

I just spoke with my mechanic who worked on 300SL's when THEY were new, and he says it's not that much of a problem, the most important thing is that the front to rear spacing is correct so that it doesn't strain the U-Joint... I asked him what he would charge you if you were his customer and he said $570 and that would include taking apart the rear end and replacing seals and such... he also said "Zees guy ist crAAAzy iv he tinks you haf to replaze de reer ent fur dees" (Thick German Accent).

Joe Alexander says: This is rare. I only saw it happen once before on a 6.3 sedan with over 400 lbs engine torque. I assume this is the rubber/metal bushing which surrounds the swing axle hinge pin. The dealer's parts manual refers to it as a "rubber mounting" part #110-350-1275 or 1375. This swingaxle configuration is basically the same on Mercedes passenger cars 1955 thru 1972. The 110 prefix on the part number indicates to me that the part was used on the finback sedans of the era also. Any special tool required would be fairly simple. I have replaced one with the rear end out of the car. It appears that replacement could be possible in the car. Fuel tank removal is probably necessary. I would unbolt the mount in the trunk, unbolt the driveshaft at the diff. and allow the rear end to drop. There is a special tappered pin, at the center of the swingaxle pin, which must be removed, a "c" clip at the front of the swingaxle pin must also be removed, several sinch bolts loosened and the swingaxle pin can be driven to the rear freeing the mount and arm. Do not drive the swing axle pin completely out. Just enough to free the support arm and rubber mounting after the diagonal support rod is unhooked. Check out your rubber swingaxle boot for possible replacement if needed, during the project. Split replacement axle boots are available from Mercedes (#110-357-0391) which make replacement much easier. Order a factory clamp kit for this boot if you replace it also, it is inexpensive and has the special clips for the new split axle boot (#110-357-0591). The original nonsplit axle boots are best, however complete removal of the rear end and disassembly is required for installation of a non split axle boot.

Thank you Joe. Question, if the rear end is removed, can the bushing be replaced by pulling the carrier forward off the pivot shaft instead of having to drive the shaft backward? It really looks like once the rear end is removed (which he'd have to do to replace the rear end anyway) there is no way that this could be difficult.

Joe replies: certainly it is quite easy to remove once the rear end is out. After the driveshaft flange is removed and the cinch bolts are loosened. The entire mount with arm will slide forward and off. Order a new pinion seal. It is a breeze to replace at this time. Some technicians are too vain to take good advice from other sources. This may become more challenging than the actual fix!

I can't imagine that replacing the whole rear end is cheaper than replacing this rubber bushing. I replaced this bushings (as well as most of the rest of the rubber around the rear end) and without any "special tool". The pivot shaft that the RH axle pivots on, also retains the mounting lever that attaches to the large rubber mount inside the trunk. The rubber bushing you're talking about is inside the lower end of this lever. The shaft is retained with a large bolt and washer on one end aqnd a large snapring on the other. There's also a small bolt in the differential housing that prevents it from turning. This shaft will have to be pulled toward the rear about 1/2 way to remove this lever. He's right in that I don't think it's possible to remove this shaft while the differential is still in the car. I don't know of any special tool necessary to pull this shaft. (There's nothing in the manual.) Mine was very difficult to remove, and I ended up replacing the shaft as well as one of the brass bushings on the axle side, as it had not been taking grease (I now have an new lube man.)

Rodd: I wanted to replace my differential oil today as it and the coolant are the only fluid not replaced since buying the car. I bought some Valvoline 80w90 (1/2 price of Mobile 1 80w90) and then looked through my blue MB shop manual, Haynes manual, and Glenn's maintenance manual to ensure I would be draining from and filling through the correct bolts/plugs. Since this is a "common" maintenance procedure, it's not detailed in these books. I believe I found the correct drain bolt, with a 14mm recessed hex head, as there's only one. Where do I refill at? There is another 14mm recessed hex head bolt in the rear, but I don't know if this is the correct fill point. It looks a little low on the differential. Is there a fill point on top?

The fill plug is also 14 mm hex head, located on the rear of the differential, roughly halfway. Not on top of the differential. As it is still difficult to reach, I used a piece of thick hose which I bent into a half circle, then filled it up with oil, moved one side of the hose up to the fill hole, and then raised the other side up, so the oil would run out of the hose into the hole. After about 5 or 6 repetitions, no more oil would go in, and that's the proper fill mark as I understand it.

The ratio on both my old US and new Euro differential (280 SL) is stamped on the left hand side, looking from the rear of the car, very much near the bottom, on a narrow flat surface. Before I found it I had to remove a lot of oily gunk but then it was clearly legible. The old one simply read "4.08" and the new one "3.69" in large, thin stamped letters.

I'll probably get jeered for this, but I removed and installed the castellated nut on my differential, with a long punch and a hammer. I rebuild my entire differential without any special tools. First, unbend the lock tab from the washer (under the nut), then with the punch at right angles to the nut, against one of the shoulders, a couple of good raps will loosen the nut. I put it back together the same way. You can tell it's tight when it stops moving. Use a new washer if available, it not, be sure to bend it up with a narrow chisel,in a different area.

I asked a question about my noise in my rear axle. This weekend I found the noise, it was coming from the right rear wheel under hard lateral load the break drum has been rubbing on the bottom edge of the rear break shoe. I noted that the axle flange was at a 6 angle from the shoes. I stopped the noise by removing the washer that is located between the spring and the rear shoe on the lower mount and placing it on the outside of the front shoe on the mount this place the shoes at the same angle as the axle flange and stopped the rubbing. My question is what would cause the axle to alter its angle in the axle tube or maybe the backing plate is bent any ideas?

I think you've just corrected a mistake, that the last person to work on your brakes, made. You'd better check the other side also. The Illustrations on the rear drum brake assembly is very confusing. See Fig. 43-9/3 and Fig. 42-9/4 in the BBB (Big Blue Book) I.e.; 50 mm vs. 65 mm shoes and drums. Apparently Mercedes used the same backing plate for two different width shoes, making up the difference with a washer, either behind the shoes or on top of the shoes on the lower pivot. I made this same mistake when I reassembled the brakes, after rebuilding my rear axle last fall. (And I had rebuilt the brakes shortly after getting the car 6 years ago, I guess I was more observant how I took them apart then.) I had had my car apart for almost three months, and took it out for its first spin and noticed a noisy rubbing noise at one of the wheel ends. I was sick, and afraid I'd made some drastic error in assembly. I jacked up the rear again and pulled the wheels and drums and was relieved to find my mistake was the incorrect placement of the spacing washer. I had it fixed and back on the ground in about 30 minutes. This didn't occur to me, when you first mentioned the noise was only on turns, as my noise was constant. Just a difference in brake shoe tolerances I guess. Mine were both assembled wrong, but only one side was rubbing. This wrong assembly is not just noisy, but causes poor rear braking and would give short shoe life.

My Drive Pinion Seal is leaking. Taking a look at the big blue book (BBB), the repair doesn't look too hard, except for the two special tools needed to remove the grooved nut while holding the joint flange in place. The really critical part looks like the re-adjustment of the bearing following replacement of the pinion seal. The BBB says I need Special Wrench 111 589 00 07 00, and Retaining Wrench 111 589 02 07 00 (its job 35-8 in the BBB). As I probably won't ever need to replace the pinion seal or touch the bearing ever again (if i fix it correctly), it doesn't make sense to purchase these tools. is this one of these jobs I need to leave to the professionals? Or are there devious, sneaky, and interesting ways to complete this job without wrecking the bearings in my differential. The torque on the bearing appears to be rather a critical item.

When I overhauled my differential over a year ago, I used a hammer and punch to remove and reinstall the castelated nut on the pinion. I frequently use a piece of 1/4 inch keystock about 6 inches long. The square end does less damage to the nut, and you can grind the end to fit with a slight angle so that it's square to the slot, while hammering. After unbending the locking ring from the notch (with a punch) it unscrewed surprisingly easy. I don't recall how I held the Yoke flange. Since I had it apart is was simple to press in the seal in the flange that I had removed. Yes the nut needs to be tight as you're preloading the center races by tightening up against a crush sleve between the bearings. There is a torque shown, but without the special torque tool, I did it by feel. Of course I had the whole assembly out on a table. Be certain to bend the edge of metal ring back into the notch after you're done. A new nut may come with the seal, not a bad idea.

Cees: you mentioned that you installed a 3.69 rear axle in your car. I have located and agreed to purchase a 3.46 rear axle for my car(I assume that the reason that the US market got such a low ratio axle was our preoccupation with acceleration from a standing start). I had a few questions. Did you notice a decrease in around town performance? Any change in fuel economy? What is your normal open road speed in KPH? If you did it again would you select the 3.69 or would you go further to the 3.46?

Cees: the critical question, as I think also Pete Lesler mentioned, is whether your car has a standard or an automatic transmission. With an automatic (my case), I would not go below 3.69 because the auto trans starts out in second gear. You can force it to start in first, but this requires either "manual shifting" (putting the gear selector in "2" (which forces the transmission to start in 1st) or press down hard on the gas. Either method is not optimal. In fact I am wondering whether there is a safe (mechanically) way to get the automatic trans to always start out in first, so also if the gear selector is in "4" and without having to press the gas so hard. Once moving at least slowly, the car picks up just fine - it's that initial pulling away that is quite a bit more sluggish with the 3.69 already, let alone with a 3.46. If you have a manual transmission, I would opt for the 3.46 because you can always start in first and, in general, determine the RPM's of the engine much easier. I usually cruise around 75 MPH (120 KPH) on the highway, although on longer trips (like to the Techno Classica in Germany in two weeks) I will take it up to 85 MPH (140 KPH). Mind you, at those speeds the RPM's of the engine are still quite high, which is what the engine was designed for. In fact, I always thought the 4.08 ratio was chosen for the US market because of better acceleration performance, in a country where top speeds would seem less relevant (due to the speed limit being relatively low). However, someone who ought to know told me that it was chosen because of the low speed limit - in order to make sure the engine would be allowed to cruise at high-enough RPM's. In other words, his theory is that if people abide by the 55 MPH speed limit, with a 3.69 (or lower) ratio, the engine does not reach its proper operating RPM range. I think I am getting somewhat better gas mileage but it is a bit hard to tell - because due to the different rear axle ratio, the speedometer and hence the odometer, now give me proportionately lower readings and I have not corrected for this in my fuel consumption yet. Nevertheless, my impression is that, yes, I get somewhat better gas mileage.
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