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Buying a 20 year old car

My husband and I are considering buying a 1988 MB 260. The seller says it has 90k miles, which seems unbelievably low. The car would be used for commuting to work. I’ve owned old MB’s before and they seem to last forever, but I’m not familiar with this model.

We need a car, but not a car payment!

Would appreciate your thoughts if you know this vehicle.


I assume you mean a Mercedes 260E. This is the model with the internal number W124. Those are widely considered to be some of the best and most reliable Mercedes ever built. It is from the period of Mercedes “overengineering” and predates the more recent woes with reliability, electronics hiccups etc. Legendary build quality and comfort. For your education and entertainment may I suggest you watch what popular TV show “Top gear” did to test the build quality of these cars: (series of a handful of videos where they subject one to all kinds of abuse). Google W124 and you’ll find lots of positive stuff about that particular car.

That being said it is a 20 year old car. Buying any car (especially a 20 year old) I would run a vehicle history check (e.g. Carfax) and have an independent mechanic check it out. If the miles are really that low (seats should have no cracks, steering wheel & pedals should not have a lot of wear, maintenance history & Carfax confirm) it’s a rare find and desirable.

Fixing it should be affordable given the wide availability of spare parts if you have a good mechanic who knows these cars (lots of guys specialize in these).

But - as I said - it is a 20 year old car, and if you are purely utilitarian I’d spend the same kind of money on a 10 year old car that is not an MB and gets better gas mileage. But if you value things like the class, style and legendary quality of the Benz - go for it. I know I would.

Wow. Thanks for all your information! And, yes it is the 260E model. Now I’m going to take a look at the video!

Car Talk people are the greatest!

Unless one of you is an experienced Mercedes Benz mechanic and you can do all the maintenance and repair yourselves, trying to use a 23 year old MB as a daily driver seems a little crazy to me

I don’t see how this could possibly be a money saving move, unless the car is free, and even then . . .

Almost any beater Corolla would be less expensive to own and drive, and probably more reliable.

The video is very entertaining, but doesn’t really prove much, and low mileage doesn’t mean much, either.

Now Google Volvo vs Renault and watch what modern safety equipment can do.

I’ve had one of these – well, the diesel version – and yes maintenance will be a bit more than a Corolla/Civic et al – but these 124 Mercs were one of the BEST cars ever built, by Mercedes or anyone else. They rode great, handled great, were built like tanks, and have just enough safety stuff on them (airbags, anti-lock brakes) – but without all the computerized garbage that new luxury cars are saddled with. Their styling is very timeless as well, and the interior is from the days when German cars’ idea of luxury was elegant simplicity. I’d buy one in a heartbeat – but make sure it has been taken care of (full service history is vital).

Here’s a few shots of my 1972 280 SEL 4.5

These were great cars back in the day when Mercedes made the best quality motor cars in the world. They were built to a standard, not to a price. As others have mentioned, they are weekend not daily drivers now.

Find the best one you can afford. A nice classic MB is expensive, but a bad MB is even more expensive. Consider the purchase price to be a down payment and you will do OK. Have it checked out by a Mercedes independent specialist who works on classics. Here in Denver, we are fortunate to have Stu Ritter – the technical editor for The Star (the US Mercedes Benz owner’s club magazine). If you live far from an MB specialist, I’d pass on one of these. Before you buy any car, spend some time on this web site:

Good luck!


Hi twotone,

what a beauty! I also briefly owned one of these 4.5s. True class and style!

With regards to the original poster’s question I would argue that that the model they inquired about would still qualify as daily driver worthy. If the car checks out good and has been properly maintained. In fact I recently asked a Mercedes mechanic which of all the older models he would use as a daily driver that is reasonable to keep up. He mentioned the W124 body style as the best bet. He also recommended getting one with as few options as possible. Smallest engine, if possible even without power windows etc.

The original poster also seems to have owned a few older MB’s before and seems to know what they are “in for”. If they have done “it” (owning an older Benz) before and enjoyed it this one will be no different.

My daily driver is a 1989 190E with the 2.6 liter inline 6. 175,000 miles on it. The AC no longer works, same with cruise control. Most parts are original: engine, transmission, starter, fuel pump, alternator, etc…

A couple little things that happened to my car are quirky but common problems: an overvoltage protection relay that went bad and a EHA valve (electro-hyraulic actuator) that I needed to replace. I think I bought both parts online and fixed these myself. Watch out if the fuel distributor ever goes bad, this could be expensive.

But at this age my first place to look for parts is a junkyard, second place is online.

Stay away from a Mercedes dealer. They can come up with $4,000 worth of suggested work on any Mercedes car.

Twotone - what a gorgeous car!

Yes, I realize that the $2k purchase price is really just a down payment. There will definitely be maintenance costs. I owned a couple of old 300’s and there were always little things that needed to be taken care of.

I appreciate your comments. Going out to take a look at the car now.

Good car, IF you have it inspected by a good Benz mechanic, and IF it’s reasonably up to date on maintenance. Cars like this can be neglected, there are things that have to be done on a time basis as well as miles basis.