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Should I buy this Mercedes 190E? Is it safe? How much $ to invest in fixing it?


I am considering a purchase of a 1990 Mercedes Benz 190E 2.6. The price is very reasonable (think KBB “Fair to Poor” condition) owing to some interior and exterior cosmetic damage, plus the car needing what appears to be a new set of shocks.

I don’t have TONS of money to spend though, so I’m hoping if I list everything I noticed whether you all can tell me how much $ I’m looking at investing to bring this beauty to roadworthiness (or whether I should walk away). I may not have the option to take this car to a mechanic, time-wise, before I have to decide to buy or not.

Thanks for reading and any thoughts you can provide!!! I understand it’s tough without seeing the actual car in person.

Essential info/history:

The car: It’s a 1990 190E 2.6 with approximately 178,000 miles on it. It has recently passed a smog test although the CarFax history reports indicate it typically fails and then passes on the same day, with a 1- or 2-mi increase on the odometer. It was in a freeway accident in 2006, looks like it was sideswiped on the passenger side, there is some damage to the front and rear right doors but they both open and close fine (and the windows work fine as well).


FYI: I live in the San Francisco Bay Area so we’re talking temperate weather, expensive gas and maintenance, hilly back roads and fast freeways. My daily weekday driving will be approximately 40 miles round-trip, 15 miles of which are up and down a wid-ish mountain road (Route 92 if you’re in the area). I hope to own the car for several years, don’t mind putting some money into it as long as it’s not a money sinkhole. I want the car to feel SAFE when I drive it, and I am not a timid or tentative driver. I don’t much care how it looks or whether comfort/convenience features are fully intact.

The Sellers:

A local family. They are moving across the country and don’t want to take the car along. They have to be out in a few days so the car is priced to move. It was driven by one male owner for almost 10 years, he appears to be out of the picture now and the son has been driving the car only around town for errands and to and from school. The mother has been very transparent as far as the car’s flaws and is actually worried about me buying it do the car’s handling and the fact that I would plan to drive it more than around town.

I viewed and test-drove the car today. Here’s everything that seems wrong with it:

* Biggest, most worrisome problem: The shocks need replacing. Driving on a road bending to the right a little too fast, I caused the left front tire to scrape against the wheel well (I think this was what happened?), and then later driving down a hill onto a flat road, I hit a little dip and scraped something as well. The young man I test-drove with says when the car goes down a steeper hill I should watch out as well, and similarly if I were to actually seat 4 people in the car (it will be just me driving 90% of the time though). I am still worried about driving this car because it feels like “driving a boat”. I wonder how it would handle at high-speed, in an emergency. I will put money into fixing it but I want to know that the fix is likely to solve the problem I describe.

*2: Car doesn’t necessarily always start right away. Have to pump the gas, be patient, let it idle for a moment. I’m told this is a matter of replacing the fuel filter. Is this a problem this car is likely to have over and over again?

3. The speedometer wasn’t working when I drove. The other gauges appeared responsive. My test-drive co-pilot said that the speedometer does work sometimes. I’m told this is likely a loose cable.

*Miscellaneous other issues:

1. Heater and A/C don’t appear to work (appears to be an issue of the blower).

2. Sunroof doesn’t work.

3. Wiper seems okay but doesn’t squirt any fluid. My co-pilot thought it lacked the “spray” feature; I forgot to check if it was just out of fluid.

4. Driver’s seat forward/back adjuster doesn’t move the seat as far forward as I would like but I can reach the pedals by also tilting the seat down.

5. Left rear brake light appears to be out (either a bulb or wiring issue).

6. Radio seems broken as well although the 6-cassette changer feature is intriguing. :slight_smile:

Things that do work:

*Engine seems to be a champ. Acceleration was good. No funny noises. The car growls and purrs when it starts up.

*Under the hood things look good and clean.

*Brakes seem pretty good.

*No rust underneath; tire wear pattern looks even and good.

Thanks again for any thoughts!!!

There is no easy way to diagnose these issues long distance. The most worrisome issue is the suspension, there should never be any rubbing. If you are serious, take the car to a dealer or a good independent shop for a complete pre-purchase inspection (it should cast a couple $100) and get a list of problems with repair estimates. This car does sound like it’s been neglected and may have some issues. I would not be surprised if it needs a couple $1000 worth of odds and ends.

You’re kidding, right? THERE IS NOTHING CHEAP TO FIX ON A MERCEDES. It sounds like it needs significant suspension work (think several grand; unless I miss my guess, the struts are more than $100 each just for the parts, not to mention bushings, control arms, etc.), and that blower is either a fuse or a $900 job. If it was free, I might have a flyer at it; but then again, I drive Peugeots, so I’m hardly the typical guy on this. I’d expect the car to be a money pit.

Maybe or maybe not, it depends what the actual problems are. The blower problem could just be fuse, or a $200 motor, or a $400 climate control unit, or a couple of other things. The suspension could be a real mess costing several $1000, or $200 for front struts, or maybe someone installed the incorrect wheels or tires and they are rubbing. The only way to find out is to go over the car in detail. I wouldn’t bother unless I was seriously considering the car.

Unless you already own a set of sockets and screwdrivers, and you fix a bunch of stuff around your house, and you want to learn to be a car fixing person, I’d say skip this car. You will end up making some local mechanic more financially secure. This is what used to be called a mechanic’s special. Some of us on this board are amateur mechanics, and enjoy wresting with a bad heater blower all weekend, but if you don’t, move on.


I believe the phrase is “there is no such thing as a cheap Mercedes”. wentwest is right, unless you can do all this work yourself, you just as well get to know the local Mercedes shop mechanics by their first name(s)

I think the expression folks are looking for is, “There’s nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes.”

Run, don’t walk, away from this one. It will break your heart AND your wallet.

Agree; both wife and car appear to have been neglected. This is not a really reliable car to start with and it had a number of technical teething problems. This is a vehicle for a dedicated owner who is car savvy and wants to get all the kinks out over a period of time. Under no circumstances would I recommend this vehicle as a daily commuter for any distance. Even without all the items listed, this will be an expensive car to own, as current MB owners can testify. My familily doctor had one like this and it was constant trouble, although he is a very rare doctor who also has an engineering degree. A failed differential cost him $2800 to fix in 1992.

If you fit the category of person to own this car, and get it for next to nothing, buy it; otherwise, run fast!

I can’t really add much to the comments except that I agree with possibly shying away from this car if you do not have the ability to take care of most problems on your own.

Just curious though. You have not mentioned how much they’re asking for this diamond in the rough.
My yea or nay could be dependent on the price and how quick the sellers are getting out of town after selling the car.

Hmmm…An 18 year old Mercedes in obviously poor condition…

If this was a “project car” that you intended to work on over an extended period of time, then it MIGHT be an ok idea for purchase. However, since you apparently plan on using this car soon in order to commute to work, all I can say is–have you lost your senses?

This car will need a lot of work in order to make it safe to drive, and as was already said, nothing is cheap on a Mercedes. Your plan just does not make sense to me, but feel free to blunder your way into this ill-advised purchase if you wish.

I’m also curious what it’s selling for.

From your KBB comment I’m assuming it’s in the $2000 range, which is probably too much for this condition. You will spend at least that much taking care of the problems you’ve listed (probably more). If that is the price range, I would probably just go shopping for a $4-5000 car that doesn’t need work, unless you really want this particular car.

I thought it was “there’s nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes” :slight_smile:

He asked explicitly for any thoughts. Yes, don’t get this car. It will be a money sink hole. I have known people over the years who got an MB because the price was really low, and they thought, wow, I’ll have me a Mercedes Benz. Never yet heard of one who was glad he had done it.

I looked up the KBB on the car and it’s only a shade over 2 grand when in excellent condition. Fair condition showed about 1400 dollars and it might be debateable whether or not this car approaches the fair designation.

If the OP can’t perform any needed work themselves, and there will be some no doubt, one could probably figure on a couple of grand easy.
Once on a rack and with a thorough inspection there is no telling what would be found.

(Kind of neat little cars IMHO. I went to look at a baby Benz some years ago that was advertised as having an excellent condition body/interior but had a known blown head gasket and possibly the entire motor was bad. At 700 bucks asking, my intention was to buy it, perform a small block Ford V-8 swap, and tool around in that. As luck would have it, 2 hours late. Someone jumped on it.)

I got a very good deal on one of mine (my '83), but the seller was an enthusiast who wanted to sell it to a good home because he was going back to school and couldn’t afford to maintain it correctly. I wanted it because it’s the last year of the 240D. I had to fly 2000 miles to pick it up, and I knew exactly what I buying and what it was going to need. It still ended up costing me a couple of $1000 to get it the way I thought it should be (all little stuff). It’s a great little car now, my wife drives it every day. That would not be practical for anyone who needs to go to the dealer for every little thing.

In my zip code,it listed for about $1800 on KBB (fair condition), not a surprise, but we don’t know where the OP lives. If it was cosmetically decent, it’s the kind of thing I might pick up as a kids’ car (after it’s repaired), I could probably make something like that into a decent driver for $4-5K total. IMHO, the W201 was the first of the “cheap” benz models, it’s not really something I would bother to preserve and I wouldn’t feel too bad when my kids trashed it.