HELP - used MB's?

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We need a second car that's reliable and safe for my wife to drive from home to the BART station (commuter train), about 5 miles RT. I expect she will put less than 7.5K miles on it per year. We're looking at
several used MB's, but I've never owned one and other than their reputation, I'm not that familiar with them, especially the older models, so I would appreciate any info on what to look for, expensive problems or repairs specific to MB, etc. Because of the short travel distances involved, I believe a gas engine is probably the better option. Our budget is pretty small, we need to stay under $2500. Location is the San Francisco Bay Area.
Here are some the cars we are looking at:
1982 280E, 196K miles, $2200 1988 420SEL, 164K miles, $1900 (salvage title, recovered stolen, vandalism, not wrecked) 1990 300E, ???K miles, $1850 (low price, suspect?) 1986 190E 4dr, 131K miles, $1,500 ('average condition' per ad) 1986 300E ???K miles, $1850, leaky radiator, cracked fog lamp covers, sun-roof non-op (but closed).
I have not seen or driven any of these yet. On the surface the '88 420SEL seems like the best deal, but I would want a CARFAX report on it before I buy. Several are from used dealers (including the 420SEL), the rest are private party sales. Comments, suggestions and warnings gladly accepted.
--
Dan

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We went down to the dealer to look at the 420SEL and 280E. A little about the dealer. He buys auction cars, rebuilds and then re-sells them. MBz's seem to be his specialty and from what I could see, he seems to know what he's doing.
The interior and drive train of the 420SEL look and sound like they are in pretty good shape, but the exterior is trashed. This would probably be a good project car for someone who was willing to put in the time, effort and money needed to restore the exterior, but I'm not that guy. Not to mention that it is far to big for what we needed. Still ...
The 280E was donated for charity and he bought it at auction. He said when he got it the rear end was shot and the front brakes needed to be completely replaced. He installed the rear end from an '85 300 Turbo Diesel that has a lower gear ratio. He claims the car runs smoother, particularly at highway speeds. The replacement front brakes came off another 300.
It was obvious the 280E hadn't been waxed or detailed, but the silver paint was in very good condition, with little oxidation. The interior is black cloth and except for a tear/hole where the driver gets in and out, was also in good condition. We didn't test drive it, but we did start the engine and let it warm up. There was some lifter noise, especially when it first started that got less as the engine warmed up, but it never completely went away. I didn't see any smoke from the tailpipe, even when it was first started and it seemed to run pretty smoothly. I haven't checked the fluids yet. This car was originally sold in Europe, it has a dash mounted key switch and the thin Euro bumpers. All in all, the car looked damn good for being 24 years old. And yes, it still has the MBz hood ornament.
I did see something that raised a flag, but I don't know how serious it is. It was obvious the car had been in the same spot for at least a week or 2, so I checked the ground for fluid leaks. I didn't see any, but I did notice that the engine had a thin coat of oil that got heavier towards the bottom end. He said it was probably the valve cover gaskets leaking and that would certainly be plausible. There's no oil on the valve covers themselves, but it starts right below them.
I'm planning to go back tomorrow evening for a test drive.
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Dan

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Uh-huh.
Uh-huh.
I'd claim that too if I couldn't find the RIGHT parts. Mercedes is funny, they go to a helluva lot of trouble work out the right ratios.

Uh-huh.
They all do that.

Uh, it's a Euro? Um, that's a big deal. They don't use standard US parts, and you can get the right parts but it's always going to be a hassle. Even the glass is different (thickness). BUT, they're highly sought after; faster and cooler in many ways.

Not a big deal. It it was all the oil would be gone. Poeple live for years with that although not generally hard to fix if you care that much.
I'd be more concerned with the engine noise. Get a compression test, and if it's not even, get a leak-down test to identify if it's head of block. It may need a valve job. Or a new head. or an adjustment. or it could be a timing chain. I make it a point to changethe chain and tensioner on all new (to me) cars jsut so I knowwhere I'm at. If that chain breaks you have a paperweight.

That'll only identify gross faults. As soon as you by it you'll notice stuff you didn't ona test drive. Make sure you drive it for about 20 mins at freeway speeds (and higher) and make copious notes about the delta betwween it and what a new car rides like.
Thumps, bumps, vibrrations, noises, that's the stuff you're looking for. A good rule of thumb might be $1000 per werid noise unless you have a good idependant mechanic who is cheap and can get parts cheaply - scrap yards for hard (metal) parts, online vendors for soft of wearable parts.
Change ALL the fluids and filters when you get it: engine oil and filter, trans oil and filters, brake fluid, coolant (use only MB coolant) PS fluid, diff fluid (use sythetic here, it's cheap).
See also:
    http://articles.mbz.org/buying/checklists/124 /
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Richard Sexton | Mercedes stuff: http://mbz.org
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Richard Sexton wrote:

Yeah, it's a concern to me, too. But I also remember doing exactly the same sort of thing myself in the '70's. At one time I had a '66 GTO with a Chrysler 440 PI engine and a 2 speed rear end, everything salvaged from a junkyard. It ran great and we sold it for about 10 times what we paid for the parts. Of course, cars from the 80's and later are a lot different, due to the smog gear and electronics.

I have been told (not by the dealer) that the US 280E had a lower gear ratio than the Euro version. I don't know if that's true or not, but it certainly is possible, US and Euro versions of many vehicle often have different drive train components.

??? I'm not sure what the "Uh-huh" is for here. The paint had a good shine and the only oxidation I saw was on the roof, just behind the opening for the sun-roof. There were some minor nicks and dings, but no dents or warps. All the doors, plus the hood and trunk lid opened and closed easily, with no sagging. We were really surprised at how good the exterior and interior condition was.

That's what I figured, I've seen similar wear patterns on lots of different makes and models. There's a wear mark on the passenger side in the same place, but the fabric hasn't worn through yet. The fabric in the back seat is in excellent condition and the carpet didn't have any noticeable stains or serious wear.

I did a little checking, the bumpers alone might be worth as much as $500 each. Apparently there's a market for retro-fitting them to US versions.
With the lower gearing in the rear end acceleration won't be as great, but the top end might be a little higher.

That's what I thought, I'm glad to have it confirmed. Changing a valve cover gasket is shouldn't take very long and is something I can easily do myself.

Thanks for the advice. If I decide to go forward I was planning to have a mechanic check it out, I'll make sure he does a compression test and if there is any problem that he ID's what the cause is.
How much would changing the timing chain cost at a shop? Is it something I can do or does it require special training or tools to do on a Mercedes? I do have a full set of metric wrenches and sockets, so that's not a problem.

Thanks for the info and advise, I appreciate it. BTW, I'm trying to schedule a look at that '90 300E this weekend. Would this check list also apply to that vehicle?
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That was then this is now. It may or may not be ever possible to regsiter a car with a salvage title. I've seen cases where people gave up. Similarlyu so for Euro cars with no registration.

Different engine, different final drive. It's not the end of the world but it makes me quesiton what else isn't right.

They all do that. Silver is a bigger of a color. Apparantly you can fine-sand it and respray the clearcoat to fix this although I've never done it.

Let me rephrase that. All cars with leather seats do thet, not so much with vinyl. You could replace the panel if you can source gthe leaher, or throw sheepskins on it or get a good seat from a salvage yard.

More like $150 on ebay.

Jah.
yeah, but honesly if it was that easy the dealer wold have done it. I can tell you the source of oil leaks in a 300SD but not these cars.
not really critical though.

It's 1-2 hours. Not hard but not as easy ans changing a spark plug either. Chain is about $100, tensioner about $40 or something.

Ignoring any diesel only things, yeah, mostly. it's a guide not a hard and fast set of rules. But in geenral it's applicable.
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Richard Sexton wrote:

The cloth seats do it too. My previous w124 (a 200 carb) had a worn spot in that location. The shop where I bought it ( a lo-mileage old MB specialist ) had it fixed before I took delivery. Apparently MB still has the original cloth available, it was repaired invisibly - to me.
There are a few specialized lo-mileage MB shops in Holland, have a look at these if you're interested. Mostly w123's, w201's and w126's imported from Germany:
http://www.budgetbenz.nl/voorraad.php?pagina=4 http://www.nijkamp-klassiekers.nl/index.php (click Voorraad) http://www.mb-klassiekers.nl/ (click Collectie)
I'm afraid the prices (even excluding shipping) are a bit above the $2500 budget, though...
Ximinez
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Low milage does not mean it's a great car. I'd much rather find a high milage car with receipts for things only a fanatic would go - relpacing all the suspension rubber for example.
Also, check behind the read seat so see what's down there. Nothing, perfectly clean isa real good sign. French fries is not.
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Richard Sexton wrote:

Yeah, we'll have to wait and see how it works out. The reason there's a market for these relatively expensive > 15yr cars in Holland is that they're very economical to drive as a company car for tax reasons. That's why my GF and me both drive an old Benz ;)
Of course, that makes all repairs, touch-ups etc tax deductible. Americans probably don't realize how expensive driving a car gets in Europe and especially in Holland. There are high taxes on everything, sticker price, fuel, road tax. Anyway, I won't have to skimp on repair costs. If I spend $6000 a year on maintenance I still break even. :)
The mechanics who have looked at our cars as well as an official appraiser (don't know if that's the right US term) were very impressed with them.

I mounted a remote control for the central locking system on both cars which involved removing the rear seat. Both cars were squeaky clean. The central locking pump looked new as well, so I'll take that as a good sign, then.
The remote controls prewired for w124 and w201 are available from Waeco if anyone's interested: http://www.waeco.com/pages/products/auto/02_d.htm
Ximinez
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Richard Sexton wrote:

It varies with jurisdiction, as you'd expect. On a State of Georgia DMV web site, we find the following WRT to vehicles that have been issued a salvage title:
============================================================Important: The vehicle should not be driven until it has been rebuilt/restored, passed an inspection by this Department's Inspection Unit and has a new license plate issued and affixed to it or has the vehicle's valid special license plate (Georgia) placed back on it. ============================================================Ref: <http://www.dmvs.ga.gov/motor/titles/needed/salvage.asp
In many (most?) states, a salvage title isn't the kiss of death, exactly; it's more a way to ensure that regulators and potential buyers know that the vehicle was once salvaged.
--
St. John, whose '68 220 daily driver had a salvage title, in Florida

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Oddly enough it was in atlanta that a buddy tried for 18 mos to register a euro car with no title. He gave up...
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Richard Sexton wrote:

But that's a whole 'nother case. More of a federally hampered thing -- safety and emissions regulations, and all.
I seem to remember a Euro Porsche that Bill Gates had in the '80s, that had to remain garaged because he couldn't get it registered. Urban legend, maybe.
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St. John Smythe wrote:

Without the title it is very difficult to prove ownership, possession alone is not sufficient in most cases. In the US if the car was previously registered in another state you can usually get the title from that state, but that's often not possible with foreign cars, you have to have the title in hand. I saw this happen a couple of times with GI's who purchased cars in Germany and tried to bring them back to the US without the proper paperwork.
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Yabut the car wasa trade-in and had been regoistered. That's all I know, I wasnt there. I lsited tot he blow by blow acounts and they sounded reasonable to me in whathe was trying. Shrug.
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St. John Smythe wrote:

In California a dealer cannot sell a vehicle with a salvage title unless it has passed a number of inspections, including safety and smog. They also have to record the VIN's of the vehicle(s) from which the parts were taken to restore the salvaged vehicle.
Quite a few old classic and antique vehicles in CA actually have salvage titles, especially if they have been restored.
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My advice.....avoid this guy like the plague. For a few years I attended the Charity auctions in the bay area. It was a lot of fun, and I did get a couple of cars, which I still have. Most of the folks that attend these things are DEALERS that will do as little as possible to get a car running, and sell it cheap. The vast majority of cars I saw at these auctions belong in the junk yard. Worn out, wrecked, etc. Many had hidden problems (worn rear ends, trannys, etc.).
Others have talked about salvage titles. Another thing to avoid. Especially in Kalifornia.
You will have much better luck finding a used MB from a private seller. Used MB's that have been well maintained are out there, and are often very inexpensive. It'll take some effort and research, but worth the effort. Look on Craigslist.
Steve

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<snip>

<snip>
Personally, I am no MB expert either.
I do own a 1986 190e that I bought with 110K miles on it ($2700 US).
It has performed flawlessly for me, and is a very sold and comfortable car for what it is. It would be perfect for the use you describe (ie short trips).
I replaced the tires, replaced the serpentine belt tensioner and some of the front of engine accessories (water pump+), and had the front end looked over by a pro. Total cost for all of the previously mentioned items about $1000.
I personally grew up in a used car family, my father owned a used car lot for over 40 years. He NEVER bought a single car at auction. Every car was a new car trade in. Auction cars are a crap shoot at best. Buying from a dealer who specializes in them is an act of faith.
Personally I recommend finding a private owner that obviously cared about the vehicle for sale and has some service records to prove it. This way you get a sense for how the car was maintained, and if you're friendly, you might even ask questions later...
Good Luck, Marty
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I would look at 300 diesels from the late 70's thru the mid 80's....you see these models on the roads all the time, they are dependable. My first benz was an '84 300TD (turbo diesel) with 136k miles. Young for a diesel. I sold it at around 250k miles to a young kid for a song. I'd recommend something like that to anyone, but there is one caveat...you need to like diesels. If you're ok with a little slower acceleration, you will be alright. Reason I mention this is that you can also buy these cars all day long for a couple or so thousand dollars.
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wolfpuppy wrote:

I would not mind a diesel under most circumstances, but it would be a very poor choice for the usage my wife needs it for. The engine would never reach operating temp.
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Don't buy any of these for her limited use. Consider a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry - both are very reliable and well suited for her purpose. The first time one of these old dogs doesn't start at the train station she'll call YOU because you talked her into the car. She ought to get what she wants and that's not some lousy old used car.
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This guy is soooo right. Life is so much easier when your wife likes her ride. I tried to get a mercedes for my wife, but she wouldn't have any of it. She likes Volvos, and that's what she wanted. So I bought her a Volvo and life is much nicer. Parts are more expensive than benz parts (probably because they come from Sweden) but overall a pretty good car. It's a '98 S70 and it didn't get the highest reliability rating in Consumer Reports, and I did have a monster bill a couple of years back, but at around 140k miles, it is doing fine.
I'm sure I'll be getting another one when this one dies. No doubt in my mind.
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