W124 E-Class 300E 260E E320 E420 (1986-1995) Buyer’s Guide
The W124 has been lauded by many Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts as one of the best models ever produced by the firm. They believe the car was engineered in a manner that produced a very high quality vehicle with minimal issues. It was designed to provide the driver with a solid driving feel, with many owners describing a bank vault like feeling when closing the doors or driving the vehicle. Having such a stout reputation may make you feel like the 300E is the perfect used car to purchase. Again, with any used car, it is important to ensure that the vehicle you’re looking to purchase won’t be a headache for you down the line, no matter the reputation it has.
- As with the 190E below it in the model line, Mercedes used a very sophisticated paint procedure to paint its vehicles. The W124 had a skillfully applied paint job to the body and a sophisticated paint protection process that it underwent. Even though it had a great paint finish and good rust perforation protection, 20+ years of driving in inclement weather can certainly wear down a vehicle’s body work. For this reason, check the following areas on a prospective car that you’re thinking of purchasing: the front edges of the fenders, the rocker sill area, the rear fender edges, the area around the front and rear windshields, and the trunk and trunk floor. Also important is to check the suspension mounting areas on the subframes front and rear for potential rust issues.
- The waterpump on the W124 will need to be proactively replaced to prevent any damage to engine. If the waterpump fails, it will generally raise the engine temperature, which can cause severe damage to engine and engine components. It is strongly recommended to change the waterpump every 80K miles.
- Oil Leaks. The W124 in general had a robust drive train, but there are issues to look out for. For instance, oilleakage from the timing cover seal is very common along with the top timing chain cover. It would be important to look at the vehicle’s oil usage and consumption. It would also be wise to ask the owner if the vehicle is using any oil. The M103 timing cover seal is a common failure part that can be tricky to reinstall. It can give repairers a hard when they attempt to torque it down correctly, as it’s very long.
- The W124 was available with a manual or automatic transmission. The manual transmission, while not the crispest shifting unit, was very well made and handled the power of the engines easily. There are limited issues with the manual transmission, other than a clutch or flywheel wearing down from use. The automatic transmission, a 4 Speed unit, was also generally well suited to the character of the car and can last a very long time. To check the operation of the automatic transmission, it is advised to put the vehicle in reverse and see how long it takes to engage the gear. Longer than a 5 second delay can indicate worn mechanicals, which may mean a rebuild or replacement of the unit may be necessary in the future.
- Wood trim. Mercedes-Benz used lots of wood in the 1980s and 1990s. Their dash designs were very clean and elegant and had a vast horizontal center wood piece and dash trim piece around the shifter. These wood trims are prone to cracking, warping and losing their luster over time. While very normal with any material that suffers from extended sun exposure and temperature extremes, second-hand pieces in good condition can be hard to find. Complete replacement wood trim pieces are available for purchase, but often are too expensive to justify the cost.
- Heating/Air Conditioning. It’s important to ensure that your prospective purchase has a well functioning HVAC system. Many of the flaps used to dictate air direction were powered by a vacuum system, with many hoses that can deteriorate over time. Additionally, you will want to ensure the fan speed goes up and down correctly, as well making sure the AC is working. Getting into the dash to replace or repair items can be very costly (such as the evaporator). Additionally, it’s not fun driving without heat or A/C! It is a Mercedes, after all!