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Old 10-25-2002, 08:53 AM
Chris Blanchard's Avatar
Registered User
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Posts: 221
M103 or M104 Long Term Ownership Experiences?

I am looking for a 300TE/E320 wagon for my wife to drive. We'll probably keep the car for at least six years. I'd like to hear folks' long-term ownership experiences with these engines, please.

I owned (a few years back) a '91 300TE 4-matic, which had impeccable service history from the previous owner. At Around 140k, I had to replace the camshaft due to wear on the #2 lobe. Once that was fixed, I began to experience oil consumption. I sold the car at 155k, not because of the oil consumption (guides/seals, I presume) but over concern about the long-term robustness of the 4-matic system (the car had 2 rebuilt transfer cases prior to my ownership). I was tired of putting money into the car, and have owned a '85 300D and and '84 300SD since then. The '84 SD is still my daily driver.

So, I haven't soured on the M103 because of my previous experience - I know they can go to 300k miles. I do pretty much all of my own work on my SD (except for A/C stuff) and intend to work on whatever wagon we end up with.

I am aware of the M104's head gasket issues, and assume that if I can find one that has already had the gasket replaced that I should be in good shape for some time. Is that a reasonable assumption?

I'd kinda prefer the M104 in that it does have a good bit more HP than the M103, and I understand that the fuel economy is a bit better as well.

So, please, anyone who's put a lot of mileage on either of these engines please share your experiences with me. I'd also like to hear about difficulty of DIY on either of these engines (I didn't do much work other than oil changes on the M103 that I owned).

Thanks in advance,

Chris Blanchard
1991 300TE 4-matic 155k (sold)
1985 300D 185k (sold)
1984 300SD 162k (daily driver)
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Old 10-25-2002, 09:31 AM
Posts: n/a
I bougth my '94 wagon with 66,000 on it with the Starmark warranty in August 1998. I now have 181,660 on it and it is still very strong. The engine is very strong and very willing and able when you need it in an emergency situation. I have replaced ball joints, water pump, head gasket and several minor things. I put a lot of wear and tear on the car and I wouldn't trade it for even W210 wagon. The only thing I wish is that it had the larger tires like the W210. I know I can always upgrade but I like staying 'stock'. Find one with the head gasket fixed, the kick down relay fixed and the wiring harness fixed and be prepared for it to last a lot longer than six years.
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Old 10-25-2002, 10:23 AM
The Safety Geek
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Sudbury, Massachusetts
Posts: 252
I probably should not even post this....but here goes. I've a '95 wagon, 93,000 miles, not a single engine related problem yet. I had to do some A/C work (condenser + hose from the rear of the compressor) lately, but NOTHING else. Not a sigle engine or drivetrain issue to date. I do my own work, and do it regularly, the car has been a dream.
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Old 10-25-2002, 11:01 AM
G-Benz's Avatar
Razorback Soccer Dad
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Dallas/Fort-Worth
Posts: 5,711
I bought my 93 W124 (M104) in 98. It had 72.5K when purchased.

Current mileage is on my sig, and it is my daily driver. Absolutely the best daily driver I have ever owned.

It hasn't been without problems though. The evaporator, wiring harness, belt tensioner and timing cover seal were replaced at around 90K...all under an extended warranty. When the warranty expired, the entire cooling system failed one component at a time for about six months...water pump, expansion tank, thermostat, sensor, and finally, radiator. Fortunately, I had discoved this forum by then, and saved tons of $$$ doing the work myself. Otherwise, I probably would have been frustrated enough to sell it!

That was two years ago, and it's been quiet since...brake pads, tires, fluid changes is all the old W124 has asked for.

I keep an eye on that rear head leak, as I know the head gasket is on it's way out someday.

Most of the major issues should crop up between 90-150K. After that, it's just long-term wear, and that is dependent on owner use. When you do go shopping, see what of the issues I mentioned have been dealt with. The evaporator and head gasket are the two priciest repairs (read, labor intensive) if you have them done by the dealer.
2009 ML350 (84K) - Family vehicle
2001 CLK430 Cabriolet (71K) - Wife's car
2005 BMW 645CI (124K) - My daily driver
2012 Mustang V6 (60K) - Daughter's car
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Old 10-25-2002, 01:22 PM
Chris Blanchard's Avatar
Registered User
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Posts: 221
Excellent data points! If I may summarize what I hear:

1. Ownership experiences with the M104 have been good/great.
2. There are problems, but they are well documented and solvable.
3. Find one that has had the 'typical' failures corrected.
4. A warranty may be a very useful to have.

Given these points, I am leaning heavily towards a 94/95 wagon,
althought I suppose since the 93 had the M104 as well, it could be a candidate for consideration. I greatly prefer the styling changes to the 94/95 models. Besides, there weren't all that many 93 wagons sold (<1000), making them tougher to find, but potentially cheaper, as I suppose many people would prefer the later cosmetics (headlights, especially).

I have searched the MBUSA starmark inventory database and find that there are several starmarked examples of the 94/95 e320 wagon available for less than $20k or so, within a days' drive from where I live (Cincinnati, OH).

I really appreciate all the feedback, and will continue to monitor this thread. THANK YOU!

Chris Blanchard
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Old 10-25-2002, 03:56 PM
Registered User
Join Date: Jan 2002
Posts: 352
m103 is a motor that almost an mechanic can work on. But, early m104 does have some problems that you want a certified tech eg head gasket and wiring harness. m104 does have more power but at a higher operating cost. But if you find an impeccable m104 go for it, likewise a 300E. I have both motors m103 in my 89 300e and m104 in my 97 e320.
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Old 10-25-2002, 08:22 PM
Join Date: Dec 2001
Location: Southern California, U.S.A.
Posts: 8,503
There was a discussion about M103 and M104 engines on this site several years ago, and I copied some of the replies from the moderators to my hard drive.

Here is a reply from Aaron:

As you all know, one of my cars in the stable is a '93 300E 2.8. I absolutely love it, and when I went looking for a 124 chassis car, I remembered the wonderfully smooth 104 motor in the limited run 300E 2.8. I have driven many an E320 and many a 300E with the 103 motor but when the final decision came, the 104 won hands down. Extremely smooth and certainly powerful. We just returned from a trip to Atlanta with the 2.8 and it ran like a top the entire way there and back. Right now, it's at 64,000 miles and no trouble to report. There's some slight seepage at the rear corner of the head, but that's normal, and everything else is cherry. In my opinion, the 2.8 motor was the best match for the 124 chassis (save the 500E).

Here is a reply from Benzmac:

I think that the 104 is one of the best engines. The wire harness will be replaced under a goodwill for 120k miles at our local dealer. The have done hundreds for us...As for the head gasket, yes, one in 3 will fail early, especially if the engine has ever been run at all hot or has not had coolant changes....

Other than that, they do not go through valve jobs or use oil, they have alot of power...

I think that the few problems that they had can be overcome and you get a great package.

Here is a reply from a technician named metricman:

Yes the m104 leaks oil from the cam cover and the head gasket. If the job is properly done (with the black MB sealer) they do not leak. All of the m103 engines leaked from the cam covers. I saw alot them being resealed at the 15,000 mile service.
The 103 also had valve seals problems. We did hundred's of them and it was not uncommon to have bad cams and rockers. I have not done any valve seals or even camshafts on any 104 engines. I have done a dozen cam/rockers on the new m112 and m113 engines.
Yes, a ton of 104 engine wiring harnesses have gone bad. They could be tough to diagnose because they would not always have the same symptoms.
Ah, but the benefits. As mentioned, the 104 has a nice power curve, and I love the nice smooth idle. I have always been disappointed with the way the 103, and all CIS cars, idle. It was a genuine pleasure to have a smooth idling 104 engine after so many years of less then desirable 103.
Yes, we have seen idle problems from coils (May Christie) in the early production, and plug insulator problems. But the electronic fuel injected 104, whether it be HFM or ME2.1 is without a doubt a great improvement over the time honored 103.
Yes the 103 is very reliable, but the 104 has my vote, hands down. When my 300DT turbo wears out, I will skip past the 103 and go to the 104.
Paul S.

2001 E430, Bourdeaux Red, Oyster interior.
79,200 miles.

1973 280SE 4.5, 170,000 miles. 568 Signal Red, Black MB Tex. "The Red Baron".
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Old 10-26-2002, 12:08 AM
blackmercedes's Avatar
Just a guy
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: St. Albert, Alberta, Canada
Posts: 3,492
I bought our 1990 190E 2.6 (M103) with 90,000 kilometers (55K-miles) on it. I sold it to my dad shortly thereafter, and he put most of the rest of the mileage on it.

I bought it back from Dad in August with 325,000 kilometers (200K-miles) on it. It's at 336,000 now.

The engine has not been open, not even any top end work. Did a timing chain for sleeping better only at 200K. Tranny seems pretty good too.

I figure we'll (my wife drives it) put about 30-40K klicks per year on it, and we'll drive it for another two years. (It's nice not having a car payment!)

When she has 425,000 (about 265K-miles) or so, I'll either sell it for very little or donate it. I bet it still runs good...

...this is one tough little car.
John Shellenberg
1998 C230 "Black Betty" 240K

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Old 10-26-2002, 12:26 AM
drbrandini's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Wrightsville Beach NC
Posts: 1,512
I have a 1990 300E with 240,000 miles on the clock other than, radiator, alternator, fan clutch, thermostat and your usual front end parts I haven't had many problems for a high mileage car. I foresee a valve guide job in the near future but she is ole' trustee and I wanna keep going with her just to see exactly how long she'll last.

2008 S550
1957 Dodge D100
1967 VW Microbus 21 Window
2001 Suburban
2004 Beach cruiser bicycle
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"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here." Patrick Henry 1776
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Old 10-26-2002, 08:12 AM
Senior Member
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: New Jersey, U.S.A.
Posts: 2,398
I got everybody beat. A good friend has a 1987 260E which she bought new. No one but me has ever laid a wrench on it. I recently performed the scheduled 405,000 mile maintenance service on it! At 275,000 it got a valve job w/guides and a new camshaft, rockers,etc. At around 350,000 it got injectors, fuel distributor and filter. I've done around 80 oil changes, 3 water pumps, 4 flex discs, 2 front crank seals, 2 sets of shocks and struts, 5 steering shocks, 7 or 8 poly V-belts, 2 A/C compressors, 1 radiator, 2 driver's seat switches, 3 distributor caps/rotors, and the list goes on. This car regularly makes the trip from N.J. to Florida and it drives beautifully. Personally, I would go with the 95' wagon. I like the 104's power compared with the 103 and the newer the vehicle the better. The final year of production has usually produced the best MB's anyway. As far as DIY issues, the 104 oil change is easier and cleaner but spark plug replacement is a bit more work( but still quite simple ). I see no reason why a vehicle that is properly maintained and not abused shouldn't be able rack up mega-miles like my friend's 260E. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. I re-built the transmission at around 150,000. Happy trails!
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Old 10-26-2002, 11:57 AM
Posts: n/a
I saw a summary of CU's auto reliability feedback on the Net. I never thought much of this because I felt that Mercedes owners (for example) would be more critical than Lincoln owners. However, over a long period ending in 1997, this data showed that Toyota followed by Honda were clearly superior to other makes. BMW, Mercedes, etc. were in the middle and American cars including Cadillac and Lincoln were a disaster.

The top vehicle year after year was the LS400, Mercedes E-Class had B+ rankings through 1992 after which the ratings when to h*ll. I suppose this shows up the M104's problems.

The source for these rankings had converted CU's numbers into letter rankings.

Taken over a long period of time, these rankings seem to show an interesting trend. It also may mean that the 7 out of 10 neighbors of mine who own Lexus or Acuras may not be so naive after all.
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Old 10-26-2002, 12:02 PM
Registered User
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: jErZeY
Posts: 514
Where you from Jersey?Are you a MB mechanic?Thanks
96' E320
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Old 10-27-2002, 07:19 AM
klaus kallas's Avatar
Registered User
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Clayton, NC
Posts: 489
Thumbs up '88 300TE 275,xxx miles

Hey chris,

I have an 1988 300TE (wife's car) with 275,000 on it. I do all my own repair and I must say it is quite an easy car to work on. The only sticky point of shade tree mechanic work would be the electronics.

Some things prone to replacement with high mileage:

Valve stem seals and leaky head gasket.


Rear suspension hydraulics.

Water pump (several!)

Those are just a few non regular maintanence items that come to mind. The bottom end of the engine is indestructible as far as I can tell !!!! Still no hint of smoke and still smooth. My mother-in-law has an '88 300E with the M103 engine also. Has 180,xxx and short of waterpump and alternator, has never had engine repair. Runs like a champ with LOTS of pick-up.

Hope this helps!
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