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Old 07-02-2003, 10:28 AM
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Looking to buy a 1989 300TE Wagon - advice needed!


I am currently looking to 'downsize' my current car (Saab) to something older......have just bought my first house!!!!!

I am looking at various options - basically I need something roomy (2 dogs) and reliable. I have always liked the 300TE line of wagons and as an '89 can be picked up for less than $CDN 7,000 they fit in my price bracket.

As I know it, Mercedes cars are expensive to fix when they break, but this is offset by the great engineering and reliability, so that over time, the running costs are generally not that much greater than e.g. a Ford.....true?

What I am after is any advice concerning the purchase of an ageing 300TE (with ~ 150,000 miles). What are the strongpoints of this car? what are the weak points? Is there anything I should especially look out for during an inspection / road test?

What are typical running costs (excl. insurance)? What $$ are you looking at for common replacement parts e.g. exhaust, alternator etc.

I am fairly handy with a wrench - how easy are these cars to work on?

Any tips for a source of discount spares (in Canada??).

Any information gratefully received!


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Old 07-02-2003, 10:57 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: SoCal
Posts: 1,303
I would spend a lot of time doing searches on this board before you decide that model fits your concept of inexpensive and reliable transportation. Lots of stuff WILL be worn out if not already replaced, and some of it can cause severe driveability problems. It will be a very satisfying car once you have ironed it out, but is that what you are looking for?

If you decide you can handle the problems yourself, and have the time and patience to do so, you will find this board a great resource.

'91 MB 190E 2.3
'08 RAV4 Ltd 3.5
'83 Lazy Daze m'home 5.7
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Old 07-02-2003, 12:47 PM
Registered User
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Charleston, SC
Posts: 93
I have an 88 TE (wifes kid hauler, 165k). We love the ride. It is very solid on the highway.

The big $ items that will most likely need replacement are:

A/C evaporator $2k
head gasket $1k
water pump $600
Radiator 300-500

My car has a leather interior which is showing it's age. I would rather have the MB tex. Look for a car with a good maint. history, preferably one with the above items already replaced. The 103 straight six is easier to work on than the 104, but has less power.

I drove 300+ miles through Kansas on a bus. trip in a 2003 Buick Century rental this past week. I was wishing I was in the TE the whole time.

Ed C.
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Old 07-02-2003, 01:08 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 108
My experience with 1991 over 3 years

Including depreciation the car cost $389 per month, not including gas or insurance. At that sort of mileage the transmission may need an overhaul ($1500) and the self-leveling mechanism may give out ($1000) and it may need a valve job (more likely than a head gasket - $800). What always amazes me is the rubber suspension components which are nearly always worn out. The previous owner is unlikely to have replaced them because they only wear slowly and the deterioration of ride is not noticeable. I have yet to buy one that needed less than $1000 worth of new rubber in suspension areas. I usually budget $2000 to fix a car and end up spending much more ($6000 on my most recent acquisition). I wish I could just buy my own cars since they are so well maintained - very few people take the effort to do it. I do not have time to do much repair, so these costs reflect dealer repair and maintenance prices. They are NOT cheap cars to run.
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Old 07-02-2003, 09:29 PM
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Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Posts: 42
Cheap is a relative term

My 97 E420 has been significantly less expensive to run in 5+ years than my 89 TE has in 3, only needing a stop light switch, lower control arms, and regular maintenance. However, it now has 118k miles on it and I expect it to start getting pricey soon.

The TE, on the other hand, was purchased with 123k miles on it, and it seems that I bought it when it was at the stage my other car is approaching. That being said, I have put between $6-7k total into it, plus $10k for the car itself. This includes more or less common items such as alternators and water pumps, uncommon items such as a new fuel tank, and completely unnecessary items such as shiney new 17" wheels and tires. It now has 185k miles and is burning a qt of oil every 600 miles or so, so I think a valve job and or head gasket is in its future. After that the car should be right excepting it's non-functioning cruise control.

So to recap an earlier comment, your experience is going to depend on where in the cycle your car falls and the price point you are looking at.

[89 300TE]
[97 E420]
91 300 CE
95 E320 T
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Old 07-02-2003, 11:14 PM
A. Rosich's Avatar
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Join Date: Nov 1999
Location: San Jose, Costa Rica
Posts: 883
As I know it, Mercedes cars are expensive to fix when they break, but this is offset by the great engineering and reliability, so that over time, the running costs are generally not that much greater than e.g. a Ford.....true?


To keep a Mercedes-Benz running in top shape is going to cost you, and by this I mean A LOT!

It gets worse on older models, as all rubber elements (i.e. suspension components as said before, window seals, door seals, engine mounts, hoses, etc, etc, etc.) fail rapidly, and if not taking care of, the car will just quit on you.

Be very, very careful. Select a car with a full history and low mileage if possible. If not, be prepared to spend at least the same amount of money you paid for the car to have it fixed.

I have owned Mercedes T wagons for almost 20 years now (W123 and W124s) and they are NOT low maintenance toys. They actually tend to be more demanding than the equivalent sedans in their range.
A. Rosich
CL 500, 1998
S 500 L, 1998
E 320 T, 1995 [Sadly sold ]
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Old 07-02-2003, 11:56 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2002
Posts: 321
never forget, someone else has owned and maintained this car. either well or ill.

i have bought new benzes. i have bought used benzes. as for used, i prefer a one owner car with full maintenance records. in every instance that i have bought a used one, i have sought out the lowest mileage possible. and i have always tried to visit the mechanic who maintained the car.

and i have always allocated $2,000 dollars for surprises that even an independent inspection will have missed. and in my experience, something is always overlooked that will bite you in the first year.

after you bring the vehicle up to snuff, i insist that you then maintain it with some religiousity. i allocate my driving between my collection. all are driven hard and at autobahn speeds whenever possible. i have inspected my maintenance records on my last acquisition[2002], a 1995 e320cab. it had never been driven by the first owner. it had 4,800 miles. after a year[and 6,000 miles], excluding the expense of replacing the passenger airbag with a glove box, $1,800. most of this was servicing this car for the first time in its life. and i am a perfectionist and demand that my cars be ready and able to run at 100mph+ whenever i can.

and $300 of this total involves a customer convenience module replacement. apparently the original one deteriorated from not being used.

benzes are not cheap to operate unless they are taken care of. however, if taken care of, they will last a long time and you will find them more enjoyable than the modern offerings. for instance, i have a 1986 560sel that i purchased new. it has approx 250,000 miles. it has been well maintained. it looks new. and it runs like new. it is the best refrigerator that i have ever owned. totally dependable and bullet proof. and in my view, still the best looking benz sedan ever built. thank you bruno sacco. now, money has been spent on this car to keep it as if new, but when measured over time and miles, it has been very cheap to operate. but only because its maintenance has been routine, regular.

like any other pursang vehicles that i have owned, planes, boats - there is a cost to ownership. if you cannot afford to put and keep it in shape as a matter of routine, it will probably eat your lunch down the road.

there is an alternative to used benzes. if you don't amass more than 15k miles per year, then lease toyotas, hondas, etc. maybe even benzes. use them for 3 years and then give them up.

i used to like more exotic vehicles. but my mechanic hated working on them. and i didn't want to spend my time being a mechanic. he liked benzes because he knew them, understood them.

the last word: if you run old benzes, make sure you have an independent mechanic who knows his stuff. that you know to be a man of honor - someone you can trust with your life. if you don't have this resource, i recommend that you not go the used benz route, especially a used benz with so many miles.

for what it's worth. so it goes.
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Old 07-03-2003, 04:07 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 627
Owning a 300TE

We've had our 300TE for almost 5 years now. It is my wife's daily driver (and kid hauler) and our family car for weekends and long trips. What do we think? We LOVE it! It has to be one of the best looking, well thought out and practical wagons ever. It strikes a great balance between, performance, handling, ride, quietness, fuel economy and practicality. We are so impressed with it that we have no intentions of replacing it in the foreseeable future. A later E-class wagon or ML has no appeal to us over the 300TE.

We purchased it showing 124,000km with full dealer service history in above average condition except for the well known bad oil leak at the rear of the head and the upper timing cover at the front. These allowed a lower purchase price. We got another 20,000km before oil appeared in the coolant necesitating a cylinder head job. I do all my own work so this was not expensive, just a bit inconvenient and time consuming. It is now showing 175,000km. The only other work I have had to do has been the front brake hoses, belt tensioner, tailgate gas struts, a repair to the tailgate wiring harness, rear self levelling suspension accumulators, steering damper and a tie rod. It had a new radiator just prior to our purchase due to accidental damage and I'm about to replace the thermostat due to it not closing fully when cold. Apart from this it has required only routine maintenance, brake pads, one battery and six tyres. I am fastidious in its maintenance both mechanically and cosmetically. In fact, it usually wins its class each year in our concours.

Possibly, we have had a better run than others although ours has covered less distance than others. Also bear in mind that forums such as this reveal all the problems which may make a particular model sound troublesome. I don't believe the W124 wagon to be the most reliable car available but nor do I consider it unreliable. I am fortunate that I can do my own work and save some expense that way. For jobs you cannot tackle yourself, as others suggest, a good independent MB tech is worth knowing. Having said that, I don't consider the 300TE difficult to work on. Routine service items are not particularly costly but those required less often can be. Items unique to the wagon (eg. rear exhaust) can carry a price premium over the similar parts for the sedan.

My wife was sad when we sold our '80 300TD that had been reliable over the 4 years we owned it, but after a very short time with the '90 300TE she soon did not miss the old diesel wagon. Find a good example and I'm sure you, like my wife and I, will be very happy with it.
107.023: 350SLC, 3-speed auto, icon gold, parchment MBtex (sold 2012 after 29 years ownership).
107.026: 500SLC, 4-speed auto, thistle green, green velour.
124.090: 300TE, 4-speed auto, arctic white, cream-beige MBtex.
201.028: 190E 2.3 Sportline, 5-speed manual, arctic white, blue leather.
201.028: 190E 2.3, 4-speed auto, blue-black, grey MBtex.
201.034: 190E 2.3-16, 5-speed manual, blue-black, black leather.
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Old 07-03-2003, 07:25 PM
klaus kallas's Avatar
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Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Clayton, NC
Posts: 490
Thumbs up Keeps going and going and......

Hey Quentin,

My wife drives an '88 300TE with just shy of 300,000 miles (not km's) and it still runs like a top. No signs of smoke and only very minimal oil burn between changes. The head was reworked at about 200,000 and the transmission was rebuilt at that time also.

The car has been very easy to work on, even for a "shade tree" mechanic such as my self. Not much I can add to what the others have already typed, except to say that the few weak points maybe the climate control, waterpump, and tranny.

All in all, has been (and continues to be) a reliable car. We just took it on a 1500 mile trip with out a second thought. Costs for parts aren't too horrible if you stay away from the dealership! Buy it and enjoy!

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