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Old 07-18-2003, 12:42 PM
Registered User
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Colorado
Posts: 22
Pre-purchase Opinions Sought: 1988 300 SEL

Hi all - thanks in advance for your opinions. Here's the situation:

Year: 1988
Model: 300 SEL
Miles: 92000
Exterior: Good-Excellent, light blue
Interior: Good
- Flex disks cracked ($360 quote to replace)
- Needs new belt ($150)
- A/C not working ($70 to diagnose... $100-$1000 to repair)
- Misc. minor things ($225)

Seller asking $5500. I might be able to negotiate down a little. I'm willing to absorb misc. things and most if not all cost on flex disks. A/C is a big variable, but given low mileage and otherwise clean inspection, I'm still seriously considering purchase. I've never owned a Mercedes - have just always wanted to, so seemed prudent to run by what appears to be the best knowledge source on the subject - you all. Blue Book suggests $6500 range if no major issues, so it seems to be in the right range. Any thoughts on this make, year, model, mileage, etc.?

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Old 07-18-2003, 01:30 PM
sixto's Avatar
smoke gets in your eyes
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: SF Bay Area
Posts: 20,800
What does AC not working mean -- it's not cold or is the whole system shot?

How much history is documented in records?

Any indication that a valve job was done?

My rule of thumb is if you're not familiar with the car when you inspect it, whatever you spend getting it up to your standards right off the bat, figure it'll cost you that much more in surprises the first year.

The 300SEL is a fine car but the big benefit is that it's easy to work on it yourself. If you're going to be taking it to a shop, consider a V8 model that in many cases will cost you less to purchase because V8s are more commonly available. Fuel consumption is pretty much a wash despite what your intuition would suggest.

95 S420
91 300SE
87 300SDL
83 300SD
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Old 07-18-2003, 01:36 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 320
You have choosen a fine automobile for purchase. It has the potential of crossing the 500,000 mile mark!!

My direct experience stems from a 94 E320 (W124), but I have found that all these "eccentric" vechicles are more or less the same. Maint. is high but you will be rewarded with a car which has an almost 50/50 weight distribution, well built, solid, comfortable, very low NVH and can easily cruise at triple digit speeds for extended periods of time.

The AC can cost as much as $4000 to repair, depending on what components have failed. If it is the evaporator, this requires about 21 hours of labor.

Basic parts like engine, body and suspension will not give you problems but components like AC evaporator, head gasket, wiring harness, radiator, vaccum system, aux fans, radio antenna, fuel injectors, sun roof, O2 sensors, fuses, alternator etc. may require a little more attention.

Plan on spending about $10000 for unplanned maint. for the next 100,000 miles, (assuming you want to keep the car in excellent condition) after that, the cost of operation maybe a little lower as a lot of the component problems are MB design issues. You may also be able to reduce the above number if you have the time to work on the car yourself and utilize the help of this forum.
94 E320 58000 Miles

Last edited by zafarhayatkhan; 07-18-2003 at 01:44 PM.
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Old 07-18-2003, 02:15 PM
csnow's Avatar
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Join Date: May 2002
Location: Mass
Posts: 1,127
The A/C could easily cost you more than 1k worst case.
Evaporators are the biggest potential 'gotcha'.

There should be a lot of life left in a car with so few miles, though some issues can be age-related over mileage.

Best of luck.
1986 300E 5-Speed 240k mi.
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Old 07-18-2003, 03:01 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Colorado
Posts: 22
Thanks for taking time to reply. I know the A/C was converted from R12 two years ago. No other maintenance records known re: valves, so I must assume not done at this point. Wonder what a valve job would run me if likely due in near future? I had the car inspected at a dealership to learn what's noted. When first tried A/C (idling in driveway), we couldn't even get blower to work. When later test driving, the blower worked fine, but only got hot air - never cool. Car hadn't been driven at all for several months though, so this might be a clue. Am told A/C could just be a matter of recharging and fixing possible leaks (on lower end), or could be need for new compressor (on higher end). Am also told button to engage blower might have short, but that wouldn't be a huge deal necessarily. If $1000 is indeed worse-cas scenario for A/C overall (?), then I'm probably OK with that picture if can negotiate into price... or at least it seemed to be a subject less daunting than a report stating that more serious functionality was in question, you know? Unfortunately, I'm not a technical sort, so I'm at disadvantage going in.
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Old 07-20-2003, 06:03 PM
87 300 SDL's Avatar
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Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Atlanta
Posts: 55
Be sure that the retrofit was done correctly on the car. I recently had my 87 300 SDL retrofitted and was done incorrectly. I was lucky that all the freon leaked out of the car. The next shop that worked on it did it right.

My opinion on the 300 SEL, being an owner of a 90 300 SEL, I'm not that happy with the car compared to the SDL. Gas milage is poor, I guess I would say that the overall performance compared to the SDL in my opinion is poor.
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Old 07-20-2003, 08:05 PM
afmcorp's Avatar
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Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: NW Indiana LaPorte
Posts: 571
walk away!

this many known problems does not address any of the hidden problems you may encounter.

take what you were willing to spend for repairs tack that on the 5500.00$ and buy something that works well as it stands.

i only know from my experience that everytime i said ok just a few bucks here and there. it will be ok. man did i get clobbered with fixes.

if you buy it for 5000 and spend a 1000$ or more you're already over what you could out of it if you decided to sell. and you'll likely never be happy with the "DEAL" because you had to spend so much money just to use it.

just my .02$
good luck on your choice.
Thanks Much!

1972 350sl Red/Blk 117k
1988 420sel charcoal/Blk 140k
1987 420sel gold/tan 128k
See My Cars at:

Pound it to fit then Paint it to match!

There is only First Place and Varying degrees of last!

Old age and deceit will overcome Youth and Enthusiasm every time!

Putting the square peg in the round hole is not hard... IF you do it fast enough!

Old enough to know better but stupid enough to do it anyway!
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Old 07-25-2003, 11:00 AM
Registered User
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Colorado
Posts: 22

Hi All:
Thanks for your opinions and advice on the '88 300 SEL. I negotiated the price down a tad and went ahead and purchased. Turned out the A/C just needed a freon charge. Now I just need to put in a CD player... and clean up the wheels, and touch up the leather a bit (leatherique arrived today). So when all said and done, I will have put about $1100 into her, but it's still worth it as I love the car. Yeah, that 6-cylinder isn't going to beat anyone off the line, but that's not a priority for me anyway. She has just 96k with full maintenance history to back it up, so I'm hoping to drive her for many years to come.

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Old 07-25-2003, 11:55 PM
Registered User
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Dallas
Posts: 790
I've had my '91 since new, and it's a great machine, but yes it's a real dog on power, especially in the summer. There are some things i have replaced more than once, so you can count on doing them. Here's a partial list that I can remember off-hand.
Rear muffler - 5 times
motor mounts
flex disc
front timing chain oil seal behind the distributor
radiator fan bearing
spark plugs, spark plugs, spark plugs
power steering hoses

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