Buying review Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W124) 1984-1995 Common Issues Engines Inspection
Hello everyone, today we cover a classic Mercedes again, when you think about a Benz, this car will be most likely in your mind. It is probably one of the most iconic Benzes from the mid eighties to the mid nineties. Here in Europe the car was extensively used as a cab. Built quality on these cars was phenomenal, could it still be interesting to own one in 2020 ?
These cars are potentially 35 years old now, the youngest one being 25 years old.
This car is from an era in Mercedes history when the company still had a vision of building the best possible car in its class. This car was built and designed by old school Mercedes Benz engineers who pushed the limits when it comes to engineering, many of these cars were in fact over engineered to the point of ridiculousness.
In the early nineties and late eighties Mercedes started to have trouble with the likes of Lexus, a company that seemed to slowly take over Mercedes place as a good alternative. This changed Mercedes vision from a company that was built on engineering to a company that was built on accountancy.
This W124 and the W201 for instance came from an era off nuts and bolts, this was an engineering masterpiece, nowadays cars of Mercedes are not even close to this kind of engineering because in the long run it is not sustainable for a company to built such good cars.
That being said, these cars are old now so many parts will fail just because of age.
Let’s start with a bit of history, this car first came to the market in 1984 and was built until august of 1995. In India the cars were built until 2000, but I read that this built quality was inferior in comparison with cars that rolled of the production line in Germany.
This car literally filled the gap between the compact Mercedes cars, that we now know as C-class and the bigger S-class limousines like the iconic W140.
Before we start listing weak points and disadvantages I will tell you that you need to put some money aside if you want to run this car on a daily basis. It’s an old car and parts will break down eventually, you should be prepared for that.
If this is a project car than you could take more time with it and fix problems in your own pace, you can still do a lot of DIY on it yourself since these cars were the last of an era before computers and electronics made everything more complex.
This car is still quite safe, the construction is solid and a few safety features that were new for the time where introduced on the E-class W124, like for instance ABS and airbags.
Let’s inspect this car further as an potential buyer
Body & Chassis
The body of the Benz is well protected against rust but there are some problems with the subframe mounts, wheel arches and sills that have been filled. Check for rust bubbles around the windscreen and sunroof. Rusty tailgates on station wagons or on the boot lip of the sedans. Make sure that the electronic top of the convertible operates without shuddering and that it can be secured to the windscreen without excessive force
Body panels are available new or second-hand and even something like a replacement grille costs less than $500.
Engine & Transmission
These engines can cover more than 300,000 kilometres before needing significant work, they are really built to go on forever. There was an engine for almost every one, from a 4 cylinder to the 5 liter V8 in the 500e. If you want to do a full rebuild of the engine you can easily exceed the value of a low-cost car. Exhaust smoke at start-up is likely due to worn valve stem seals but a constant stream of blue means serious internal wear, obviously found on cars with very high mileages. Overheating is a known problem, especially if the radiator is clogged and the clutch-activated fan isn’t working properly. The fan should rotate quickly when the system is hot and stop within one revolution once the engine has been switched off. Another thing to check is for contaminated oil and coolant which can result in having to do a cylinder head replacement to fix. Oil leaks from the rear of the rocker cover and timing case aren’t a major problem.
Suspension & Brakes
Excessive body roll is due to weakened coil springs, worn shock absorbers or both. Look for cars with sagging suspension. Rear subframe mountings that are worn will allow the wheels to deflect rearwards, especially under hard acceleration Tires that are worn out on the edges indicate component wear. When planning to buy the car always test the brake-system on an empty road, the ABS-equipped cars should stop straight and without locking any of the wheels.
Interior & Electrics
There are a few electrical problems you should know off. First of all the air conditioning problems are expensive to fix. So make sure that the air is flowing from all vents and feels cold. You could check the footwells for wet carpets from a leaking aircon evaporator. Check the seats to see if the electrical adjustment still functions. Look at the sunroof for signs of water leakages. Also check if the sunroof still closes properly and if the mechanism still functions. Also check if the electric windows still work and the stereo still functions after all this time.
There where many engine options available, the 4 cylinders offer sufficient performance but the six cylinder cars are barely more expensive and transform the W124 to a new hight. If you test drive the 6 cylinder you need more the a 5 minute drive to appreciate its character. In town it will not show you its full potential, again it was designed for long motorway journey with the car shines. These cars need to have at least 6 cylinders, it fits the character of the car the best. If you have deeper pockets that look for the 500e, this car was built in a cooperation between Mercedes and Porsche. It offers a 5.0 liter v8 that you will also find in the SL R129 from that era.
The 500e also had a different suspension setup, bigger breaks and slightly bigger wheels arches. It’s a true sleeper. It had around 330 HP which was quite a lot for the time.
There are still many W124 cars, the first E-class available, finding a good one however is quite a challenge. First owners usually took good care of them, second owners where mostly enthusiasts already. These cars are quite bulletproof and easy to work on, that being said, it is potentially more than 30 years old by now.
If you want to drive it for everyday use, don’t buy the cheapest you find, if you want a project car, it is perfect for that as well. Parts are still available either new or second hand, it won’t break the bank and is a potential future classic.
It’s a typical Benz from the design era that I personally really appreciate, this is like a fine aged wine of whiskey. It gets better with the years.
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