Latest Reader Question: 1987 Mercedes 190

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Brian asks: The car looks immaculate, has 111 miles and has the 2.6 liter inline 6. The car is going for cheap. Do you know what it takes to maintain one of these? And would it be a good candidate for a daily driver? I am young and not too experienced in working on cars but would like to learn to do most repairs myself (besides major stuff), but Mercedes  cars aren’t known to be easy to work on. Thanks for any insight you can give.

My reply: Well, several things . . .  First, I am assuming the “111” is a typo because if not, the car shouldn’t be going for cheap. So, I’ll assume 111,000 miles. Which would be remarkably low miles, even so. Let’s hope it’s not 1,111,000 miles! Have you got service records, paperwork to verify the mileage?

The more relevant number, though, is 31 – the age of the car. You are contemplating the purchase of an antique car. This brings up General Rule #1: Unless an antique car has recently been restored by a competent shop or is a meticulously maintained low-miles survivor that has been kept indoors most of its life, assume it will need work.

At the least, assume you will need to change/replace all fluids/filters/hoses/belts/seals and so on. Pay particular attention to the cooling system. This car may need a new radiator/water pump.

Assume further that suspension wear and tire components such as shocks/struts, bushings, ball joints are likely… worn and some of these will need to be replaced to bring the car back to roadworthy condition.

Seals (such as those around the doors/trunk/sunroof, if it has one) will almost certainly have shrunk/deteriorated unless they have been recently (past ten years) replaced) and it is likely the car will leak if it gets wet. That will lead to rust and mold, unless you replace the seals.

Expect things like the electric motors for the windshield wiper/antenna/power windows to be croaked – or soon to croak.

The brakes should be gone through completely. Not just the pads. For safety (the real thing, not the BS saaaaaaaaaaaaafety I rant about) I would not drive a 31-year-old car which I did not know – for certain – had had all its soft lines replaced, all its hard lines inspected and replaced as necessary, every caliper/wheel cylinder inspected carefully and rebuilt/replaced as necessary, the master cylinder checked/replaced (does this car have ABS?) and the whole system flushed and thoroughly checked out for correct function.

Can you do the above work yourself? If not, can you afford to pay someone else to do the work?

Know – for certain – that this car has an AC system which uses R-12, banned for reasons of patent expiration and loss of profit. It is hugely expensive to recharge R-12. It may be possible to use another refrigerant, but be advised.

Because this is an antique Mercedes, some of the car’s systems will probably be more complex and expensive to repair than would be the case if the car were an ’87 Chevy. I would be particularly concerned about the electronic systems, such as those which control and run the FI system, not only because they are more complex and expensive but because it may be hard to find parts for this 31-year-old Mercedes.

The big question, though, is not the miles or the age of the car. It is what you plan to do with the car.

If the plan is for this to be your weekend/project/fun car, something you piddle with as time and money allow – then I say go for it, if you like the car and assuming you can haggle a good deal. If you are not dependent on the car for transportation, that takes off pretty much all the pressure. You don’t have to fix everything right away. The car doesn’t need to be reliable. If it won’t start, so what. Figure it out later. You can work on it as time/funds permit.

This makes it  . . . fun!

But if you are thinking about using a 31 year old antique luxury car as a daily driver, think very carefully. You should be prepared and able to deal with things that come up – and come up often and unexpectedly.

Unless you go through the car completely – or it’s bought just after someone else did – the odds are near certain that it’s going to break down occasionally and keep in mind that when a 31-year-old car breaks down, it is not like breaking down in a 5-year-old car. You may not be able to find necessary parts right away; it may be harder to find someone who is competent to work on it, assuming you aren’t.

Also keep in mind that even if you bring the car back to “as new” condition, it will still be a 31-year-old car and that means it will be as reliable as it was 31 years ago, which isn’t nearly as reliable as a modern car. Cars built in ’87 needed more in the way of regular service/maintenance than 2018 cars. You should be prepared to deal with that, if you buy this car.

Which, by the way, is a neat car! I hope it works out!

Keep us posted!

. . .

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  1. Thanks Eric, you have properly scared me. I do have a current daily driver (2001 vw jetta tdi) but it is starting to show its age, and I dont love it enough to spend thousands of dollars on in. So in the near future I am going to need a new(ish) vehicle. But in following your advice will never go near a brand new car. I want something that is not an econo-box, that is kinda cool, that I can work on myself (without specialized equipment). But I would need some reliablity, so I guess a really cool 190e will be out of the question.