Friday, February 19, 2010

1990 Mercedes 300TE 4Matic - The Perfect Beater

I've been shopping around for a beater lately. I've seen a bunch, all pretty good cars, but can't decide on which one would be right for me.

This one caught my attention, big time.

This is a 1990 Mercedes Benz 300TE. (The Craigslist listing says it's a 1989, but when I checked it on several different title search sites, it came up as a 1990.)

Based on the Mercedes Benz W124 platform, these might be some of the most durable Mercedes Benz cars ever built. I may get some arguments from MB fans here, but in my opinion this line of cars was the last of the "over-engineered" Mercedes Benz cars.

The W124 design was introduced in 1984. In its day it was an incredibly advanced car. The front suspension was a simple modified McPherson strut set up, but the rear a sophisticated multilink system. This model also introduced the really fun to watch single wiper arm system. While it may look angular and disproportionate (as a friend said) it had one of the lowest Cd numbers of any non- sports car vehicle of its time, 0.29. (To put that in perspective, a 2005 Audi A4 is less slippery at 0.31).

The 3.0 liter engine in this car very reliable. I couldn't find 0-60 times for the station wagon, but a 300E (sedan) with 4Matic got to 60 MPH in 9.2 seconds. The time for the station wagon should be similar. It's not "oh-my-god-we're-going-to-die" fast, but certainly quick enough for a large car.

This car has Mercedes 4Matic AWD system. This may be the one case where MB's "over engineering" made things a little too complex.

From "Mercedes-Benz E-Class Owners Bible 1986-1995":

The first generation 4Matic system was originally a complex electronically controlled system with automatically engaging four-wheel drive (4WD), the system employs locking central and rear differentials to provide additional traction in slippery conditions. The center differential, also known as the transfer case, contains two clutches. Each hydraulically enabled clutch is controlled separately to allow for three modes of operation: 2WD (mode 0) where 100% of available torque is available to the rear axle while the front axle is disconnected, and two 4WD modes which allow for 35/65 front/rear axle torque split (mode 1) or 50/50 front/rear axle torque split (mode 2). The rear differential lock, previously known as ASD on Mercedes-Benz models, can also be locked (mode 3) if rear wheel slip is still present when the transfer case 50/50 4WD mode 2 is engaged. Due to safety and stability concerns there is no front differential lock. The 4Matic system uses inputs from the three channel ABS system and a steering wheel angle sensor to decide when to intervene. 4WD is disengaged automatically if the ABS service brakes are applied. Engine throttle control is not inherent in the W124 system. Two W124 variants of the 4Matic system were produced: the first system (1986-1991) used a mechanical pressure test lever to disable the system hydraulically while the second system variant (1992/1993) used an electrical test switch to break power to the system. The latter system variant when in test mode allows for continued operation of the rear shock self-levelling system (SLS) when installed.

Whew. Got all that? The bottom line is that while complex, it's no more effective than Audi's simpler Quattro system.

Problems with older MBs include automatic transmission failure and annoying, but usually not disabling, electrical failures. (Window motors, that type of stuff.)

This car has an amazing 240,000+ miles on it. It looks great. It has obviously been well taken care of. Here in New England, where rust is the big enemy, you don't often see a car this old, with this type of mileage on it, in this type of condition.

The 3.0 liter engine is almost indestructible and good for another 50,000 miles, if treated properly. The transmission and 4Matic system, having lasted this long, will probably last that long, too.

This is a great "winter beater" car. Good for many more miles, it's priced so cheap ($1200.00) that when something expensive does fail on it, you can junk it and still feel like you got your money's worth.

Located in Quincy, MA, click here to see the Craigslist listing. (Be aware that if you do call, as I did, English is the second language of the owner. Chinese is most likely the first. He's friendly and helpful, but it takes some time to get all your questions answered.)


Richard said...

Love it. 5th Gear put one of these through various tests trying to kill it, well worth watching ( and search for 5th gear Mercedes).

Anonymous said...

An exceptional car indeed. My 1992 finally had to go, at 217K miles. It had already been totalled and rebuilt once, before I bought it 6 years ago and I put 68K on it myself. Along with most really useful cars, like VW Rabbit Diesels and Volvo station wagons, they tend to get really used up and by the time they come up for sale have had the wheels run off them. The 300TE does sometimes blow headgaskets and have problems with the right-rear power windows (a trait shared with the W124 sedans) and the climate control can be problematic. Expect low 20s to high teens gas mileage, but the long wheelbase and 3500+ pound weight makes for a smooth and comfortable ride. Good brakes and the hydraulic leveling rear suspension gives the wagon handling characteristics surprisingly free of vices. Over fifty grand new, you can still find ones with under 175K for 5% of that price. Get documentation for the mileage though, the odometers on the W124 cars are notoriously easy to break and the high-quality materials Benz uses makes nearly worn-out examples gleam as new.

Anonymous said...

I Still love this Ride. My 91 TE 4Matic beater is far more reliable at 205.XXX than my 02 Audi A4 with 105.XXX, and on long trips it is much more comfortable. My wife also carts the kids around and while it isn’t appealing to young kids and or teens, adults have a respect and appreciation for this car no matter what city we are in. Everything still works including the things that typically fail, like the window lifts and headlight wipers, but what is most exciting about this car is the fact that a “newbie” mechanic can work on it, in a driveway and or garage. The engine bay is spacious with lots of room to work whereas in the Audi, I have to remove the front end before I can get to anything. Why Audi, why do you choose to mount the engine in front of the front wheels in an AWD car? Anyway, back to the MB. I’ve replaced plugs wires, headlight bulbs, wipers, and shocks within the last several years which I consider to be normal maintenance. And last week the Alternator failed on the highway and it left me stranded but $160.00 for a new Bosch Alternator and $60 to install, which I wanted to do myself but the cold weather in New England denied me that fun, it was back on the road faster than an Audi can flash its hazards. Don’t get me wrong, I like Audi’s and have had several before the Mercedes but my 20 year old Mercedes has more bang for the buck, smoother ride, reliability, solid construction and you still feel good when you drive it. I would recommend upgrading the radio/ head unit and speakers, maybe a light tint if you have the Black with black interior like I do, but other than that it’s an enjoyable car without mods or upgrades.

Anonymous said...

We bought our '93 300TE with M104 DOHC engine ten years ago at about 120,000 miles. 2 wheel drive with ASD (electronic throttle). Currently has 225,000 miles and the end is not in sight. We've put money in over the years (rear suspension nitrogen reservoirs, rebuilt front end for worn components, fan mount, electronic throttle) and the clearcoat is flaking off (ugh), but it is still a reliable, comfortable, good-handling, tight car that is a joy to drive on long trips. We also have a W211 wagon (recent purchase); wish we could have bought a "new W124 wagon instead.

JDBishop5 said...

We bought a '93 300TE 4Matic wagon with 119,000 miles on it about a month ago. It had been in storage for several years as part of an estate. It is wonderful.

We replaced the tires, changed all the fluids, and have driven it about 1,500 miles without any problems. As has been stated here, it is a pleasure to drive long distances.The left side mirror vertical adjustment has failed, and will be replaced. Cruise control is inoperative. We are replacing all the rubber 'boots' on the ends of the axles as they are old and cracked and leak. The heater blower will be replaced soon, and, we can't figure out how the headlight wipers work. Any advice will be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Headlight wipers only work when lights are on and wiper fluid is activated. I have a 91 300e 4matic just got it already put 4000 miles on it and is running strong with 151000+

Matthew Dawood Khaghani said...

Another 50,000? I'm sure it would do more than that!