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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I took a nice old E 300 auto diesel estate for a test drive.

Advertised as a 1996 model, however I see no match at https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_W124#Models – is this simply an error or omission in Wikipedia? Or should I doubt the advertised age?

Two things were novel to me, I don't know whether either of these helps to identify a date range:
  1. exterior green and red lights at the driver's side door handle
  2. absence of a glove box; presence of passenger and driver air bags.
I'm not worried about the age (around a decade ago, I drove a late 1980s S124) – just curious.

Diesel

If I do get this E 300, it'll be my first diesel. I assume that these things are to be expected with a twenty-something-year-old model:
  • clatter, not too loud, slightly uneven (irregular?), audible with the bonnet raised, maybe more noticeable when the engine was cold – not audible whilst driving
  • some blue smoke from the tail of the exhaust when the engine was cold – not noticeable, idle or revved, after the ~ten minute drive with the vehicle at standstill
  • under the bonnet, before the drive, a faint smell of smoke (nothing visible; with the oil filler cap removed, things looked clean enough, and so on).
Kick-down

I pushed the pedal to the metal a few times. Not for long, just to tell whether there was anything. Wasn't sure what to expect from an old diesel. In retrospect: maybe I tested at the wrong speed. Maybe at 50 MPH (~80 Km/H) or more before I kicked down.

Did I not test correctly? Glancing at pages such as these:
(Comparing with the 2000 E 280 Elegance auto petrol estate that I have driven for the past five years: I'm familiar with a good amount of acceleration, no matter what the speed before kick-down. Is the difference here electronic auto kick-down – compared to something non-electronic for the ~1996 E 300? IIRC this 2000 model has a Tiptronic gearbox.)

I'm told that the E 300 had a replacement gearbox. Second-hand, I presume, at the time of replacement.

Air con

Air was cool but not cold. I assume that it needs attention to the air con, and that it'll be an old non-serviceable unit (environmental concerns). How much should I budget for a UK supply and fit of what's required? Glancing at:
W124 - Air Conditiong, finally finished - YouTube 2 ℃ measured at the vent, that's impressive!

I know, it can be cheaper (overall) to seek a costlier car with working air con but realistically, I see not many S124 auto estate diesels on the market so … I keep an open mind.

Warning lamp – exterior lamp failure

IIRC the warning appeared only after switching on side lights (one turn to the right) and only after pressing the brake pedal. Logically, I got the seller to press the brake pedal for me whilst I stood at the rear.

Side lights appeared fine, front and rear. Brake lights appeared fine.

IIRC low beam and high beam appeared fine (and I would not have expected a problem with those to generate a warning in response to a tap on the brake pedal).

If it is a false alarm (false warning), then should I worry about the electronics in general?

----

Thanks for any advice
 

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'95 E300 DIESEL, '91 600SEL, '92 600SEL
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Don't consider wikipedia as the bible. Keep in mind that estate cars are technically S124 vehicles, but Wikipedia won't say that either.

Re. kickdown you cannot compare a vacuum and cable operated box to the later electronic ones. They're from different worlds.

Re. A/C. Have the car put on a bridge and have it checked for traces of UV dye leaking from the evaporator drains. If UV present, the evaporator core is leaking. All 124s do this IF they still have the original factory installed unit. If this is the case, bargain very hard as this is a very expensive fix. Do NOT let the seller lull into thinking that it "just needs a recharge"

The red and green lights on the driver door handle and by the trunk lock is indicative that the vehicle is equipped with the optional infrared keyless remote. You should have a fat key with integrated flip key and a big black push button for lock/unlock operation. Better not to have this option as spare keys are nearly impossible to source now, and very expensive compared to the standard key as in more than 10x expensive.

Phase 3 cars equipped with the passenger air bag never had a glovebox since it had to make room for the airbag. Remember, these cars were designed in the 70s way before anybody had even heard of a airbag, let alone a passenger airbag.
 

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'95 E300 DIESEL, '91 600SEL, '92 600SEL
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One more thing, and this is the elephant in the room on the phase 3 cars. Eco junk wiring. Make sure the vehicle in question had the engine harness replaced as said harness recently became unobtainium.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Many thanks,

… Eco junk wiring. … engine harness …
Can you help me to visualise the harness?

Re: electrics, I added something to the opening post about a supposed exterior lamp failure. Postscript maybe crossed paths with your replies.

… should have a fat key with integrated flip key and a big black push button for lock/unlock operation. …
Indeed, the key was much chunkier than what I'm familiar with (for an S210). I didn't ask about a spare but I'll bear it in mind.

Flip, meaning?
 

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'95 E300 DIESEL, '91 600SEL, '92 600SEL
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Flip key as in the key blade folds into the black plastic body akin to VW/Audi/Skoda keys.

Truth be told, this system was MB keyless entry 1.0. The plastic body tends to wear out. cause the key blade to get sloppy or even fall out. Suggest you just get some spare standard key type replacements from the dealer and forego the keyless bit. 10x the reliability for less than 10% of the price.

Re. eco junk wiring, all wiring in the phase 3 cars are suspect but all the harnesses inside the engine bay being prone with the main engine harness that goes from the battery area to various engine connectors being the most common one to suffer. Ditto on the starter harness. I even had to replace the aux fan harness due to the same eco junk disease, but I think my aux fan harness was a exception.

Here is pic of the harness in question for that particular OM606 diesel motor. MB p/n#124 440 40 32
2607419
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
Flip key as in the key blade folds into the black plastic body akin to VW/Audi/Skoda keys.
OK 👍 IIRC I had a flip key with my 1988 300 TE. (Either with that, or the Ford something-or-other that I stupidly chose to 'replace' the 300 … if my memory is mashed it's because the Ford was an experience best forgotten!)

Re. eco junk wiring, all wiring in the phase 3 cars are suspect
1993–1997, yes?

http://forum.retro-rides.org/post/1862393 caught my eye:

… Late W124s are just the same curse word rot-boxes like the W210 E- and W202 C-Class... They are notably cheaper build. Unsufficient rust protection (resp. even worse than before :D) eco junk wiring, any many little details that ooze "I was cheaper". …
I guess that I'm lucky with the wiring on my 2000 S210 E Class – faultless over a five-year period. Essential welding on two occasions, neither was overly expensive – for the most recent job (offside inner wheel arch, with concerns re: proximity of the fuse box) I received two ballpark quotes in excess of £600 +VAT, the eventual cost (from a third person) was just £160.

The 1996 E 300 has what looks (to me) like tidy welding in the wheel arches. Fair enough; I'd be more suspicious if there was no evidence of welding. Online MOT history shows two areas that received attention in May 2018:
  • Offside Front Inner Body or chassis has excessive corrosion, seriously affecting its strength within 30cm of the body mountings between sill and exhaust (6.1.B.2)
  • Nearside Rear Inner Body or chassis has excessive corrosion, seriously affecting its strength within 30cm of the body mountings between sill and exhaust (6.1.B.2)
– no other mention of corrosion anywhere in the (2006–date) history.

Very few advisories over the thirteen-year period. One point worth mentioning, from 2010 (only):
  • rear differential leaking oil
When I had the same with my 1988 S124 I simply had it topped up, occasionally, at my nearby dealership. I might have been told that leaks from rear diffs were commonplace with the 124 range – true?

Also, from the Retro Rides post:

… W124 era 2 valve cross-flow diesel engines are just - drooool. …
Was that type used for the E 300?

Engines aside, the nearest I can find to what I saw yesterday is https://www.ultimatespecs.com/car-specs/Mercedes-Benz/2319/Mercedes-Benz-W124-Estate-E-300-Diesel.html W124 Estate E 300 Diesel but that's manual, not auto. https://www.ultimatespecs.com/car-specs/Mercedes-Benz/2320/Mercedes-Benz-W124-Estate-E-300-Turbo-Diesel.html is auto but the boot badge yesterday was clearly Diesel (not Turbo Diesel).

Thanks again
 

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'95 E300 DIESEL, '91 600SEL, '92 600SEL
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All twin cam engines in the W124 range suffered from eco junk wiring, regardless if it is petrol, diesel, HFM, etc. The eco junk misery was a MB that appeared on ALL MBs from the early 1990s through about 1997, no matter if you had a bottom feeder C class or a V12 S class or anything in between.

Your 2000 W210 is well outside the eco junk date range.

On the W124 you're checking out, I recommend you check the white main engine harness build tag located behind the battery splash shield. The tag has a FD date code. 1998 and up is OK. The good harnesses were made by Delphi, the bad ones by Temic.

These cars cannot be reliably diagnosed if the original wiring is still in place as it will just spit out false trouble codes, besides making the cars prone to a multitude of running issues.

Yes, diff leaks do crop up on higher mileage examples but is especially prevalent on those that never had the occassional diff gear oil refresh. The source of the diff leaks is almost always at the side axle seals.
 

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Congrats,
Great Britain got the 124 wagon up through 1996. Ours in US ended in 1995. Is yours kitted with burl inserts and chrome door sills. If so you got "sell the old model" upgrade.
I don't know what they changed on 94-96 but it makes the inner fender wheel well rust the wings out from the insides. Chech that area well.
Good luck,
Estates rock.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Is yours kitted with burl inserts
I don't recall seeing any.

I viewed the interior overall as functional, not beautiful. Driver's seat wear and tear – fabric frayed along part of one outer edge – but not saggy. Hinged top missing from the coin box (should I call it that?) between the front seats.

and chrome door sills.
At foot level, when the doors are open? Probably not. One was missing; the others were unremarkable – chrome, shine, would have been memorable.

From the seller's advert (hopefully breaking no rule here – I'm not promoting its sale):

2607518
 
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