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1989 500SE
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17 Posts
I daily drive mine every day with very few problems, for a classic car once sorted out I would say they are reliable. But if you can’t turn a wrench and or don’t like paying or can’t find a mechanic to work on them your enthusiasm for ownership will evaporate quickly.

Classic car ownership is a labor of love and there is lots to love with these cars . Best of luck .
1-I second that notion (y)
 

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1977 450 SEL 6.9
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740 Posts
A good set of metric tools are a must, along with an aptitude and willingness to turn your own wrenches.
 

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1991 420 SEL
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182 Posts
I'm currently in the middle of a 420SEL refresh, a very clean '91 with 70k-ish miles. This is my wife's daily driver, our 'good' car, not a collectible or Sunday driver.

I bought it after some research, they are considered very reliable. But as mentioned they are old cars.

Funny but now when I see higher mileage but regularly driven w126s on bringatrailer I look with serious interest, as I think perhaps it might have been worthwhile to swap the lower mileage for a lot of work being done already. I also have caught mention of how these cars - which were very expensive when new - may have been designed to have a serious maintenance performed every 10 years or so? I don't know that for sure. But it does fit with the price and durability of these cars, and my experience so far (except it's been 30 years not 10!).

I have also caught mention a couple times that the end cost of having a good one of these is about the price as a new basic economy car. This is my current experience.

That said, once I am finally 'done' (never done completely on a vintage car, but the necessities done) I fully expect a very nice reliable daily driver for a good 5-7 years or maybe longer. With class and lots of it.

Also with something new for me: a possible residual value.

Here's hoping! Good luck.

Pete
 

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1995 E320 Cabriolet
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55 Posts
I want to get an older Mercedes that is reliable and has airbags. I am looking a the 1987 W126 gasoline models. How reliable are they?
That’s a very old vehicle. Keep in mind that mileage is only one part of the equation. Parts get old
and fail regardless of mileage. So reliable? Unlikely. These are fine cars but parts and repairs can be very expensive (plus MB has stopped making many parts for older models) You should plan on a few thousand a year for repairs and maintenance.
 

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Registered
1995 E320 Cabriolet
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55 Posts
I'm currently in the middle of a 420SEL refresh, a very clean '91 with 70k-ish miles. This is my wife's daily driver, our 'good' car, not a collectible or Sunday driver.

I bought it after some research, they are considered very reliable. But as mentioned they are old cars.

Funny but now when I see higher mileage but regularly driven w126s on bringatrailer I look with serious interest, as I think perhaps it might have been worthwhile to swap the lower mileage for a lot of work being done already. I also have caught mention of how these cars - which were very expensive when new - may have been designed to have a serious maintenance performed every 10 years or so? I don't know that for sure. But it does fit with the price and durability of these cars, and my experience so far (except it's been 30 years not 10!).

I have also caught mention a couple times that the end cost of having a good one of these is about the price as a new basic economy car. This is my current experience.

That said, once I am finally 'done' (never done completely on a vintage car, but the necessities done) I fully expect a very nice reliable daily driver for a good 5-7 years or maybe longer. With class and lots of it.

Also with something new for me: a possible residual value.

Here's hoping! Good luck.

Pete
The worst W124 I ever owned was 6 years old but only had 18k miles. A money pit...oil leaks, radiator rot, exhaust rusted. Bought my E320 Cabriolet had about 100k when I got it and it’s been relatively trouble free for more than a decade
 

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Premium Member
07 E350, 80 240D 4 speed, 90 300SE, 87 260E
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2,823 Posts
My W126 only left me stranded twice: once when the voltage regulator of the alternator wore out, and once when the starter died. A tow, $40 for new voltage regulator, and an hour of my time and the voltage regulator was fixed. A tow and a $400 shop bill and a new starter was installed. That is in 7 years of ownership and being driven on average 3 times a week.
 

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1991 560sec. 1969 280SL
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1,088 Posts
When buying a W126 or any other car, it’s always a good idea to do all the needed maintenance. With these cars, once sorted you don’t need thousands a year to operate and enjoy the car. A well sorted W126 is not going to nickel and dime you like lesser cars.
 

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'87 300SDL turbo, '86 560 SL, '90 420SEL
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2 Posts
I want to get an older Mercedes that is reliable and has airbags. I am looking a the 1987 W126 gasoline models. How reliable are they?
my 87 300SDL only has driver airbag in the steering wheel; if you have a glove box in the dash, then no passenger airbag.
 

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1989 560 SEL
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8 Posts
I want to get an older Mercedes that is reliable and has airbags. I am looking a the 1987 W126 gasoline models. How reliable are they?
Travis017,
I think the operative word here is DURABLE. Reliable and durable are two separate distinctions for the S class MBs. My 1989 560 SEL has 215,000 miles on the clock and is going strong. I expect to get 500k out of it if I live long enough. You should become a good mechanic if you are going to invest in one of these vehicles unless you don’t mind spending an additional 8-10 thousand dollars over the next two years after your initial purchase to get it up to snuff. The most important thing is buying one with accurate service records. Don’t shy away from one with 200+ k miles on it if it has good records. Most used car lots think nothing of turning the clock back on vehicles. Try to find a second or third owner car that’s been driven regularly. These cars don’t like to sit. I perform all of the maintenance whether minor or major to my car because I don’t trust others to do the job that I will. My SEL is due for its 2nd time around on timing chain, sprockets, guides, and tensioners. I have had many (over 300) cars in my life including post war RRs, Triumphs, Jags, Cadillacs, Chrysler, Ford and GM products that were and are all the big luxury sedans of the highest caliber they have to offer. The W126 is in my opinion the finest luxury car ever made. For point of reference, that is from a utilitarian viewpoint. Everything that I replace on the SEL won’t have to be replaced for another 250 K (excluding timing gear).
I just replaced for the first time the hydro pneumatic nitrogen balls on the rear SLS. Expensive? Yes. $850 US and 3 hours of my time. Value? Worth every penny. The car drives so seamlessly and effortless it is amazing. I have brand new vehicles with modern amenities/luxuries and every time I drive the old girl, I am astounded again that it is a 30+ year old car. The only car that comes close to its ride is my 1966 Cadillac Coupe deVille until I hit an unexpected off camber corner that scares the crap out of me 1/2 way in under hard braking and thankful to come out the other end unscathed. The Benz pulls that off as a complete non event. I don’t even feel stupid for missing the 45 mph warning sign at 60 actual mph execution. Seamless and effort free driving, beautiful, masculine styling, and recognized as the “Iconic” body style from MB that speaks luxury, class, refinement, and engineering excellence.
 

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1983 300SD
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873 Posts
One thing I'll add in after reading everyone else's comments (particularly reliable vs durable) is my OM617 W126 never left me stranded on her own accord. It has, however, broken down once or twice. I can't tell you exactly what it was because it's been so many years since I drove her. But it was always minor and something I could fix on the side of the road. And that was over the course of 7 years on a modified vehicle. There's going to be problems but they're almost always problems you can fix on your own. To me (and I'm assuming most people on the forum) minor problems don't count and we likely don't remember most of them. To own any old Mercedes you have to a) be handy with a wrench or b) not mind opening your pocket book. Not caring if vacuum controlled systems work properly also helps.

As an aside, the one MAJOR breakdown was due to the WVO mods. All the leaking veggie oil ate through the rubber on the driver's side mount, caused the engine to drop slightly to one side and the fan ate into the oil cooler line. Definitely not a 126 engineering flaw. That one I fixed in the parking lot of an Econolodge after having a custom hose fabricated to bypass the stock one. I can't recommend that Econolodge in Rock Spring Wyoming, but I would recommend the shop that fabbed the hose. If I could remember the name.

Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk
 

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CH4S Admin , Outstanding Contributor
1985 500SEC, 1991 190E 2.6.
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39,780 Posts
Go for one with service history, that has been driven on a regular base, otherwise all rubber part like belts, hoses, suspension parts, engine/tranny/driveshaft/differential and sub frame mounts could be dried out and ready to fail.
Make sure to have a mechanic who knows these cars perform a pre purchase inspection = PPI. Members can likely recommend mechanics in areas.
It's the best 2 - 300 bucks you can spend, omitting the PPI can cost far more.
Buy the best example you can find, where suspension, timing chain, tensioner, and guides have been done not too long ago (due apx every 120k miles)
In the member classified, the 'For Sale/Wanted/ etc has a good sticky on buying used Mercedes.
Even some inexperienced wrenchers have surprised themselves and learned to DIY their cars with help from our members and the extensive forum archives. Labor costs of $170 per hour at dealerships and around $100-120 at indie MB shops can easily surpass the value of the car..
The sticky on top provides a free for US residents 'service manual'. It's hosted by Mercedes Benz USA = MBUSA. Requires adobe flash.
In my experience, once sorted, the older cars can be quite reliable, and compared to 'newer cars' are much easier to fix and maintain.
Welcome to the forum
 

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The things I find to cause un-reliability of the cars is the repairs done to various systems( vacuum - electric- engine electrics) by non technical persons. The cars itself have proven to themselves reliable to me in a way you can expect from an older car. Off course you will find out that recent Toyota/ Hyundai / Mitsubishi cars are far more reliable but I think that that was a station passed some time ago allready?
 

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84 500SEL AMG, 90 560SEC AMG, 85 500SEC AMG Widebody
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1,773 Posts
If you want driver and passenger side airbags, would need to purchase an 89-91 560SEL/SEC. If just want a driver side airbag, then any W126 86-91. The P-side airbag was only 89-91 and was standard on 560's, and an option for 420SEL/300SEL, diesels. W126's are great cars and if maintained using MB parts (not cheap parts), they are durable and reliable. These are heavy cars, so cheap parts can't hold up. MB parts are not cheap! That is why a properly maintained car using OEM or OEM quality parts is important. The only beware comment is for NLA parts - good example is the vacuum pods that manage the air flow into the cabin. If you find a car that has had the pods replaced in the past 10 years, you should be fine (3 of the 6 pods are NLA). Most all interior parts with any interior color are NLA as well - find a car with a nice interior. The interior parts are durable if kept clean and maintained.
 

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1995 E320 Cabriolet
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55 Posts
I think many of the comments here have in mind that the original question was asked by a young potential buyer. This vehicle would not be is wise choice for someone with limited income even he is handy given the cost of parts. Sorry, but a Toyota or Honda makes more sense
 

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Premium Member
1991 560SEC / 2013 GL550
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1,372 Posts
Asking how reliable something is makes sense when it’s new or only a few years old. Some people don’t like ASR (look for snow chain button on center dash). I guess the 350SD had a known defect, but most on the road today have probably been serviced (and OP asked about gas models).

When you get to 30+ year old cars... there is no telling what people have done (or not done). Some people treat their cars better than they treat family members. Others might treat it like shit and run the car into the ground. The best you can do is inspect the car (either yourself or by a professional) for mechanical and rust issues and bite the bullet. Once you have an older car, you start to know the flaws or problem areas for that specific car and then you can prioritize repairs

+1 to what @alydon said about using OEM parts. I only use MB parts unless there isn’t another option. Some parts are unavailable and then you can either buy a parts car or roll the dice on eBay
 

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Too many to list
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With a 30 year old car , no matter how well it’s been serviced , and how big a stack of service records it Has, things just fail . Fuel injectors , the fuel distributor , Suspension parts etc . These are several 4 figure repair bills for each . They fail due to age just as much as mileage . Anything plastic or rubber has become brittle and breaks .
 

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560SEL 560SEC 300SEL E320 Cab. MB Metris Van / 300TD 300TE 300SDL, 300D, Unimog 406 (Gone)
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2,319 Posts
There are a couple hundred things that can go wrong on a 30 year old S Class. Only a handful actually happen. Read about them in the archives here. Most of them are minor.and all but a couple are directly related to the amount of miles the car has had. There are a couple of plastic parts on the W126 that are PVC which become brittle in sunlight and heat. A few rubber gaskets that fail upon age. The majority of the rubbber, leather, interior plastic and virtually all the mechanicals suffer only from repeated usuage. Miles. Oh, and a couple of really horrible things can go wrong if the car has not had the service specified by MB and has a lot of miles.

Yes, a car could have low miles and have been stored in a cave, left unattended in the desert, flooded from below. Everyone but a moron would see these problems immediately and even they after a PPI by a mechanic.

Are there well running high mileage W126 cars for sale? Yes, but why would you want one when an 80k version with the documented service and condition is on the market for an average price of $3000 (Edmunds)?
 
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