Project 190 E: How To Survive Buying a Dirt-Cheap Mercedes-Benz

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First off, make sure your phone is charged the minute you sign on the dotted line.

As you may have seen from my previous post, my heart got the best of me and I bought a 190 E as a bit of a project. Seeing as it was rust-free, I felt any mechanical issue would be perfectly fine to tackle.

Upon signing the paperwork, there must have been some magical shifting of forces in the universe because as I returned to the car to drive away, it refused to start. “Starts fine when it is cold,” quipped the seller. At this time he also kindly topped up brake fluid for me, as I noted it was at “MIN.”

I had to wait long enough to cool the car down that it ended up being worthwhile to leave and grab some lunch. While chowing down on a burger, I started running through my head all of the scenarios which could cause a warm car to refuse to fire back up. “Crankshaft sensor,” was my first thought.

After letting the car cool for some time, it did fire right back up. At least I’d be able to get it back home and diagnose any other issues. Or so I thought.


I shoved the car into “P,” praying it would actually re-fire, and I wouldn’t be left in the middle of a catastrophically busy intersection. It did. Thank you, baby Jesus.


About two miles into the 30-mile journey back home, it had its first hiccup. Just a slight stumble, but enough to get my attention focused, and my knuckles whiter. Then, just a few moments later, it stalled. Never in my life had more brain cells been active than at that very moment. I shoved the car into “P,” praying it would actually re-fire, and I wouldn’t be left in the middle of a catastrophically busy intersection. It did. Thank you, baby Jesus.

In an attempt to keep it from stalling, I tried to slightly brake-torque any time a stop was eminent. I even popped it into third to keep the revs up; good techniques if you’re fighting a vacuum leak … not so great when you’re up against an electrical gremlin. And so it stalled again.

CHECK OUT: Our Project 190 E Dedicated Hub

This time, it wouldn’t re-fire. Thankfully gravity was on my side, so with hazard lights flashing, I gently rolled toward the next entrance that would let me get off the main drag. It was a kindergarten parking lot, and I managed to enter through the exit lanes … at 3 p.m. right when school was being let out.

Much to my relief, a crossing guard was extremely helpful in pushing the car into a parking spot where I assessed the situation. By “assess the situation”, I mean opening up the hood and staring angrily at the engine that had just performed flawlessly no less than an hour earlier.

Spark plug wires exit the distributor cap in a unique way, and because they were all I could really tackle at that point, I gave that a shot first. Over some, under some, and around even more, I put the wires back to where they should be routed according to the diagram. Crank, no start.

I would have gone further with attempted repairs, but I lied to myself the night before when I said I’d pack basic hand tools just in case a situation like this would arise. So now I have trust issues with myself and the car.

ALSO SEE: How Much Benz Can You Really Get for $1,500?

After cooling down yet again, I decided to leave the kindergarten parking lot and drive (daringly) to the building next door, which just so happened to be a car repair/muffler shop. My trust in the car had waned too much at this point, so upon parking the 190 E, I got on the phone with a local Benz dealer to arrange a tow. I had a ride to get the car in the first place, and they thankfully carried me the rest of the way home while the 190 E went to get diagnosed (thanks, mom).

Feeling defeat after such a short time with a car is painful, and embarrassing, but this story is far from over. Two days after the car’s arrival at the local Mercedes dealer, not a single mechanic was able to re-create the stalling issue. As of writing, they are still trying to reproduce the problem.

I think of it this way: Ferrari has the Corsa Cliente program where you buy a car, it stays with Ferrari mechanics until you want to use it, and you’re never allowed to take it home. This is the same thing, right?

Here’s some advice for buying an older car you might not see on a Ferrari forum: get a multimeter. You’re gonna need it.

Chime in with your thoughts on the forum. >>

Patrick Morgan is an instructor at Chicago's Autobahn Country Club and contributes to a number of Auto sites, including MB World and 6SpeedOnline.

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