I made it home safely, but there were definitely some issues that I discovered along the way.
The drive back home
After buying the car and having lunch with a great friend, I left San Jose around 5pm and drove overnight back home to Phoenix. I brought a pad of paper and a pen so I could write down issues along the way and had three pages of notes by the time I got home.
Some of the problems I found
- During the second stop, the car wouldn’t start. I gave it a few minutes and tried again; worked fine this time.
- Tires are too big (245/45/17 front and 285/40/17 rear). There are rub marks inside the rear wheel well, back end appears to be higher than usual.
- The wheels are not balanced and cause the car to shake when going over 40 MPH.
- Cruise control doesn’t work.
- With A/C on, no air is coming out from center vents. The other vents seem to work and have good air flow.
- Lots of the wood has fading and cracks.
- Needs to have some leaks fixed; oil leak from rear main seal area and it seems the transmission and steering box are leaking too.
- There is a power draw somewhere- the circuit that handles the dome light, clock, antennae, etc is suspect as it’s also handling the amp in the trunk. Car battery will go dead if it sits there without being turned on for about 2 or 3 days.
- Chrome trim which attaches to the rear passenger window (basically the B pillar) has a dent in it and looks to have rust.
- Trunk doesn’t always open.
- Passenger door locks/unlocks both doors + trunk. But driver’s side and trunk do not.
- Belt for A/C broke on the drive home. Others look very worn.
- No owner’s manual, fuse chart, or other documentation.
- Seat belt presenter for passenger side would move by itself, seemingly at random.
- Rear roller blind (sunshade) doesn’t work.
- An aftermarket alarm was installed (on top of the built-in alarm). This went right into the trash!
- and more
Some of the happier notes
- This is the last model year for the W126 body style (1991).
- Color is paint code 199; by far my favorite!
- Does NOT have the ASR option (Acceleration Slip Regulation; early version of Electronic Stability Control).
- Has rear roller blind (which unfortunately needs repair).
- Authentic 3-piece AMG OZ wheels!
- Great body; no rust.
- No cracks on dash.
- Sunroof works.
- Rearview mirror was replaced with a unit which has HomeLink.
- Headlamps, turn signals, fog lights, all work.
- SLS seems to work.
- No smoke coming from exhaust (or from anywhere else).
Taking the car to the pros
Before taking the car anywhere, I cleaned the car up a bit. Got it washed, took all the floor mats out, took all the trash out from under the seats and in the trunk. During this process, you might find some interesting things and also documentation. Unfortunately, this car didn’t have the owner’s manual or original data card. But many older Mercedes-Benz will have a smaller copy of the data card under one of the rear seats, which I did find (and carefully removed). While cleaning under the seats, I found pieces of broken glass, likely from a broken side window. This could be related to the dent I found on the passenger side rear window.
I brought the car over to my friend Bud’s shop (MB Motors) in Phoenix and we looked over it together. Given the purchase price ($8,500) and the problems noted, it’s fair to say I didn’t score a deal. But this is a classic and is has the exact options I want (last model year, great color, rear roller blind, no ASR, AMG 3-piece wheels).
Bud got the oil changed, replaced fuses, and replaced all the belts. If you don’t have a record of when a maintenance item was done and it’s fairly cheap to do, I always think it’s a good idea to address. He also fixed problem with the door/trunk actuators that had weird behavior and replaced the fuel pump relay which was intermittently causing problems starting the car.
While it was up on the lift, Bud pointed out the damage to the front passenger side wheel. It looks like the barrel on the wheel broke in two places and was welded back together. This was definitely causing the vibration problem I had noticed on the drive home. I stopped by Wheel Specialists Inc (WSI) in Tempe and worked with Curtis on next steps.
Curtis got the wheels off and we got to take a good look
- The tires on the rear were way too big, had a 15mm spacer, and lugs were too short (could come loose at any time).
- The front passenger barrel was in bad shape and was unsafe. We swapped it out for the spare wheel for now.
After replacing the rear tires with 275/40’s, shaving the spacer down a bit, putting new lugs, the car was driving much nicer. I found a company called tunershop which had parts for these wheels and I got a replacement barrel for the one that was cracked.
When I got the new barrel in and went to WSI to replace, we noticed that all four of the wheels themselves had cracks in the center pieces, near where the lugs go in. Unfortunately, there’s almost no place which will repair this kind of damage (WSI wouldn’t touch it and I don’t blame them). Realistically, I could keep driving on these, but eventually it’s going to give out.
At this point, the car is perfectly drivable and enjoyable. There are still a lot of things to fix, which can seem really overwhelming at times, but having it all documented helps.