Living with my Mercedes 190E: the fun, the faults and the fixes

You may remember when I bought my 190E? Well, I’ve owned it for a good few months now and I think it’s time I reflected a little on the purchase.

A big part of the appeal of this car for me was the rock solid reputation it had earned, and I was always interested in how much this would ring true for a 25 year old car that was put to daily use.

Following 3,000+ miles together I’m happy to say the 190E has proven itself to be just what I wanted – a dependable yet characterful alternative to a modern car.

Still, a 25-year-old car is never going to be without its problems and so here’s a quick list of the things I’ve encountered.

The problems

Cooling system woes

In start/stop traffic I noticed the 190’s water temps occasionally getting higher. The fans in these cars are controlled by an electromagnetic clutch, this clutch can be pretty loud in its operation – mine tends to make quite a thump when it engages. Once it’s engaged, the fan itself is also rather loud – giving a roar that increases with engine rpms.

I noticed hearing this sound less and less frequently and creeping temps were indicative of an issue somewhere. Despite this, the car would also run unusually cool at speed, often struggling to pump out decent amounts of heat from the fan heater.

I ended up replacing a fan switch at the top of the cylinder head, fitted a new, genuine thermostat then flushed the entire cooling system. Now my temp only ever fluctuates by a few degrees and the fan switches on and off when it should.

I figure the old ‘stat must’ve been stuck in an open position, explaining the extended warm up times and fan heater issue.

No interior lights!

To cut a long story short: I had no interior lights. None whatsoever. It was particularly nice of the bloke that I bought it from to not mention this. Anyway, it’s a pretty common problem on old Mercs and can usually be traced back to a component behind the clocks in the dashboard.

Known as the rheostat, it’s basically a variable resistor that’s used to dim or brighten the interior lights. Over time the solder that connects this component breaks down, and when it goes it’ll take the rest of the interior lights with it.

To get to it you have to remove the clocks, which is particularly easy and straightforward with these vehicles. Once in, the broken connection was glaringly obvious, and before long it was soldered back where it should have been. All lights, and the rheostat are now working perfectly – result!

It’s worth noting that getting the speedo cable screwed back into the rear clocks was an absolute nightmare and required the slender hands of my girlfriend to get the right access.

Noisy front suspension

A particularly nasty creek at the front suspension turned out to be a knackered ball joint. I ended up getting the wishbone replaced, having fresh anti-roll bar bushes fitted at the same time. The other side had already been done more recently and showed no play or other issues.

Harsh gear change from 2nd to 3rd


 My car would nearly always give a hard shift between its 2nd and 3rd ratios. I say second and third but 90% of the time it would be for what you’d normally refer to as 1st and 2nd gear changes. The reason for this is that 190Es pull away in second gear (unless you want to get off the line quickly which tells the box to use 1st).

I tried to cure it through servicing the box, which improved things, but failed to cure the bad shift. In the end, the issue with my car seemed to be down to an incorrectly adjusted Bowden cable, which was telling the car to shift later and therefore harder than I wanted. A quick fiddle with the adjuster and it’s now as smooth as silk. Lots of money saved.

Leaky boot

Somehow I’m having water get into my boot after a lot of rain. I’m pretty sure it’s coming in from either a boot lock seal or rear light seal. The water builds up around the inside of the bootlid and splashes the content of your boot in a comical fashion when it is opened. It’s still on the to do list.

Aerial ist kaput


My electric aerial has stopped moving a few times and can usually be fixed with a can of silicone spray. It’s happening more frequently now though, and I anticipate having to replace it in the next couple of months or so.

The cost of spares (at times)

Now, in general the 190E is really cheap to maintain but this isn’t always the case. Some parts are surprisingly cheap at Mercedes dealers and some – well, some are just a bloody rip off! Take a genuine Bosch distributor cap and rotor arm for the 2.0 engines – that’ll be £130 or so from MB.

Fuel economy

It’s predictably heavy on fuel. A Full tank (55 litres) will return 350 miles or so during normal driving, and that’s 29mpg.


Regardless of these niggles, the Merc has remained a pleasure to drive. From holidaying on the coast to caffeine fuelled work trips, it’s already part of many good memories. Here’s to many more miles in this cracking little car.


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