Buying Advice - Part 1

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Maxwell Smart
Maxwell Smart's picture
Joined: 05.11.2003
Location: London

This was sent to me by Klaus in Germany. I do not know who (if anyone) owns the copyright to it.


Mercedes G-Wagen
Buying guide

In principle all Mercedes G-Wagens are very robust, designed for both off- and on-road use. Nevertheless, because a lot of them are 20 years old or more, there are a number of potential problem areas to look out for. Unfortunately many of the used Gs available for sale are over priced: 5000 Euros for an early 80s MY is only justifiable if the vehicle is in extremely good condition, or if the vehicle has been properly rebuilt by the previous owner. Before deciding to buy a used G, you should be aware that G-specific spare parts are quite expensive and that the interior parts can be extremely expensive. Although designed for off-road, the G still experiences high wear and tear from off-road use. Depending on the terrain, one Kilometre off-road is equivalent to between 100 to 1000 Kilometres on-road.

Buying Tip - Ask the previous owner where he has driven the vehicle. If he tells you that it has not been used off-road, then examine the under carriage. If you find mud in out-of-the-way areas, then the car has had off-road experience.

The chassis (body):
The most common chassis is the SWB (Short Wheelbase). The LWB (Long Wheelbase) is much more expensive and the Cabriole is only for enthusiasts.

Though the Cabriole is a pleasure to drive in the summer, it is a real challenge to open and close the top. Furthermore, even with the top closed, it is hard to tolerate speeds of 100Km/h without ear-plugs. However if you do choose to purchase a Cabriole, ensure that the top is in good condition as it is a very expensive repair.

Early Models up to MY 87/88 corrode a lot at the following areas:
• Rear sheet metal in the area of the rear lights or the fuel cap
• Sidewall under the protection strip
• Slit to the upper sidewall
• All edges of the doors (underside)
• Area under the front window frame
• Rockers

Check for traces of water in the passenger area by lifting the door gasket (seal) and the plastic shield. You’ll find a channel without any drain hole. A defective seal will result in water being retained for long periods of time. This may result in rust.

Also check the rear shock absorber brackets and the spring plates. If you see some corrosion, the rear shock absorber mounting can brake. On the spring plate it can happen, that the inner pot, which holds the additional spring is corroded completely. These repairs are very expensive!!

Check door hinges for smooth functioning and to see if they are worn out.

The engines:
Due to the fact that G engines are always overloaded, the condition of them is often a matter of luck. Frequent motorway use where the G is being driven fast always results in an overloaded and worn out engine.

The most reliable engines are the 280 (M110), 300 (M103), 320 (M104), 290D (OM602), 300D (OM603) and 300TD (OM606)

Many of the weaker engines like the 230, 230E (M102), the 240D (OM616) or the 300D (OM617) wear out very early, if the previous owner ran them very fast.

Even with only 100.000 km or less, an engine could wear out and die. A special candidate is the 350TD (OM603A), some owners drive it 200.000 km without experiencing any problems, but many other times the engine dies at 60 - 80.000 km. (defective cylinder head – overheating- piston seizure)

Mercedes experienced extreme problems in the S-Klasse with this engine, since very fast driving on motorways will wear the engine out very fast. That means, if you want to buy a 350 TD, you have to count on an engine problem and this can lead to a costly repair of 7500 Euro for just the engine, without installation.

In fact all G engines are too weak and have an improper torque curve for an off-road vehicle.

Fuel consumption, even for diesels, is high. Below are typical fuel consumption values for day to day usage on road:

230 GE 14 - 18 litres
290GD 12-15 litres
300 GD/350GD 13 - 18 litres
280 GE/300GE/320GE 16 - 22 litres

A fully loaded 350TD with a roof rack can consume over 20 litres. The 6 cylinder gasoline engines can easily consumer 30 litres.

Which engine to get?
A 230 GE W460 Cabriole with manual transmission is a pleasure to drive and the fuel consumption is around 15 l. For the same engine in a W463, LWB with Automatic there are only two words: Bullshit and catastrophe. It is a mystery why Mercedes offered such a combination.

290 GD, 300GD induction diesel – they are moving...

The older OM 616/617 often has a bad compression rate and is difficult to start in the winter. Another weak point is the rear crankshaft seal (gasket).
You have to use a 2 piece felt ring and it is necessary to completely remove the crankshaft to replace it. Check for oil leaks in the area around the clutch/gearbox. With these engines oil can often leak on to the clutch.

The OM 602/603 often has problems with a defective belt tensioner or oil leakage at the vacuum pump, the connection between the injection pump/engine block and on the rear camshaft cover. In case of doubt, check the compression rate and check for blue smoke.

The 280E (M110) in general has no major problems. Occasional oil leaks and rattling sounds from the valves are the only problems.

The 300E (M103) is the most robust engine in the G range. High Oil consumption (worn out valve seals or guides) are the only weak points.

But don’t expect too much power from these engines. They wake up on 4000 rpm but the fuel consumption then rises exponentially. Also take a close look at the radiator and fan (Visco). If the engine quickly gets hot when driving up-hill, then this could be a sign of a bad radiator or a problem with the visco fan.

The transmissions are taken from the limousines, and are sometimes not so reliable.

Manual Transmission:
Check for noise, can you switch all gears without scratching?
If not, the synchronisation may be damaged. The 2nd and 3rd gear are especially sensitive. Is there a lot of loose play in the gear lever? If so, then the gear link and or the rubber sleeves are worn out.

Automatic transmission:
An Automatic transmission must switch gears softly and smoothly. When you accelerate fast and it switches too softly or you have the feeling that gear slips through, than the brake bands are worn out. This is an expensive repair.

Transfer case:
A defective transfer case is unusual. 463 problems could occur when the car stands too long on the brake tester!

The Axles:
The Axles are taken from the Transporters and are of robust design. However these can be bent when you “jump“ off road.

Front axle:
Depending on the usage the front axle could be worn out after 100.000 km.

Weak point: inner wheel bearing.
Often this is not noticed by the driver but if you continue driving, then the steering stub axle housing or the hub can be damaged.
Also the steering stub bearings, the grommet of the simultaneous joint or the joint itself can be broken. Strong grease emission can warn of a defective (worn out) steering stub. Jack up the car and with a long handle try to lift the wheel. Check for clearance.
Take the car for a test drive and with the all wheel drive engaged, take sharp right and left turns. Listen for a clicking noise, if you notice one, then simultaneous joints are worn out.

Check the lockers for proper function. If they are not used for a longer period of time, they may jam. In order to repair them, you need to re-install the whole axle. A front axle repair can cost you 1500 Euro!!

Rear Axle:
Check for oil Leakage and worn out wheel bearings.

Many Gs have problems with vibrations. Reasons are defective rubber bearings on the brackets for the Transfer case, defective universal-joint shaft, changes in the chassis or a little bit of everything. Please check the cardan shafts carefully. Universal joints are pressed in and cannot be repaired. A new cardan shaft can cost between 700 and 850 Euros.

Rear Springs:
Check the rear springs. They are often worn out and brake on the upper coils. The rear end of the car will then be sagging down.

Front rotors tend to warp and run out. The car will vibrate when the brakes are applied. You may feel a “pulsation” in the brake pedal.

If the brake pedal is stiff and there is only low brake power, one or more callipers may be seized. The G brake callipers have 4 pistons in front, on older models especially, the grommets can become damaged and water can get inside and corrode the pistons. Repairing this is expensive: one calliper: 250 Euros

At the rear drum brakes the automatic adjuster can be corroded and if the seal is damaged, oil could be applied to the brake pads.