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Mercedes Benz Diesel - The MPG Masters

How To Buy A Cheap Mercedes-Benz Diesel

Photography by , Courtesy DaimlerChrysler, Trevor Reed

If you look at a newspaper,, or eBay, chances are you'll be able to find a diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz (MBZ) car that gets at least 25 mpg for less than $2,000-and that's just the asking price. That's not a big buy-in amount for a commuter that sips fuel, and we don't know if you've heard, but MBZ makes some darn good cars. Here are the models you're most likely to find for less than $2,000.

Back in 1936, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the first diesel-powered passenger car. It was a 2.6L four-cylinder engine that used a Bosch injection pump, made 45 hp at 3,200 rpm, and achieved 24.7 mpg. The 260D quickly became a favorite of taxi companies in Germany because diesel not only cost less than gasoline but, with a passenger transfer license, it also cost 25 percent less per liter. It was no surprise when the diesel car became a hit. The 260D led to the introduction of the 1.8L 170D in 1949.

Then, in 1954, a 1.9L, 50hp version of the diesel was put into the new Ponton unibody chassis (also called the W 121) and became the 190D. That year, journalist Bill Carroll drove this diesel car across the USA to create awareness of the new import. A Fintail (W 110) 2.0L was also sold beginning in 1961. You're less likely to find any of these models because of their age and the lower production numbers, but if you're looking for a simple car with old-fashioned styling, a 190D may be right for you.

In 1973, the W 115-series 240D was added to the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and by 1974, it came with a 3.0L, five-cylinder engine with an improved injection system. This engine produced 80 hp at 2,400 rpm, giving the car a respectable 92-mph top speed and knocking about 10 seconds off the 0-60 time (to 19.9 seconds). The 240D became one of the best-selling diesel cars of all time, with 945,206 of the W 115 cars being sold. This model with vertical headlamps also became a favorite in the U.S., so there are a lot more of them on the market than the 190D.

In 1976, due to high demand, Mercedes-Benz sold the W 115 diesel cars alongside the new W 123 models (with horizontal headlamps). It's confusing, but with the new W 123 body, a 240D comes with four cylinders and the 300D is the five-cylinder model-so count the injector lines when you go for a testdrive. The new diesels received an upgraded engine that featured a stronger Ferrolastik head gasket, an improved exhaust system, and new oil- and fuel-filter designs.

Thanks to Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations in the U.S. and Canada, Mercedes-Benz decided to sell the 300CD coupe starting in 1977. By offering an additional body style (which was lighter and got better mileage), the company was able to raise its overall consumption statistics. A W 123 station wagon was also sold during this time, and now these spacious diesels are often being sold at a premium price.

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Joe Bloggs
Joe Bloggs

I bought a Mercedes 300 TD last year "Spares or repair alternator not charging".  The alternator was fixed in-situ in just a few minutes. The problem was a slight oil leak from the head to block joint which had softened the carbon brushes. (the seller assured me that this leak was merely cosmetic and that it only leaked a 1/4 of a pint of oil per year)  On the 130 mile drive home the cars performance was IMHO poor and it seemed rather thirsty.  I parked the car and have not used it since.  After a month or two when it was checked I noticed that the coolant had disappeared and the oil level was now an inch or two higher than it should be! 

I hate this car as its just a big fat whale that was built for comfort not for speed.  As to the "million mile engine" and 45 miles per UK gallon these myths are just a load of baloney peddled by Mercedes enthusiasts.

The chief problem seems to be that the head is very long.  As aluminium alloys typically expand three times faster than steel something has got to give and that something is the head gasket.  As to the bloke who eulogizes about the model, he has got a bad left leg that has been broken several times in motorbike accidents.  The result is that he loves automatics.   Now I really cannot face doing a decoke on a car that I dislike so it might be a case of scrapping it.

Next project car is a Ford Scorpio Estate 2.5 turbo diesel with a five speed box. (Its VM engine has four separate heads and long experience with these engines shows that they are very good especially when mounted east-west as in the Rover 800)  Engines that are mounted north-south do have the problem that the water pump can get to be the highest thing in the cooling circuit when steep hills are tackled. This was the problem with early Range Rovers.  Later versions had an extra header tank to get the coolant level higher.  

Mark Anderson47
Mark Anderson47

@Joe Bloggs Well, Joe, that's not been my experience, or many other owners of 300TDs I've read about.  The Mercedes 300TD is one of the best cars ever made!  Period.  Perhaps you got a lemon, or it was very poorly maintained before you owned it?  That's my guess.  So don't judge an entire series of cars on your one car. It isn't fair to the series.