Mercedes has always been a pinnacle of luxury. As one can imagine, status and driving comfort do not come at a low price. So one might start to peruse the used market and wonder, should I buy a used Mercedes?
A reasonably priced used Mercedes with a full main dealer documented service history and with average mileage represents a good used car choice. However, maintaining a Mercedes is more expensive than the average sedan and some models suffer from poor reliability.
Over the last decade, reliability has not been a strong point for Mercedes. New poor reliability issues compound with each passing year. Coupled with the fact that a Mercedes is complicated to work on and the parts are more expensive, it’s a losing battle for many people.
If you are adamant about buying used Mercedes, there are a couple of general steps to take.
Do Your Research. Before proceeding with a big purchase decision, you should research the particular year and model you’re looking at. Each model and year will have its quirks and issues. Finding owners’ forums is a great way to take your research to the next level.
Current owners of the used Mercedes model you’re looking at will give an excellent view into how well it is holding up. Be sure to also look for comparable sold cars so that you know you’re paying a fair price.
Read The Carfax Report. To avoid any surprises with the used Mercedes, grab a vehicle history report. Doing so will allow you to check if there have been any accidents and confirm that maintenance has been done on schedule.
Test Drive. Buying any car without stepping foot inside is risky. It’s even more complicated when it’s a used car. Make sure that you get a chance to test drive the used Mercedes. Additionally, consider bringing a mechanic with you to assess the condition. A mechanic can point out mechanical issues and failing parts before making the purchase decision.
Like many other German luxury brands, Mercedes is not known for its reliability. However, enthusiasts will swear that Mercedes made in the 1990s and prior were bulletproof. With that as the case, most buyers still want some sense of modernity in their car.
Many of the used Mercedes issues have come from their electrical systems. Mercedes is a brand that has always looked to be at the forefront of convenience. Most modern automobile conveniences focus on technologies as a form of ultra-luxury.
Things like more driver assistance features and suspensions that constantly monitor the road to make adjustments and deliver a smooth ride are just some of these technological timebombs. When they work, a Mercedes is one of the best cars around.
But when they fail, it’s an unsolvable headache. With so many interconnected sub-systems within the cars, one minor issue can have a cascading effect throughout.
Both JD Power and Consumer Reports do not paint the reliability of Mercedes in a positive light. JD Power was kinder in their assessment, marking Mercedes reliability as just below the industry average. However, the most recent ratings from Consumer Report have placed Mercedes in the 23rd spot.
The only other German automaker ranked lower was Volkswagen at 24th. These positions are nothing new for Mercedes. The brand has spent much of its recent history hovering around these rankings. So, unfortunately, going for models that are five or even ten years old won’t change the story.
A used Mercedes is going to be expensive to own. You may be able to save a decent amount of money thanks to the steep depreciation curve, but you’ll still have to pay up somewhere.
According to a study done by YourMechanic, Mercedes was the 2nd most expensive brand to own over a ten-year period. It was second only to BMW. The study projected that owners could expect to spend about $12,900 on maintenance over that period.
Once again, it is not unsurprising given how complex the Mercedes of the past decade has been. With many of the problems being electrical in nature, shrouded in a mess of different systems mangled together, it’s hard to fix the issue on your own. It’s not as straightforward as replacing tubing or some exact part in the engine.
As such, you will have to either take it to the dealership or an independent mechanic to get it fixed. Additionally, given the prestige of the Mercedes brand, labor rates will probably be high. With the aforementioned complexity of the car, you can bet that a technician may spend a prolonged amount of time trying to fix the issue. High rates and extended hours end up in quite the hefty bill.
After all that, if by some miracle you were able to find the problem on your own, Mercedes parts will still be costly.
For those feeling brave enough to step into the world of used Mercedes, there is a model line that seems to have faired well over the years. A used Mercedes E-Class has been a bright spot for the automaker. Having more care than the more mass-produced C-Class and less technology than the S-Class, the E-Class strikes a happy medium for many people.
A used Mercedes E-Class will give the best chance for actually functioning, whether it’s a year old or thirty years old.
In particular, there are two E-Class eras that enthusiasts point towards.
The E-Class’s 2008 and 2009 model years were the last years of the third generation E-Class, known as the W211. The E-Class of these years have been praised for their comfort, but more importantly, their acceptable reliability. Checking CarComplaints, the 2008 and 2009 models significantly improved quality over the preceding years.
Additionally, this generation of the E-Class has been noted by both US News and RoadandTrack as a great and (relatively) reliable buy for anyone looking at a cheap luxury car. It won’t have a large screen or Apple CarPlay, but for those that want a responsive yet plush ride, this E-Class can deliver.
While technically not an E-Class, the W124 is the direct predecessor of the E-Class. For those that aren’t afraid to go older, the W124 is legendary amongst the car community. A timeless design and robust build quality have made the W124 one of Mercedes’ most successful cars. Look hard enough, and these decades-old cars can still be seen frequently as taxi cabs in European cities.
Of course, don’t expect any convenience features in a car nearing thirty years old. But when it comes to reliability, that’s an advantage. Everything is simple but yet, done with quality and purpose. Many of these W124s have been able to go for hundreds of thousands of miles with only basic maintenance.
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.