New or Used: The Backyard Swing That Faces a Brick Wall

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used the backyard swing that faces a brick wall

TTAC Commentator cc-rider writes:

Sajeev- I have written you before asking for advice for my coworker. You all had a field day with that one! I am looking for some quick advice as I now have a dilemma of my own to deal with.

I currently own two cars: a near mint 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R and a nice 1988 BMW 325is. A situation has come up where I am thinking of trading the Sentra for a 1997 Mercedes C36 AMG. Before you spill the coffee on the keyboard, the C36 is not worth nearly as much as you would initially think. It is pretty much at the bottom of its depreciation curve.

The Benz owner also has a euro E34 M5. He is looking for a thrifty, front wheel drive daily driver. So, more or less we are talking about two odd ball cars with somewhat limited audiences. We haven’t talked numbers yet, but I know he thinks his car is worth more than the SE-R. From my research in the last week, I believe his car to be worth about $5500 or so. I believe my Sentra is worth about $4500 as it sits. Yes, it is that Sentra is that clean and has been upgraded in an OEM sense.

Am I completely nuts for possibly wanting to get into one of these cars? The car looks to be in great shape and is a rocket ship. I have read the 1997 5 speed auto trannys are not that reliable. I am not particularly wealthy and would hate to get into a money pit despite the off the charts cool factor of the Benz. I could keep the e30 for a daily driver and use the C36 on weekends. I am not sure the C36 would be the kind of car that I would want to rack up a lot of miles on.

The Benz’s current owner is a Subaru technician. He had the car towed the Greenwich CT Benz dealer today to diagnose a no start issue. I am curious to hear what the problem was. These cars are known to have wiring harness issues. I think they sorted that out by 1997 with the biodegradable harnesses.

I live in Fairfield County, CT so there are plenty of people to work on the Benz around here. There is someone I trust locally who is about 5 minutes from my work actually. And regarding my budget for repairs, but I am trying to stay under the threshold where my wife doesn’t want to kill me…

Sajeev Answers:

I’m not spilling my coffee on the initial purchase price, I’m worried about the ongoing maintenance issues. Wait, no. I’m laughing about it, actually. And your wife is probably thinking along the lines of the Benz’s current owner: why doesn’t my crazy husband buy one “thrifty front driver” and stick with it?

Plus, you don’t sound like an AMG connoisseur: one who’d actually tolerate (appreciate?) the trials and tribulations of owning an old German Hot Rod. This person would have an E55 in the garage and have Black Series dreams every night. You are not that person.

What is the matter with you? Not only can you not afford to keep this car around, you own an genuine Sentra SE-R…the car you need in the first place! Think about it this way. The C36 is only moderately better than a 2011 Hyundai Sonata Turbo: performance numbers are sickeningly close. Sure, the Benz is RWD and has all that pre-DiamlerChrysler design charm, but you can have more fun for less money with some other modern classic. Walk, don’t run away from this toy, and stick with what you got for a long, long time.

Steve Answers:

There is this thing in life we call ‘a brick wall’. Some of us recognize them for what they are. A car that’s worth more dead than alive. A house or spouse that is a money pit. Any bad investment of money or time can truly represent a brick wall’s worth of hurt if you keep on flinging your resources at it.

You? Well apparently you now want to build a backyard swing that faces a brick wall. The wall may say ‘Mercedes’. Nice. But it ought to say something else in French that sounds a lot like ‘MR2′. To be PG about it, life will truly suck for you once you buy into that low quality brick wall.

Every day you will revel in the financial and emotional carnage that comes from keeping a bitchy car that torments your soul. Thousands of dollars. Months with one less car. Have you even priced out a transmission for one of these nasty little things? The fact that your friendly mechanic can’t even figure out the most recent problem should make you turn that swing of yours the other way. Yet you go on with tongue a-waggin’, ready to taste a brick wall’s worth of hurt. Why?

Because you have it too good. Two exceptional cars that work great. Low insurance costs. Virtually no ad valorem tax. Everything is good in life. But still you have this desire of looking on the opposite side of the automotive fence for the high cost, high maintenance, automotive version of Hannibal Lecter. My advice is simple. Put your wallet in a safe place and tear down that wall.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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2 of 32 comments
  • Flatout05 Flatout05 on Nov 22, 2010

    To the gent who asked the question: If you truly want to move along the SE-R, please contact me. I'm dead serious. I've owned 3 SE-Rs from that generation and have been thinking about getting yet another. My company is not far from you. steve flatout-motorsports com

  • Areitu Areitu on Nov 22, 2010

    Regarding the performance, some of the B&B seem to overlook the fact that back when this car came out, it was making Camaro SS amounts of power, in a tiny comfortable sedan. Maintenance and reliability on the benz isn't as horrifying as people are making it out to be, and it's certainly no 928. It sounds like you're not shy about working on a car nor spending a few bucks here and there to make sure the car runs and drives well. The engine takes a couple more quarts of oil than the SR20, the brake pads need to be changed more often, and the AT fluid and filter need to be changed religiously. I've heard the AT has a lifespan of 100-150k, but you'll want to check with a benz person on that. The major issues to look out for are the wiring harness and AT service. Some Mercedes specialists won't diagnose electrical problems unless the harness is replaced first and the transmission is sensitive to maintenance more so than others. Maybe you and your friend can split the cost of a comprehensive PPI. The only reason I advise against trading is because you are happy with the B13 and have a german sports sedan! I look forward to hearing about what what you decide!

  • Kat Laneaux Agree with Michael500, we wasted all that money just to bail out GM and they are developing these cars in China and other countries. What the heck. I understand the cheap labor but that is just another foothold the government has on their citizens and they already treat them like crap. That is pretty disgusting to go forward to put other peoples health and mental stability on a crazy crazed, control freak, leader, who is in bed with Russia. Thought about getting a buick but that just shot that one out of the park. All of this for the greed. They get what they lay in bed with. Disgusting.
  • Michael500 Good thing Obama used $50 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out and give unions a big stake. GM is headed to BK again with their Hail Mary hope of EVs. Hopefully a Republican in office will let them go BK the next time, and it's coming. The US economy is not related/dependent on GM and their Chinese made Buicks.
  • MaintenanceCosts "Rural areas hardly noticed COVID at all."I very much doubt that is true in places like the Navajo Nation or the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, some of which lost 2% or more of their population to COVID.No city had a death rate in the same order of magnitude.Low-density living is a very modern invention. Before cars, people, even in agricultural areas, needed to live densely to survive.
  • Wjtinfwb Always liked these MN12 cars and the subsequent Lincoln variant. But Ford, apparently strapped for resources or cash, introduced these half-baked. Very sophisticated chassis and styling, let down but antiquated old pushrod engines and cheap interiors. The 4.6L Modular V8 helped a bit, no faster than the 5.0 but extremely smooth and quiet. The interior came next, nicer wrap-around dash, airbags instead of the mouse belts and refined exterior styling. The Supercharged 3.8L V6 was potent, but kind of crude and had an appetite for head gaskets early on. Most were bolted to the AOD automatic, a sturdy but slow shifting gearbox made much better with electronic controls in the later days. Nice cars that in the right color, evoked the 6 series BMW, at least the Thunderbird did. Could have been great cars and maybe should have been a swoopy CLS style sedan. Pretty hard to find a decent one these days.
  • Inside Looking Out You should care. With GM will die America. All signs are there. How about the Arsenal of Democracy? Toyota?