Rent, Lease, Sell or Keep: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 420 SEL

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

$100,000 can buy you an awful lot of cars these days. This morning I could have bought a 2011 Lotus Elise with 1100 miles ($42k), a 2003 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 with 16,000 miles ($24k), a 2003 BMW 745Li in mint condition with 80k (18K), and enough left over to take my family on a two month cruise.

But back in 1989 I could not have bought this car brand new for $100K. Not even close. A Mercedes 420 SEL would have set you back $111,000 in inflation adjusted terms before adding options, taxes and bogus fees.

I ended up buying the one pictured a few weeks ago for $1300 (and $115 auction fee). Should I…

Rent: Hell no!

Finance: Double hell no!

Sell: An awful lot of these cars are doing time in junkyards and inop sales throughout the country. Why? Because they are hellaciously expensive to fix. Little issues require constant attention in 80’s Benzes. A/C systems. Electrics. Powertrain issues. Paint. When a Mercedes gets to be 22 years old and 201,000 miles it becomes a rolling money pit.

But this one is different.

It has over 70 maintenance records. We’re not talking about Jiffy Lube and Wal-Mart maintenance records either. Try $5000 for a rebuilt Mercedes factory transmission that was installed only 20,000 miles ago. $2000 for a completely remade interior less than 10,000 miles ago.. $3400 for an engine rebuild about 50,000 miles ago. Not to mention near $100 oil changes and brake jobs that were firmly in the four figures.

This car is a rolling testament to blind love… and maybe even a bad marriage.

So where you can find buyers who love a car beyond all logic and reason? Ebay. When it comes to old non-collectible cars, Ebay can provide a price premium that goes far beyond the realm of reason.

I sold it for $2850. Not a lot of money. But more profit than I can likely get anywhere else.

Keep: There is one thing you can’t avoid if you sell cars on Ebay. Clueless people buying cars they know nothing about. Despite verbose warnings about my desire to sell it to a Mercedes enthusiast, I ended up meeting a nice older lady who was clearly out of her element.

“Thanks Mr. Lang for getting back to me so quickly. Does the car come with a warranty?”

“No maam. My policy has always been if you don’t like it, you don’t have to take it. It’s as simple as that.”

“I got the car for my daughter who is a single mom with kids. Do you think this will be a good car for her? I do like Mercedes.”

“Oh, hell no!”

I went on to explain to her ‘why’ a car like this needs so much maintenance. She hightailed it back to North Carolina and now I get the pleasure of relisting it.

Hopefully it will go to a better place. Perhaps some enthusiast who can match their blind love with a big fat wallet.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Dartdude Having the queen of nothing as the head of Dodge is a recipe for disaster. She hasn't done anything with Chrysler for 4 years, May as well fold up Chrysler and Dodge.
  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.