Ask Bark: Something About a Benzo
Let it be known: I’m not a fan of buying used cars. If you have ever read anything I’ve written, you’ve probably noticed that I nearly always encourage people to go with new over used, especially if the person asking the question lacks the time and capabilities to fix minor issues on his own. However, there are cases where buying used makes a lot of sense, particularly with models that experience extreme depreciation and have a good deal of anticipated longevity.
Today’s question deals with exactly such a situation. Or does it? Read on.
I love your columns and always look forward to reading them. My question for you:
I love cars but I am a very deliberative buyer. My wife and I usually drive our cars for at least 10 years if possible, maybe more if the car is holding up. My last car was a 2005 Lexus LS430. I loved that car, but it was finally getting too old and showed signs of impending unreliability. I recently sold it and got a 2018 Avalon. Not my dream car by far, but it is a solid ride until I can give it to my son when he turns 16 in a couple years.
When it comes time to hand down the Avalon, I want to buy a car I really want. Here’s what I really like in a car: rear wheel drive, V8, large luxury sedan. I also place a high value on reliability. I was settled on getting another big Lexus after my previous one, but I am kind of turned off by the lack of V8. Something about a large barge with a dinky V6 doesn’t sit right with me.
My original dream car of my impoverished youth was an early 90s Mercedes 560 SEL. What I am contemplating doing in a couple years is getting a Mercedes S-Class that is a couple years old (probably an S560 by the time I’m ready to buy).
Rear wheel drive only, no AWD. I look constantly at cars regardless of whether I am immediately in the market, and 3 year old examples can be readily had with 30K or fewer miles for about half or less of new MSRP. (I am in the Atlanta area.) I assume these are off-lease. I’ve seen a 2016 recently with less the 8K miles on it asking in the low $60Ks. That would be very tempting to me. Not interested in any other Mercedes models. This, to me, is the quintessential Mercedes Benz.
As I mentioned, I am traditionally averse to unreliability. All the cars my wife and I have willingly driven were Hondas or Toyotas. Some of them weren’t perfect, and we’ve had to make some repairs outside normal maintenance, but that’s not unusual when you keep cars as long as we do. We are meticulous about preventative maintenance, and I can afford to maintain a Mercedes properly. I recognize the maintenance cost will be much higher than that for a Honda or a Toyota. I can afford to buy a new one, but that depreciation is monstrous and I don’t see the point unless I was trading in for a new every couple years. Not interested in leasing at all, ever. Would be driven daily, but pretty low miles, maybe 10K a year or so.
I believe that modern cars of any make are light years beyond those of my youth (70s, 80s) in the reliability department. My research seems to indicate that the big Benz is fairly reliable in its segment. Can this car run well for 10-12 years without needing something really major (engine, transmission, something over a few thousand to repair), as long as I keep up the maintenance? Or should I suck it up and get another Lexus LS and live with V8 envy? Or is there an alternative? Even with modern engineering, the evidence seems to indicate that nothing English, Italian, or BMW is reliable by modern standards. Is a big, relatively new Mercedes a recipe for disaster or happiness over the long term?
Curious as to your thoughts and the B&B’s.
You want to know my thoughts? Here are my thoughts.
Sorry, I think of that scene every time somebody says anything like “you want to know my thoughts?” You write to me, you get to deal with my ADD. Hey, I’m on the spectrum, so you can’t make fun of me.
Now, anyway, on to my real thoughts. I think you’re going to be disappointed.
The modern S-Class is a marvel, to be sure, but it doesn’t have the same cachet that those Benzos of your youth did. In those times, Mercedes were a symbol of class and social strata, especially if you were impoverished (as I was) during that time. The second-gen W126 were significantly better and more glamorous than the American and Japanese competitors of that era.
Today? Eh. I don’t think they’re appreciably better than the comparable Lexus, and the CPO warranties available don’t support the type of long-term ownership that you’re looking to have. Will it run for 10-12 years without needing a major repair? Probably, but you’re rolling the dice on it.
So here’s my crazy idea. Why not buy the car of your dreams from your youth? W126 560 SELs can be had all day long for less than $10,000, and in pretty good condition, too. (They can also be had for $50k!!!!) And while the new S-Class is cool, they are several degrees of cool below the straight up pimpiness of driving a 5.6-liter Saddam Hussein special. Then, for your daily commute, you can rock something sensible like your Avalon or an ES.
I think this is a win-win. You could buy yourself a car that you can drive on Sundays for fun, repair as a hobby with your son, and also get yourself something that you won’t lose sleep (or piles of cash) over. However, if you think this is a terrible idea, then go get your S560 and be happy with it. As you correctly stated, depreciation is bonkers ( holy shit) and you’ll have a great car.
Me? I’d take a ride to the George H.W. Bush era. Read my lips. No new Benzes.
[Image: Daimler AG]
Bark can give you terrible advice, too! Write to him at email@example.com and he’ll reply to you. Eventually.
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