By on December 13, 2019

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.

Hi Mark,

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 protected] and he’ll reply to you. Eventually. 

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56 Comments on “Ask Bark: Something About a Benzo...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Not “appreciably better than the comparable Lexus”?

    Wow, do I disagree with that one…an S-class with the turbo-8 would eviscerate a (six-cylinder-only) LS, along with 98% of the other stuff on the road. Say what you want about the S-class, but it’s a performer.

    Having said that, though, I pretty much agree with Bark. Today’s S-class is just so…Uber. I’d take an A8 instead – you don’t see them coming and going.

    Then there’s the cost of ownership – I’d trust the mechanicals on a CPO S-class, but how much does it cost to fix a hot-stone massage unit in the driver’s seat? I can’t imagine.

    Go with an old-skool S-class and spend the difference on a toy.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    No amount of perceived “status” could ever convince me to buy a German luxo barge. When purchased new, they depreciate ridiculously fast.When purchased “Used” they cost a fortune to maintain (which explains the nasty depreciation). I simply cannot abide such waste.

    For less than the price of buying a lightly used LS, you could buy a loaded new Chrysler 300C with a stonking good V8 and a lovely smooth, quiet ride. The LX platform is time tested, and you are unlikely to suffer reliability issues.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I think you put a little too much faith in FCA resisting the temptation to nickel and dime suppliers. The 300’s still getting a couple recalls per model year in spite of the current generation being 7 years old, and the chassis being 15 years old. If they’re still getting defects at this point, why should we assume there’ll be no reliability issues?

      Mind you, I agree it’d be far cheaper to handle whatever repairs a 300 would incur than those on the Benz.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        Sadly, I can’t argue against your valid point.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          R Henry, while not a fan of FCA mobiles, I believe your reaction is the correct one for this thread. I think the buyer is not really a German buyer deep down, but the old Cadillac buyer. RWD V8 large barges is not where the Germans are at.

          I would not follow Bark’s advice.

          • 0 avatar
            SSJeep

            I also agree fully. A used S class is an exercise in how fast one can drain their bank account.

            To the writer of today’s question – there is an easy three letter answer to your V8 speed dreams.

            SRT.

            Drive one and after you are done grinning ear to ear and realizing that a new one is somewhat affordable, you will also be graced by excellent resale value down the road.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        The 300 is probably still more reliable overall than the Merc.

    • 0 avatar
      roloboto

      “you could buy a loaded new Chrysler 300C”

      LOL. That’s a hard pass there, fella.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    “3 year old examples can be readily had with 30K or fewer miles for about half or less of new MSRP.”

    This should tell you absolutely everything you need to know about the long term ownership prospects of such a vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Agree with the last paragraph.

      Genesis? v8 engine. RWD in older models, AWD in newer ones. Great warranty. Decent reliability. Also rapid depreciation but at a much lower entry point. Or get a used one for ‘a song’.

      I nearly pulled the trigger on a low mileage R-Spec. However when I went back to the dealership it had been sold.

      Contemplated an Equus, but have now publicly sworn off sedans.

      • 0 avatar
        Chocolatedeath

        A a current owner of a 2016 Kia K900 V8 VIP I agree with your statement. I havent had it very long but man it feels tight with no wiggles. Not enough data for long term prospects but I am willing to take a chance.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      True – but the same can be said for almost all high-end, luxury vehicles. They suffer from epic depreciation because the people that must have a sparkly new one are apparently more then willing to pay for that privilege. These people simply can’t imagine settling into someone else’s butt dented seat. The end result is no buyers in the used market and massive discounts are needed to off load them.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Full-fat dairy can’t come from a vegan kitchen.

  • avatar
    B-BodyBuick84

    I work in the automotive sector and I feel you should probably know, all high end German dealerships I visit have to same policy.

    If it’s traded in and it’s over 3 years old, immediately wholesale it and auction it off. Maintenance costs become so expensive at that point, it isn’t worth keeping it to sell retail. Modern ones are simply so over-engineered that they’re usually to much of a hassle to properly maintain.

    • 0 avatar
      MartyToo

      I think you made the point that I would make. Based on my friends’experiences the vehicle he wants could turn into a money pit. But assuming he has money to burn who the heck wants top be visiting the dealer 3 to 5 times a year for whatever repair calls you?

      Owning Japanese kitchen appliances is a wonderful thing. Get the tricked out Lexus. If you have to you can have a friend slap a V8 emblem on it and see a hypnotist to help you forget you’ve only got 6 and not 8.

    • 0 avatar
      MartyToo

      I think you made the point that I would make. Based on my friends’experiences the vehicle he wants could turn into a money pit. But assuming he has money to burn who the heck wants top be visiting the dealer 3 to 5 times a year for whatever repair calls you?

      Owning Japanese kitchen appliances is a wonderful thing. Get the tricked out Lexus. If you have to you can have a friend slap a V8 emblem on it and see a hypnotist to help you forget you’ve only got 6 and not 8.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      So who’s the buyer in the auction? Are they all shipped oversea?

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      Are the maintenance costs on expensive German cars really so high?

      They are higher because the dealers charge more per hour, and because filters cost 2-3x as much as non-luxury cars.

      What type of maintenance does a new Mercedes require that is above and beyond a Camry or Traverse?

      I suspect very little, to none. So, figure it will cost 2x for an oil change.

      The real issue is NOT routine maintenance. It is WEAR ITEMS (brakes, mufflers, later shocks/struts) and, God forbid, repairs.

      Since cars have more ‘stuff’, it stand to reason it take more labor it used to get to the problem, correct it, and put everything back together.

      Newer cars are more reliable, rust less, perform better (objectively). The brakes last longer–but they will need brakes. They may need a muffler. The may need shocks (though my 100k Malibu needed only brakes).

      So, applying these logical principles tells me that the German cars must not be so reliable, if dealers ‘wholesale’ them once the warranty expires. It is the wear items and potential repairs (and if these were 1992 Camrys, the potential repairs would be very, very remote) that are not so ‘potential’

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Not just labor, also parts. Parts for luxury makes (German or not) are far more expensive than parts for your Malibu or Camry.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        They “wholesale” them because there is no market for them. Most looking to purchase a high-end Benz is only looking the latest and greatest model. They have no desire for a car that is 36 months old. Heavens no… that is something the nanny might drive.

        With available aftermarket or even factory warranties you could avoid the shocking price of parts and labor from the service department if desired. The brother has two used Porsches, both are CPO and have extended warranties. Without the those two conditions he wouldn’t have bought them.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          The whole meme of “Luxury cars depreciate horribly because they are so expensive to fix” is just silly. You are exactly right – they depreciate because people who can afford them want NEW cars, so to move them, you have to discount them a lot. And even then, a half price S Class is still bloody expensive, and many would rather have a NEW $50K car if that is what they have to spend. So the market gets even smaller.

          I think extended warranties are also silly. They are like Vegas, just with WAY worse odds. The house always wins huge. The overwhelming majority of the time, you are at best pre-paying for repairs, with interest. If you can’t afford to fix a car without a warranty, don’t buy the damned thing in the first place. Of course, I also refuse to owe money on a car out of factory warranty, so I am never in the unfortunate position of paying for repairs AND the car note at the same time.

          • 0 avatar
            jalop1991

            “I think extended warranties are also silly. They are like Vegas, just with WAY worse odds. The house always wins huge. The overwhelming majority of the time, you are at best pre-paying for repairs, with interest.”

            Really?

            https://dougdemuro.kinja.com/one-year-with-a-carmax-warranty-and-an-unreliable-used-1485113319

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            DeMuro is an idiot on a good day. He went out of his way to make that Range Rover as expensive as possible to run – he took it to the dealer to have lightbulbs replaced… After paying almost as much for that warranty as I paid for an entire ’01 P38 Range Rover on top of overpaying for the truck in the first place.

            In Vegas, one idiot in a million does actually win big. 999,999 lose to make it happen. Feel lucky?

      • 0 avatar
        SSJeep

        Ever heard of a $2500 brake job? You will if you have an S-Class. And a lot of it is parts related.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          A car that has a minimum price just shy of $100K has expensive parts and service? You don’t say!

          Don’t buy a luxury car used that you can’t afford to buy new. Though ultimately depreciation will ALWAYS outweigh repairs and maintenance for a long, long, long time on a new car, you don’t have to swipe your credit card to pay for depreciation.

  • avatar
    Driver7

    Would a 2017 Lexus LS 460 fulfill the writer’s desire for V8 power?
    If that’s an acceptable option, then the writer can buy the Lexus, and then add a second-generation W126 S-class Mercedes, or upgrade to 12-cylinder greatness with an S600.
    Then, he can rely on a V8 Lexus and enjoy a Mercedes — while it lasts.

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    A w126 can cost you way more to keep on the road than you could ever imagine. I poured 10k in repairs into a “minty” one over a two year period and did a jig the day that thing left my drive. I sold it for exactly what I paid for it, minus my 10k in maintenance.

    There’s an owner forum out there where an obsessive owner had the dealer repair everything that failed in his 80’s w126 and in the end he put 46k into it. Yes, that happens.

    Don’t believe the MB hype. As used cars they are financial disasters. That’s why they depreciate so dramatically.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      To his way of thinking, he probably spent $46,000 on something way better than he’d ever find elsewhere for the same money. With a car like that, it kind of makes sense.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “To his way of thinking, he probably spent $46,000 on something way better than he’d ever find elsewhere for the same money.”

        “There’s an owner forum out there where an obsessive owner had the dealer repair everything that failed in his 80’s w126 and in the end he put 46k into it.”

        “There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part, So just give me a happy middle And a very happy start.” ― Shel Silverstein

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I LOVED West German cars, but they’re all really old now. The best one I ever owned had odd parts simply age out by the time it was twenty years old.

      Were I in this guy’s situation, I’d buy a Lexus GS-F. When the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I hear him saying quite clearly that he wants a wafting V8 luxury car and all of you are here recommending sport sedans, some of them (SRT?!) with bargain-basement Playskool interiors. I don’t understand people sometimes.

    The answer here is to test drive a LS 500 and see if he really misses those last two cylinders from behind the wheel. The 500 is a whole lot quicker and torquier than his old LS 430 — like, a whole lot — and it’s pretty much dead silent and smooth.

    If the loss of the two cylinders is just too much to take, then go buy a 2016 or 2017 LS 460 or LS 600h.

    I had to do some suspension work and a water pump on my LS 460, but even with that it was a way cheaper experience than owning a used Benz. And of all the millions of buttons and switches and lights and motors inside that thing, not a single one failed during my ownership, and the car was ten years old by the time I sold it.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I like Bark’s suggestion a lot. However, for many urban, and even suburban residents, it having a toy car is hassle, the biggest being, where to park it. And it has to be registered, insured, etc.

    The ideal is to have one car that works for you, as the LS400 worked for the questioner.

    If the questioner didn’t insist on a V8, I’d suggest getting W123 Mercedes Diesel, 300D Turbo with a good body, and a good paint job, and using THAT for his daily driver. You’ll be cooler than these cars, and have a Benz from the era when Mercedes really was worth the money, in a car that can hang with modern traffic.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    If I had to pick a German V8, Rather than a Mercedes I would spring for a Panamera. 3-4 year old samples can be found in the $50-60K range. AFAIK, they have good reliability and depreciate less than average.
    If I didn’t need a V8 I’d seriously consider a 2017-2019 Continental AWD with the top engine. I just love how roomy and well appointed the interior is. And I bet a 2yr old Conti can be had for half MSRP

  • avatar
    Lokki

    I’ve been a BMW owner for about 20 years now, with a new one roughly every three years, and less frequently for my spouse who doesn’t drive very many miles. I gave up buying them and strictly lease. Experience has shown me that I do not want to own a BMW. Drive one? Hell yeah. Own one? HELL NO. The newer cars especially are to electronically complex. There are just too many sensors and multiplexed circuits and potential points of failure. So modern German cars are girls you date, not marry.

    Now, there’s one possibility that I could live with and I’m a bit surprised that Bark didn’t suggest it. That is to buy a Mercedes Certified Pre-Owned car. I have done that in the past with BMW before I went to pure leasing and I found it very good. You get real factory service at the dealer, and no second party billing. If the OP can lease a CPO car, he may pay a little more up front, but would be spared the terror of the sudden disastrous failure.

    Perhaps, Bark has a good reason that this is a bad idea though, so I leave it to him to comment.

    Oh, and buy an old W126? I don’t think the OP seems like the kind of guy who would enjoy seeing a mechanic every week

    • 0 avatar

      “the CPO warranties available don’t support the type of long-term ownership that you’re looking to have”

      I do! MB CPO only extends the original warranty by a year. Not much help if you’re looking to own a car for a decade.

      • 0 avatar
        Lokki

        Wow… that’s pretty pathetic. Almost Cadillac-sad

        BMW still offers 7 years, 100,000 miles. Yeah, it’s gotten expensive but it’s available.

        https://www.bmwusa.com/content/dam/bmwusa/financial-services/protection-products/BMW_Extended_Service_Contract_Brochure.pdf

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I agree with a couple of other posters here: Genesis G90. Get a new one for the price of a year old MB, 5 year bumper to bumper, V8, RWD, wafting luxury and a great interior. Lacks the cachet, straight line performance, and tech of the MB or BMW, but if those things aren’t high on your list it’s worth a serious look.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ve actually heard largely good things about used W221 ownership and although the W222 is fairly new I haven’t heard many horror stories about them. The two things that worry me are (1) he’s saying that he’s only ever owned Toyota/Honda products and (2) he’s looking for a 10-12 year ownership period. The latest S-classes might not be terrible for durability but they aren’t a Lexus either and 5-7 year window would be a much easier ask.

    I’d say if a Mercedes S-class is what your heart really wants then go for it- I think you’ll be fine. Otherwise stick to the Lexus showroom.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    My 2007 GL320 CDI 4Matic is approaching 350,000 km and works great, including the original Airmatic suspension. Routine maintenance is the thing to do. It is also imperative that you bring the car to a Mercedes-Benz dealership and avoid the cheapest independent mechanics out there who will usually do more damage due to unfamiliarity with the components. You end up paying a little more, but their mechanics know what they are doing and will replace/fix parts correctly.

    Also, if you are buying in this segment then you should budget for maintenance and repairs, and this applies to all brands. If you cannot afford to maintain a particular car then you should not buy it. If you are concerned about value then you should not buy a luxury car, Even a Lexus will be relatively expensive to service (at least here in Europe).

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “It is also imperative that you bring the car to a Mercedes-Benz dealership”

      As you are in Germany this advice might be something that is a little dependent on geography. I’ve never owned an MB so maybe their dealers are awesome worldwide, but at least for Saab, Maserati, BMW, and Audi the speciality places seem to take better care than a the dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        ThomasSchiffer

        Yes, I am in Germany. Generally you can literally find a Mercedes-Benz dealership with the trained mechanics ‘everywhere’.

        I can understand that the vast distances in the United States can make this a little difficult as these specific dealerships will be few and far, but if I owned a Mercedes in your country I would still attempt at all costs to take it to a proper authorized dealership. They know what they are doing. I am convinced that a lot of ‘reliability issues’ are due to the unintentional ignorance of certain independent mechanics and their non-correct way of working on these complex cars. Like I stated earlier, these independent mechanics may be doing more harm than good.

        An example, on Youtube, II came across a video of an unfunny independent mechanic named Scotty Kilmer who criticized a Mercedes CLS500 for having a three-valves per cylinder V8 engine. He implied that the Mercedes-Benz engineers had no idea what they were doing since a ‘normal car’ is supposed to have two- or four-valves. There was a reason for three-valves in those motors (two intake, one exhaust valve), namely it allowed the catalytic converter to reach its effective operating temperature quicker. Mr. Kilmer is therefore one of those mechanics who should not work on a CLS500 in my opinion.

        • 0 avatar
          PandaBear

          Scotty is a croak and most US viewers with some level of mechanical skill will ignore him. P.S. He told people to wash the cat converter using laundry detergent, that’s total BS.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I am not going to render any opinion on this because if this person wants to buy this particular Mercedes then no amount of logical arguments are going to change that. Maybe he will buy one and have a great experience with it and then maybe not. As for Scotty Kilmer you might be right about his expertise on this type of Mercedes but overall his opinions are mostly accurate. Much of what Scotty does is to grab attention but overall he does seem to know what he is talking about and he freely admits that after 52 years of working on all types of vehicles he is more cynical than many. I admit after over 40 years of working in both industry and government I have become cynical about many things but that doesn’t mean that I am always wrong but it doesn’t mean I am always right.

    I have owned many different unique and more expensive things in my life and in retrospect I would have not bought them if I would have known what I know now but sometimes you have to learn the hard way.

  • avatar
    GoNavy99

    I picked up a used LS 460 several years ago for about $33k, and have since put an additional 60k miles on it. Definitely built like a tank, but it did (does) require maintenance, some of which I do myself.

    Given the market for sedans in general these days, I’ll probably keep this thing in my garage indefinitely as it was fully paid off some time ago. If anything, I may trade it in for a used LX 570.

    For those who are curious, the current LS500 is *very* different from the last LS 460. The V8 in the 460 isn’t quite as punchy as people would like – you get more out of the 6 cylinder in the 500. The 500 is much more taught as well – you’re definitely wafting in the LS and bracing yourself against the armrests at each turn.

    Not really a performance vehicle either. If you’re a BMW driver (I’ve had a few), get ready for changes. But you can, however, go nice and fast in straight lines without much fuss. And given that this thing is a Laz-Y-Boy on wheels, that isn’t so bad.

  • avatar
    macmcmacmac

    XJR.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “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”

    Unpossible.

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