Let me start by saying I’ve always wanted a Mercedes Benz. I don’t know whether it’s the fine German craftsmanship, or the status that driving a car like this ultimately lends to the driver. Doesn’t matter. The point is, I’ve been dreaming about owning a Mercedes since before I ever received a driver’s license. The problem is – as most of you already know – it’s not a cheap car to purchase, or maintain. At $89,500 for a new S500, and around $15-50,000 for a used model (less than 15 years old), it seemed my dream car might be just that… a dream. Even a used one will set you back more than many “new” models right off the showroom floor.
Then a light bulb went off. What if I bought a Mercedes with some issues, and fixed it myself? I wasn’t by any means a mechanic, but I had the internet, and there were a number of repair manuals available for my particular car.
I ended up purchasing a 2002 S500 that didn’t run (owner wasn’t sure why – nor did he want to repair it) for just $3,500… less than one third of the blue book value for the same vehicle. The car only had 65,000 miles before it stopped running, so if I could get it driving again, I’d have a car that was almost $90,000 brand new, for just a fraction of what a new Honda would cost me. I took the risk and purchased the car.
Here’s what I learned from the experience.
It’s Easier Than You Might Think
Armed with my trusty repair manual, and the mindset of the entire car being one large puzzle, I got to work. I figured out right away that fixing cars isn’t as difficult as you might think. In fact, the repair manual guided me through most of the troubleshooting and fixes with step-by-step instruction and pictures. The hard part wasn’t the repair, it was finding the specialty tools, or sometimes the parts that was a challenge.
Don’t Buy Parts at the Dealership
“Cheap” parts like belts, hoses or even spark plugs on a luxury car will set you back hundreds of dollars if purchased at a dealership. The local Autozone was cheaper, but the best deals came from the internet. In fact, most of my Mercedes Benz parts came from just a handful of sources. Most were new (although not “Mercedes” branded), but I was able to source some used parts as well.
The thing is, when you’re looking for used parts, they aren’t a lot cheaper than the new parts (in most instances) and the warranty is much better on the new part. I chose reliability and bit the bullet on the cost a bit.
Be Mindful of the Title
In general, I was warned it’s best to avoid cars with salvage titles. You’ll get a cheaper car, but it comes at a cost of becoming less desirable to buyers as well as the potential for registration and/or insurance issues down the road. I’ve read horror stories of banks refusing to loan money for salvage cars, as well as insurance companies refusing to insure them. Do your homework unless this is an issue you’re already well-versed in.
Laugh Your Way to the Bank
A brand new Honda Accord will set you back about $30,000 if you pick it up right off the dealer’s lot. My Mercedes cost me a whopping $3,500 as well as about another $2,000 to get it running again. So, if you’re doing the math at home, it’s about one-sixth the cost of a new Honda Accord.
Now, use your best judgement in gauging your ability and desire to do something like this. I was lucky, but the car could have cost me several thousand more just to get it in running condition – although even that would have netted me my dream car for pennies on the dollar. The point is, if you’re willing to do the work, and you like solving puzzles, this may be a great opportunity for you to purchase the car of YOUR dreams.