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88 Mercedes with 93K or 96 Subaru with 155k

My adult daughter desperately needs a new very inexpensive car. She wants to buy an '88 Mercedes w/ 93K but I am pushing toward a 96 Subaru wagon with 155K as a more reliable choice. Either require future repairs but I believe the Mercedes repair cost are high. I just read a discussion where the phrase " nothing is more expensive than a cheap Mercedes." Is this not true??

A used Mercedes or Subaru wouldn’t be at the bottom of my list, but not on the list at all.


Neither. I would keep looking. Both can be expensive to repair. I would look towards a more mundane US name plated vehicle to see how they compare. Most likely it will be cheaper to repair than either of these. Unless there is an overwhelming reason to require AWD, I would forego it.

Well the Subaru is AWD and we are in VT. About 30% of all cars in VT are Subarus. (Although I’ve survived 42 year here driving FWD cars)

The Subaru may need new breaks as it has been sitting around not being driven for 6 months (does this always cause damage to breaks?) but it is priced at 300$ leaving a few bucks in the car budget for the repair. The Mercedes is 1300$

Keep looking. Both of these vehicles are money pits.

If the cost is that low, I’d look for a very simple 2WD car with a comprehensive maintenance and repair record. Well-maintained but boring cars should be at the top of the list. The Chevy Cavalier comes to mind. GM built them for so long that they were very reliable at the end. Actually, I owned on in the 1980s and it was reliable then. Find the best maintained car in your price range and forget about brand and model.

Avoid the Mercedes - if you want shocking repair bills, and old, low-price Mercedes is the car to buy! How bad is the Subaru? I’d also be woried about rust.

Make sure you’ve asked all your friends and relatives, anyone you know, if they know of a well-cared-for inexpensive used car. A $300 car can have $1000 worth of problems, easily.

The Mercedes is a terrible choice. The Subaru isn’t a great choice. I’d keep looking.

I was going to say that the Mercedes might be all right if you’re willing and able to work on it yourself. I have an 89 Mercedes 190E 2.6 liter for a daily driver with 180,000 miles on it. But for $300, you can’t go too wrong with the Subaru. Sand some of the rust off the brake rotors, or buy the least expensive rotors you can, and maybe new brake pads.

If you want to save money, put the time and effort into learning how to work on the car yourself. Then, for $300 you can’t go wrong. Until the Subaru needs a new head gasket. Then you can fix it or sell it for parts.

Tough crowd that doesn’t like a running Subaru for only $300. I’d buy it.

Both cars are a long (very long ) shot and my vote is to:
Keep looking.
Stash back more money.

If pushed into a corner and having to pick one I might go with the Benz IF that mileage is correct. An '88 with only 90k miles on the clock?

@acercampestre2 - which model Mercedes, exactly? Is it AWD? A rear wheel drive in Vermont doesn’t sound like a good combination.

If you want the Subaru, make sure that they replaced the timing belt and tensioners and the head gaskets. This last if because that generation of Subarus is prone to head gasket failure - for the 2.5 L DOHC engine. If they have no documented proof that they did this, do not buy the car. And of course, the things that others have said should be considered.

Thanks for all your comments. The Mercedes really scares me but I’m surprised at the feedback on the Subaru. I thought they had a reputation for reliability. Consumer Reports likes them; not as much as Toyota and Honda but Subaru is pretty highly rated.

The problem we are having is that even Toyota and Hondas are very over priced and in Vermont the old ones get very rusty very fast.

She may try to swing the price of an old Volvo. We are hearing that they have fewer rust problems and can keep going for over 200K.

To get a better bead on price, we would need more info on the Subaru. Exact model. For example, the Legacy sedan, 2.2L engine is valued at $500 rough trade by I suspect Imprezas would be cheaper. Problem is how the AWD drive train has been treated/serviced over the years. Four exact matching tires need to be kept on the car at all times. Did that happen?

There may be multiple reasons for the relatively cheap price. I don’t think an old Volvo would be cheaper or more reliable, but condition and past maintenance history is critical in any vehicle this old. The AWD drive train can be expensive to repair/replace if it goes out.

My experience with Subarus has been very positive. The 155K is not out of bounds for the model year, but since I bought new, I know what I have done to keep up; the maintenance on mine. You have little to no idea how this one was treated over the 14 years experience so far. That would be my biggest concern over and above the question of timing belt, etc at 105K miles or so.

Volvo? You’re a glutton for punishment!

All the cars you mentioned are either troublesome and/or expensive to fix.

Stop thinking Mercedes, Subaru, or Volvo. Start thinking Ford/Chevy if you want a vehicle that may need future repairs. The son bought a 95 Buick Century in pretty nice shape for $140.00. It did need some work. But it didn’t cost an arm and a leg for the replacement parts.


Forget the CR op-eds and when it comes to used cars they’re all a toss-up as to whether they will make it more than a few miles without quitting. The older and cheaper they are the worse the odds get.

From the sound of this, I get the feeling that you’re going to wade into a real minefield on a car purchase.
An aged Benz or high miles trouble prone Subaru and now an old Volvo? That’s like trying to decide which of your eyes you would like to have poked with a sharp stick.

The Subaru in ONLY $300 !!!

Yea, the head gasket or timing belt may go out at any time but so what? Then you sell it to a salvage yard for $300.

It may be fine after sitting for only 6 months or maybe the brake rotors have a little surface rust. No big deal.

People are being very picky over a $300 car. I can’t buy a car in my state for $300 that would even start up and run. Think of it as a disposable car.

FYI: many many Subarus are known for developing head gasket problems and problems with their AWD.

The Subaru could certainly be worth a shot at only 300 bucks but there are 2 lingering questions.

  1. Is the daughter going to be venturing far from home with it?
  2. What (approximately) is this Subaru like as to how it runs?

Subarus are reliable - the issues I mention are really maintenance issues (timing belt for example) and a problem related only to a particular engine and certain model years. I owned my Outback wagon for 15 years and it was terrific. But I knew how it was maintained etc.

$300 is reasonable, but you have to know what you are getting into which is why I posted what I did since either of those problems could leave a driver stranded unexpectedly. I suspect that the car is priced appropriately - you’ll have to decide if you want to put additional money into it or not.

Goldwing wrote:
People are being very picky over a $300 car. I can’t buy a car in my state for $300 that would even start up and run. Think of it as a disposable car.

The OP mentioned reliability, not scoring a great bargain. A fifteen-year-old Subaru is unlikely to be terribly reliable.