Should I buy a Mercedes?


I have always wanted a Mercedes diesel and now I can afford a well-used one as sort of a toy. There are two in my price range at the local dealer:

1. 1987 300SD-looks like new, silver with matching leather interior, 223,000 miles. They are asking $6,800 for it.

2. 1983 300D-looks kind of plain sitting next to the 300SD but they only want $3,650 for it. The paint and interior look very good. It has 257,000 miles and supposedly a rebuilt engine.

My boss says he had a 1987 300SD just like this one and that it was a pig around town but great on the highway. He said the transmission shifted really hard from 1st to 2nd and that the turbo came on with a real lag. Also, it used up brakes pretty fast. He doesn’t know about the 300D.

These prices seem OK, based on other ads I have seen.

Would these be sensible or am I just being silly? I would drive it to work most days, about 60 miles round trip. I would still keep my 2007 Camry, I think. I’m going for a test drive Tuesday unless you talk me out of it!


Yes, by all means get your Mercedes. But first check the blue book value or NADA lists. I am pretty sure these prices are too high by a thousand or two. Arm yourself with some data before talking serious with a salesman.

PS - My Mercedes is a 1989 300E.


You really need to know what you are looking at, the year and the mileage don’t mean very much without knowing the condition and seeing some maintenance records (the book values are really worthless for these cars). Either of these cars could be worth anywhere from $1000 to $10000 depending on condition (and the buyer). The rebuilt engine in the 300D sounds suspicious, it would be unusual to need a rebuild at 250K miles, and I would definitely want to know who did the rebuild (a good rebuild will cost about $6000 plus labor).

I drive a 82 300D with 400K miles on the original (un-rebuilt engine), I also have a 83 240D with 216K miles. I’m not a big fan of the later (1986 and later, aluminum head) diesel engines. I also prefer the early body styles, but that’s just personal preference. You need to find a good independent shop or a dealer and have them do a pre-purchase inspection if you are really interested. Find out everything you will need to fix and get a detailed estimate before you make an offer. Be aware that the automatic transmission may need some attention at this mileage, so make sure you have that checked too. The AC is also a little flaky on these, if someone tells you “it just needs to be recharged,” plan on spending another $1500.

You need to understand that these are 20-25 year old cars and it will cost you some money to keep them in perfect condition, even if they have been well maintained. Plan on spending a few $100 to a couple $1000 per year (maybe $1000/year average), so a $1000 difference the initial purchase price will not be significant in the long run. The parts are starting to get a little expensive (I just paid over $500 for an AC hose for one of mine); so if that’s a major consideration, this may not be the car you want. In terms of long-term cost per mile, it is really cheaper to buy a newer benz or something else, most of us who drive old ones consider it to be a hobby.


As Craig stated, it’s going to be all about condition and records. Of course, have any used Mercedes inspected by someone who specifically knows these cars prior to purchase.

That said it would seem both examples have fairly ambitious prices attached. Don’t narrow your search to just these two.For those prices they must be in very good condition and have full records. It’s much cheaper in the long run to spend more money up front and buy the best example you can find than to buy a trapped out dog and try to restore it. There is nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes.

The two cars you mention, although close in age, are quite different automobiles. If the car is a 1987 then it is a 300SDL not SD. It is a long wheelbase “S” class sedan. They have the six cylinder 603xx diesel engine that was new in 1986. Although this engine was designed for lighter weight and more power, the engine proved somewhat problematic. The major known weakness were the cylinder head, especially on cars that didn’t have the trap oxidizer removed early in life. Make sure any SDL you look at has had the head modification done. Hard shifting trannys could be a vacuum problem or it could be something quite worse. Again have it checked prior to purchase. A new head or a new transmission will be somewhat pricey for this car.

The 1983 300D is built on the famous 123 chassis. These were wonderful cars that have a reputation for being rock solid and long lived. It will have a shorter wheelbase than the SDL, hence less back seat room if that’s important. The engine is the five cylinder 617xxx, which go forever with the right maintenance.
It is an older design in many ways than the '87. No air bag or anti lock brakes for instance. it also won’t ride on the highway like the long S Class, but it’s much easier to drive and park in town.

While the older 126 S Class cars were incredible automobiles, I would lean towards recommending the 123 chassis 300D. Easier to work on and cheaper parts for the most part. It’s older technology, but more dependable. I personally have both a 126 and a 123 as daily drivers, but I always grab the keys to the 300D if I have the choice.



Drive both if you haven’t already. Which do you like best? Do you want to buy it? If so, get it checked by a good mechanic. Maybe your boss knows one, or you have friends who do. Since it’s a second car, you can afford to be ithout it occasionally if it needs repairs.