Hagerty.com

Is a depreciated mess of a Mercedes E500 wagon still worth $3200?

We’ve all seen those 10–15-year-old high-mileage, high-performance German cars being sold for a tiny fraction of their original sticker price. In my BMW-centric world, the poster children seem to be the big 5 and 7 Series cars. Once the mileage creeps up and there are deferred maintenance issues, their worth takes a dive.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/03/04/depreciated-mess-mercedes-e500-wagon

I’ve spent too much money on German machining as well, so you are in good company…

I would point out the new formula I’ve been playing with… Don’t try to buy a car where mileage is greater than 12K miles per year. Of course, there are some general exceptions to this rule:

  1. If hybrid, then half that, but then ask about how recent or fresh the hybrid battery is.
  2. If diesel, then half that, but then ask pointed questions about timing belt maintenance.
  3. If more than that and just a regular car, ask pointed questions about maintenance, and whether or not the vehicle has been in a wreck.
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As someone sitting in Connecticut the Check engine light and an “Intermittent” relay problem kills this car for me. This won’t pass emissions in Connecticut and therefore would be nothing more than a driveway decoration until it can be fixed or you can reset the light and drive it the exact distance required to pass emissions but not have the light come on. Without emissions it won’t pass safety and without that no plate, end of story. This car literally needs Thousands of dollars of DIY work let alone stuff that most DIYers aren’t equipped or skilled enough to do just for me to register it.
Recently my Wife’s CX-7 needed a turbo at 135,000 Miles that cost $1800 at a good shop, and I expect another 50,000+ miles out of that car and it has no other problems. This Merc needs about $800 in electrical work and probably $2000 in suspension and will be lucky to go 30,000 without needing another $1000 someplace.
Ten years ago a car that age with that mileage and those problems would be an $800 or less car, this is proof that the used car market has lost its mind. I don’t care how good it looks, I need to get to work 5 days a week without fail, this is not a collector car, it is a utilitarian car and should function as such and at present it does not.
Hard Pass

The used car market, and pricing, have been screwed up since the government did their cash for clunkers scam. All it did, was took a lot of affordable older cars, and destroyed them, causing the prices of all other used cars to skyrocket due to the lack of availability it caused. I was actually able to sell a 2 yr old 18k mile Toyota Camry right after the program ended for $500 more than I paid for it new, because used car loans are easier for people with lower credit scores to secure and used cars were selling for more than dealers could sell their new inventory for.

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I agree, but I didn’t want to point fingers at any particular government program or political party. I really just wish the market would resettle, but I fear the whole push for even stricter emissions laws, and shift to alternate power, EV, Hybrid, other fuel, will bring another CFC program and even higher used car prices.

You haven’t lived until you’ve owned a high-end German vehicle. In my case, it was an Audi A8 and I owned it a little further up on the depreciation curve, but what I got was a low-mileage, heavily discounted (from MSRP) example that gave all of the joys (heated rear seats! power rear sunshade! solar powered sunroof vent! heated steering wheel!) and all the heartburn (that service bill was how much?!). Alas, while I can do some of my own maintenance work, I lacked the skills and equipment to do much of consequence myself. I great independent mechanic helped me keep the car in my garage for some pretty good years. It departed my hands as a mid-mileage (above 100K, but not a massive amount of miles) car that had been maintained but was who-knows-how-long until the next four-digit service bill.

I normally wouldn’t have read an article about this type of car, but I always really enjoy Rob Seigel’s articles. This isn’t a comment on German vehicles, because the only one of those I’ve ever had is a 1980s 300D that I bought wrecked and parted out. But living in MS we are often at the top of the lists for states with the worst (insert some statistic here). Which is unfair or at least a misrepresentation a lot of times since it really isn’t a bad place to live. One thing that is a positive aspect in my mind is the lack of emission laws here and the ease of titling vehicles. There are no emissions testing for any vehicle, and as of fairly recently not even inspection stickers anymore. I’m able to freely enjoy my fleet of old beater vehicles as I want to, even if one might leave a tunnel of smoke going down the road.

Not German, but close…We bought a 2006 SAAB 9-5 SportCombi in 2008 with 17,000 miles on it for $15,000. SAAB had just been shut down. It has worked out well. We have enjoyed it as a daily driver for 10 year with no major problems. It now has 89,000 miles and we look forward to driving it until fully autonomous cars are available. By then we will be too old to drive safely. We almost bought E500. I am glad we passed.

I can relate to your article as I am currently driving a sweet blue 2007 BMW 530xi touring wagon as my winter car. Runs great and handles Canadian winter weather with ease. My summer car is a sapphire blue 2001 Jaguar XJ8. Another sweet but completely different kind of ride. Together these two cars had an original cost of over $150,000 Cdn. I paid about $10,000 for both in total and have had to spend about $5,000 in total on them over the past couple of years to keep them ship shape. I use a 10% of original retail price rule and have really enjoyed driving older cars for about this amount most of my adult life, including a 1987 BMW 535i sport, a 1994 Audi S4, a 1997 Jag XJR, a 2003 540i MTech. My wife is more cautious than I am, having owned 7 Subarus from new, including the 2018 WRX she is currently driving. I have had a great mechanic (he does a lot of work for BMW and Porsche race teams) for many years who manages to keep my old beasts running well, certainly for a lot less than any dealer could. Not sure how long I can keep this up now that I am retired and in my seventies on a fixed pension but I am going to try to enjoy older cars as long as I can. And then there are my older used performance boats that I have had over the years, including Donzi’s and Pachangha’s - but that is another story that also test’s my wife’s love for me.
Thanks for reading.
ML

It was interesting to read your comments on the E500 wagon. Being a “wagon guy” I can agree with a fair amount of your take on this particular car. I’ve owned a '05 E 500 wagon for 7 years now. It’s my 3rd E class wagon, but first with the big V8. I absolutely love this car. It was reasonable money to buy and it was likely very well cared for by its first and only other owner. When you buy one of these, experience has taught me to buy a 1 owner if possible. One with extensive dealer service records also helps. And, always expect one or more of the mechanical replacements that typically occur around 100k miles.
Things like air suspension issues (bags or pump or sensors). Rear hatch lift supports ar another not
inexpensive fix. If you service this car by the “book” you will be rewardedwith excellent road manners,
comfort, great stereo, commodious cargo capacity and great handling with Mercedes turning radius included. All wheel drive is excellent in winter as well. One more tip, if you only drive it infrequently, always keep it on a trickle charge, as the battereries have to keep all the electronic gizmos in a ready state. With your foot on the load peddle, the torque and thrust always makes me smile! My German
Shepherds love it too. When this one is done, I’ll be in the market for another.

JBD

This is probably the best article you have written (and so far, they have all been good). Not only was the topic one of general interest to motorheads, and well written, you introduced us to two websites that I had never heard of and are sure to be useful: RepairPal.com & Searchtempest. In addition I had no idea that you can buy a smoke tester for something under $100. Everything I have ever seen suggests that they cost upwards of $1,000. So, I have been living in dread of having to chase down an evaporative leak with no equipment. Kudos to you for telling us.

Plain and simply put, the repairs on older Euro models kills the deal because you can buy a more affordable ( in all ways ) POS domestic/ Nipponese product that will not be thrilling but won’t break your bank either.
When they have heart failure you just off it on CL as a parts car and buy another Honda, oops, I meant wheezer that will most always get you to work.

I have driven daily since new a 1997 850R Volvo wagon w/192,000 mi. This car has held up quite well. Being garaged every night doesn’t hurt either. The Volvo listed for $46k and change and I have put back in to the car around $8k. Not including Regular maintenance. As for as my volvo goes it runs for a long time before needing a fix. When I use the best parts I find there is less down time. Volvo like their parts but, one can find non OEM that hold up better than factory.

My 2004 S4 Avant ate itself at 200,000 km (timing chain tensioner). I replaced that with a 2005 Cheyenne S which also failed at 200,000 km (rod knock). Decided that older, high mileage daily drivers were no longer my thing & bought a low mileage 2017 Golf Sportwagen. Oh, the feeling of confidence - I actually am going to get where I’m going!
Still have the '86 XJ6 and '81 Rabbit so I can continue “worry trips”.

It’s funny because I had a 2001 E39 540i/6 sport and then got an E500 wagon. I had to get rid of the 540i because I could tell the trans was getting funny even though I avoided the “lifetime” fluid recommendation and kept after it.

540 =$28,500 with 38K and 2 years of CPO warranty (in 2005) original sticker $57,000.

The benz is a 2006 I got in 2012 with 29K for $23,500 original sticker was $73,000. I think it has 130,000 on it now it has most of the problems as the the in the article but our au pair drives our kids around in it and it’s completely safe. I think Rob failed to mention that it gets a whopping 13 mpg and only runs on 93 though.

That said, I am a BMW guy at heard like Rob, but when we got the benz I was really into it so his “meh” is a little surprising. It’s a 6 second 0-60 wagon and in sport mode (when the shocks aren’t leaking) it has a sportscar ride but you can fit a ton of crap in it.

Buying German cars at the sweet spot on the age/miles/depreciation curve can still be a win.

My next car may well be a 2014-2015 S550 once the new ones come out and the current ones fall off a cliff. I will be able to get a 6 year old car with 30K miles for $30,000. Original sticker = $110K or some crazy number.

I use a 2004 Audi A4 Avant 1.8T 6MT as a truck. I have a specialty hand-painted sign business, and I hate vans. The Audi has 170,000+ miles on it and has some front fender rust through, but starts every morning year round and is the most elegant truck I know of.
Station wagons are awesome. I have owned a 1972 VW Squareback, a late Pinto Squire(!),
Subaru Legacy GT, Mini Cooper Clubman S, and my Audi. The A4 has bested them all, even as an antique. I will be on the hunt for a later 2007-8 with the MT when this one is ready to retire.

As my screen name indicates, I collect Corvairs. But I’ve been doing it for so long, and I have so many, that I’ve got to chase other stuff just to keep the spark alive. I also collect older square body Chevy trucks, but they use a lot of fuel. So I find myself in Florida looking at two junk older Mercedes, I’m sure glad the guy didn’t cash my deposit check. So a quick Craigslist search turns up a 1999 CLK 320 Convertible, 44,000 miles, beautiful blue color, and a bunch of stuff isn’t working, but what Mercedes does have everything working after 20 years? So I handed over the meagre amount of cash, and I’ve already driven it 3000 troublefree miles. I did have 2 cheap retread tires, from Spain put on, probably a mistake. The convertible top doesn’t open, but they never do because of a very complex system that fails prematurely. The gas tank leaks from the filler like crazy when I fill it, I just make sure to leave the engine running and pull away from the gas station ASAP.

Three or four years ago I found myself in Northern California looking at a junk 6.2 diesel Suburban that wouldn’t have made it out of the parking lot, forget all the way across the country like I intended to drive it. So I left my deposit behind, and I’m on the hunt, which is the whole fun isn’t it? So a quick search on Craigslist for “station wagon” turn up a 1999 E320 wagon, I don’t get why the convertible is a CLK and the wagon is an E-Series, but whatever. The shiny silver wagon had 421k and a newer motor, and for 1500 bucks it looked and drove great. How coud I beat it? I drove it all the way to Maine, and put another 10,000 miles on it, it’s now parked waiting to get the EGR and heated air intake lamp off.

The bloody money light in the inspection States is nothing but a nightmare for the poor people. Cash for Clunkers was bad, the check engine light is worse. How do they expect people to take hours off of work to go for an inspection? Even if the check engine light is off, there still may be two pending codes which in New York won’t allow you to pass mandatory inspection. “We’ll change a couple sensors, drive it a hundred miles, and see what comes up when you bring it back”.

2 years ago I had a yen for a older diesel Mercedes sedan, and my search of Los Angeles craigslist turned up a V12 BMW, 1989 750il, with the glass headlamps… and I always liked those flat Bonneville Salt Flat looking wheels… So I’m on a plane, and $1,200 later, the car was a wreck, a shadow of its former self that a friend of mine owned five years earlier in San Diego. The tires were low on air, the cigarettes were overflowing from the ashtray, the battery doesn’t fit under the rear seat properly, so he put a clipboard on top of it and the rear seat is jutting up in the air, luckily it was only necessary to accommodate my luggage. Of course the oil hadn’t been changed in five years, so I changed the coaltar in the Walmart parking lot that night, and it ran out like water, and the oil filter cartridge disintegrated in my fingers. But I did manage to drive it to New Mexico with two fuel leaks on top of the engine, it’s amazing it didn’t catch fire! $2 of fuel hose, and it was all repaired. I put a trailer hitch on the Home Depot parking lot in New Mexico, hooked up another Corvair that I don’t need, and towed them back to New York without any further trouble at all. It did have the death wobble in the steering due to the terrible construction of the front suspension bushings, I replaced those and ball joints and tie rods and center link in Colorado, and th death wobble has returned a few thousand miles later.

But they’re interesting to drive, especially when you consider the ridiculous original purchase price, and the glove box full of repair receipts with lots of commas and zeros. They wallow around like marshmallows, but so be it.

I’ve also got a 325ix wagon that had a caliper seize on the way to,a Corvair show. I pried the pads back and snapped a vice grip on the hydraulic hose, it was fine for the rest of the summer and on and on and on.

You can see videos of my escapades on YouTube CORVAIRWILD

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My credo has always been don’t buy a car with less than 100 K It has served me well. I usually look for American SUV’s and Cadillacs. One of the best buys I made was a 1991 Cadillac Brougham. I bought it 12 years ago with 178K for 800.00 and we are still driving it with 375K with only maintenance and the worst bill was sorting out the climate control. Another great buy was a 1995 GMC Sierra Z 71 4x4 I bought for 1500 and am still driving with 435K

If that car didn’t get your heartbeat going, you weren’t going fast enough. What the car maybe lacks on acceleration, it more than makes up for it in handling. Maybe that’s just me.

Proud owner of a third hand E350 4matic wagon.

Curious that someone so blatantly biased would be paid to write such an article,… and that it would be published.