Used car Advice

  • 2011 MERCEDES BENZ 300
  • 12,294 MILES

Hi i plan on buying a bmw 3 series or a mercedes benz c300 which are my dream cars and i was wondering if this car is really expensive to take care of like whats the average cost. I'm 18 years old and working a part time job should i go with these two cars or find something else

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Saturday, March 7th, 2015 AT 8:30 PM

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Do you plan on having a girlfriend? It's one or the other unless you have more money than most of us. I refuse to own any car newer than those from the mid '90s or older because the engineers have gone insane with the use of unnecessary, complicated, expensive, unreliable computers. There's no denying Engine Computers give us clean, well-running engines. Anti-lock brakes and air bags are valuable and worthwhile features, but my '88 Grand Caravan daily driver has automatic transmission, air conditioning, power seat, power windows, power locks, delayed front and rear wipers, and front and rear heaters. NONE of those things needs a computer to do what they're supposed to do. Diagnosing and repairing those systems is real easy, and repairs don't cost much. Your dream cars don't do anything my van doesn't do, but every one of those systems involves a computer. Rain, humidity, cold, heat, and vibration are the worst place to plant any electronics. You can expect to have corrosion on connector terminals, intermittent solder connections inside computers, and circuits that don't work for a number of stupid reasons. You will not diagnose most of these problems yourself.

In fact, BMW is by far one of the most stingy manufacturers in the world when it comes to making service information available to independent repair shops. My friend has a body shop, and he found that BMW will not release its paint codes. You have to buy paint for their cars from the dealer. More and more manufacturers are building tricks into their cars to force you to go back to the dealer. A high-level national instructor refers to these as "customer-unfriendly business practices". Those have nothing to do with fit and finish, ride quality, comfort, and things like that. It refers to whether they put YOUR needs ahead of profits. According to him, Hyundai, Toyota, and Chrysler and the top three for customer-friendly business practices. GM and most European brands are at the bottom of the list. With some of them, you can run into the need to drag the car onto a flatbed truck for a trip to the dealer to unlock numerous computers after simply disconnecting the battery or letting it run dead. We've all heard the horror stories of the thousand dollar repair bills after a do-it-yourselfer tried to replace the battery.

As a rule of thumb, plan on spending two additional monthly payments per year on repairs and maintenance.

When people used to ask me which brand of tv was the best one to buy, I always told them to ask the tv repairmen which brand they owned and why. Do the same for cars. Don't ask the salesman which brand of car is best because his answer is going to be the one he sells or the one he will make the most profit on. Instead, ask a few mechanics which brand of car they drive and why. You won't find any of them driving a BMW or a Mercedes, and you'll have a hard time finding an independent shop's mechanic driving a VW or Audi.

Now, please understand you're going to find just as many people who disagree with me as agree, but I was 18 once too. No one ever warned me about the cost of repairs, insurance, and maintenance. I was lucky that cars were simpler in the '70s and it was easy to learn to repair any of them. Those days are gone. We used to buy used parts from salvage yards. You can't do that any longer with most computers. Your cars can have three or four dozen computer modules, and most of them will have to come from the dealer and will need to be programmed to your vehicle's ID number by the dealer. They sure don't do that for free either.

Also be aware that due to how all these computers talk back and forth with each other, many of them can cause a no-start condition. You won't look cool to the girls when you're waving to them while sitting in the repair shop or on the end of a tow truck.

I don't think it's appropriate to sway you to my opinion of which brand is best, especially since I don't think they have the highest quality. I like them because they put their customers' satisfaction ahead of profits, and they have been the world's leader in innovations that have directly benefited owners since the early 1950s. If you're a typical 18-year-old, consider a Toyota. I've never owned an import car but I don't hear Toyota owners complain very often.

Since you're obviously doing more research than most people, don't be fooled by such things as the survey results you see in flashy tv and print advertising. "Our car won the top award for initial customer satisfaction three years in a row!" Is a common one. "Initial customer satisfaction" means when the salesman hands them the paperwork and keys, and waves goodbye. That's where it ends. If the wheels fall off before they get to the end of the parking lot, that is no longer "initial customer satisfaction".

You have to temper what you read in Consumer Reports too. We used to laugh that they rated one model of tv as the very best, and four years later it was rated as the top model for "incident of repairs". We knew that model was the biggest piece of junk ever dumped on the unsuspecting public. Since you're looking at models that are a few years old, there's going to be some repair history listed that you can use, and today you have the luxury of searching forums on the internet. Read what current owners are saying about their cars. Search for owner forums too that cater to specific brands so you can see what they're running into for repairs and costs. You'll definitely need more than a part-time job to own some of these cars.

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Saturday, March 7th, 2015 AT 9:23 PM

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