Category Archives: Ask Dave: Questions from Dave Knows Cars Readers

Questions for Dave from Dave Knows Cars Blog readers and Dave’s Answers to them

Mercedes S500 or S55 AMG with 80k – 100k Miles, Crazy Idea for a Daily Driver? Not Entirely.

I got an email from Dave Knows Cars Blog reader ‘Steve’ in South Florida a couple of weeks ago. He was looking for a late model Mercedes Benz S class in the 80,000 – 100,000 mile range to use as a daily driver for his 40 mile round trip commute for under $10,000, his questions was simple,  Is this a crazy idea. Well, read on and you will see my answer.

It isn’t an entirely crazy idea, you just have to make sure you find the right car… and he did, as I got an update from him this week, the photo accompanying this post (below) is Steve’s black 2004 S430 that he purchased from a Mercedes-Benz Dealer in Miami just the other day. Congratulations Steve! It looks like you paid up for a very good example that should be a good car for you for many years to come.

Here is Steve’s original email to me:

Sent: Monday, June 25, 2012 9:30 PM
To: dave knows cars
Subject: can you help
Hi Dave
I was considering buying a 80-110k mile c 2001 S Class S500 or S55 for under $10k. I will drive it around 40 miles a day, 5 days a week. Is that a crazy idea?
What should I look for or do before I buy?
My Answer:

On Jun 25, 2012, at 11:42 PM, Dave Tobin wrote:
Hi Steve,I don’t think it’s a completely crazy idea. I would pass on an S55 though. They’re just wound so tightly, such high performance engines will never last as long as the solid 500 V8 and they’re just that much more expensive to fix.

An S500 of the vintage you’re talking about, even under 10k can still be a very good car. I don’t think there’s anything more comfortable and they’re as safe a car as you can buy.Every once in a while we’ll get that 2002 or 2003 model with 50k or 75k miles… maybe it was an old guy’s second car or something, those are great finds and never last long at dealerships, as there’s a huge market for these cars once they get to be so cheap, but you have to find a good one.I wouldn’t necessarily run from a 90 – 110k car… it just has to be a nice one, well maintained.

There are plenty of one or two owner cars that have been well cared for, dealer serviced by the old guy who brings it in when it needs something, but might keep his cars for 8 – 10 years.We have a lot of those kinds of folks at our dealership.

I don’t know where you live, but if you go to the ‘old money’ dealership… more cars like this show up as opposed to the dealerships in the new money areas that lease more cars than they sell.. if that makes any sense to you. You might need to do some demographic research, or find a car guy like me at one of your local dealers, and just kind of ask him about those kinds of guys. They’re out there… you just need someone to call you when they trade in their car for a new model.

With a car of that age and mileage, lots of stuff will have been replaced and repaired on the car, so you can’t get scared about seeing ‘cam seals replaced’ on a Carfax or vehicle history, or ‘transmission fluid leak’ or something like that, they will have all had such problems and will have had things like that replaced.If you try to buy from a private party, ABSOLUTELY have a pre purchase inspection done, even if you’re buying from a dealer, do that… you can take it to a dealer or reputable indy shop that knows the cars. I’d check with someone in your local MB club chapter, call the president, tell them what you’re considering and ask if he would recommend an individual in the club who you could talk to you about finding a place…. they might even know someone with such a car.

I would try to find a very clean car, cosmetically clean, inside and out.. first impressions mean a lot to me when I’m looking at a used car. if it’s clean, inside and out, chances are it was well cared for… and when I mean clean, I don’t just mean, not dirty… but look at the door sills and jambs for wear, look at the buttons on the dash.. are they all work off, the lettering and icons? are the carpets worn and matted from being wet and dry and wet and dry.. or was this the kind of person who put all season mats on top of the carpet mats to protect them?

You’ll want to make sure the suspension is good… bushings and springs are one thing, but the airmatic shocks in these cars can be quite expensive.

They’re going to have chips and imperfections outside at that mileage… but you’re accepting of that I’m sure… but there are cars that have been better cared for than others, you can just tell. Curb rashed wheels are a tell tale sign of a drive / park by feel… I never like those cars.

Those are some of the things I would look at… I have sold S500s with 175k miles on them… they can be good cars for a long time, but hopefully, with the help of a tech and a ppi, you can get one that doesn’t have a ton of immediate needs. I shipped one to a limo service in Colorado, it was an S430 (just as good as a 500), I shipped another old S class to a guy in AZ. People do travel to get these, or use nationwide searches to find them.

I would find a good indy shop to maintain it for you long term, someone who really knows the cars an is trusted by the local MB club. They will be a great resource. Dealership maintenance at that point can be expensive (of course I didn’t just write that, you didn’t hear that from me).

I always say…. and I say this to customers all the time… In the end.. all old cars are like hand grenades without pins… they all blow up eventually… but with proper maintenance, and if you start with a well cared for, decent example, it might not blow up on your watch.

Don’t be afraid to pay up for a really nice example, remember, ‘there is nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes-Benz’

Thanks for the question, thanks for reading the blog. Let me know how it turns out.


Steve wrote me again this week, with the results of his search.. .and this happened faster than I would have imagined, but when the right car like this comes along, you can’t wait around.
Steve’s 2004 S430, just purchased from a Miami Mercedes dealer.

From: Steve

Sent: Saturday, July 07, 2012 7:03 PM
To: Dave Tobin
Subject: Re: can you help
Hi Dave
Picked up my 2004 S420 today. Bought from Miami Merc dealer. I’d been to see him and he said he would call when a good one came in. Sold by them in 2004. 2 owners. Trade in against E 350 Perfect carfax report. They did the brakes, ac, full service, wax etc before I picked it up. 91000 miles. $14,200. 90 days warranty. I narrowly missed it being shipped to Colombia but they couldn’t get the cash fast enough!
It’s silent on the road. Auto box is smooth. Engine makes a great purr. Interior spotless. Spare tire never used. Stereo is amazing.
Thanks for your help

That’s how easy it can be… and how funny is it… that Colombians in Miami couldn’t come up with the money fast enough!? I guess I was just a big Miami Vice fan when I was a kid, the Colombians in Miami ALWAYS had the cash!

Dave Knows Cars Blog Reader Asks “Will the 2002 Mercedes Benz SL500 Silver Arrow Edition Be a Future Collectible and What Should I Pay?”

I got the following email from a Dave Knows Cars Blog reader the other day…. It’s a series of interesting questions about the R129 chassis Mercedes Benz SLs from the 1990s and early 2000’s, with a specific slant on the 2002 Silver Arrow Edition SL500.

After much research and debate, I am looking for a 2002 silver arrow. My questions:
– is the value at the bottom now, yet to come or are prices/value on the way up?
– will this be a “collectable” car? If yes when?
– what is a “good” price for a car in very good condition with 30-50K miles. my target is ~ $20K, less than would be great
– are there any problem / glitch areas with the car in general
– are there areas where I should pay particular attention?
I hope you can provide some insight. this is a discretionary buy. Exciting to think about but of course I want to be smart.
Paul L.
Mercedes 2002 Silver Arrow
2002 Mercedes SL500 Silver Arrow Edition

My Response: (longer than initially expected, but what are you going to do?)

The R129 series SLs are generally very good cars, a much more modern car than the R107 SL series they replaced that was in production for almost 30 years. Let’s first look at general idea of the R129 cars as collectibles, now, or in the future, and then address the Silver Arrow special edition cars you’re interested in specifically.

I think that the early R129 cars are at the bottom, or very close to the bottom of their depreciation curve. When you see well kept, cars without tons of miles on their odometers from the early ‘90s changing hands at or below $10,000 you have to ask yourself, how much cheaper can they get? Always remember though, that while cheap to acquire at that level, if a car needs a couple of new seals, renewed suspension and its hydraulic top worked on you could sink 1/2 the ‘value’ of the car into it in a single service visit. I always say, “There is nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes-Benz”. Even if you get a great one, they can still be expensive cars to maintain and chances are maintenance costs and parts won’t be getting cheaper anytime soon.

Early 1991 R129 in Light Ivory.

The cars from the late 90s and early 2000s, most definitely still have room to depreciate and are not at the bottom of their curve just yet. As the R129’s replacement, the R230 series cars get cheaper more and more people are opting to go that route. R230s are much more modern than even the R129 cars. They have more creature comforts, and are generally considered easier cars to live with, mainly due to their retractable hard tops, there is no longer a removable hard top to store in the corner of the garage or on a hoist above the car, there are no plastic rear quarter windows in a soft top to crack while folded down over the Winter. On top of it, R230 cars can be purchased with less than 75,000 miles under $25,000 all day long at the moment. As the SLs with their newer body styles get cheaper (also depreciating), the R129s just continue to depreciate.

So, the answer to the question… Are any of the R129 cars on their way up in value, will any of this series of SLs be due for appreciation anytime soon? Quite simply, no.

There are very few Mercedes-Benz vehicles built after about 1971 that have experienced any sort of appreciation. Just now, the very best of the R107 chassis cars are beginning to creep up in value, or at least bring strong money, but most of the cars in that series bringing any real money are the last of the 560SLs from the late 80s which still sell for a fraction of their original prices… even after adjusting for inflation.

Will R129s even be collectible in the future? One might argue that all Mercedes-Benz SLs will be collectible, someday… but I believe it will be several decades before R129 series cars see any type of appreciation, and frankly, I don’t think I’ll see a $100,000 R129 SL500 in my lifetime, unless they dig one up that was owned by a Pope, Elvis or Steve McQueen.. and if they find one of those… there will be a bigger story to tell.

They’re too new, they’re styling, at this point… while loved by many, is out of favor and they made several hundred thousand of them over their production run. That is precisely why they will never be true collector cars, ever… although one could hope for mild appreciation… someday. The catch is, that you’ll have to maintain, insure and keep the car for 30 years before you ever see any appreciation, so don’t expect to EVER ‘get your money back’ if you go to sell the car anytime soon.

Which brings us to your question of the Silver Arrow Edition cars from 2002 specifically. You’re looking at the most evolved cars of the R129 series, 1400 Silver Arrow Edition cars were built in 2002.

What do you get with the Silver Arrow that you don’t get with a regular series car? In my opinion, not a whole lot. Sure, you get a brushed aluminum instrument surround, different wheels, a different shade of silver, two tone interior, typical light modifications to trim and badging, but it’s really the same as all the other SL500s of the day. They were getting ready to bring out the R230 models the next year and needed to try to breathe new life into R129 sales. Have you seen the 1997 Special Edition R129 roadsters they built to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 300SL Roadster 1957 – 1997? They built just 350 specially equipped SL320s and 500 special SL500s, special colors, trim, etc. They also built a Silver Arrow Edition R230 SL550 in 2009. Such ‘special editions’ aren’t uncommon among auto makers, just look at Chevrolet’s Corvette.

Three generations of Mercedes-Benz SLs… R107, R129, R230.

A Silver Arrow Edition will always be different, more unique than a run of the mill SL500, but don’t count on much of a premium in value down the line. When these cars do reach the point of anything resembling true collectability or appreciation, condition and solid maintenance history will trump all else.

I think your price target of $20,000 for a solid 2002 Silver Arrow is realistic, I wouldn’t want to pay more than that for a very nice one. The problem you may have is that these were expensive cars when they were new, the people who own them now, in many cases aren’t destitute, or in need of money and they think their cars are ‘worth’ a lot more than what you should probably pay and they don’t really need to sell them.

Sometimes I shake my head at the insane asking prices I see in the classified section in the back of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America’s national magazine “The Star”. I just don’t think many people are really selling those cars. All over, people paid a lot of money for these cars new and they just can’t believe they are being offered $15,000 for the car they paid $80,000+ for when it was new… even if it only has 50,000 miles on its odometer. In many cases, people think too much of their cars. It was a big purchase, perhaps a lifelong goal accomplished… there are often a lot of emotions around Mercedes-Benz SLs, I suppose it’s been that was since the mid 1950s.

What should you watch out for? The R129 series SLs are, in general, very good cars. Because they were expensive when new and most were well cared for there are a lot of good survivors with very low miles.

Low mileage isn’t always good… these cars do deteriorate if they aren’t driven and maintained. Seals dry out and crack, plastic pieces get brittle in really hot climates, hoses crack, etc. I would try to find a well maintained car with service records and a clean, known ownership history. Low miles along with good maintenance history is, of course, ideal, but I’d go for an 80,000 mile car that’s been well maintained, and regularly maintained over a 19,000 mile car that’s been stored for most of its life… and I see cars like that. I saw a 2002 SL500 a couple of years ago with just 8,000 miles on the odometer… it needed a lot of work to be brought up to everyday driver status.

I would absolutely have a pre purchase inspection done of any car your serious about. You can take it to a Mercedes-Benz dealer and have them do a Pre Purchase Inspection (PPI) for the cost of an hour of labor. Just spend the money and have it done. If the car is out of town, contact the local Mercedes-Benz Club and ask someone in the club for a recommendation as to where you could have the car taken for a PPI.

Stay away from anything with rust (obviously). If you’re serious about future collectability, find a car with original paint, which shouldn’t be tough, these are still fairly new cars…. a repaint can only mean troubles and a story… you’ll want a ‘no stories’ car. Just try to find the best car you can afford.

There are plenty of good SLs out there to choose from… there are probably even a fair number of Silver Arrows on the national market over a year’s time, it would be a fun project to find one and acquire it. I believe the R129 cars represent the best value in a late model SL at the moment, precisely because they’re so much car for not tons of money, and I love the way they look.

There is no sense in getting hung up on collectability if you’re interested in an R129, it will only lead to heartbreak. Buy the best car you can afford after having a PPI done, and buy the car because you’ve always wanted one, because you like it and because you’ll drive it and enjoy it. Don’t worry about ‘getting your money out of it’ as you probably never will. Just have fun with whatever you end up with.