When I bought this well-used 1995 C 36 AMG almost a year ago, I expected plenty of headaches. Strangely, this weird pre-merger AMG car has been totally flawless, giving me all the reliability benefits of a ’90s Toyota Camry — except without the boredom. My car isn’t the exception, either, as it seems there’s some magical formula with old Mercedes models that makes them live forever.
Mercedes cars have always been known for their high quality — but as the measure of luxury in recent decades became less about the overall quality of the car and more about technological wonders, buying an out-of-warranty Mercedes quickly became a dicey prospect. Acronyms used in modern Mercedes models — like SBC brakes and ABC suspension — may sound simple, at least until the service advisor explains how they failed and quotes a repair estimate that could pay for a year’s worth of CLA lease payments.
Doing this work yourself is possible with modern Mercedes, but it requires a very expensive scan tool to communicate with all of its computers. This isn’t the case with my C 36 and earlier cars, as any old German mechanic worth their salt can diagnose issues on my C 36 from across the room– but that doesn’t mean these cars were flawless. 1995 was a particularly bad year for Mercedes engineering mistakes, as mandated biodegradable wiring harnesses had a tendency to biodegrade well before they were intended to, prompting all kinds of electrical problems. The M104 inline 6-cylinder engine in my AMG also has a nasty tendency of springing oil leaks from the head gasket — and defective air-conditioning evaporators require tearing out the entire dashboard to replace.
Those three major issues cost about $2,000 each to repair — but in the case of my C 36, having 210,000 miles on it at the time of purchase meant all of these issues had already been taken care of. Even with lower-mileage examples, it’s extremely rare for all of these problems to happen at once — and having three potential major repairs seems like nothing compared to the 30 or more potential $2,000 bills with Mercedes models built just a decade later.
Still, even the best-built cars will begin to have faults due to age, and while I haven’t experienced any issues, I’ve followed my superstitious used European car rule of always leaving one thing broken that you can live with — because when you fix it, something will always break to take its place. For my C 36, that issue has been the headliner for the sunroof, as well as some oil seeping from the front engine cover. Now if something did actually break, these cars are reasonable enough to repair that I would of course have it fixed — which leads me to the real reason why so many old Mercedes cars will live forever.
Great build quality helps, along with simplicity and ease of repair — but the true reason these old Mercedes continue to drive into eternity is their completely devoted owners. This era of Mercedes has so much personality, making it easy to find yourself bonding way too much with these lumps of metal — and since they’re extremely comfortable, fun to drive and offer most modern necessities, owners have little desire to upgrade. I tend to sell my cars after about 6 months to a year– but that’s not happening with this AMG, just because it’s so practical and fun — and I’m hopelessly in love.
It also helps that my car isn’t worth very much, as the $5,000 it would fetch could never replace it with anything nearly as interesting. So I imagine my AMG will stick around for a long time — unless a tsunami of repairs happens with my more fragile cars and forces me to sell so I can cover the bill.