Before I started my writing schtick that involved buying the cheapest flavor of car and dealing with the consequences, I was actually crazy enough to do this for my own personal enjoyment. I had planned to make a professional and informative video about one year after I purchased the "cheapest AMG in the USA" — but things degenerated pretty quickly.
I had just finished filming all the speaking parts for my 2000 ML55 AMG video, and I set out to do some drive-by shots. At this point, I decided that performing some donuts in a field was a good idea.
As you’ll see in the video, my ML55 should have rolled. For the first time in my life, I know what it’s like when an SUV has two wheels off the ground. I’m still shaking, five hours later.
Unfortunately, I did knock a rear tire off the bead in my idiotic stunt. With adrenaline still running, I changed the tire in under 10 minutes, and a friendly nearby tire shop re-mounted my expensive Michelin tire to the expensive AMG 5 spoke wheel for free. Obviously, I was lucky.
Before this incident, my entire year with this funky brown-colored example of the first production AMG SUV had been totally drama free. I originally found it listed on Autotrader by its owner in Chicago, who was ready to sell after upgrading to a newer Audi SUV. I opted for a pre-purchase inspection, which it failed miserably. The Mercedes mechanic quoted over $5,000 in repairs needed, which also happened to be the seller’s asking price.
Often times, sellers are clueless to all the issues with their car, and the shock of a terrible PPI can make for a great negotiation tactic. The dealer noted a few leaks, the most expensive being both the power steering pump and steering rack — and it needed new tires and brakes. The seller was especially livid about the brakes, since he stated that he replaced them less than a year before.
Since I’ve owned more than 50 different Mercedes models, mostly from this era, I know them very well. I also know the normal, unnecessarily high and expensive repair quotes, when actual fixes can be performed much cheaper. I think the seller was genuinely surprised I was still interested, and he was quick to sell it to me for $3,500. I spent another $500 to have it shipped back to Wichita, Kansas, and I was very happy with the overall condition.
As I suspected, the dire leaks from the rear main seal and steering rack were both very minor seepage — something that’s very common to see in this era of Mercedes — and something that will never result in anything dripping on the ground. The power steering pump leak turned out to only be a seal between the pump and the fluid reservoir, which took only 20 minutes — and just $3 — to replace. I spent some money fixing a leak from the transmission, but not much more than a normal service you would want to do anyway at 100,000 miles. The brakes had some surface corrosion, which quickly came off once the car was driven regularly again — and I was able to find tires for a much more reasonable price than the original quote.
Including a regular service and new filters, I spent only around $1,400 to fully sort my bargain AMG — way off from the ridiculous $5,000 original quote. Since that initial sorting, I’ve put 7,000 miles on it over the past year — and it’s been completely reliable. Other than someone stealing my grille badge and today’s tire and field incident, I never had a single problem.
If you’re shopping for a Mercedes from this era, and if you’re considering one you can’t inspect in person, the most important thing to look out for is rust. Mercedes had issues with paint bonding from the mid-1990s up until 2002, which caused northern cars that weren’t kept clean to rust out worse than a Yugo. This isn’t something that’s easy to spot in photos, so make sure you request some images from around the body in search of rust — and if you get a pre-purchase inspection, have the mechanic inspect for corrosion around key structural areas like the spring perches. Thankfully, mine was in pretty nice shape, despite having lived most of its life around Chicago.
So what do I do with my completely reliable, great-looking, fun-to-drive and very versatile SUV after a year? Unfortunately, my famously short attention span has me ready to sell it. Adding up everything, including taxes and insurance, I’m about $6,000 into my AMG — and I’m pretty confident it will fetch at least that much. The only comparable vehicle available on Autotrader is this one offered by a Mercedes dealer for over $10,000.
For those who are wondering, this is how I’ve afforded doing this for so many years. I buy a car really cheap, I fix all the issues (also cheap), then enjoy it for a bit — making sure to sell before it depreciates. Admittedly, like in the case of my 1978 Lincoln, it doesn’t always work out — but most of the time, I come out ahead.
Since my garage will be without an AMG, I’m kind of bummed — but I’m also really excited about what’s coming to replace it. Stay tuned…. Find a Mercedes-Benz ML 55 AMG for sale
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.