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Mercedes Diesels: 10 Year Ownership Report

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author photo by Tyler Hoover June 2017

For 10 years, I've been playing with Mercedes diesel cars. It's been an enjoyable decade of agitating people stuck behind me, forced to choke on my diesel fumes -- along with dripping a bit of oil everywhere I go. A Mercedes diesel is like a dog that's determined to mark its territory on every corner. Anyway, 10 years should be a cause for celebration -- but I've finally realized, after my 1984 Mercedes 300SD has sat unused for months, I'm ready to move on.

This is a pretty shocking revelation, as my life revolved around Mercedes diesels for a very long time. I estimate 75 percent of my brain is filled with useless information about them, as well it should from owning almost 30 of them over the years. I'm not sure of the exact moment it happened, or why -- but at some point in the last year, my burning passion for these cars burned out.

In 2007, at the age of 21, I purchased my first car with my own money: a 1985 Mercedes 300D turbodiesel. (The few vehicles I had before this, including my 1985 500SL that I still own, were gifts from relatives.) I purchased the 300D sight unseen in an online auction. Of course, it was a basket case -- and dealing with all the problems sparked my automotive masochistic tendencies.

Once that first Mercedes diesel was sorted, I felt the urge to do it all over again -- and I bought another one, this time a 1980 300TD wagon, which was the dawning of my glorious hooptie fleet. When I sold the wagon for a $2,000 profit, it emboldened me to buy more -- sending me on a downward spiral to where I am today.

For enthusiasts, the dividing line for Mercedes diesels is 1985 to 1986, right when I was born, and when Mercedes was celebrating its 100th anniversary. The cars produced before this cutoff have the reputation of being invincible, needing only regular maintenance to reach over a million miles. Of course, it's all a bunch of malarkey. They were certainly built of incredibly sturdy materials -- but the main credit to their longevity is the ability for most components to be easily rebuilt. Working on these cars is the closest thing you'll find to Legos for grown-ups.

After 1985, new technology meant plenty of expensive headaches for long-term owners. The next generation of aluminum-head engines had issues with cracking, as well as blowing head gaskets. The new, smoother-shifting transmissions didn't last as long with the torquey diesels -- and as more modern electronics were introduced, the more things inevitably broke. There are a few bright spots from this era before Y2K, but it's mostly a minefield.

Mercedes diesel demand in the USA waned considerably with cheap gas and negative public perception of diesels, causing Mercedes stop offering a diesel car in America for five model years. When they decided to make a comeback, it was their most impressive offering ever: the 2005-2006 E320 CDI. It's an absolute powerhouse, with faster acceleration than the comparable gasoline model -- along with unbelievable fuel economy. I regularly saw over 40 miles per gallon on highway trips with my old E320 CDI, giving it a fuel range of over 700 miles.

Unfortunately, this was a very short honeymoon. As more stringent emission restrictions were implemented, things under the hood quickly got more complicated. Diesel exhaust fluid was the first big step in cleaning up emissions -- but on some modern Mercedes models, the fluid tank is located in the spare tire well, forcing owners to use more expensive-run flat tires. The system is also programmed to not allow the engine to run if this fluid runs out, even though it's only for emissions.

Smaller displacement engines is another sacrifice for cleaner diesels. This means the 6-cylinder turbo 2005-2006 E320 CDI is faster than the new 4-cylinder E250 BlueTec -- even though the two cars share similar gas mileage numbers. With many benefits of diesels becoming commonplace in gasoline engines -- things like turbochargers and direct injection -- owning a new Mercedes diesel doesn't make a whole lot of sense anymore.

I came to this realization years ago, and I decided it was time to buy my dream Mercedes diesel while I could still find one. I wanted a 1981-1985 300SD, which offered most modern comforts, along with the classic styling and robust mechanical components. I bought a near perfect one-owner car, with a ridiculously complete service history -- and even then, I spent another $10,000 making exactly how I wanted. A good chunk of that expense was swapping in a 4-speed manual transmission -- and fitting the fancy, period-correct Lorinser wheels.

I had no qualms with spending that much, since I planned on keeping the car forever. Now that I have a Porsche 911 and an Acura NSX in the garage, I never want to drive the old 300SD anymore. I'm not the type of guy who lets cars sit and collect dust, so I guess it's time to sell. This means I've decided to end my decade-long run of nearly continuous Mercedes diesel ownership. I should feel sad about this -- but I'm not in the slightest. The only feeling I have is dread.

Mercedes diesel enthusiasts, in general, are a very particular bunch -- and they can be unbelievably cheap. As I joked in my video, I wouldn't be surprised if a Mercedes diesel owner asks for Mercedes Club discount at the dollar store. For me, selling a Mercedes diesel has rarely been an enjoyable experience -- and with mine being a higher priced one that's been customized, I'm not looking forward to dealing with it.

I can't help but wonder if I wasted too much of my life obsessing on this particular niche -- as I could have branched out to other makes and models much sooner. This must be what it feels like for the people who collected Pogs, or Beanie Babies, or Pokemon cards. Oh wait, I hoarded all of those as well. I should probably be on some kind of medication.

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.

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Mercedes Diesels: 10 Year Ownership Report - Autotrader