On account of the appeal of owning a large seven-year-old Mercedes-Benz for less cost than a brand new city car, I have noticed that the R-Class appears to be particularly good value for money. Could you tell me if there are issues I should look out for when buying a second-hand one? Are there any reliability issues with the 3.0-litre diesel engine, the four-wheel-drive system, or with the automatic transmission? Your help would be much appreciated.
Well I guess it depends a lot on what you expect Matthew. There is of course a good reason why the R-Class appears good value and “a lot of car for the money” and that’s because not many people want to buy them. It’s also not really a practicable alternative to a city car. But it’s a well built, very complex machine that weighs a lot (over two tons), is very large (4.9 and 5.2 metres for the long-wheelbase edition), but has an air of class that is undeniable. In exchange for relatively low depreciation you must inevitably expect some significant costs for occasional repairs, and regular consumables like tyres. I would certainly not suggest that you buy an R-Class if your annual mileage is much below 5,000, or unless you have another family car that can be used for routine journeys and short journeys that aren’t good for its complex mechanics; it needs long runs at nice steady cruising speeds, when you can fully enjoy its merits. On such runs you’ll probably get 28 to 30mpg. It’ll be quite a tank to park, you know – not the same size as your alternative “brand new city car!”
Let’s look at servicing and reliability. In 2012, Warranty Direct rated it one of their least reliable cars, and they rate it’s unreliability and repair costs well above average, with an index of 474 when the average is 100 – but then that includes all cars, and you would expect something like this to cost you a bit to run. I don’t think that reliability is necessarily associated with specific cars, although admittedly some are weaker in specific areas than others. It’s all down to mechanical sympathy and good driving style, and people with those abilities will spot trouble before it happens, or gets serious. If your motoring history is good and you haven’t had much mechanical trouble, then you are a good bet for owning such a car.
But I should say this. I am giving you a potted view of the prospect of owning such a car, but you need to do more research and learn more than I know about the R-Class. Get stuck in on the internet and find out about all the various model variants, the facelifts, the engines, and so on, and go into the buying exercise as an expert. Otherwise you will learn all these things after you have bought the car, not before! Look at any possible buy as a whole; its overall condition, and gain an impression of how previous owners have treated it. It will be a good guide to many otherwise invisible things. Also, I would suggest you find an independent Mercedes-Benz specialist garage, hopefully owned by an ex-Mercedes trained mechanic, and talk to them about the R-Class, and its weak points and maintenance costs. They may well even put you in touch with an owner who is looking to sell, and whose car they maintain. Service history is essential, because without it all sorts of neglect is possible. You won’t find one at any franchised Mercedes-Benz garage, because they don’t sell cars as old as this, but if you can find a friendly man at a dealer, again they might point you in the right direction. You will not be able to afford to pay their prices for servicing and repairs though, which is why you will need an independent specialist, and if you don’t have one nearby, it will be a big handicap to ownership. Engines and transmissions that are correctly serviced will go on towards 200,000 miles, and you should not let high mileage, say up to 100K, put you off a purchase if the service history is good. Things like catalyst boxes and particulate filters are of high quality and last well, but can be very costly to replace.
I hope this helps you in your decision and subsequent purchasing, if you decide to go ahead. But don’t rush into it, as I have said. It could be a bit like the old saying about buying a boat – that there are “only two good worry-free days in owning a boat, the day you buy it and the day that you sell it”!