My 16-year-old daughter started to drive this summer. This means borrowing the family car. So, I started finding myself car-less more often. I took this as a good reason to embark on another used-car buying odyssey.

Odysseus was gone for 20 years, but I took just three days. I wound up purchasing the first interesting car I saw pop up on Craigslist, a high-mileage 2002 Mercedes ML55 AMG.

It was rolling on 22-inch wheels, which made it look like a prop from a two-decade-old hip-hop video. It had a check engine light on. It was filthy inside and had a decent amount of moss growing on its exterior. Although it ran and drove, it did neither of those things well.

But the seller was only asking $3,600.

Initially, I managed to leave the scene without cutting a deal. When I got home, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about the ML55. Even with a misfire, its 340-horsepower Mercedes M113 V8 made enough power for this big SUV to take off from a stoplight with authority.

Didn’t this special truck, the “fastest SUV in the world” when new, deserve a better fate?

The next morning, I called the seller back. The ML55 had a trailer hitch, I told my wife, which we were going to need if we wanted to buy a boat.

“When did we decide we were getting a boat?”

“Well, now we can,” I replied.

Armed with nothing fancier than a Chinese-made ODB-II code reader (under $10 on Amazon), I feel like I have won the first few rounds with this latest Mercedes.

I replaced two oxygen sensors and that CEL is dark, at least for now. I have performed a full tune-up and oil change. I cleaned up the interior and took a trip through the carwash.

The plus-size wheels were sold off and I found some suitable replacement rolling stock on Facebook Marketplace for a net positive to the bottom line.

I have found the key to owning any high-mileage vehicle (178k and counting here) is to keep close track of costs. A single trip to the Mercedes dealer for service could double my investment, a knock-out blow. If something breaks that I cannot fix, this vehicle will become just another Craigslist repeat offender.

The do-it-yourself approach is not without its pitfalls.

While rummaging around my workbench for the Mercedes-specific wrench needed to remove the spark plug boots, I found it in a box – along with three new spark plugs. Apparently, these were left over from my now long-gone ’98 E430.

I have no idea why they didn’t get installed, but with two spark plugs per cylinder on the M113, I must have lost count before I got to 16.

That car was a real lesson for me, showing just how easy it is for even a shade-tree mechanic wannabe like myself to repair a modern vehicle. My skills fall squarely in the “parts changer” category. I own only the most basic tools. But with YouTube as my guide and a Harbor Freight down the street, I am confident diving into these low-stakes projects.

A growing collection of RockAuto magnets on my refrigerator (one from every parts order) serves as an emblem of my success.

Speaking of emblems, I recently sent off for a High Mileage Award from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. Fingers crossed here – and I still have a lot of work to do – but I hope to have my ML55 AMG on proud display at our 2022 SCM AMG Invitational.

Who says you can’t have fun in the collector car hobby on a lager budget?



  1. Quite a daring proposition. Good luck !!

  2. Do you drive this, or does the teenage daughter get to?

    • She drives it on occasion, but never alone. It’s too much vehicle for her at this stage. Plus, she prefers our VW Jetta. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Please consider enrolling your daughter in a Street Survivor course as soon as one becomes available in your area.
    As an “In car Coach”, I couldn’t recommend this program any higher! The advanced driving skills taught by these schools are so far beyond anything she will ever learn in “drivers ed”! And, potentially, life saving.
    Best of luck!

  4. As a past owner of four previously-owned Mercedes ML series models, I will forewarn you that your current glow of DIY wrenching will all too soon fade into an abyss of escalating problems that will bleed your patience & your wallet!
    My first ML55 (aka Blackie) was an irresistible “bargain” at the same price point – at final point of separation Blackie had cost me over $11,000 & was worth only $1500 in trade-in value. Steering rack, front suspension, chronically failing wheel bearings, – your message box doesn’t have enough field space to continue the list. Get out while you can – buy your daughter a nice used Honda Fit – if you can find one & play mechanic on a vehicle with a much better prognosis!!

  5. What a cool project, Jeff! At this stage in my life, I’m not sure I’d be willing to tackle such an endeavor, but one thing you mention intrigues me: “Chinese-made ODB-II code reader (under $10 on Amazon).” It seems all of us old-fart wrenchers with modern cars need one of these. Thanks for the tip!