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?