i have examined a few.
it is not only the appearance that counts. it is the running of the vehicle. never fail to take it out for a spin. that drive will tell you a lot. make sure you can run it on a stretch of road that will allow you to put your boot into it - so that you can feel how the tranny works, so that you can discern any misfiring, so that you can observe any funny smoking from the exhaust pipes.
if the car passes the run test, get it up on a lift at a good independent garage. in the last five years i have acquired 4 previously-owned benzes. i examined a dozen to find those 4.
here are the criteria that my eyeballs told me indicated a vehicle deserving of more intensive mechanical scrutiny...
1. condition of the interior. headliner. seats. dash. carpeting. a well-cared for car will look like my 250,00+mile, 1986 560sel. AS IF NEW.
2. weather stripping condition. should look new.
3. make sure to examine the bottoms of the doors. you do not want to see any evidence of corrosion.
4. door hinges. are they painted? or unpainted? if unpainted, find out why.
5. pay attention to paint under hood. if the car has been the subject of a respray, it will show up here. if you think that you see a respray, examine the service records and find out why the car was re-painted.
6. open the trunk, take a deep inhalation. mildew, damp, will reveal itself. pull the carpet. check the spare. see if it has any air. make sure that the tools and jack are there.
7. check medical kit in rear deck. run your hand over the rear deck fabric. make sure that it isn't wet. if you are looking at certain models, i think that you should take a hose and aim water at the rear window. then inspect the rear deck and the trunk.
8. for cars with low annual mileages, i think a borescope exam of each cylinder is indispensable. i learned this lesson the expensive way. w126's, driven by elderly women for only 4k a year to the country club and back will require a top-end rebuild. the evidence of that kind of usage will be revealed by observing the piston crowns.
9. with rare exception, try to find only one-owner cars out of snow country.
10. make sure you put it up on a lift. walk underneath it.
11. if you can, get its alignment checked as a part of your pre-purchase inspection.
12. if you can't inspect it personally, send a mechanic that you trust and use routinely. if you can inspect it personally, make sure that you get it to a garage on a weekday, and make sure that the inspecting mechanic talks to your mechanic considering the inspection.
13. get a quote for the repairs that are indicated by the inspection.
14. take lots of photos if you are not going to purchase the car and drive it home that day.
i say this because i have acquired old benzes from out of state locations and have had them transported to texas.
by and large, i have been lucky. but i have examined cars that could have burned deep holes in my wallet.
my favorite story concerns the 1995 e320cab that i did not purchase. it had less than 35,000 miles. the price was below market.
it was at parkplace benz in houston. i got them to hold it for me until my mechanic and i could inspect it.
what a revealing inspection. we put it on a lift. opening the doors revealed corrosion around the weep holes on the doors.
looking from below, looking from above, with the hood up, it was pretty clear that the car had been the subject of a recent respray.
while the dealer sales personnel were elsewhere, i found the owner's manual and examined it. it still had the original bill of sale within it. the purchaser was an attorney who lived in river oaks. i gave him a call to discuss his car. he never returned my calls.
this intrigued me. i learned his office address. the mileage on the car was so low. but then i made the run from his residence to his office. it worked. the car was only driven from home to office for 6 years.
but why was there corrosion at the door weepholes? and why a respray? and why wouldn't the original owner talk to me? and why wouldn't the dealer starmark it[particularly since it was starmarkable]?
so, i went to the building where the attorney worked. the garage had an underground component.
my conclusion: the original owner had the car underground when tropical storm allison hit. the car encountered water that floated it. so, the car was resprayed and repaired. then the original owner took the car to the m-b[dc] dealer and traded it in. and then the dealer worked to move it - and preferred not to have anyone thorough examine it.
and by the way, the carfax record on this car did not acknowledge any exposure to flood damage. let that be a warning to you. do not rely exclusively on carfax reports. as this incident should inform you, your own eyes and close scrutiny may tell you more than any carfax report.
lastly, never fear walking away from a car about which you have reservations. there are probably other ones out there.
life is too short to own a lemon.
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