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[Tips & Tricks] – How to Own and Drive One of the Best Cars in the World on a Budget

You want to drive a car that sets your pulse racing, even when you are not in a hurry. A machine that quickly learns how you like it (hot, cold or in-between), and gives it to you just like that. A friend that you develop an enduring (and endearing) relationship with; trusted, reliable and above all, fun to be with.

I am obviously not talking about a human partner (husband, wife, whatever), but I forgive you for wondering whether I was. I am instead talking about living a dream, driving one of the best cars in the world. Except that it will probably remain a dream, if you are like the vast majority of us and are unable or unwilling to shell out vast sums of money just to move around in heavy metal.

The good news is that it is possible to have the pleasure of a superbly engineered car for much less than you might think. The bad news is that you will have to do a lot of research and pay lots of attention to little things, otherwise the experience might burn a huge (and painful) hole through your pocket!

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“To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful.”

— Edward R. Murrow

So, here is the low-down, using as an example the world-renowned Mercedes S Class 500L (type W220). Before you ask, I have no affiliation with Mercedes-Benz anywhere in the world, and I do not own any shares in them, their subsidiaries or suppliers.

  1. These cars are manufactured so well that you should prepare to be amazed at how feature-rich they are. Even if you were not on a budget, it is always sensible to ask if you really need to pay a premium for rolling one off the dealer’s forecourt.
  2. The Mercedes S500 W220 type was acclaimed the “best car in the world” by fans when it was launched in 2000. In my view, even after lots of competitors have replicated its features in their own designs, it is still has one of the best rides anywhere in the world. Yes there were a number of electrical and other problems in the early days, but these should have now been rectified by now, mostly under manufacturer’s warranty.
  3. The suggested plan is to buy a 6 to 8 year-old specimen, that has been well used and looked after.
  4. Look for cars with only one (or maximum two) previous owners. Cars like these usually come from multi-car households. By definition, it will have been rarely (if ever) used for the school (or even the supermarket) run. They cost anything up to GBP90,000 new, and so tend to be given lots of respect by their owners.
  5. Most will have lots (if not complete) Mercedes-Benz service history, and even if the service book is lost, M-B will have lots of information on your particular car, regardless of which dealership it has been serviced or repaired at.
  6. Shop around on eBay, and you will be pleasantly surprised to find tantalising prospects around the GBP8,000 mark, for a lot of car, with something like 60 to 70,000 miles on the clock. Because of the nature of the car, most of those miles will have been on the motorway.
  7. Go ahead and ask for more! How about LPG (gas) conversion. Although they have huge engines (5 litres), their power-to-weight ratios make them very fuel-efficient. I know for a fact that they are significantly more efficient than say a 3.5 litre luxury brand that I decline to name. But if you have a well installed LPG conversion, you are in for a treat, as the costs of cruising the motorways will suddenly be cheaper than those of 2 litre cars. Expect the LPG conversion to cost an additional GBP2000 or so.
  8. Read up extensively on the car, so that when you go to view your prospect, you know what to look for.
  9. Be sure that it is obviously legit; being a luxury marque, criminals have a reason to steal or deal in them. Buyer beware!
  10. It should not have any rusts whatsoever at that age, and do not accept any explanations if it does. Just walk away.
  11. There should be no leaks or funny noises. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the power-plant of an engine in it is that it is normally whisper-quiet.
  12. The air suspension should work perfectly. If in doubt, get a knowledgeable person or auto mechanic to double-check for you.
  13. Confirm that all electrics and displays are functioning correctly. In particular, make sure the Command System is okay, and test the satellite navigation system.
  14. Having satisfied yourself that your intended addition to your family is kosher, take delivery of the beauty. Of course you will feel distinctly lighter as you drive off, but that is not (only) because you would have parted with upwards of GBP10,000 (or more, depending on options), but it is really due to the air suspension!

Who says you cannot drive a top-of-the-line luxury head-turner, for much less than the price of a two-door less reliable boy-racer brand? And if you treat it with respect, it will serve you for longer than the alternative, and cost much less overall to maintain.

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