Guy Alllen

SERIOUSLY, some days our driveway looked like a 1990s junior Mafia convention, with a string of dark-coloured Benzes lined up down the length of it. I swear it happened by mistake. Okay, Uncle Phil was involved, too.

For years, when someone went to him asking what would make a good second-hand buy as a runabout, his standard response was W202 Benz. And he had a point. They’re built like tanks, are cheap, and are generally fuss-free.

The rot started when daughter number one, pictured, decided she wanted a decent car. This was about seven years ago and her C240, with the V6, cost about $11k at the time. It had 90,000km on it, was in perfect shape and had cost the first owner closer to $90k on the road. It’s still going and holding together, with nothing more than the usual servicing done by aftermarket shops. Easy.

Then came daughter number two’s C190, a then recently-restored example bought from the same place, for about $5k. Her story is much the same – no big dramas, even though she’s been less watchful of the servicing. I nag her about it, she threatens me with some unimaginable fate, and the car keeps going.

Last came my C280 bought from a mate for about $4500, It needed a fresh cat thrown in, which cost around $600 for an aftermarket unit.

That too was bulletproof so long as it was given the usual TLC. So when someone tells me they avoid old Euro cars because of the running costs, I suspect they don’t have much experience of them.

Okay there was one horror story which contradicts this. I sold the C280 to a mate after I’d had a lot of use out of it and moments later the ignition switch went to lunch. No big drama? Huge bloody problem. The engine’s ECU, plus the ignition barrel and the keys are all code-matched, which makes them near as dammit to theft proof. There’s no aftermarket work-around. That means it can cost an easy $1600-plus to get a replacement from Benz. Bastards. Still, it was worth doing in this case as I’d sold it on at a greatly reduced rate and it’s still a fabulous car to drive.

What should you look for? The best one you can afford with the lowest miles and some evidence of servicing. Easy. They’re getting a little long in the tooth but the odd gem pops up.

A hot tip: make sure you get the owner manual, with the radio codes. It’s essential any time you swap over a battery.

Guy Alllen