Advice for buyers
What should I look for in a used Mercedes C-Class saloon?
The interior trim of the Mercedes C-Class was notably fragile, and it’s not unusual to find a car full of rattles. Check to make sure that all of the panels are still in place and that the seats, gearshift and steering wheel are not overly worn.
The complex single-arm windscreen wiper can also be problematic, because it has to adjust its height and sweep to hit the right areas of the glass. It’s expensive to get original Mercedes replacement parts, but cheaper pattern parts can be sourced.
Older Mercedes are popular as taxis, so look into the history of the car very carefully and be wary of examples with worn interiors and very high mileages.
You also need to check that recall repairs for broken exhaust pipes, corroded airbag electrics, steering coupling breakages and faulty bonnet catches have been carried out.
What are the most common problems with a used Mercedes C-Class saloon?
In the early 2000s, Mercedes was going through a period of reliability woes and this C-Class and the contemporary E-Class were the cars that fared worst.
Many of the issues can be traced to the complex electrical system, although thankfully some of the regular problems are easily and affordably fixed. For instance, an ABS warning light is usually just a faulty sensor that costs less than £100 to replace.
The heater fan can also give trouble. Often the issue is just the brushes of the electric motor, but a motor replacement will be more expensive.
Diesel pumps are another weak point, so look for the 'EDC' light on the dashboard staying on or for a lack of power when you accelerate.
Is a used Mercedes C-Class saloon reliable?
In short, no. Quite apart from the common electrical niggles, there are some serious and regular mechanical defects.
Engine head gaskets can blow (and are given away by a trickle of oil down the side of the engine), exhaust manifolds crack, timing chains snap if not regularly serviced, the automatic gearbox can fail (check that its oil is clear and red, not dark and black), radiators fail and need rebuilding and faulty catalytic convertors can cause the engine to drop into ‘limp home’ mode.
In addition, diesel injectors can go, the front shock absorbers leak, the parking brake can snap its cable and the starter motors can be weak.
To its credit, however, Mercedes did put a lot of effort into rectifying problems and often dealt with customers out of warranty to deal with major issues, so a car with a full service history may well have gotten over many of these issues already.