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1998 Mercedes R129 SL 500 48k Miles
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16 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I wanted to start a thread to help newer owners take advantage of some of the experiences that OG owners have been through. I’ve been a proud owner of this timeless classic for over 6 years.

My one piece of advice is to reset your Automatic transmission control unit (TCU). I did this simple procedure a year ago and the change has been remarkable. It will learn the way you like to drive and adjust the shifting points. Since the reset, I have been getting better gas mileage and the car is infinitely more fun to drive.
Below is a link that gives the instructions and more specific details on the reset.

 

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1999 ML320, 1998 SL500
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989 Posts
The things I wish I had known earlier are the complete un-reliability of our two cars and the amount of repair and maintenance required. So different from the 4 Corvettes I have owned, even the 300ZX or the Austin Healey.

I know this comment won't be taken well by the other folks in this group. It only describes my personal experience.
 

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Registered
1998 Mercedes R129 SL 500 48k Miles
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16 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
The things I wish I had known earlier are the complete un-reliability of our two cars and the amount of repair and maintenance required. So different from the 4 Corvettes I have owned, even the 300ZX or the Austin Healey.

I know this comment won't be taken well by the other folks in this group. It only describes my personal experience.
I think routine maintenance is vitally important with these cars (maybe even more than others) and since we are probably not the original owner, the lack of Maintenance from the previous owners could definitely be affecting your experience. My Sadie only has 48k miles on it and has been very reliable so far. 🤞
 

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1999 ML320, 1998 SL500
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989 Posts
I can state that not a single one of my problems with the ML and SL was in any way caused by any lack of routine maintenance. If you review the issues discusses in this forum, just how many were caused by lack of routine maintenance?

In addition, the problems discussed here usually involve an exotic search to actually define the problem and an equally complex and intricate set of steps to fix the problem. If that weren't the case this forum wouldn't exist.
 

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1992 Mercedes 300SL R129. 94 S320 Mercedes w140
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91 Posts
Here is my comment..
not related to any of the previous comments

They are old, expensive cars. They will have problems, they will cost money to fix and you should know how to fix it yourself or learn how too. Trying to get an old car to be reliable as a daily driver will be a chore. And Truthfully they were All built to a different driving mentality than we Use cars for today. While this is true with any old car, the older and exotic the car, the more it is an issue. That is not To say you shouldn’t do it, just go into any old car with your eyes wide open. We will help where we can.

but heck, I don’t have any idea of what I speak, I only have a dozen cars ranging from 1921 to 2019 And have had an good sized collection for more than 30 years....there I defused the critics Before they posted. This isn’t meant to start a war, just to help out newbies.
 

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1999 ML320, 1998 SL500
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989 Posts
The ML was new and had it's first failure before 3 months. It's my wife's car and she is a gentle driver.

The Corvettes I had were seriously driven because my business required it. I admit that most of them never went much over 100,000 miles but some were in that range before I upgraded. In those days that was an option I had. Now, long retired, I don't have that option. All I ever did for those cars was brakes, when needed, and tires. None had a mysterious issue. My Vette, a C5, had a 3 volume service manual that just sat on a shelf in my garage along with service manuals for a dozen prior cars.

Some of you know that during one phase of my career my company made and sold manufacturing equipment to all major car makers in the US and also in Japan, England, and Germany. I have been to plants in all areas including MB in Germany. In those days a 150,000 mile badge was common on the MB swing axle cars. Something has changed since that era.

I have to say that just because a car is more expensive doesn't make it more reliable. One would hope so but evidence points the other way for some brands.
 

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M113 SL500
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532 Posts
The things I wish I had known earlier are the complete un-reliability of our two cars and the amount of repair and maintenance required. So different from the 4 Corvettes I have owned, even the 300ZX or the Austin Healey.

I know this comment won't be taken well by the other folks in this group. It only describes my personal experience.
I would say the R129 or any old Benz is not a good car to own if you can't or are too old/over it to do the work yourself. Not worth it. For me, I buy the tools and parts required and goto work. Worth it.
 

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1999 ML320, 1998 SL500
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989 Posts
I have no choice other than doing most of the work myself, including steering pump rebuilds, cam oiler tubes, and other tasks which this forum allows me to do. I would prefer to not have to do it though. I have many other things I would prefer to do than sort through the problems these cars present.

It was only after I bought the cars did I discover they would take up so much of my time and money. The SL takes the most work but even the ML, bought new, is a costly time and money consumer.

So yes, I wish I had known earlier.

I welcome anyone who likes to work on these cars to come on over and work on mine. I will buy the parts and supply snacks and tools.
 

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Greek God of the R129
SL500-500SEL-190E
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8,458 Posts
I will buy the parts and supply snacks and tools.

Don't be cheap.
How about some money, food, room and board?
Those are expensive cars. Hahaha.

My 500SEL, 500SL cost me about $500/parts, a year.
Plus my labor...

Best tools,
Eyes, ears, touch.

Regards,
aam.
 

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1999 ML320, 1998 SL500
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989 Posts
Yes indeed, they are expensive cars. So were my Corvettes.

When I was growing up the family car was a '35 Ford. Mostly "washboard" roads here and the major problem was the fenders which tended to crack. I traded it away after graduating from High School in 1950. After college and navy time I got a wreck-rebuilt '49 Dodge which lasted until I became financially independent- then I started with sports cars, initially an Austin Healey 100-6. The big thing with it at the time was sports car rallys. No maintenance required but the popular thing in those days with those cars was "balancing" the dual variable venturi carbs. I sold it at the end of 1962 when I took a job with the Dutch government. Over there I bought a bug which I sold to a neighbor before I came back to the US. Other than the cracked fenders on the Ford I can't remember any repairs on any of those cars.
 

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Moderator
1995 Mercedes S420, 1995 SL320, 2000 Land Rover Discovery II, 1985 Lotus Turbo Esprit
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1,932 Posts
To be fair, the ML you own is pretty much the most notorious model from the most notorious era in modern Mercedes history. I personally think they're really cool, but almost nobody has anything good to say about them as far as build quality and reliability goes. It was the first Mercedes built in the USA, and it was the first all-new model built according to Mercedes new mass production and cost-cutting philosophy. It was not a good combination and took them some time to get it right.

Since you bought it new, you didn't have the benefit of the forums or years of consumer experience to guide you, and like many customers at the time, probably bought the car on the strength of the Mercedes name and reputation, only to be disappointed. It took a long time for Mercedes to undo the damage they did in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the ML and W220. Things finally got on a better track around 2004, but at that point they had turned off a great many people.

Issues with Mercedes in general tend to revolve around their complexity. I'd never call my W140 'unreliable', but it's had countless small issues related to complex ancillary systems that need to be kept up with. Nothing that prevents the car from being driven, but if you want a fully-functional car, it needs attention -- and on a thirty-year-old piece of machinery, that means frequent trips to the specialist.

I haven't owned my SL long enough to make a judgement either way yet, but I have to say that so far it seems much less complex than my W140 (aside from the hydraulic top), so I don't think I'm in for any surprises here.
 

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1999 ML320, 1998 SL500
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989 Posts
Thanks for the most reasonable response so far. Yes, it took my wife about 5 minutes to buy the 1999 ML320. After all, what could go wrong with a brand new Mercedes? That's the car the dealer had to retrieve within 3 months to get it running.

I later bought the year-older 1998 SL500 from my son-in-law. It looked and drove just fine for several weeks.

I understand reality but can't agree with the folks who seem to be saying that expensive cars should cost more to maintain, even when correctly serviced. Service doesn't cover broken vanity mirrors, melted headlamp sockets, bad hydraulic cylinders, and - a dozen other items regularly covered in this forum.

I once owned a classic Lincoln Continental and the only issues I had were brake fade on La Jolla hills and sometimes faulty window motor switches. Thar car has an interesting event. I was at home in La Jolla one day and Emmett Judge and his wife were in town and made a surprise visit to my house. I was in the driveway fiddling with the Lincoln windows. Emmett fixed them on the spot. The Lincoln had been one of the cars he was responsible for when he sponsored the Ed Sullivan show. He was in town because he was a director of Maxwell Labs, now owned by Tesla. (I ran a Maxwell division at the time). Sadly, Emmett had to take the fall for the Edsel.
 

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1996 SL500, 2000 E430
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3,930 Posts
I have had my 96 SL500 since Jan 2013 and while I won't say it was "unreliable" I have put a lot of money into it. Not because it was "unreliable" but like the top cylinders, they just wore out. The car is old. The engine uses virtually no oil at 206,000 miles. Amazing to me. The transmission? First year of the 722.6 and as I learned from Martin, 3 major revisions went it to make it near bulletproof (as long as you change the fluid/filter) by 1999-2000. Still, when I put a factory reman in at 147,000 miles, was that "unreliable"?

Put new "cam tubes" in at 130,000 or so. Replaced the plastic ones with an aluminum set pulled from a 1992. Was that unreliable" for a 19 year old car?

New shocks (twice - the original replacement Bilsteins were a bad design), motor mount, transmission mount, brakes, rotors, I'd have to look though my invoices.

All just stuff worn out in an old car.

I deliberately stayed away from the ADS not wanting the issues from that complex system, but others are quite happy with it.

Ditto the V-12.

We all know about the interior plastics.

I disagree that the R129 is "unreliable".

Now - on the newer Mercedes - I have had this conversation with a long-time owner. My premise is, because of govt pressure to raise the CAFE standard - Mercedes have this exotic technology to bring marginal performance/economy improvements that wear out in 100,000 miles or so.

Think a 4 cylinder that is turbo'ed to the hilt will go 100s of thousands of miles? Daimler just developed a 2 liter 4 cylinder turbo good for over 400 hp. Think that will last for the long run?

My friend had a W211 diesel - loved the car, until about 200,000 miles. The turbo went out - twice. The injectors - are pressed into the head and if the special tool can't remove them you have to pull the head. For $4,000. The M272 - the plastic flaps on the intake manifold that go out at 100,000 or so. So you just buy a new intake manifold.

My friend had a W116 SD that he put 600,000 miles on - even original transmission.

He is pretty disgusted with Mercedes today. And he knows what he talks of - been an owner for 50 years.

Something that surprised me - my fathers 2011 E350 - with all the techno "doo-dads" to bring up the mileage - gets the same mileage around town as both my 1996 SL500 and 2000 E430.
 

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1991 R129 500SL
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1,908 Posts
I will buy the parts and supply snacks and tools.

Don't be cheap.
How about some money, food, room and board?
Those are expensive cars. Hahaha.


My 500SEL, 500SL cost me about $500/parts, a year.
Plus my labor...

Best tools,
Eyes, ears, touch.

Regards,
aam.
Hi Albert

The highlighted portion of your reply was very funny :LOL: + (y)

Best regards and keep safe
 

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Registered
1999 ML320, 1998 SL500
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989 Posts
I am so relieved by the post by wlb50. It seems I should have nothing to worry about.
I have had my 96 SL500 since Jan 2013 and while I won't say it was "unreliable" I have put a lot of money into it. Not because it was "unreliable" but like the top cylinders, they just wore out. The car is old. The engine uses virtually no oil at 206,000 miles. Amazing to me. The transmission? First year of the 722.6 and as I learned from Martin, 3 major revisions went it to make it near bulletproof (as long as you change the fluid/filter) by 1999-2000. Still, when I put a factory reman in at 147,000 miles, was that "unreliable"?

Put new "cam tubes" in at 130,000 or so. Replaced the plastic ones with an aluminum set pulled from a 1992. Was that unreliable" for a 19 year old car?

New shocks (twice - the original replacement Bilsteins were a bad design), motor mount, transmission mount, brakes, rotors, I'd have to look though my invoices.

All just stuff worn out in an old car.

I deliberately stayed away from the ADS not wanting the issues from that complex system, but others are quite happy with it.

Ditto the V-12.

We all know about the interior plastics.

I disagree that the R129 is "unreliable".

Now - on the newer Mercedes - I have had this conversation with a long-time owner. My premise is, because of govt pressure to raise the CAFE standard - Mercedes have this exotic technology to bring marginal performance/economy improvements that wear out in 100,000 miles or so.

Think a 4 cylinder that is turbo'ed to the hilt will go 100s of thousands of miles? Daimler just developed a 2 liter 4 cylinder turbo good for over 400 hp. Think that will last for the long run?

My friend had a W211 diesel - loved the car, until about 200,000 miles. The turbo went out - twice. The injectors - are pressed into the head and if the special tool can't remove them you have to pull the head. For $4,000. The M272 - the plastic flaps on the intake manifold that go out at 100,000 or so. So you just buy a new intake manifold.

My friend had a W116 SD that he put 600,000 miles on - even original transmission.

He is pretty disgusted with Mercedes today. And he knows what he talks of - been an owner for 50 years.

Something that surprised me - my fathers 2011 E350 - with all the techno "doo-dads" to bring up the mileage - gets the same mileage around town as both my 1996 SL500 and 2000 E430.
Thanks, I guess I have nothing to be concerned about.
 

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Moderator
1995 Mercedes S420, 1995 SL320, 2000 Land Rover Discovery II, 1985 Lotus Turbo Esprit
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1,932 Posts
It's just a different philosophy between American cars and German engineering in particular.

American cars, even luxury cars, were historically built very pragmatically. Even cars like Lincoln and Cadillac were built to be maintained by 19 year old American kids at the local mechanic shop. For that reason, they have systems that are relatively simple and easy to understand.

German cars were built to be maintained by professionals, and as such the engineers used all kinds of innovative and intricate systems which add expense and complexity to the cars, but also bring fascination and joy to people who appreciate the work. I mean, the original 600 used a 5000psi hydraulic system to close the trunk lid. It's an insanely complex and expensive way to get the job done, but it's also endlessly interesting if you're into that kind of thing.

This difference in engineering philosophies is nothing new -- and it likely cost Germany the war. German tanks were incredible feats of engineering that used many precision parts and outmatched nearly anything the US had deployed, but they were extremely difficult to maintain in the field. American tanks were built as simply as possible, designed to be maintained by farm boys who've been working on tractors since they were twelve years old. As such, the Germans never had enough of their excellent tanks to take on the legions of our half-decent tanks.

An old Mercedes is always going to be more expensive to maintain than an old American car. It's in the German DNA. It's either the kind of thing you appreciate or not.
 

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Registered
1999 ML320, 1998 SL500
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989 Posts
Thanks, it's indeed something I wish I had known before. If there are members of this forum who want to buy a couple of cars please let me know.

I see a comment about hydraulic cylinders wearing out. They have been little used on the SL. I took the top off just once to have a headliner replaced. The front cylinders leaked immediately. It wasn't due to wear but to the heat they are subjected to because of their position.
 

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Registered
1996 SL500, 2000 E430
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3,930 Posts
Thanks, it's indeed something I wish I had known before. If there are members of this forum who want to buy a couple of cars please let me know.

I see a comment about hydraulic cylinders wearing out. They have been little used on the SL. I took the top off just once to have a headliner replaced. The front cylinders leaked immediately. It wasn't due to wear but to the heat they are subjected to because of their position.
Klaus (at Top Hydraulics) told me that they usually go first because they get all the heat from the sun. I think it is better too to exercise that top regularly - keep the seals lubricated and working.
 

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Registered
'92 500 SL
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97 Posts
The things I wish I had known earlier are the complete un-reliability of our two cars and the amount of repair and maintenance required. So different from the 4 Corvettes I have owned, even the 300ZX or the Austin Healey.

I know this comment won't be taken well by the other folks in this group. It only describes my personal experience.
EXACTLY on point!
 
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