S550: 12 Month Cost of Ownership

Everyone knows that a Mercedes S Class is an expensive car to own. That's partly why they depreciate so quickly. Well, this car more than lived up to that reputation, proving to be far and away the most expensive car to own of those I've discussed on this blog (compare 2018 Mazda Miata, 2010 Honda Fit, 2002 Porsche 911 Turbo, 1965 Chevy Corvette). 

Deep breath. Total one-year cost of ownership = $27,853. Holy smokes. $2,321/month. I could have (maybe should have) leased a new one for that (although the shortest leases are 24 months, so I'd have ended up spending a lot more total). 

The inflated pandemic used car market certainly accounts for a bunch of this. Yes, I knew it was a bad time to buy, and yes I overpaid to get the car I wanted, but I didn't count on another $10k of depreciation in one year. The problem with selling an S550 is the plethora of cheap, minimally optioned cars out there. If you want to get above those prices, you need to find someone who values the options that make this car special. Thanks to listing on Autotrader, I found the right buyer (a 20-year-old in Texas aiming to start an airport limo service -- hi Ethan!). 

I also had bad luck with the tires and wheels, which I blame mostly on the dealer that sold the car to me (all four wheels were cracked, which I didn't discover until a slow leak revealed itself). But there is also the mysterious rapid wear that resulted in my replacing the rear tires twice. Total spent on wheels and tires = $4,246. 

Then there's the high price of maintenance for German luxury cars. Brakes, oil changes, spark plugs, etc. are all at least twice as much as they would be on my Honda Fit. And add an unexpected gasket leak and oxygen sensor failure, and you end up with $6,555 in maintenance costs in one year. Wow. 

Here's the cost-of-ownership breakdown: 

  • purchase price + tax & registration ($46,111 + $4,600 + $609)
  • trunk handle ($63)
  • window switches ($50)
  • roof trim clips ($24)
  • cabin perfume ($108)
  • cabin air filter ($110)
  • coolant ($35)
  • oil change ($198)
  • roof panel repaint ($450)
  • new wheels ($1951)
  • tires + alignment ($2,295) 
  • brake pads and rotors, transmission fluid, spark plugs ($3,474)
  • front engine gaskets, thermostat, oxygen sensor ($2,883)
  • sale price ($35,000)

There is a wrinkle that makes gives me some small comfort. In order to buy this car, I sold off my position in Amazon stock. As it happens, that stock has since plummeted (along with most of the so-called FAANG stocks). Looked at this way, I used 332 shares of AMZN to pay for the car, and when I sold the car, those shares were worth $34,000. So that works out to a $16,000 discount on the initial purchase price, assuming that I would otherwise have held onto my AMZN position (which I likely would have). Yes, I know this is all hypothetical math, but it does console me a little bit. :-)

To follow up on the original math I proposed in 2015 -- how do these car experiences compare to the cost of owning a new Honda Odyssey -- the expected depreciation on a 2015 Odyssey over the past 12 months runs about $3,000, according to CarGurus. And if you throw in another $500 in maintenance (which is the average that my Honda Fit costs to maintain), it still doesn't amount to a dent in the cost of the S Class experience. 

Was it worth it? Well, I almost certainly wouldn't have done it, if I'd known what it would cost. But, of course, you can't know in advance what a used S Class will cost you, so if you want the S Class experience, you have to be willing to roll those dice (and it will be much cheaper than buying a new one!). And given all the maintenance I've done, the next few years of ownership should be less expensive (you're welcome, Ethan!). 

But it sure does make the Corvette look better and better in hindsight, though. 


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