Update - 08/11/2021:
If I were to describe to you a car that was reliable, inexpensive to repair, and super cheap to purchase, what would immediately come to mind? If you’re like me, you are probably thinking Honda, Toyota, or any other basic Japanese eco-box. Add in high-performance and German, and most would think you're crazy. If you caught my video, you might have a different outlook on all this, or you think I’m completely insane for calling any Mercedes-AMG car cheap and reliable. In any case, here is my list of the top five most reliable, cheapest to buy, and easiest to fix Mercedes-AMG models.
1. 2005-2006 C55 AMG - 362 Horsepower, 376 lb-ft of torque - Average price: $14,000
Shocker, I know. If you watched the video, you know all about this king-of-the-hill in this top five list. If you don’t watch videos and are here to read, I’ll summarize for you. The C55 AMG is part of the 203 chassis C-Class that ran from 2001-2007. Since the C55 wasn’t released until 2005 most of the electrical gremlins and rust issues that plagued early models were fixed. The C55 also comes with one of the most bulletproof engine and transmission combos in the M113 V8 engine and the 722.6 5 speed transmission. Both were used in many different MB models with high-performance versions reserved for AMG cars. Aside from a few oil leaks and a bad sensor here or there, the engine and transmission are very robust.
If you watch my channel, you may remember the 2003 E55 with 400,000 miles I reviewed and tested on a dyno. That E55 uses the same engine and transmission, a true testament to the unreal reliability of this combo. You might notice that most of the cars in this list use this same powertrain. The C55 also uses a simple and effective shock and strut setup; no fancy air or hydraulic suspension to fail on you here.
Although this car uses larger AMG brakes, they don’t cost all that much more to replace. I priced out pads and rotors, front and rear, for right around $500. The C55 was a very rare car with only about 2,000 units sold in the United States, so finding one for sale may be difficult. If you do, I would recommend that you strongly consider it.
2. 2003-2006 CLK55 AMG - 362 Horsepower, 376 lb-ft of torque - Average price: $15,000
The number 2 spot goes to a car that is basically a two-door version of the C55. Everything I covered in the video applies here, except they went with larger brakes in 2005 so unfortunately, they are a bit bit more expensive to replace. This car was almost tied for number one, however, the judgment was made as the CLK55 is a bit more expensive and has windows that automatically lower when you open the door and raise when the door is shut. This could be a little problematic when the motors failed and because it's a two-door with a small back seat, the car is less practical. My goal in the video was also to show you a car you could daily drive and although the CLK55 rides just as nice as the C55, it’s not as easy to bring others with you. But really, this is all very minor stuff and the car is rock solid mechanically, just like the C55. Expect to pay a little over $10,000 for a clean example and a couple thousand more for a convertible version.
3. 1999-2002 E55 AMG - 349 Horsepower, 391 lb-ft of torque - Average price: $10,000
I mention this car in the video because it truly is a classic and in my opinion cemented AMG as a very real contender in the performance car market. I still remember reading magazines in high school where they put this big four-door saloon against a Corvette, a Dodge Viper, and various other high-performance sports cars. The E55 held its own and really put AMG on the map. This car again shares the same basic drivetrain with the C55 and CLK55, so no worries there, and it doesn’t use a complicated suspension either. Like I mentioned in the video, this car was prone to rust depending on where you live. This is something I consider a reliability issue because if you are driving an AMG car, you want it to look good. Unlike a beater with a heater, you aren’t just going to live with it so you will need to factor this into the cost of ownership. Now, if you buy one with no rust and you live in a hot climate with no snow or salt, you're good to go. This car will potentially last you forever without breaking the bank, especially if you do your own repairs.
4. W202 Chassis C36 - 276 Horsepower, 284 lb-ft of torque - C43 AMG - 302 Horsepower, 302 lb-ft of torque - Average price $11,000
I bundled these two together as sort of a bonus. The C36 was released in 1995 and was the first car released by Mercedes after officially partnering up with AMG, which was a separate tuning company before this car. The C36 was fitted with an inline six-cylinder that made more horsepower than the same year M3, its main competitor. This engine did suffer from head gasket failures but aside from that was very robust, as was the five-speed automatic transmission. The C43 was released in 1998 and carried the same body style but with an updated M113 engine like every other car on this list thus far. These C-Class AMG cars of this 202 generation were very reliable, but they did suffer from rust issues like the E55, which also included the front coil spring perches that would weaken over time causing the car’s suspension to sag. There were also issues with the engine wiring harness (especially with the C36). If you want to see the most pristine example of a 202 chassis C43 AMG, make sure to browse my channel. I own quite the gem.
5. 2000-2003 ML55 AMG - 342 Horsepower, 376 lb-ft of torque - Average price $9,000.
Up until now, my list has been entirely made up of cars but there was once a reliable AMG SUV from back in the day. The ML55 once again used the same engine combo as the C55, E55, CLK55 and the C43 but this time it was paired with all-wheel-drive capability. At one point this was the fastest SUV on the planet. Most people don’t realize that the ML55 can be very inexpensive to repair and maintain; sure, this truck would go through brakes, ball joints, and rear coil springs like no one’s business, and they did have a fuel pump that would go bad from time to time, but what old car doesn’t need this kind of stuff? As I said, the race for the number 1 spot was close and ML55 could have been much higher if it wasn’t for the fact that it also has all-wheel drive, which is obviously more complicated than rear-wheel drive and could present an issue in the future. The all-wheel-drive worked very well and didn’t have any inherent defects, but as these cars age, it could become a concern.
To be fair, all of these cars are going to cost more to fix and purchase than a normal car like a Camry or a Malibu of the same vintage. I don’t want anyone to think that these would be a good pick for a poor college student that doesn’t know how to change a light bulb let alone a set of brake pads. This video and list were intended for enthusiasts and fans of AMG cars. All of these cars can be bought in good condition for $10,000 or much less, and if you buy the right one, you’ll feel like you’re getting away with something. I’ve only had my C55 a week or so and even though it’s not nearly as fast as a C63, I only paid $7,000 for it, and I don’t have a worry in the world-beating the crap out of her all day long.
I may have forgotten a few models, but the general theme here is to find an AMG car with the M113 engine and 722.6 transmission. It may not be the fastest anymore, but they can’t be beaten for the price and there is still great aftermarket support for performance modifications. Good luck with your search!
If you want to see more Mercedes-Benz content, you can visit our Mercedes-Benz hub at mercedes.fcpeuro.com.
- C55 AMG: FotoSleuth
- CLK55 AMG: JSitthi
- C36 AMG: theautoinsider
- ML55 AMG: CarsBase
- E55 AMG: CarThrottle