Used car case study: buying a limousine

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes S-Class

Ever since he was in primary school Lee has dreamed of owning a luxury limousine; it’s almost been an obsession.

Now in his early 30s and working as a sales rep, Lee believes driving a BMW 7 Series or S-Class Mercedes would impress his clients. Buying new is out of the question, as he cannot afford or even try to justify the $200,000-plus price tag.  

Live the dream

But with a budget of $30,000-$40,000, living the dream is on the cards. In luxury cars, depreciation is horrendous for new buyers, however it can be a bonanza for the used car buyer prepared to look at vehicles 10 years old or more.

The astute buyer can still get a car with a prestige image, plus comfort, space, the opulence of high-quality soft leather, plenty of features and strong performance.  

Long-wheelbase versions have even more legroom than standard models – the back-seat space in these is cavernous. And these elegant, rear-wheel-drive luxury sedans come in a wide range of models with different petrol and diesel engines.  

The Mercedes badge speaks of pure luxury, while BMWs have more sporting-luxury appeal. As the flagships for their respective brands, older S-Class and 7 Series models are still packed with features and safety equipment.

The cost of ownership

But before you get too excited, serious consideration needs to be given to the ongoing ownership costs, such as servicing, repairs, spare parts, fuel and insurance, which can be quite expensive in older prestige cars.

These vehicles are technically complex machines with a lot more features and equipment than the average sedan, so there are more things that could give trouble and require specialist knowledge and equipment.

Choose the wrong car and the dream can quickly become a nightmare. We have heard of cases where the cost of repairs easily exceeds the car’s value.

Shop around

At more than $200,000 new, the likes of the BMW 7 Series and S-Class Mercedes have never sold in huge volumes, so you’ll need to shop around to find the model you want.

In Lee’s case, $30,000-$40,000 will get him an eight-to-10-year-old BMW, with either a 3.0-litre turbo-petrol or a naturally aspirated V8 petrol engine.

For similar money, the most common S-Class will be a slightly older S350 with a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated six-cylinder petrol engine; if Lee wants a V8 or even a V12, he needs to take a further step back in age.

Fuel consumption will depend on the version and how it is used, but regardless, relatively high consumption is the price paid for owning a car of this type. Also consider an Audi A8 or Lexus LS.

It pays to check

Check the car over thoroughly for any indications of mechanical faults or signs of previous serious accident damage and poor-quality repairs. Also spend time making sure all the equipment and accessories work properly.

Give the car a good road test, making sure it starts easily and runs smoothly. Listen for any abnormal noises. Engine failure is a disaster and not unheard of. Look for oil leaks and check the cooling system. Brake and tyre wear can also be an issue. 

Because missing a serious fault can quickly turn a bargain buy into a costly nightmare, it’s worth determining the condition of the car by investing in some professional assistance from a brand specialist or getting an RACV comp­rehensive vehicle inspection report.  

Some high-kilometre examples may have been used as a chauffeured limousine, so check the service history and type of use closely. Complete service records are a valuable asset in this type of vehicle.

It is best if the service and repairs have been done by a brand specialist because they have more know­ledge of these cars and the right equipment for the job.


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Written by Greg Hill
February 19, 2018

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