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Depreciation Got You Down?

A look at car depreciation rates - and theories to prevent getting 'burnt'...

By Michael Knowling

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When you're out searching for a shiny new car the last thing in your mind are depreciation rates. Many buyers take into account running costs (fuel consumption, insurance, parts etcetera) but depreciation rarely receives any consideration. It should, though; depreciation costs can, in many instances, outstrip the total of all running costs. This rude shock hits when you want to offload the car and you receive only get a very small percentage of what you paid for it. Worse yet, you can be left paying off a loan amount greater than you just sold the car for - that's gotta hurt!

Some Real-World Examples...

Different cars depreciate at different rates - some brand new cars halve in value in barely two years, while others might drop only a couple of percent over the same period. To prove the point, here are the values and depreciation rates of various different vehicles (more examples can be found toward the end of this article):

Mitsubishi Magna TJ Sports

Annual Depreciation Average 2000 Model - 7.3 percent (21.9 percent total)
  2001 Model - 12.6 percent (25.2 percent total)
  2002 Model - 20.5 percent
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Released in August 2000, the Mitsubishi Magna TJ Sports - with its 163kW 3.5-litre V6 - made a big splash in the go-fast family six market. When new, these vehicles retailed for $34,490 and $36,490 in manual and auto form respectively. This increased to $36,320 and $38,320 in 2001. A Series 2 TJ update (in August 2001) added a further $500, and 2002 models edged up another $200.

Today, a classifieds search will reveal that 2000 model TJ Magna Sports sell from around $26,000 depending largely on kilometres. Models built in 2001 sell for a bit more - expect to pay around $29,000 for an auto with typical kilometres. Examples built during 2002 sell for around $31,000.

From these figures, we can say that - across all TJ Sports models - total deprecation is in the 20 percent range, with the rate of depreciation much slower after the car is one year old.

Ad Example - MITSUBISHI MAGNA TJ SPORTS 2001 blue, 3.5ltr auto, 10,000kms, pwr window, pwr steer, cruise con, alloys, airbag, air con, ABS, Mitsubishi Factory Demo $29,990

Note that official resale figures quoted in the Red Book (www.redbook.com.au) are slightly lower than our research has shown. Red Book suggests the "national average price for private sale" for 2000 models varies between $19,900 to nearly $26,000, 2001s range between $20,800 and $28,300 and 2002s fetch up to around $30,000.

Peugeot 206 GTi

Annual Depreciation Average 1999 Model - 5.7 percent (17 percent total)
  2000 Model - approx. 5 percent (15 percent total)
  2001 Model - approx. 4 percent (8 percent total)
  2002 Model - 3.3 percent
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Just ask any Peugeot dealer - the 206 GTi is a car whose demand has exceeded supply. This 100kW 2.0-litre hot hatch has sensational looks, handles like a magic carpet and offers a decent amount of grunt. Released in September 1999, 206 GTi models retailed at $31,400, for 2000 and 2001 it dropped to just $29,490 and, since an updated 2001 model, it's remained pegged at $29,990 - just under the $30,000 barrier.

Few 206 GTis are for sale at any given time and, given their demand, prices have held rock-solid. The cheapest example we've seen - a 1999 model with average-ish kilometres - is $26,000, but some 2002 models are popping up at an amazing $29,000 (just $990 below new price!).

Based on this research, the 206 GTi enjoys absolutely minimal depreciation - less than 4 percent in the first year off the showroom floor, up to a total of 17 percent for models from 1999. We can't think of any other car that's held its value as well!

Ad Example - PEUGEOT 206 GTI 2001 model, silver, 16in alloys, 2.0L, 100kW, 4 airbags, ABS, CD, factory warranty $27,990

The Red Book tells us the hot 206 has a national average price (for private sales) ranging from $21,200 to $28,000, depending on year and kilometres. While we have never seen a 206 GTi for $21,200 it should be noted that the Red Book's average kilometre range is much higher than the typical examples we've researched; perhaps this is why we've never seen such cheap ones.

Holden VT (Series 1) SS Commodore

Annual Depreciation Average 1997 Model - 6.1 - 8.4 percent (36.6 - 50.4 percent total)
  1998 Model - 7.3 - 10 percent (36.5 - 50 percent total)
  1999 Model - 6.8 - 9.1 percent (27.5 - 36.6 percent total)
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The VT-series platform has proven a great step forward for Holden - but the 5.0-litre V8 that was stretched into the first VT SS was nothing ground breaking. In fact, with the VT's extra kilos, the 5.0-litre's performance was relatively so-so. Making its appearance in August 1997, the VT (now known as VT Series 1) SS sold for $44,160 with a 5-speed manual or just $740 extra with a 4-speed auto. These prices held until the June '99 release of the VT Series 2 SS with its LS1 5.7-litre V8.

In today's market, the price variation for a VT-series Commodore is truly massive - perhaps this is related to the fact that there are quite a few for sale. Earlier model SSs - from 1997 and 1998 - sell for anywhere between $21,900 (as noted in one of these accompanying ads) and around $28,000 for one with 40,000km. A typical example with about 100,000km sells for about $25,000. The price seems to jump when you're talking 1999 5.0 SSs - the last models to receive the Aussie 5.0-litre. Due to there being only a few months of production before the LS1 stepped in, there aren't many to pick from but they hover at about $28,000 anywhere up to $32,000.

The resale of 5.0-litre VT SSs is very interesting - there is so much 'scatter' of figures, it's difficult to separate one year from another. Annual depreciation is between 6 and - at a stretch - 10 percent.

Ad Examples - COMMODORE VT SS 1999 Gen 3 LS1, 6-spd man, Panther Mica, 85,000km, factory sunroof, tint, tow, air, cruise, 12 mths rego, new tyres windscreen, killer Alpine sound system incl CD stacker & 200W Sub (will sep) 17 alloys, FE2, ABS, LSD, 2 airbags, cent locking, dealer service history, immac and never damaged $34,990

COMMODORE VT SS Mica Blue sedan, 12/97 V8, T-bar auto, power steering, seats, & mirrors, radio-cassette, c/control, all SS options, 125,000km. reg 9/03, just serviced, s/cert., excellent condition $21,900

The Red Book states that a '97 SS 5.0-litre 5-speed with an average 110,000 - 130,000km moves for $21,900 - $25,600. An auto version cost up to $500 extra. The price then progresses to $23,400 - $27,100 for an early '99 model with the average 75,000 - 95,000km. Again, it's said that an auto will cost around $500 extra.

These prices are fairly similar to our findings, except we found the very last 5.0-litre SS to hold their value better than stated in the Red Book.

Holden VT (Series 2) SS Commodore

Annual Depreciation Average 1999 Model - 4.8 - 10 percent (19.2 - 40 percent total)
  2000 Model - 6.2 - 8.3 percent (18.6 - 24.9 percent total)
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The LS1 is the engine that pushed Holden musclecars into the new millennium. Boasting a 0.7-litre swept capacity advantage over the superseded 5.0-litre V8, the LS1 brought a massive 220kW in early base trim. VT2 SSs equipped with the LS1 commenced sales in June 1999 at a price of $46,650 (for either a 6-speed manual or 4-speed auto) and dropped to just $44,000 in 2000. The VX series took over in October 2000.

Ninety-nine model SS LS1s can typically now be bought from about $28,000 to $33,000 - manual or auto - but we found there are massive price fluctuations. Compare these two ads from the same week - both are for '99 VT2 LS1 autos with kilometres in the 30,000 range, yet there's nearly $10,000 difference! Y2K VT2 LS1 SSs fetch about $35,000 with around 60,000km on the clock. Work it out.

As a rule, it seems that LS1 powered SSs depreciate slightly slower than the 5.0-litre versions - but not by much. The average annual depreciation for both vehicles peaks at 10 percent, but the LS1 can go lower than 5 percent - slightly better than the 6 percent minimum for the 5.0-litre vehicle.

Ad Examples - Commodore SS Series II 11/1999 VX SS upgrade, Gen 3, 5.7 litre auto, white, 30,000kms, white leather trim, full power options, upgraded sound system and wheels, dual airbags, log books, full power pack, ABS, immaculate inside/out $28,300

COMMODORE SS VT Series 2 1999 Panther Mica sedan, 5.7Ltr Auto, 37,000kms, lady owner, tinted windows, Alpine 6 stack CD, amp, Kenwood speakers, HSV mats, EC $37,750 ono

The Red Book values are close to our findings - perhaps a little lower. The book lists average 1999 SSs selling for $26,300 - $30,400 (either auto or manual). Models from 2000 with 60,000 - 70,000km typically change hands for $28,200 - $32,400.

Subaru Impreza WRX

Annual Depreciation Average 1994 - 1996 Models - 5.7 - 6.9 percent (48 - 52 percent total)
  1997 - 1998 Models - 6.6 - 6.8 percent (34 - 40 percent total)
  1999 - 2000 Models - 8.0 - 8.3 percent (25 - 32 percent total)
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The Subaru Impreza WRX is a car that's held its value quite well over the years; demand has ensured prices have held quite well overall.

Released in February 1994, the early series WRX sold for $41,990; these days, you can pick up a sedan from around $20,000 and wagons slightly cheaper. The Red Book quotes $17,500 - $21,000 for a typical sedan with 150,000 - 180,000km, or about $1000 less for a wagon.

Ad Example - SUBARU IMPREZA WRX 1995 Silver Sedan, 2.0ltr Manual, pwr window, pwr steer, cruise con, air con, RWC, goes hard, reg 10/03 $23,990

Models from '95 and '96 seem to scrounge an extra $2000-odd, for both sedan and wagon. According to the Red Book a typical '96 sedan will cost up to $22,100 or, again, about $1000 less for a wagon.

Our research has shown that the updated MY97 WRX model (which sold for $39,990 from late '96 and through '97) fetches around $24,000 depending on kilometres. Up to $24,100 is what the Red Book quotes for a manual sedan. As before, the wagon is slightly cheaper but limited edition models are dearer.

MY98 WRX sedans seem to be a popular model. These seem to sell for around $26,000 for a typical 5-speed sedan, but the Red Book says $21,900 - $26,400 is about the mark. Less for you-know-whats.

Ad Example - Subaru Impreza WRX 1999 silver sedan 5 speed manual, 69,500kms, service history, Brant alarm, tint, colour coded, no accidents, 4 months rego, excellent condition $28,800

Around $27,000 - $28,000 appears the going price for MY99 WRX sedans, and the Red Book lists $24,000 - $28,500. Wagons are up to $1000 cheaper.

The last of the GC8 breed - MY00s - were stickered at $40,240 and now command up to $30,000. The Red Book says $25,400 - $29,900 is typical for one with 60,000 - 95,000km.

From these figures, it appears that the WRX - across all models - has maintained a very reasonable rate of depreciation. Note that the depreciation rate slows with the older models. In any case, though - with so many Model-Years jammed in between the $20,000 and $30,000 bracket - you will inevitably find some price 'overlap' between models.

BMW 750iL

Annual Depreciation Average 1988 Model - 6.2 percent (93 percent total)
  1990 Model - 6.9 percent (88.9 percent total)
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Once trumpeted as the best luxury saloon in the world, the E32 BMW 750iL was pure class from its 5.0-litre V12 to its stretched wheelbase. Imported from February 1988 with an incredible $216,000 pricetag the 750iL was, of course, an auto-only proposition. Prior to an update in late '92, there was only one price hike in 1990 - it went up to $225,000, later falling to $208,000 in '91 and creeping back up to $213,000 for the majority of '92.

Not surprising given its contemporary pricing, there aren't a huge number of 750iLs to pick from - but there's always a handful for sale Australia-wide. Depending largely on kilometres and service history, 750iLs start from as low as $14,999. This increases to over $25,000 for a 1990-ish example with lower than average kilometres.

While the averaged annual depreciation of the 750iL is quite reasonable, the sheer volumes of money involved are incredible. With 93 percent of its initial value lost, the iL has dropped from well over $200,000 to a low of just $14,999...

Ad Example - BMW 750iL Blue Sedan, Auto, sun roof, pwr window, pwr steer, leather, cruise con, air con, ABS, excellent condition $14,999

The Red Book seems a little sketchy on this one - it lists $15,500 - $19,700 as a typical price for the early '88 models but doesn't give an average kilometre figure. In any case, the average price hits around $28,000 when you look at a '92 model (presumably with commensurately less kilometres).

The Factors Involved...

As shown, some vehicles suffer significant depreciation while others hold their value extraordinarily well. The big question is, what determines the depreciation rate of a given car? You can turn to a number of 'deprecation rate calculators' that can be found on the web, but - be warned - these are very crude and simplified. There is no sure-fire way to predict depreciation - however, there are a number of considerations that can give strong overall guidance...

Brand/Model/Age

Certain brand vehicles retain their value better than others. As a general rule, 'mainstream' prestige brands retain a good percentage of their worth. To give you an example, BMW 3 and 5-series vehicles typically have a low rate of depreciation - according to the Red Book, the 2002 325i has depreciated to a maximum of only 13 percent. Note, however, the absolute amount of money lost is quite high.

Other brands that tend to hold their value well include Honda, Lexus and Mercedes.

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Within a particular brand, certain models depreciate faster than others. Typically, smaller model cars depreciate slower than larger ones. The most likely reason for this is widespread the demand for practical sized vehicles that are manoeuvrable, can be parked in tight spaces and are relatively cheap to run. This is a characteristic buyers look for regardless if a car is one or fifteen years old.

Furthermore - as a very general guide - the most 'oddball' models depreciate fast while the less controversial models perform solidly. Examples that suffer poor depreciation include the Alfa 166 and various Citroen and Saab models. Trends obviously play a major role in determining the retained value of a vehicle - those models with up-to-the-minute styling tend to maintain their value very well for an initial period and, depending on how trends swing, they can then drop in value quite rapidly.

And now we come to the age of a vehicle...

Studies have shown that cars depreciate the most in their first year out of the showroom. Up to 35 percent of the cars overall value can be lost over one year. Once a car is about three years old, its rate of depreciation begins to level out until - once they're 10 - 15 years old - depreciation rates vary little from car to car. This holds true unless we're talking about immaculate collectors' cars, of course...

Kilometres/Condition of Vehicle

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The amount of use a vehicle has will affect deprecation. Any vehicle with more than average kilometres - around 25,000 per year - drops in value quicker than a typical example. The amount of value lost is dependent on the exact number of kilometres, service history, whether the distance covered are 'country kilometres' and the expected lifespan of the vehicle (ie a Daewoo Matiz probably wont last as long as an Audi A3).

Furthermore, the condition and presentation of a vehicle has a massive impact on selling value. A freshly polished and detailed vehicle will always sell for more than an 'as is' example. No matter how old a vehicle is or the price category, buyers pay more for well-presented vehicles.

Value of Comparable Vehicles

This is a factor that's completely out of your hands - you really need to keep an eye on the market.

It's important to consider the buyer group for a particular car and consider the other cars that they might be interested; buyers of a WRX will likely be interested in a Lancer GSR, 200SX or even a number of Japanese-import vehicles. All of these values are therefore interlocked - if the price of one suddenly goes down, the rest will eventually follow. We have already seen the price of S14 200SXs tumble due to the availability of cheap Silvia and 180SX turbos.

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Certainly, second-hand Japanese import vehicles have wreaked havoc on the resale value of just about every performance car ever sold in Australia. At one end of the spectrum there are R34 GT-Rs stealing sales from Porsches and, at the other, there are atmo Silvias dragging down every second-hand coupe below 10 grand. Consider the resale value of Australian-delivered Nissan Skyline GT-Rs and atmo 300ZXs - they've copped a real beating with the availability of grey imports.

As we said, it pays to keep a close eye on the market.

Impending Releases

Once a current model vehicle is toward the end of its lifespan it tends to depreciate relatively quickly - buyers hold off to wait for the replacement model. At the time of writing, for example, the last of the AU-series Fords are being sold extremely cheaply to make way for the BA model. Needless to say, this bulk new car discounting reduces the value of near-new second-hand examples. An overnight $2000 new car discount means those vehicles purchased earlier drop $2000 in addition to the usual depreciation rate!

Company Stability

An important consideration is the stability of the manufacturer of a given vehicle. For example, the Seat company made an appearance in Australia in the mid '90s and, after folding in the late '90s, much of the dealer service and parts network has evaporated. This - and the fact that Seat is no longer heard of - has led to poor resale value of Ibizas, Cordobas and Toledos.

Manufacturers that are rock-solid - like Mercedes and, to an extent, Holden - have no such problems.

Demand/Supply

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Obviously, retained values are exceptionally high in situations where demand outstrips supply. This has been clearly illustrated by the scampered-after Pug 206 GTi - there are so many people fighting over a relatively small group of cars, sellers can ask pretty well whatever amount they want.

On the other hand, if there are abundant numbers of a vehicle that means competition amongst sellers, 'price wars' and, as a result, relatively poor retained values. Interestingly though, vehicles with an extremely widespread following - such as Commodores - tend to depreciate slower than many other common vehicles (Magnas and Falcons, for example).

Location

The location of a vehicle affects its resale value for two reasons.

First, if a vehicle is used in a relatively remote or low population area, the seller is appealing to a relatively small market. The chance of finding someone willing to pay the highest possible amount for a vehicle is very slim. It's for this reason many remote area vehicles used are given to city dealers to be sold on a commission basis.

Second, as mentioned, the number of kilometres on cars driven in country areas tends to be less important than cars driven in an urban/city environment. So-called 'country kilometres' are typically less strenuous on the engine, driveline and brakes - even though you'll usually more stone chips in the front panels and windscreen...

Running Costs

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The most recognised running cost - fuel consumption - plays into the hands of the smaller vehicles and, regardless of other influences, a fuel-efficient car is always desirable. Imagine what would happen to the retained value of V8s if fuel supplies drop and prices double - you'd expect a few cheap V8s popping up...

As many AutoSpeed readers would know, insurance can be a killer for any performance vehicle. Anything turbocharged or V8 instantly demands a hefty insurance premium - often too hefty for a given market. This can eliminate many of the younger buyers, taking with it much of the overall performance market. When insurance companies finally decide to say "no" to under-30 owners of turbocars, we can expect to see a big shake-up in the turbo market.

The price of replacement parts for a given car can also play a role - especially in the case of aging prestige cars. It is quite common that once a prestige car is out of warranty, it's value slips suddenly; most people recognise that any exotic brands cost a lot to maintain. In contrast, a garden-variety Falcon, Commodore or Magna is extremely cheap to keep motoring - a major attraction in the out-of-warranty second-hand market.

Wrap-Up...

The depreciation rate of a car can be extremely important - you can come out of a deal having lost hardly any money, or you can come out owing more than the resale value of the vehicle. The above considerations should be looked at closely as a guide to the depreciation rate of a given car; probably the most important thing to remember is that cars less than 3 years old depreciate faster than older models. Without a crystal ball, though, all we can do is take an educated punt...

Some Bonus Examples of Car Prices and Depreciation Rates...

VW Golf VR6

Annual Depreciation Average 1994 Model - 8.3 percent (74.7 percent total)
  1995 Model - approx 7 - 8 percent (56 - 64 percent total)
  1996 Model - 7.4 percent (51.8 percent total)
  1997 Model - approx. 7 - 8 percent (42 - 48 percent total)
  1998 Model - 8.0 percent (40 percent total)
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The Golf VR6 was a return to an old formula - stick a big engine into a little car. With a 2.8-litre 128kW six pumping under its hood, the Golf VR6 was more than a match for many of its Euro rivals. The only thing holding sales back was price - released in March '94, the VR6 kicked off at $44,990 in manual form and $46,490 as an auto. The VR6 continued to be sold in Australia until 1988, when it's price peaked at $46,990 and $49,090 respectively - just t-h-i-s far away from 50 grand!

These days, the cheapest VR6 you'll find is around $15,000 - a '94 with average-to-high kilometres. Prices increase with subsequent years - and as kilometres decrease - to the point you can pick up an average '96 for $22,000 and a rare '98 model with low kilometres for around $28,000.

Being more than 5 years old, the VR6's rate of depreciation has slowed - its annual rate of depreciation has levelled off at around 8 percent.

Ad Example - VW GOLF VR6 1994 manual, 2.8L V6, dual airbags, ABS, alloys, low km, books $20,900

The Red Book pretty well reflects our research figures. It says the average (private sale) price starts off at $14,800 - $17,800 for a '94 manual with 150,000 - 180,000km and runs to a maximum $23,500 - $27,100 for a '98 auto with 90,000 - 110,000 clicks.

HSV VT (Series 2) Clubsport

Annual Depreciation Average 1999 Model - 7.8 - 9.1 percent (31.2 - 36.4 percent total)
  2000 Model - 2.3 - 7.8 percent (6.9 - 23.4 percent total)
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In contrast to the VT2 LS1 SS we've also sampled the HSV Clubsport from the same period. With sales starting in mid '99 and continuing until late '00 the Clubbie retailed for $55,200 with a 6-speed manual and $56,200 with an auto. The R8 version added around 5k.

Today, a '99 manual or auto Clubsport with about 80,000 - 90,000km typically costs $35,000 - $38,000, while '00s with less kilometres hover around $40,000 - $45,000. An R8 typically goes for around $38,000 to $50,000 depending if it's had an enthusiast owner that tucks the car into bed each night.

With an average annual depreciation of around 7 percent, the VT2 Clubbie is sliding at about the same rate as a contemporary SS. The absolute amount of money the HSV loses to depreciation is about 20 percent worse, however...

Ad Example - HSV 2000 VT R8 Only 42,000km, auto, log books, one owner, Phantom in colour, ABS, IRS, cruise, immaculate condition $44,990

According to Red Book, the average (private sale) value of a '99 HSV Clubsport manual is $32,700 - $37,600 while auto versions demand an extra $500-odd. The R8 upgrade adds a further $2000 to the tally. For Y2K Clubsports, the average price for a manual is $34,900 - $40,000, while the auto is $35,600 - $40,800. You want to go for the R8 package? Budget another $2000-odd. These figures are quite similar to ours, except for the high-end price of a Clubsport R8.

Toyota Soarer Twin-Turbo

Annual Depreciation Average 1991 Model - 10 - 13.3 percent (60 - 80 percent total over around 6 years)
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The 2.5-litre post-'91 Toyota Soarer twin-turbo is a truly awesome vehicle. If it had ever been officially sold in Australia its new price would have been well over $100,000. Thanks to Japanese-imports, though, Soarer TTs have been imported in numbers since about 1997. Many of these early examples were selling for $40,000 - $70,000.

Ad Example - LEXUS SOARER 1993 Pearl white, twin turbo, leather interior, 98,000km, excellent condition $19,000 negotiable

Today, there are usually quite a few Soarer TTs on the market at any given time. The cost of these cars varies hugely depending mainly on the condition of the body, interior and engine - and also whether or not the car has ever been involved in an accident. The absolute cheapest examples start from around $14,000 and there are usually quite a few at $15,000 - $16,000. Immaculate ones with full options fetch around $30,000 depending on year; note that post-'93 Soarers are quite rare in Australia, however.

The massive depreciation of Soarers can be linked to the huge numbers being imported into Australia. The value of these cars is rapidly falling in Japan, which - in turn - lowers the price of those examples that are newly imported.

No Red Book data is available for the Soarer.

Mercedes 500SL

Annual Depreciation Average 1990 Model - 5.6 percent (73 percent total)
  1992 Model - 6.3 percent (69 percent total)
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Released in May 1990 the WDB129 Mercedes 500SL was one of the most desirable 2-doors in the world. It's 235kW 5.0-litre and auto trans made this big luxury/sports car a real pleasure to drive. As you might imagine, it wasn't cheap at the time of release - the 500SL debuted at some $256,000. A 'small' $17,000 hike came with an update in '93.

You won't find one at your local cheapo car dealer, but - like the BMW 750iL - there's usually a handful of Merc 500SLs for sale at any given time. At the time of writing, the cheapest we found was $68,990 and the most expensive was a "low kilometre" '92 with AMG rims for $79,990.

Like we saw with the BMW 750iL, the Merc 500SL has got past its most rapid rate of depreciation and settled at around 5 - 6 percent annually. Overall, nearly three-quarters of the original value has been sacrificed - about 200k...

Ad Example - MERCEDES-BENZ 500SL 1991 Silver Coupe, auto, sun roof, pwr window, pwr steer, leather, airbag, cruise con, alloys, air con, ABS, come and get a piece of luxury $77,000

Prices listed in the Red Book match very closely with our findings. It is suggested that a '90 500SL typically sells for $62,400 - $73,900, a '91 adds up to $5300 and a '92 takes the tally to $71,400 - $83,400.

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