A good crisis has a way of clearing the mind. In my case, it was the perfect storm of the Pandemic and a milestone birthday. When my work became 100 percent remote, I decided to replace my 2013 Ford Fusion with a fun car. My criteria was simple – a convertible grand tourer, something timeless with a naturally-aspirated V8, and room for four people. That led me to this 2000 Mercedes-Benz CLK 430.
The Fusion is a nice car, good looking, comfortable, reliable, with great gas mileage. But it’s an appliance. Now that my work commute is a short walk to my basement, I wanted a car that makes me get out and drive. In the three weeks I’ve owned my Mercedes-Benz CLK 430, I’ve taken every opportunity to put the top down and go somewhere. Date night with my wife, trips to the store, a family outing to look at Christmas lights, or just because it’s a sunny day.
There is something special about an old Mercedes-Benz convertible and this CLK 430 is no exception. It glides along, unruffled and indifferent to the road or speed. The hydraulic steering provides real feedback in a way electric steering can’t. The V-8 happily burbles along in the background, providing a syncopated beat to the sounds of the world at large. Or it thunders when you put your foot into it, gathering speed seamlessly until fear and common sense tell you to ease off the gas.
While not as fast as the AMG versions, the 4.3 liter version of the M113 engine is a gem. Smooth and reliable, this small, naturally aspirated V-8 stands out in an era of forced induction and hybrid powertrains. With single overhead-cams, three valves and two sparkplugs per cylinder, it puts out 275 hp. Less power than many of the four and six cylinders made today. But unlike those engines, it adds to the experience of driving, offering a joyful combination of mirth and self-assurance.
I could go on gushing about my car. The motoring press also spilled a lot of ink praising the CLK. But unless you want to see a lot of red ink from expensive repair bills, picking the right CLK is everything. With that in mind, let’s cover what to look for when buying a CLK, or any old Mercedes-Benz.
What to Look For
Our own forum provides a great resource of information on the CLK, which Mercedes-Benz built for two generations – the W208 from 1997 to 2003, and the W209 from 2004 to 2010. Both are solid cars, generally reliable and trouble free when properly maintained. The key is finding a car with a complete service history, where the owners followed the maintenance schedule. Fluid changes are critical. An older, well maintained higher mileage car is better than one with low mileage and no service records.
A pre-purchase inspection is equally important. This is also a great opportunity to find a good independent mechanic that knows Mercedes-Benz automobiles. If you’re mechanically inclined, buy a OBD2 scanner that can read and reset all of the Mercedes fault codes. Investigate the cause of any warning lights. A low or bad battery can trigger a variety of malfunction warnings which may need to be cleared for the car to run properly.
Another area to watch for is rust. In addition to rust around the fenders, check the sub-frame mounts and frame around the front and rear bumpers. Other things to watch for are smoke on startup or while driving. White smoke typically means coolant or head gasket issues. Blue smoke can be anything from worn valve guides to an engine in need of a rebuild. Check the coolant system to make sure it is functioning properly. Oil leaks are not unusual, but make sure they are not serious.
Other common issues are worn motor mounts, crankshaft position sensors, and throttle position sensors. A BAS/ESP warning light is another frequent fault code, indicating a problem with the brake assist / electronic stability system. This issue could be the result of a bad brake light switch, low battery, or something more serious like a wheel sensor or ABS module.
The W209 CLK tends to have many of the same issues as the W208, except rust seems to be less of a problem. The biggest thing to check is the 5.5 liter V-8. On the 2007 and newer cars it developed a bad reputation for camshaft gear or idler gear issues. Mercedes-Benz resolved most of these issues by 2009, but make sure your engine gets a clean bill of health during the PPI.
Choosing a car comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer the more traditional styling of the W208. Others like the W209 with its sleeker styling. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong. Both generations of the CLK are distinctive and timeless. More importantly, they are a pleasure to drive.