Used Mercedes-Benz Unimog: 14 things you should know
Our used buying guides normally give you Points to Look For, listing specific items that often fail or cause issues, as reported by those operating or repairing the vehicles. For Unimog, however, that doesn’t really help; quite apart from anything else there are so many possible variations, and such a huge age-range of vehicles still in regular use, we’d be here until Christmas.
The other problem is that Unimogs genuinely don’t break. As one operator told us:
“I had to do the hub seals on mine just last week, which was a pain. But then it is 36 years old, so I guess it wasn’t that unreasonable.”
With that in mind, instead we bring you our list of ‘Things you should know about Unimog’, also sourced from those with active experience and knowledge.
1. Alteration costs
Rygor’s Matt Cleave says it’s important to get the right fit when you buy a used vehicle, and our operators agree. “Buy one that meets your needs, don’t buy one then make it work for you,” was an oft-repeated line. It really isn’t cost effective to start trying to alter trucks to add equipment which wasn’t originally specced.
2. Used models
If you can’t wait for the perfect Unimog, and aren’t prepared to go new so you can spec from scratch, your next best option is to go for something previously working with one of the big contracting firms, for example Balfour Beatty, because they tend to order their vehicles to a very high spec with far more equipment included.
Check the nature of the work it has previously been involved with. Theoretically, Unimogs shouldn’t be parked up for long periods, because they are versatile enough to be used for different work depending on the season – it’s part of their core concept. In this country, however, they are still used for snow ploughing and gritting then parked up for six months, in which case corrosion from salt might well have occurred, no matter how carefully the truck was cleaned before being stood up.
4. Life span
Unimogs have a minimum 15- to 20-year life span, so it is by no means unreasonable to consider buying something from the 1990s with a view to working it commercially every day.
5. DPF servicing
The current generation of Euro-6 Unimogs first hit the road in 2015. It is vital to check that these trucks had a DPF service when it was due – late servicing could lead to other issues.
Rust is a big problem on older Unimogs, so always look for it. Our test vehicle had a fibre composite cab, but steel-cabbed vehicles are still available from new. An electro-plating process was introduced about 15 years ago, so after this point it is no longer a concern.
7. When older is better
All Unimogs have their own niche market, regardless of age. Many operators say that older trucks are better for the rougher environments such as forestry work, because there are fewer complex electrical components to suffer.
8. When newer is better
On the other hand, if you are sending your vehicles down the road for periods of time, for instance on motorway maintenance contracts or rail construction work, newer is better, not least because the extra circuits within the vehicle can be utilised to recover it. One fleet operator we spoke to has only had to physically retrieve one Unimog in 10 years as a result of this.
9. Water damage
Those circuits do eventually become prone to gremlins, however, thanks to a combination of their very sophistication and water ingress. High mobility UHE Unimogs are designed to wade through water up to 1.2m deep and will often have done so for many years, making it inevitable that seals will weep at some point.
10. Transmission system
Unimogs have unmatched ground clearance. This is achieved through the use of portal axles, which are effectively U-shaped. There is a transmission system within these axles, however, which operators advise inspecting closely before purchase.
11. Spare parts
Spare parts for the more usual running repairs – brakes, for example – can be “horrendously” expensive, but are still available off the shelf, even for Unimogs many decades old. Repairing these vehicles is definitely worthwhile, however, because they really do hold their value. One owner we spoke to was recently offered £35,500 for a Unimog he still runs on an M-suffix registration – that’s 1974!
Beware though, pre-2005 examples didn’t have prop-shafts, so if yours does break down it will need lifting – they can’t be put on suspended tow.
13. Hydraulic leaks
All our operators told us the things that break aren’t actually part of the vehicle themselves, but the items that have been attached. Hydraulic leaks are the biggest bugbear. Most of these manufacturers are German and include big names such as Mulag, Dücker, Werner and Aebi. Fear not, though – Mercedes maintains an online portal listing all these companies and which implements they make. It can be found at unimogpartner.com.
14. Nothing to match the Unimog
For all their complexity, all our operators were keen to emphasise that nothing else out there can do quite what a Unimog does. The latest JCB Fastrac has had a damn fine try but, we’re assured, still hasn’t quite matched the Unimog UGE it seeks to compete with – it can’t be used for motorway maintenance work, for example. Do your research, be prepared to be a little overwhelmed to start with and make sure whatever you buy has been inspected and serviced from top to bottom and you won’t go far wrong.