Used Mercedes-Benz Unimog: 14 things you should know

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Click here to view the full range of used Mercedes-Benz Unimogs we have in stock.

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.

3. Corrosion

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.

6. Rusting

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!

12. Prop-shafts

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.

Mercedes-Benz Unimog: used buying guide

mercedes-benz-unimog

Jump to: Finding the perfect vehicle, Parts prices, Road test, Vehicle specifications, Off road test, Finance options, Rygor Commercials.

Click here to view the full range of used Mercedes-Benz Unimogs we have in stock.

All Unimogs might look alike but each one is individual and, as CM found out, one Unimog can do the work of two vehicles.

The Mercedes-Benz Unimog is a unique concept. Designed in the 1940s and aimed at Germany’s struggling post-war agricultural sector, the original Universal MotorGerät was a truck and tractor hybrid aimed at enabling farmers to work more efficiently on and off-road. Today’s Unimog comes in two variants, the original UGE implement carrier and transport vehicle, and the more extreme UHE designed for disaster relief work and other activities where the ability to reach otherwise inaccessible areas is vital.

It’s the UGE CM is interested in, but any thoughts that we’ll be dealing with a single model are soon shattered when we arrive at Rygor Mercedes-Benz’s Westbury dealership. For a start, the man we’re meeting isn’t a used or new sales manager, he’s a specialist Unimog sales manager. Brought into the business last July, there’s nothing Matt Cleave can’t tell you about a vehicle he obviously adores, including that we need to forget everything we think we know about the buying and selling of used examples.

“To find a specific nearly-new used UGE would be quite tricky. You’d have to go very far afield to find the right one. Everything’s got to fit.” Matt Cleave, Unimog sales manager, Rygor Mercedes-Benz Westbury
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Finding the perfect vehicle

This is the thing with Unimogs. Put any two side by side and, to the untrained eye, they look pretty similar. In reality, each will have been very carefully specced to do a particular job, and the options list is bewildering. You can have front and rear engine PTOs, hydraulic systems and transmission PTOs. You can pump, you can mow, you can carry and deploy platform or boom lifts. You can grit and plough snow in winter, then switch implements and use the same truck to mow verges and clear drains in summer.

Crucially, though, you have to get the right kit fitted in the first place, because retro-fitting this stuff is not cost effective. Because of this, Cleave doesn’t look to sell used Unimogs, he looks for the right people instead. By the same token, he advises customers not to come looking for a new or used vehicle at all, but rather for the right vehicle.

“With the financing and contract lease hire available, it’s just as cost effective to buy new.” Matt Cleave, Unimog sales manager, Rygor Mercedes-Benz Westbury

However, if you can find the perfect fit, going used is still a sensible option. Our test vehicle is a 2017-plate ex-demonstrator, priced at £129,950. “From a dealer’s point of view it would have cost £160,000 to £170,000 new, so there is a saving, but they also hold their money well,” says Cleave.

The other thing to bear in mind is that Unimogs don’t just go on for years, they keep working for decades. “The oldest one for me recently was 2008,” says Cleave, “but there are plenty of independents out there selling older vehicles.”

He agrees that it’s by no means unusual or unreasonable for operators to buy trucks that are 20-plus years old with complete confidence, and it is still possible to buy genuine parts for them straight off the shelf.

Parts prices

  • Headlamp: £150 each (either side)
  • Oil filter: £15.20
  • Air filter: £141
  • Front bumper: £854
  • Rear mud wing: £132 each (either side)
  • Windscreen: £440
  • Turbo: £983

Many of the used Unimogs Cleave does sell are trucks originally bought through Rygor, and they often find new homes with companies in the same line of business. This is especially true in sectors such as construction which work to tender, and where vehicles are brought in to fulfil a specific role for a specific amount of time or contract – the dealer knows when to expect them back, and can plan in advance where they might potentially be resold.

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Road test

It’s a point of principle, however, that Cleave won’t sell on a vehicle that is almost right, it has to truly fit the bill. “I was trying to sell one just the other day but it just wasn’t quite right for the customer,” he says. “It got very close, but just didn’t tick that final box for him, so we pointed him to one with another used dealer instead.”

This illustrates the integrity fostered across Rygor as a whole: Unimog is not a numbers game for it.

Rygor’s new UGE demonstrator will arrive in March, so our test vehicle, a 2017 Unimog U530, is on the market now and shouldn’t hang around for long; three or four potential customers have already expressed an interest.

“If there were loads like this one, with a lot of agricultural spec on there – mechanical front and rear PTOs – they’d fly off the shelf, It’s ideal for contractors and farmers, for example.” Matt Cleave, Unimog sales manager, Rygor Mercedes-Benz Westbury

Boasting a 7.7-litre Euro-6 engine, giving us 299hp, and a fully-synchronised automatic gearbox with 8 forward and 6 reverse gears, this truck has a GVW of 12,700kg and a train weight of up to 16,500kg depending on what kind of trailer coupling is in use, though some Unimogs can go up to a full 40 tonnes.

Before we set off, Cleave gives us a quick guided tour of some of the truck’s toys. As well as those PTOs, optional equipment includes front- and rear-view camera systems, the latter mounted magnetically so it can easily be moved to the optimum position for the work being done, two-line trailer brakes with ABS, a load-sensing hydraulic system and a Central Tyre Inflation System which changes the pressures to suit the terrain via the dashboard computer.

It is also fitted with VarioPilot, which lets the operator switch from right – to left-hand drive and back again, ideal for roles such as motorway verge work, giving improved visibility for the task in hand regardless of which side of the truck it is carried out.

Vehicle specifications

  • Make/model: Mercedes-Benz Unimog U530
  • Engine: Bluetec 6 OM936, 7.7-litre,
  • Power: 299hp
  • Torque: 750Nm
  • Transmission: Fully synchronised auto, 8 forward and 6 reverse gears
  • Chassis: 3,350mm wheelbase 4x4, coil spring suspension with long spring travel
  • Tyres: Michelin XM47 445/70 R24
  • Fuel/AdBlue tank: 250/16 litres
  • Price: £129,950

This Unimog is fitted with Michelin XM47 agricultural tyres which, combined with the coil spring suspension, means our first few miles are an interesting ride. Chuck in all-wheel-drive and the illusion of instability means we’re distinctly nervous to begin with, but Cleave assures us this thing is a lot more sure-footed than it feels. The engine is mid-mounted and the centre of gravity low down, after all, it’s only the lightweight fibre-composite cab that is perched up high.

By the time we’ve crossed Westbury and hit the A36 Warminster bypass we’ve discovered that the secret to feeling comfortable in a Unimog is to treat it roughly. This thing goes best when you boot it, and it is surprisingly nippy, right up until the moment it tries to launch us through the windscreen because we’ve hit the other pedal. “Yeah, the brakes are a bit snatchy,” says Cleave. After that we take his advice and use the three-stage engine brake, something else that is far more effective than we expect.

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Off road test

Having finally calmed down, we chat about who is using these vehicles from a haulage perspective, and why.

It has long been a bone of contention among rural hauliers that farmers have been allowed to run down the road in fast tractors, undercutting the usual rates, all with no O-licence and no need to put their vehicles through any kind of roadworthiness testing. This changed early last year and now only vehicles that don’t travel more than 15 miles from their farm base can continue to operate under those terms. Sadly it’s not as comprehensive a solution as it sounds. “You’ll find the big farm companies have a farm in one place, then another 15 miles down the road and another 15 miles on again,” says Cleave, “so they can cover a huge area and still be in range from base.”

Where Unimog comes into its own is for produce like maize digestate, grain, potatoes and sugar beet haulage.

“Although it can be agriculturally registered, it can also be brought under a six-weekly inspection regime very easily if needs be. Plus, operators can potentially gain the benefits of speed and fuel savings.” Matt Cleave, Unimog sales manager, Rygor Mercedes-Benz Westbury

The real key is that one Unimog can do the work of two other vehicles, purely because it can go on- and off-road. “It can go into the field, load up, turn around in the mud where a conventional truck would just get stuck, then go back out on the road and do 56mph again.” No need for a tractor, no time wasted switching the load or trailer between vehicles, fewer man hours used and less capital outlay in the first place. It’s a compelling picture, and one that could give those rural hauliers a real foot in the door to fighting back, by enabling them to cover that crucial first element of the journey directly.

By this time we’re well on our way across Salisbury Plain, one of the biggest army training areas in the country, and surely the best place to take our Unimog off-road. We have a two-part mission in mind, the first on a muckaway back-fill site near the village of Chideock. Having been advised by the resident bulldozer driver which bits he doesn’t want us to plough up, we set out across what is best described as a large field of lightly raked mud, fully expecting to have to deploy both diff-locks, and possibly the cross-locks, within a very short space of time. We’re disappointed because we don’t need them, our UGE behaves for all the world like we’re romping about in a supermarket car park.

We try faster, we try slower, we try driving onto the really soft bits, stopping, slinging the steering round to full lock then flooring it, and the only reaction we get is one of Cleave’s best smug grins.

Finally, and with more than a little encouragement from our photographer, we drive up the side of a bank next to the entrance track and point the thing windscreen-first at the floor on the other side. Suffice to say we bottle it before the Unimog does, Cleave simply talks us calmly through what now seems like a truly dangerous idea, crooning “go on, it’ll be fine” as we shout various terrified expletives and wonder how the hell we haven’t put it on its side by now.

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The second half of our route is supposed to take us across the training area itself using various public green lanes and byways. However, a raft of red flags, warns that live firing by the army is in progress, so access is denied.

Not to be beaten we continue round the edge of the Plain until we finally find a track that appears to be open. The first clue that perhaps we aren’t supposed to be here is when an armoured personnel carrier roars past. The second is when it’s closely followed by a full-scale tank, complete with machine gun. Pointed at us.

Then the smoke bombs start going off, more tanks come rumbling into view and an entire platoon of fully camouflaged squaddies appears out of the bushes, at which point we decide to abandon this part of the test and head back to Rygor HQ for coffee. As we do so, we note that the Unimog handled so well we didn’t have to stop and think about how to drive it while traversing an unexpected war zone.

Without doubt, Unimog is great fun, but it’s also a very serious tool. As for buying used, be prepared to have an open mind and research what kind of vehicle you need very carefully indeed, because you might still be working it in 20 or more years time. Alternatively, talk to Cleave at Rygor, let him show you just what this thing can do.

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Finance options

Mercedes-Benz offers three finance options on all Unimogs sold through its dealerships, used and new.

  • Operating Lease: with this option you are only paying for the depreciation on the vehicle while it’s in your possession, plus interest, which means initial deposits are minimal and payments lower than with other finance methods. If you don’t exceeded your agreed maximum mileage, and the vehicle meets return standards, at the end of the period you simply hand it back.
  • Finance Lease: the vehicle is leased to you for a fixed period, and the initial rental payment stays the same for the life of the agreement. There is no option to buy the vehicle as part of this deal, but unlike an Operating Lease, a Finance Leased vehicle can appear as an asset on your balance sheet. There are no mileage limits, so at the end of the agreement you either hand the vehicle back or sell it to an independent third party and receive 95% of the net proceeds.
  • Hire Purchase: this lets you pay for the vehicle over an agreed period, with a balloon payment at the end. You then own the vehicle outright.

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    Rygor Commercials

    Rygor Commercials started life as a small family business in 1960, joining Mercedes-Benz as an agent in 1986. It now has 11 sites spread from Chilcompton in Somerset in the west to Heathrow in the east, and claims to be the UK’s largest commercial dealer group. Matt Cleave, Rygor’s Unimog sales manager, is based from home in Basingstoke, and mainly works between the Westbury and Heathrow sites, though he tries to visit all 11 on a regular basis. Unimog demonstrations and sales can be arranged anywhere across the southern region and as far north as Kidderminster and Nuneaton.

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