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Thread: Purchasing advice needed - Is the Sprinter for me?

  1. #1
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    Default Purchasing advice needed - Is the Sprinter for me?

    Hi,

    I've been lurking for a while and I'm a complete newbie, so bear with me. I find the idea of overlanding very compelling.

    I'm looking to purchase my first van to convert into a camper van. I'd like to convert it into a nice living area for one to two month long travel stints over the next decade. My main objective is to be able to explore North America. I'm Canadian, so I'd like to explore Northern Canada, but there's a lot to see in the US, too. After that, I'd eventually like to explore South America overland. My stretch goal is to ship the van to Europe and explore everything I can from there, starting with Western Europe. I'm also entertaining the idea of driving through parts of Africa, but that's a bit of a pipe dream.

    So, I have a few questions...
    Is the Mercedes Sprinter a suitable platform to do this? I'm currently considering the 144" WB high roof model, but I'm not sure which year. What attracts me to the Sprinter is that you see them everywhere in the world. They're certainly popular in Europe and when I travelled to Peru I saw a few of them. I think part availability will be better than any other van I can buy in North America. Am I correct in this assumption?

    I've read that the new sprinters (> 2006) can only run on ultra low sulfur diesel. This worries me because there are a lot of places in South America, Asia, and Africa that don't offer this type of fuel. Are there any work arounds for this restriction (eg. replace fuel filters more often)? What are the consequences of running high sulfur diesel in the Sprinter for any length of time?

    How important is it to have 4WD. The 2015 Sprinter has a AWD option, but I can purchase slightly older 2WD sprinters for significantly less. I have no experience overlanding, so I don't know how important it is to have. I can definetly see myself driving down fire and service roads, but I just don't know if I'll do anything too gnarly or if I'll even need the AWD.

    Thanks! If you guys have any other suggestions for vehicles, I'd appreciate them.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
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    Quote Originally Posted by cdelahousse View Post
    Hi,

    I've been lurking for a while and I'm a complete newbie, so bear with me. I find the idea of overlanding very compelling.

    I'm looking to purchase my first van to convert into a camper van. I'd like to convert it into a nice living area for one to two month long travel stints over the next decade. My main objective is to be able to explore North America. I'm Canadian, so I'd like to explore Northern Canada, but there's a lot to see in the US, too. After that, I'd eventually like to explore South America overland. My stretch goal is to ship the van to Europe and explore everything I can from there, starting with Western Europe. I'm also entertaining the idea of driving through parts of Africa, but that's a bit of a pipe dream.

    So, I have a few questions...
    Is the Mercedes Sprinter a suitable platform to do this? I'm currently considering the 144" WB high roof model, but I'm not sure which year. What attracts me to the Sprinter is that you see them everywhere in the world. They're certainly popular in Europe and when I travelled to Peru I saw a few of them. I think part availability will be better than any other van I can buy in North America. Am I correct in this assumption?

    I've read that the new sprinters (> 2006) can only run on ultra low sulfur diesel. This worries me because there are a lot of places in South America, Asia, and Africa that don't offer this type of fuel. Are there any work arounds for this restriction (eg. replace fuel filters more often)? What are the consequences of running high sulfur diesel in the Sprinter for any length of time?

    How important is it to have 4WD. The 2015 Sprinter has a AWD option, but I can purchase slightly older 2WD sprinters for significantly less. I have no experience overlanding, so I don't know how important it is to have. I can definetly see myself driving down fire and service roads, but I just don't know if I'll do anything too gnarly or if I'll even need the AWD.

    Thanks! If you guys have any other suggestions for vehicles, I'd appreciate them.
    We used the 4wd on our van just going to a Ski rental in Colorado last month. So its hard for me to imagine a journey such as the one you contemplate without 4wd.
    Dave

    '02 E-350 Chateau, V-10, 4" lift, 4.10 gears, limited slip on front, UJOR 4wd conversion.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    Portland, Oregon
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    At some point, you may want to increase your general knowledge with a search for existing threads with "Sprinter" in the titles. This fairly long thread:

    http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/94871

    has good basic information. (It doesn't help that there are about a million tiny Sprinter threads spread across ExPo.)

    You are correct that the worldwide Mercedes parts network makes it about the best modern van you can get for parts ordering. Recognize, though, that even the older NAFTA Sprinters have computerized systems that will fail in ways not easily dealt with by the village mechanic lacking the STAR diagnostic system, access to online diagnostics and the information to deal with CAN-based electrical systems. This is not a Sprinter issue; it affects all modern vehicles. I seem to recall an EarthRoamer XV-LT stuck in Mongolia for a good long while because there was no mechanic with the tools and experience to fix the problem. (I think they eventually flew in an Australian mechanic.)

    The lack of ULSD pretty much precludes worldwide travel in a 2007-present US-spec Sprinters. The Sprinter engine will run, but the emissions control systems will be damaged. The components will get fouled and the engine will eventually not run right. And, of course, running the Sprinter on higher-sulfur fuel will void the warranty. I have heard a couple people propose that they'll just remove all the emissions components and then never bring the truck back into the US, but my guess is that unless the truck's engine control module is reprogrammed in some mysterious way, you might end up in perpetual limp-home mode, but who knows? The only work around I know of for the ULSD problems would be to buy a vehicle in a country where the vans don't have the same strict emission controls and never register it in the US. (It shouldn't be too difficult, as over two million Sprinters are on the road across the world.)

    Before you decide if you have to have 4WD, you will need to decide how you propose to travel. it might pay to read the long thread of Doug Hackney's extensive travels through South America, as well as some additional guidebooks, but the point that is made by a lot of these travelers is that you will almost exclusively be traveling along the same roads used by locals and such roads are generally passable in 2WD the majority of the time. This is not relevant if you plan to set off into unknown areas, travel cross country, or are unwilling or unable to wait out bad weather. But if the vast majority of your miles will be on the roads where local people travel, you can see most of what you want to see in 2WD. Adding enough recovery equipment to unstick your Sprinter will make the situation even better. That's how my first Sprinter has managed for 10 years.

    Mike Hiscox

    2003/2014 Sprinter 2500 mid/tall custom conversion
    2012 Porsche Cayenne TT on all-terrains
    2008 Lexus GX470
    2008 Suzuki DR-Z400
    2006 Honda PS250 Big Ruckus Expedition Scooter


  4. #4
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    I think Hiscock has it exactly right on the 4WD issue. If you are prepared to wait for optimum conditions, and are prepared to deploy recovery gear, you can go most places with 2wd. You say you want to do "fire and service roads". If you will only drive them when dry, then 2wd should work most of the time. However, it only takes one little patch of snow, ice, or mud to stick a 2wd van on a dirt road, esp if the road is on a grade.

    My reference to my Colo. trip last month is a good example of the timing thing. We arrived in Nederland, Colo. at 10 PM, dead tired. Cabin was up a gnarly, muddy/frozen upgrade dirt road, approximately 1 mi. long. Wife d/n want to wait, wanted to get to cabin "Tonight". Up we go, in 2wd. 1/4 mi in, rear wheel loses all traction, and we come to a halt. 4wd lever into 4 Hi, and off we go, as if the van OWNED the road. Next day, sun comes out, road thaws and water runs off; my son drives it in his minivan, although he was afraid he had torn it up from bottoming.

    Would I have wanted to try to "recover" my vehicle at 11:00 pm on the icy black road? No. Could I have waited a day or 2 and made it on 2wd? Yes. So its your preference. I just view the 4wd as giving me a lot more options. Waiting 2 days for road conditions while kids want to ski would have probably gotten me lynched! :-D I owned the van 12 yrs before I put the 4wd on it. I had grown weary of constantly working around the fact that the van COULD get stuck in one bad little area of an otherwise passable road. What limitations are you willing to accept?
    Last edited by 350outrage; 04-05-2015 at 03:08 PM. Reason: punctuation
    Dave

    '02 E-350 Chateau, V-10, 4" lift, 4.10 gears, limited slip on front, UJOR 4wd conversion.

  5. #5
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    Talking Colorado Fun!

    Forgot to post my Pic! BTW, those new AWD Sprinters look really cool! Pricey though. . .real pricey. . .and assuming you can even get one. I hear there is a 6mo-one year waiting list. All svc and work through Mercedes stealership; mmmm...pricey.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by 350outrage; 04-05-2015 at 03:31 PM. Reason: ADD COMMENT
    Dave

    '02 E-350 Chateau, V-10, 4" lift, 4.10 gears, limited slip on front, UJOR 4wd conversion.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by 350outrage View Post
    Pricey though. . .real pricey. . .through Mercedes stealership; mmmm...pricey.
    Man I like your statement hope you don't mind if I use it once and a while. I like the budget travel wagon's and looking at your brute in the rear it looks as you prove it to be a great way to travel. I have many miles of travel in 2wd vehicle's, better fuel mileage, less repair bills, easier to handle, less weight. Adding a winch to your 2wd solves many issues, better tires and wheels are also items that will help, 4wd based on how one sees their travel needs.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for the kind comment, dar395.
    Dave

    '02 E-350 Chateau, V-10, 4" lift, 4.10 gears, limited slip on front, UJOR 4wd conversion.

  8. #8
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    Hi,
    I have been traveling in all the areas you mentioned including Africa. My comments:
    A diesel engine with DPF (that means any diesel after 2006 in the US and after 2010 in Europe) is not a good idea for extended travel in Latinamerika or Africa (except South Africa). Only in North America, South Africa and Europe you get low sulphur diesel. Other countries may follow. Sulphur in diesel will eventually block your DPF and the urea aditve you need in modern diesels is simply not available outside North America and Europe.
    I have a 4wd and it came in handy a few times. I could have made all my trips without it though by being more careful with the roads I take and maybe dig occasionally. Good ground clearance and the ability to drive very slowly on bad or steep roads are more important than 4wd. With sand ladders, tire chains for mud and snow and a good shovel I always got where I wanted before I got my 4wd.
    The Sprinter is available worldwide and would be a great choice if you take a pre 2007 model or avoid longer trips in areas without low sulphur diesel.
    Another choice would be the new Ford Transit with a gas engine. The Transit is sold in almost as many countries as the Sprinter and with a gas engine you have no fuel problems. The US model does not have 4wd though.I have been traveling with a European Transit with 4wd for the last 5 years in Africa, Europe and the Americas without any problems except for 2 worn out shocks and a few flat tires.
    If you want the luxury of 4wd get a pick up truck with a gas engine and put a flatbed and a pop up camper on it or have a coach builder build a box directly on the frame. Something similar to a U-Haul box would be a good base for a conversion.
    Regards Stefan
    Last edited by sg1; 04-06-2015 at 07:29 PM.

  9. #9
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    That was an excellent and helpful post, Stefan. Good to hear from someone with extensive experience. Thank you.
    Mike Hiscox

    2003/2014 Sprinter 2500 mid/tall custom conversion
    2012 Porsche Cayenne TT on all-terrains
    2008 Lexus GX470
    2008 Suzuki DR-Z400
    2006 Honda PS250 Big Ruckus Expedition Scooter


  10. #10
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    Apr 2015
    Location
    Canada
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    mhiscox, 350outrage and sg1, thank you SO much for your feedback. I believe the van for me is a <= 2006 Sprinter.

    I've been looking on Craigslist in the SF Bay area (where I'll be moving to very soon) and I see that 2006 Sprinters are posted fairly often with about 200k miles on them for 10 to 15 thousand dollars. I actually like the idea of an older van for a few reasons. I don't know much about trucks, so I won't be afraid to screw up any work on an older vehicle. I'd also feel pretty hesitant modifying a new rig without much experience.

    I'm really happy to hear your responses about the AWD situation. When I travel, I abhor schedules and being in a hurry, so I don't mind waiting out a storm. I do plan on doing back roads, safety is a priority with me.

    This is good progress. I am sure to post updates as I figure everything out and purchase the van. Mike, I've read your Sprinter's write up about 3 times so far. There is so much good information. I hope you don't mind if I borrow a few of your ideas.

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