Sprinters are famous for lasting a long time. Their engines are extremely reliable, making them a great choice for a van conversion vehicle.
So, how long can a Mercedes Sprinter van’s engine really last? If you take good care of them with regular maintenance, Mercedes Sprinter vans can easily last for 300,000 miles or more. On the high end, it’s not unheard of for Sprinters to be going strong at 450,000+ miles.
After 150,000 miles, it’s likely that you’ll be looking at your first major repairs. So long as you listen to your vehicle and get any niggles checked out ASAP, then you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises.
Having said that, rust can be a major problem for Sprinter vans, largely because of a pretty small but pretty terrible design flaw. To find out more about taking care of your Sprinter and how to prevent water leaking in through the trim clips, make sure you read this article to the end…
Why Do Sprinter Vans Rust So Bad?
Mercedes Sprinters have got a reputation for rusting really bad. It isn’t just Sprinters, but all Mercedes vehicles from the 90s to 00s are known as being prone to rust.
This is supposedly due to a cost-cutting move by Mercedes, which badly affected the its reputation as a quality make of car. Apparently they started using fewer coats of paint and switching to water-based paints which offered little protection to the metal of the vehicle.
To be totally fair, the reputation of Sprinters as rust monsters has got a little bit blown out of proportion. Although the vans from the 90s to the 00s do indeed have problems with rust, so do many other vehicles of the same era.
No matter what year of Sprinter you decide to buy, I highly recommend that you treat it with an anti-rust solution yourself before building it out.
How To Prevent Your Van From Rusting
When my husband and I converted our own van, we completely stripped the interior and treated it with an anti-rust solution. We didn’t actually have any rust at this time, but we did it as a precautionary measure.
I highly recommend you do the same, as it will save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run. Rust spreads, so treat it even if it’s only a tiny patch.
If you can see rust, sand, and grind the affected area. Once the bare metal is exposed, apply an anti-rust solution followed by a primer and then finally the top coat of paint. If you are just doing this as a preventative measure, then you can sand down the interior of your vehicle and apply the anti-rust solution. Grinding isn’t necessary in this case.
Be very careful before buying a vehicle with visible rust, because it can be hard to see how extensive the problem is before you start sanding. If the rust is really bad, you might have to completely replace vehicle parts.
It can also affect the structural integrity of the van – no one wants to be able to see the highway through a hole in the floor!
We had a couple of light scratches on the outside of our van, so we also painted some anti-rust solution over the top of these to prevent any moisture entering the scratches and causing new rust to form.
We thought the solution would be transparent… and it almost was!
We have quite ugly yellowish patches where we painted the solution on the white exterior, so be careful with this! We don’t have the time or inclination to get the whole van repainted now, but you can always get some distracting decal stickers if something like this happens to you!
Drew and Brittany (liveforadvanture) are a California based couple who did their own 2004 Sprinter Conversion.
They have had some of the famous rust problems, but it’s not quite what you might think…
“As for rust we have definitely had our fair share. However, our van was once a Coca-Cola delivery van so the Soda did the most rust damage. We are always on the lookout for new rust spots that we can stop before they grow.”
Common Mercedes Sprinter Van Problems
There are plenty of great things about the Mercedes Sprinter. They are easy to drive, handle like a car, and have a decent gas mileage. There are also some common problems to consider.
As well as a tendency to rust, they are famous for their leaking trim parts. If you take a garden hose to your Sprinter, you will probably find that the plastic trim clips in the lower half of your wall panels let in some moisture.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, they look like round plastic circles running in a horizontal line inside the lower part of your walls. This can lead to mould as well as, you guessed it, even more rust!
One solution to this is to remove the clips, clean and dry the area, and then apply some caulk and reinsert the clips. Once dried, this can help waterproof your van.
Pete (@WhiteVanFamily) has not been put off by this issue. He lives and travels with his young family and 2 rescue dogs full time, and feels the Sprinter is perfect for the job.
“Sprinter vans are famous for their build quality! They have been known to go for well over 500,000 miles if serviced regularly!
We dreamed of a Sprinter but felt we’d end up with an Iveco due to our small budget! At the last minute a 2007 Sprinter with 160,000 miles at $3,800 appeared on a local selling page, we snapped it up!
Over the past 2 years, the only major repair has been the Clutch and flywheel! Most Sprinter vans of an age similar to ours have much more rust than ours due to the famous leaking trim parts on the van! Fortunately, ours had been sealed many years previous!”
Best Year For Sprinters?
If you are looking for a good deal, the 2004, 2005, and 2006 Sprinters are usually a reasonable price for their condition. The quality of the build is significantly higher from 2010 onwards, but so is the price.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Sprinters have become a very fashionable vehicle for van conversions in recent years. This is partly because they are good for the job, but it also means that you are paying a premium compared to other vans of a similar specification.
Related article: Why Are Vanlifers Choosing The Sprinter Camper Van?
Taking Care of Your Sprinter Van
Just like with any van, your Sprinter will last much longer if you properly maintain it.
Do you know those little warning lights that flash up on the dashboard sometimes? They aren’t just there to look pretty.
The sooner you get any problem checked out, the cheaper and easier a solution will be. It is better to drive your van to a garage by choice than be stuck on the roadside in the snow or burning heat, waiting for a tow.
As well as the more obvious warning lights, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Is my van making any new noises?
- Does the clutch feel sticky when I shift gears?
- How does the steering feel?
If you notice any changes, the sooner you book into the garage the better. You might not think you can afford the luxury, but the tighter your budget the more important it is to keep on top of these things and not end up with a wrecked engine and a scary bill.
How To Make Your Sprinter Van Last Longer
Get It Serviced
Take your van to a garage for a full service once a year, even if nothing seems to be wrong. At your service, things like spark plugs and filters should be changed.
Keep a log of all the work you have done on your Sprinter. This will help you to keep on top of repairs, and also make it much easier to sell in the future.
Get Regular Oil Changes
Oil is a really important part of a ‘healthy’ vehicle. It will stop components from getting overheated and keeps everything lubricated. If your oil is dirty, your Sprinter will have a less efficient mileage and your engine will not be well protected.
The oil can often get contaminated with water, which will make it thicker than it should be. This happens when the temperature changes from day to night and condensation builds up inside the engine. Heat, pressure, and oxygen also break down the oil over time.
Wondering how often should you change the oil in your Sprinter?
You should check in your vehicle handbook to see how often an oil change is recommended. Depending on the model, it might be suggested every 10,000 or every 20,000 miles. An oil change normally costs around $20-40, but it could be more or less depending on where you are and how good you are at negotiating.
Don’t Let It Get Thirsty!
Keep your fluids topped up. That includes oil, windscreen washing fluid, and engine cooler. There are many different specifications of engine oil and should use the same type every time. You can find out which your specific Sprinter will need by checking in the vehicle handbook.
Depending on the engine size and year of the Sprinter, the oil requirement will be different. If you have a Diesel Sprinter with A Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF), then you need to use a low SAPS oil.
SAPs stand for Sulphated Ash, Phosphorous, and Sulphur. If you don’t choose a low SAPs oil then the DPF can get blocked up.
If this happens, your van will not be as powerful. It will burn through fuel quickly, make it harder to start your van, and can damage the turbochargers and engine.
Avoid Excess Weight
I know a raw oak countertop might look really instagrammable, but it is also really heavy! The lighter your interior, the less pressure will be put on your van’s engine. Wood effect linoleum flooring or tile effect stickers can look great, and they are much lighter than the real thing.
Avoid Short Journeys
If you go for a Diesel sprinter, avoid taking short journeys. The DPD filter can get clogged up and need a replacement if you take regular short journeys. This can cost thousands of dollars. Normally the DPD filter should last for at least 100,000 miles.
If you take a couple of push bikes with you, you can cycle the short journeys to pick up your groceries and keep your van parked up.
Drive On Decent Roads
We all like the idea of driving over a dusty track to find the ultimate park up in the mountains. But there’s a catch. The more mountainous and uneven terrain you cover, the shorter your engine life will be. That doesn’t mean you should spend your whole vanlife driving on flat tarmac, but it does mean you should be sensible when exploring more challenging tracks.
Steep terrain will put more pressure on your vehicle, especially with the added weight of your build. Rougher roads will take a toll on your suspension and steering.
Take good care of your Sprinter van, and your Sprinter van will take good care of you! So long as you waterproof your trim clips, and treat for rust, you can expect your van to last you for many hundreds of thousands of miles.
Don’t ignore any weird sounds or smells, and you will have many years of adventures to enjoy in your Mercedes Sprinter Conversion!
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Rachel is a full-time traveller, living in her self converted Peugeot Boxer transit van with her partner. Powered by solar panels and a lot of love, she travels slowly around the most beautiful places of Europe. She spends her days hiking, wild-swimming and long boarding down the oceanfront. Her blog can be found at www.highlysensitivenomad.com