Sprinter vans are sleek, functional, and efficient, making them one of the best options out there for camper van conversions. They are the poster van for #vanlife, but these beauties come with hefty price tags. In this article, we’ll explore the costs of buying and converting a Sprinter, and lay out exactly what you’ll get for your money if you decide to invest in one.
So, how much does a Sprinter van conversion cost? Depending on several factors, a Sprinter van conversion can cost you anywhere from $30,000 to upwards of $150,000. The cost is impacted by decisions like whether you buy a new or used van or one that’s already converted, which wheelbase and body style you choose, whether you do the conversion yourself or go through a company, and how many amenities you decide to include in your van.
Options For Buying a Sprinter Van
There are so many different configurations of Sprinter vans available, so let’s start by taking a look at your buying options.
Mercedes Sprinters vs. Dodge Sprinters vs. Freightliner Sprinters
Despite the different manufacturer names, these are all the exact same van. Mercedes-Benz is a German automobile company that is a part of Daimler AG. From 1998 to 2007, the company owned Chrysler (which owns Dodge), and Daimler still owns Freightliner currently.
Since 1964, the ‘Chicken Tax’ has imposed a 25% tariff on light trucks (among other things), ostensibly to give domestic automakers in the United States an advantage over foreign competitors.
This includes Sprinter vans, but Mercedes found a loophole: they built the vans in their German factory, then disassembled them, shipped the pieces to South Carolina, and had American workers reassemble the vehicles. This process resulted in “locally manufactured” vans, which were not subjected to the tariff.
Since Daimler owned Mercedes, Dodge, and Freightliner until 2007, these vans were then sold under all three names, although they were the exact same vehicle. Since they split with Chrysler/Dodge, the vans continued to be branded either Mercedes or Freightliner.
Finally, Mercedes-Benz broke ground in South Carolina in 2016 to build a $500 million factory to manufacture Mercedes Sprinters. This allows them to avoid the tariff and the extra labor associated with their loophole, and all Sprinters that are model-year 2019 or newer will be made right here in the United States.
Now that we’ve cleared up the naming confusion surrounding these vans, let’s break down your options as far as the available specs for Sprinters.
Gas vs. Diesel – Mercedes recently debuted a gas engine Sprinter, although they continue to offer the classic diesel engine as well. There are certainly some pros to a gas engine, like higher maximum speeds and faster acceleration, easy and fast engine starting even in cold weather, better fuel efficiency in stop-and-go traffic, and cheaper maintenance.
However, with a diesel engine, you can go longer between maintenance and repairs, you have more hauling power, better performance on long-distance trips, and a strong and dependable engine.
Depending on where you plan to take your Sprinter van conversion and how much weight you will be building into it, both of these options have important merits. But, if you choose to go for the gas engine, chances are you will have to buy it brand new since there won’t be many used ones on the market yet.
Body Style – Sprinter offers three types of 2019 van bodies that come with their own options. All of the options have an interior width of 70.1”.
The most popular for conversions is the Cargo Van, which starts at $33,790 and offers a blank canvas with four body options:
- 144” wheelbase standard ( 67.7” interior height and 132.9” interior length)
- 144” wheelbase high (79.1” interior height and 132.9” interior length)
- 170” wheelbase high (79.1” interior height and 173.6” interior length)
- 170” wheelbase extended high (79.1” interior height and 189.4” interior length)
The Cargo Van is available with a 4 cylinder gas engine, a 6 cylinder diesel engine, or a 6 cylinder diesel engine with 4×4. It also has five options for payload class.
The next option is the Passenger Van, which starts at $42,990 and comes in either a 12-passenger or 15-passenger option. Both sizes have an interior height of 75.5” and the same three engine choices as the Cargo Van but only two options for payload. The obvious downside to purchasing a Passenger Van is that you will need to remove all or most of the seats, which is more work and an unnecessary expense.
Finally, there is the Crew Van, starting at $41,290. It comes in two sizes:
- 144” wheelbase high (76.7” interior height and 103.5” interior length)
- 170” wheelbase high (76.7” interior height and 144.3” interior length)
This van style has the same three engine options and four options for payload.
Packages and Accessories – You can really deck out your Sprinter with customization options straight from the manufacturer if you so choose, with items like swivel seats, chrome grilles, exterior lighting, a sliding door on the driver’s side, a heated windshield, extra windows, and so on.
New vs. Used vs. Pre-Converted
As you can see from the base costs and the available features and options outlined above, you can easily spend anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 on a new custom Sprinter, and that’s not including the conversion. If you have a budget that allows for this, congratulations and I can’t wait to drool over your conversion!
However, if you are working with a more constrained budget, don’t despair. There are used non-converted Sprinters out there for as low as $20,000. You can also find pre-converted Sprinters for sale, as Sprinter conversion owners transition out of the vanlife phase of their lives.
If you want to get on the road immediately and don’t want to spend a ton of money, this is a great option. However, obviously the van won’t be customized to your exact needs in this case.
T1N vs. NCV3
This distinction only comes into play if you are looking at an older used Sprinter van, as the switch to the NCV3 model happened in 2007. 2002 to 2006 Sprinters were T1N models, which are I5 engines that only have EGR (exhaust gas circulation) rather than DPFs (diesel particulate filters) and DEFs (diesel exhaust fluid).
The NCV3 models have a v6 engine, which means there are more pieces of emissions equipment involved.
The pros and cons of each are mostly opinion-based, but the general consensus is that T1Ns get better gas mileage (unless you buy a brand new NCV3 Sprinter since they have improved the mileage capability), are easier to maintain, cheaper, and are better suited to flat ground, but are inferior in terms of paint quality (this is anecdotal but apparently a widespread opinion) and the level of road noise.
They are also slightly smaller and narrower than NCV3s.
On the other hand, NCV3s are quieter and have a smoother ride, a more powerful engine, a bigger sliding door and better cab layout, and they can handle hills and mountains better, but they have poorer fuel economy and require ultra-low-sulfur diesel (which can be an issue if you take your Sprinter to other countries).
What Are The Advantages of Sprinter Vans?
Now that I’ve given you sticker shock and overwhelmed you with options for buying a Sprinter van, let’s slow down and take a look at why these vans are so expensive and what you will get for your money if you choose to purchase one.
- Fuel-efficient, powerful, reliable engine – Depending on driving conditions and the model year and weight of your Sprinter, you can expect between 16-22 miles per gallon, which is very good for a camper. For reference, my 22-foot diesel school bus conversion (which is shorter than both the 170” wheelbase extended Sprinter AND the standard 170” wheelbase in terms of overall length) gets 10-12 miles per gallon. Sprinter engines also have tons of torque, which means they will respond and accelerate quickly and give you some serious passing power. In the bus, we regularly get passed by semis going uphill, but in a Sprinter you can zip right up steep mountain passes.
- Excellent handling and easy driving – Sprinters have an Adaptive ESP system, which means they handle much better than you would expect for such a tall, boxy vehicle. The system assists with cornering, acceleration, and braking with features like load adaptive control, rollover mitigation, under steering control, acceleration skid control, anti-skid braking, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. It feels more like driving a car than a cargo van.
- Swanky cockpit – Driving and riding in a Sprinter is as comfortable as riding in any modern car, since they come standard with comfortable adjustable seats, airbags, power locks and windows, cup holders, a stereo system, heat and air conditioning, and so forth. One of the biggest pitfalls of my bus (and most other bus conversions) is that we don’t have a passenger seat at all, so I usually ride on the couch about 10 feet behind my boyfriend as he drives, which makes long drives a little lonely.
- Tons of interior space – A Sprinter Cargo Van is the perfect blank canvas for you to design your camper however you want. The plethora of options means that you can have a sliding door on either side or even both sides, windows wherever you need them, and so on, allowing for basically unlimited interior layout options.
- Sprinters hold their value well – Since Sprinters are built to last, they don’t lose value very fast, and if you purchase one, it will be an asset for years to come even if you decide to eventually sell it.
- Lots of aftermarket and conversion options – Tons of companies make high-quality aftermarket parts and accessories for Sprinters, and increasingly there are companies producing conversion kits and offering factory conversions. Almost anything you could wish for in terms of accessories is already being produced for Sprinters.
Options For Converting a Sprinter Van
Unless you buy a pre-converted Sprinter, you’ve got two options for building it out: doing it yourself or hiring a company to do some or all of the work for you.
Doing it yourself is the more economical option, and I’ve heard of Sprinter van conversions that have been completed for as low as $5,000. This will take elbow grease and a lot of time, but if you have experience with construction (or can learn from YouTube), it will save you a ton of money.
One good way to keep costs down is to use salvaged or recycled materials – check your local woodworking shop for slab ends for your countertop, flooring shops for cheap or free remnants, etc. That fact that you only need a small amount of everything works to your advantage here.
If you choose to go with a conversion company to build out your Sprinter, be prepared to drop $50,000 to $100,000 on the conversion itself. You are paying not only for the materials and labor, but also the precision and quality of professional work. I’ve put together a list of some of the best Sprinter van conversion companies here.
In many states, it’s easier to insure a conversion if it’s done by a professional than if you do it yourself. Companies often guarantee their work as well, so if something goes wrong, you have someone to turn to for fixes.
Some companies require that you buy your Sprinter on your own first and drop it off to them for the conversion process, but some companies will sell you the van (often at a dealership discount rate) and convert it for you.
Additionally, if you want to do most of the work on your van yourself but are not confident with the electrical or plumbing aspects, some conversion companies offer partial conversions or consultations where they can help you safely through the process.
Sprinter-Specific Costs and Considerations
The main issue here is maintenance availability and cost. Sprinter vans have proprietary technology, which means that only Mercedes or (some) Freightliner shops can work on them.
Although hopefully your van will only need infrequent maintenance that can be planned in advance, if you do run into trouble in the middle of nowhere, you might have to get towed a significant (and expensive) distance to find a shop that can work on your van. In general, all maintenance and repairs will be more expensive for a Sprinter than for other types of vans.
I have also heard of some shops trying to get away with insane markups on their services for Sprinter owners. Know the costs of your basic maintenance services, or call around for second and third opinions before shelling out big bucks to avoid this “Sprinter tax.”
Josie’s Sprinter Van Conversion
(@vanlifeher) I talked with Josie about her Sprinter van conversion experience and she very generously shared some details about the process and the associated costs with me. She lives full-time in her beautiful green Sprinter with her dog Dewy in British Columbia, so her van is decked out for all-season functionality and comfort.
Josie bought her pre-owned 2018 Sprinter in early 2019 with the seats still in it for $100,000 CAD (about $75,000 USD). She opted to have Shelter Overland Van Co. in Victoria, BC (@shelterovc) convert the van for her after seeing the quality of their work and interacting with their friendly team.
Shelter OVC fitted out her van beautifully in just under 6 months, and the conversion costs totaled about $60,000 CAD ($45,000 USD).
Josie estimated that about $2,500 CAD ($1,900 USD) of the conversion cost went to fully insulating her van so she would be comfortable during the chilly British Columbia winters. Shelter OVC used R-18 insulation and custom cut each piece to fit perfectly into her van.
In terms of monthly costs associated with living in her van, Josie said that she spends around $300-$400 CAD ($225-$300 USD) on fuel costs and $350 CAD ($265 USD) on insurance. Since her van is still under warranty, she doesn’t have to worry about upkeep costs other than oil changes every 20,000-30,000 kilometers (12,500-18,600 miles), which cost about $400 CAD ($300 USD).
I asked Josie to share her advice and thoughts on the conversion process, and here’s what she had to say:
“Van conversions always cost way more than expected. I converted an Econoline with my dad before I owned this van and every little thing cost so much. You can do it for way cheaper than I did, absolutely. And what I have is over the top. I have everything I could imagine having in a van.
But I think it’s important to remember that no matter how much you paid for your van or conversion we’re all doing the same thing. There’s a ton of hate around company converted and expensive van builds in the community. Live your life, in your van, love it no matter what and don’t let anyone say that what’s perfect for you isn’t right!”
These are words to live by for sure. If you can afford to spend $150,000 on a van conversion, that’s awesome! If you can afford to spend $15,000 on a van conversion, that’s awesome too. There should be no guilt or shame cast in the vanlife community because as Josie aptly said, we’re all out there doing the exact same thing.
Resources for Converting Your Sprinter Van
I’ve made a list here of some pointers and guides that will be helpful in choosing and converting your Sprinter van.
Try Before You Buy
Thanks to companies like Outdoorsy, you can rent a Sprinter van conversion for a test trip before you buy and convert your own van. The company is like an Airbnb but for adventure vehicles, so you can rent a van and ask the owners questions about their conversion. This is a great way to try out different layouts, van sizes, and so on.
Many van conversion companies also offer rentals. They will generally have a few different models ranging from basic to more luxurious that you can choose from. This way you can test out the company’s offered amenities and the quality of their construction before you commit to spending tens of thousands of dollars on a conversion.
Where To Buy Your Van
If you plan to buy a new Sprinter, you can create your own dream van on the Mercedes website, but I recommend that you physically go to a dealership first to get a feel for all the van sizes, test drive one if possible, and explore the different trim packages and options available.
As I mentioned before, if you plan to have a company do your conversion, you may be able to get a discount by purchasing your van directly through them. Or, if the conversion company doesn’t sell vans, they may be able to refer you to dealerships they have worked with in the past and give you advice on what van specs to look for.
If you are shopping for used or pre-converted vans, check places like Craigslist and eBay, used car websites like CarFax or AutoTrader, and surplus and auction sites. Forums like The Sprinter Source can also be a good place to look, as well as Sprinter Facebook groups, like Sprinter Vans Unlimited or Instagram pages like @sprintercampervans.
If you are specifically looking for a Sportsmobile Sprinter, take a look at their forum classifieds page.
Some other Sprinter conversion companies also have classifieds page of vans that they have built that are being resold, so check the websites of companies in your area.
Layout and Building Resources
Since converting Sprinters is becoming increasingly popular, there are more and more resources available to help you through the process.
If you are looking for a one-stop-shop with everything you need to know about converting a Sprinter, check out Greg Keith’s 378-page e-book, Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook. This book has photos, step-by-step instructions, and all kinds of research condensed into one place.
There are also TONS of blog posts, YouTube videos, and free downloads with advice and tips on how to design your layout, like this post from Bearfoot Theory and this series of videos from Eamon and Bec.
The online forums and Facebook groups that list vans for sale can also be helpful if you have specific questions. Additionally, don’t hesitate to reach out to current Sprinter conversion owners on social media to ask questions or get advice – most vanlifers are happy to help and to discuss their own conversions!
Do I need a CDL or a special license to drive a Sprinter van?
Nope! Since you are driving it for your own personal use, you don’t need a special license. Some states require special licenses for driving RVs that weigh over 26,000 pounds, but Sprinter conversions won’t weigh anything close to that.
How much does it cost to live in a van for a year?
This depends on several factors obviously, but it can range anywhere from $5,000 per person per year to $20,000 or more per person per year. When building your annual budget, be sure to account for things like fuel, groceries, insurance, registration, van maintenance, cell phone bills, camping, and entertainment.
It’s also a good idea to build in a few thousand dollars extra to cover unexpected costs like repairs and other emergencies.
How much is a Mercedes Sportsmobile?
For a Sprinter that has been fully decked out by Sportsmobile, you’re looking at a price tag starting in the neighborhood of $100,000 for a “basic” conversion and going up from there based on finishes and amenities. Sportsmobile conveniently has price sheets for nearly every option they offer available on their website.
Keep in mind that tax, title, and license fees are not included in their price estimates. However, you will pay less for the van itself since you will be able to take advantage of Sportsmobile’s MSRP discount.
How high is a Sprinter van?
Sprinter Cargo Vans come with a standard interior height of 67.7” (just shy of 5’8”) or you can opt for high roof which has an interior height of 79.1” (just over 6’7”). The Passenger Van has an interior height of 75.5” (6’3.5”) and the Crew Van is 76.7” (just under 6’5”), although these two options are less frequently used for van conversions.
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