The most significant decision when deciding how best to start your van life is choosing the right van to convert. My husband and I test drove both a Ford Transit and a Ram Promaster, but we settled on the classic Sprinter van for its reliability, versatility, and a few key features. But, there is still quite a bit of variety within the Sprinter name.
So, which Sprinter van is best for conversion? Choosing the right Sprinter Van to convert is based on how many people you have and what layout you would like inside. A high roof Sprinter van is a must, as it allows people up to 6’ 4” to stand upright, compared to the standard roof. For one or two people, a Cargo Van with a 144” wheelbase is plenty. But, for three or more people, go with a 170” wheelbase Crew van.
Having gone through this process myself, I’ll walk you through the most popular Sprinters to convert, as well as all the different considerations to make when choosing which van is best for you.
The Different Sprinter Van Models Ideal for Conversion
Mercedez Benz offers quite an array of Sprinter Vans. From a small 1500 144” Standard Roof Sprinter to a beastly 3500XD 170” High Roof Sprinter with an Extended Wheelbase and four-wheel drive, there are numerous options to choose from.
You are most likely to see 1500 or 2500 144” High Roof Cargo Vans on the road. These supply a small space for most solo adventurers, but most couples can also be comfortable if they set some ground rules. The 2500 offers just a bit more load and pull weight, so it is a more popular choice if you know you’ll be towing something soon.
The next most likely van you’ll see traveling the road is the 2500 144” High Roof Crew Van. The Crew van offers more windows and seating for five if you leave the bench seats in. It comes in gas or diesel options, as well as in standard or four-wheel drive. A diesel 4×4 will be quite a bit more expensive, but for hitting the backcountry, it is the way to go.
My husband and I were planning on living out of Sprinter van full time before we got a job that offered us housing. As we were planning on using it for family adventures, we opted for a 2500 170” High Roof Crew Van. This allows us to seat five, have plenty of windows, and leaves us ample space for both our child and our dog.
While it does not have four-wheel drive, we have been able to ease it along plenty of sandy dirt roads to getaway.
Which Sprinter Van Can You Stand Up In?
After Mercedez Benz’s 2019 revamping of the Sprinter, we are left with only two options for height: the standard roof and the high roof. As most people who convert a van will live in it full time, it is vital to know which Sprinter Vans you can stand up in.
The standard roof will give users a 67.7-inch interior standing height. So, anyone over 5’ 7” will soon have an aching back from slouching. That’s why most vanlifers opt for the high roof option, with an interior standing height of 79.1 inches. This allows anyone 6’ 7” or under to stand up without an issue.
Some people, like full-time van lifer Brianna Madia, don’t think standing in your van is a necessity. If you choose to go with the standard roof, I would recommend a few things:
- Make sure you can still sit up comfortably in bed.
- Have an outdoor shaded space so you can stand outside your van whenever you’re parked.
- Consider a roof rack for extra storage.
It should be no surprise that as a van gets taller, the fuel economy goes down. Also, the higher the van, the higher the center of gravity. This makes a van more likely to tip over. Overall, Sprinter vans are incredibly stable, but for those who plan on packing the van to the max, you will need to take it easy on the topsy-turvey back roads.
Sprinter Van Length Options
Sprinter vans come in three different length options:
- 144” Wheelbase
- 170” Wheelbase
- 170” Extended Wheelbase
When considering your desired length, it is vital to figure out the size of your bed. Whether you will be sleeping parallel to the wall or parallel to the back doors will make a massive difference in how much space you need.
A Sprinter van has an interior width of about 70-inches; this makes it uncomfortable for anyone over 5’ 8” to sleep parallel to the back doors. If you’re shorter than that, you can get away with a small bed against the back. Anyone taller will need to make sure the van has room for the bed to be parallel to the wall.
While I prioritized having a permanent bed structure, many people choose to have a bed convert to a table, desk, couch, or something similar. This can help free up space during the day, although it makes it a bit more of a hassle to take naps. For one or two people, the 144” is plenty of van without going overboard.
If you find yourself needing more space and don’t mind taking turns a bit wider, the 170” wheelbase is enough room for anyone. The 144” wheelbase will have 262 cubic feet of cargo volume in a high roof crew van, while the 170” wheelbase gives you 360.8 cubic feet.
Wondering what you’d do with all that extra space? Here are a few things people like to build when they have a larger van:
- In-van shower
- Storage for biking, climbing, or skiing equipment
- Bunk Bed for kids
- Larger kitchen or table for entertaining guests
- Desk/Office for working while on the road
While very few need it, you can bump up to the 170” wheelbase extended. This incredibly long van can hold 532.6 cubic feet of cargo, but it is massive. It is over 24 feet long, making it too large for a few campgrounds and national parks. There is no way to be stealthy in a van this large, either. But, if you plan on fitting a family of five, then you can learn to live with these downsides in exchange for the extra room.
How Necessary is 4-Wheel Drive?
Four-wheel drive takes you deeper and further into nature than just about any other mode of transportation. It gives you more traction and power when tackling backroads and drives incredibly well. But, it adds around ten thousand dollars to the already expensive price tag.
Four-wheel drive has been available on most Sprinter vans since 2015. This makes them difficult to find used, upping the price that much more. If you do opt for a 4×4, you’ll most likely have to order one from the factory and wait up to a year for it to arrive.
A 2WD Sprinter van will do just fine on many bumpy roads and even when you’re hiding away on BLM land. If you plan on scaling some desert rocks in Utah or live in an incredibly snowy climate, it may be worth opting for a 4×4 Sprinter. For most, just make sure you know your vehicle’s limitations and take it easy on the bumps.
What to Look for in a Used Sprinter Van
Buying a Used Sprinter van is not too different than purchasing a regular car secondhand. The usual things you want to look for are:
- Low mileage – fewer miles means more miles for you.
- Scratches, dents, and other wear and tear – shows you how previous owners treated it.
- Number of owners – the fewer the better.
- Service records – these show if the owner changed the oil, rotated the tires, and got the necessary fluids and filters checked and replaced per Mercedez Bens’ recommendations.
- Tire Tread – new tires can get pricey, and reading the tread can give some insight into how hard the van was driven previously.
- Warranty – while Sprinter vans are known to drive for hundreds of thousands of miles, it is always nice to know your van is still covered under warranty.
- Fleet Vehicle – many sprinter vans were part of company fleets. This could mean many drivers used it, but it also may have regular maintenance records, which is a huge plus.
- If it’s built out – If doing the van conversion yourself is starting to feel overwhelming, look for a van that is already built out. While it will be much more expensive, you’ll be able to hit the open road immediately and enjoy more time outside.
Also read: 10 Best Sprinter Van Conversion Companies
If Money Were No Object – I Would Buy…
If I could have bought any van without thinking twice about a budget, we would have gotten a 3500XD High Roof 170” Wheelbase 4×4 Crew Van with the 6-cylinder Diesel Engine. But, the 2020 version of this van starts at $62,820.
This van provides ample room and power to charge through any backcountry adventure. The robust payload rating allows the driver to tow along toys like a motorcycle or canoe trailer. Besides, buying new will enable you to choose your color, which saves you from the vast array of large white Sprinter vans in the used market.
Buying new means that you can upfit your van with a heated windshield, mounting rails for a roof rack, leather interior, or a wood floor. Other safety features you can grab include a security alarm, backup alarm, and rear view camera. If you can afford it, building your own custom Sprinter van will give you every detail you could desire in a van. But, after the long wait, you still have to do the conversion to a camper van.
Related article: How Much Does a Sprinter Van Conversion Cost?
Can a Sprinter Van Fit in a Garage?
If you’re just planning on using your van occasionally to get away, you probably want to have it tucked away in the garage for safekeeping. A standard garage door is seven feet tall. The standard roof of a Sprinter Van is 96.3-inches, or just over 8 feet tall. So, no Sprinter van will fit in a standard garage.
However, RV-specific garages will fit any sprinter van. They typically are 12-feet tall, but there are a few that are only 10 feet tall. Either way, both will fit a Sprinter van inside.
What is the Most Fuel-Efficient Sprinter Van?
Fuel efficiency is difficult to pin down, especially on large, commercial vans where the EPA does not estimate fuel economy. But, the most fuel-efficient Sprinter van is the 144” Standard Roof 6-cylinder diesel van.
Diesel has long been known to get better gas mileage than regular gas, although it is a bit pricier at the bump. The downside of the more-efficient diesel is that you’ll need to keep up on DEF fluid and it is not found at every gas station.
If you’re concerned about fuel economy, remember that the higher the van, the more drag it will have. But, don’t get a shorter van if you don’t think it will be enough storage. A roof box will drag you down much more than merely buying a higher van would.
Final Thoughts on Choosing the Best Sprinter Van
Our 2014 170” Sprinter van has treated us well the past three years. We were able to get an amazing deal by patiently waiting and perusing online sales. When the right van came along, we bought plane tickets to Chicago and drove it home.
It turns out that our van was used in the NY International Auto Show, so it looked like it had every bell and whistle, although that turned out not to be entirely true. Regardless, we were able to get a fantastic deal because it was a year old but had never sold. Make a list of things that you need in a van and a list of things that would be nice. Take your time and wait for the right van for you.
Once it’s in your hands, enjoy building it out and looking forward to the miles of fun ahead of you.
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Lauren Nowack is a freelance writer and story maker living in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about the outdoors, mental health, and living a bit on the wild side. In her free time, she enjoys mountain biking, building out her Sprinter van, and finding a new trail to blaze with her family.
Great article for people who are getting started. Where did you find your van? You mentioned in Chicago so was it a dealer website? Where should I start looking? Dealer websites or custom kit sites?
Any of the good national automotive search engines like cargurus.com. Don’t forget to also search Freightliner vehicles which is the same as a Sprinter.