Sprinter Conversion

When I was 16 years old I worked for a bicycle shop in Rochester NY. It was an amazing job and afforded me many opportunities. One of those was my first exposure to the Mercedes Benz Sprinter vans. I was impressed with how well it handled, it’s size, and impressive gas mileage. Admittedly, my teenage self was also quite infatuated with the purr of the diesel engines. One day in passing, my boss mentioned people turning them into campers. 10 years later… I got my own.

Searching

Searching for the right Sprinter was a lengthy process. I had been lurking on forums and Craigslist for over a year, watching prices and learning what to look for. I knew I wanted a pre-2007 Sprinter so that I could avoid the new “Blue-Tec” system that is apparently fraught with expensive repair issues. I also wanted something with no evidence of “black death” of the fuel injectors, no trouble codes and ideally no rust. Mileage wasn’t as big a concern as long as these other criteria could be met.

I spent over two months “seriously” searching. I checked several forums, Craigslist and even eBay on a daily basis. I found one I liked out in Philadelphia, a 2006 with ~150k and right around $9000. I was unable to make a trip out there so I had a mechanic I found do a pre-purchase inspection to the tune of about $200. I’m so glad I did. The Sprinter looked extremely clean in the photos but had no less than 5 trouble codes! It needed glow plugs, GP relay module, a new turbo hose system and much more. PASS.

I continued my search, traveling to Ohio to look at two “ready to go” models at dealers out there. The first dealer promised a clean van with no known issues. The short list of problems I found: No exhaust system. Wouldn’t start. Glow plugs. GP relay. Rear door wouldn’t open. PASS. I moved on to another one in the area, a long wheelbase 2006. Started up just fine- drove great. Ran some codes and found it had several problems coming down the line. PASS.

I drove home discouraged after a long day on the road. I hopped on Craigslist that night and to my surprise found one just 20 minutes from my house. Called the guy and told him I’d be there first thing the next morning. I arrived to find a 2006 140″ wheelbase Sprinter with 214,000 miles and NO check engine codes. Took it for a test drive, checked for “black death”, BOUGHT IT. I paid $7250 for the van.

The day I found my van

Carmen VanDiego

As mentioned, my Sprinter is a 2006 Dodge (Mercedes Benz) 2500 140″ wheelbase. When I bought it in December of 2016 it had 214,000 miles on it. A CarFax report showed two previous owners who used it commercially. The first owner put the majority of the miles on it, owning it for 6 years. The guy I bought it from put about 4,000 miles on it in 4 years of using it as the primary van for his IT business. He had recently put a lot of money into expensive EGR repairs and while it was in the shop had to buy a replacement. The van was repaired and currently had no issues (that I could see).

Initial Repairs/Upgrades

Work on the van started immediately. As in immediately, I mean on the drive home from buying it. While cruising down the road I noticed a loss of turbo power, and the van went into “limp home mode”- refusing to go over 40mph. The dreaded CEL went on. I ran the codes and got an error for low turbo boost pressure. Some quick googling led me to the cause, the turbo resonator. These are cheap plastic “tea-pots” that are known to fail with alarming frequency. Time was important so I didn’t want to wait for the cancel-kit to ship out. I purchased the “upgraded” OEM part at the Dodge Dealer for $85 and installed it myself in about 2hrs. I was also noticing a dash light for “HI OIL” so I used a syringe and some oxygen tubing to remove about 500cc of oil. Some new tires for about $1000, and an oil change I performed myself for $85 brought the van up to par.

 

Maintenance I’ve performed
(As of 12/2017, 1 year and  25,400 miles of ownership)

$85             214,000          Turbo Resonator. OEM replacement. Done by me.
$1000       214,000          New tires. Firestone TransForce AT.
$240          217,139          Installed block heater with coolant flush. Dodge dealer.
$45             222,000          Engine and cabin air filters. Done by me.
$85             222,681          Oil/filter change. Mobil 1 European, full synthetic. Done by me.
$100          229,700          Transmission fluid and filter. Done by me.
$150          231,108          Front brake pads/rotors. Done by me.
$60             231,197          Oil/filter change. Mobil 1 European, full synthetic. Done by me.
$70             238,957          Turbo Resonator. AGAIN. Aluminum cancel kit, done by me.

RUNNING TOTAL: $1835 over about 25,000 miles. About 8 cents a mile.