10 things to do before buying a sprinter 

sandy the sprinter

You’re excited, you’ve decided that van life is going to happen. This was us around 3 months ago and we’d decided a sprinter was the van for us. Its was just a case of finding a van, easy right!? Far from it we were very particular which didn’t speed up the process but meant we ended up getting an amazing van.

I want to share with you are 10 checkpoints we followed before buying our sprinter.

1) Know the weaknesses of the vans by year

Not all sprinters are equal there have been 3 major iterations.

1996 sprinterThe original 1995-2006

The model which gave sprinters their reputation as fast, workhorses who could handle half a million miles when well looked after.

Core weakness: None

2006 sprinter2006 model (curved front) 2006-2014

An update all round with better electronics and a wide range of engine models 5 in total between 90horse power and 180.

Core weakness: Rusting & underpowered engines 88 and 109bhp leave a little wanting


2014 model (angular front)

A further iteration which introduced DPF, driving assistance with hillstart assist and crosswind assist, better corrosion resistance

Core weakness: DPF filter issues

2) Check thoroughly for rust

Sprinters have a bad reputation for rust, arguable a lot of this can be down to treatment. Used by couriers and delivery companies many are scratched, left wide open for long periods in heavy rain and can be repaired infrequently. Check under the vehicle first, many sprinters will have holes drilled through the floor for lining or lifting equipment you’ll want to check these.

Check the suspension, on the wishbone and the shocks and get to know the difference between surface rust and core rust. Move up along the driveshaft until you get to the exhaust and then check under the engine.

rust exampleAs you’re going to be converting the van the rust on the inside of the van is very important. There is a seam just below where the panels where joined on the roof of the van. You need to look up and down this seam as it’s a common area for leaks to occur. Check around and under the doors as they may have been dented and slamming into things.

If you ever find rust that’s gone untreated it needs to be avoided.

3) Check the exhaust fumes

If your van has a DPF filter you’ll want to do this under load and on start up. Black smoke on start up is a sign that you should avoid, black smoke under load while travelling up a hill is also a cause for concern that the engine may have oil thirst or be injecting incorrectly.

If the engine has a DPF filter and you see any white smoke it’s a sign the filter needs either a clean or replacement. This is between a £300 or £1500 issue.

4) Run an engine diagnostic

For £10 on amazon you can buy an diesel engine diagnostic tool. This will work on diesel engines from 1996. After your test drive plug this in and run the diagnostic. The ideal result is that no codes pops up on screen which tells you that everything within the engine is running as it should be!

5) Check the service history & MOT status

Sprinters are used a lot by couriers and are put on contractual service agreements. You rarely find sprinters that are taken every year for a service at the local garage. If it’s an ex contract vehicle check back through all the work done on the van. Check for major services around the 30,000 and 50,000 mile mark. Newer Mercedes have “service assyst” which manages service intervals based on usage. If oil is changed in the engine check that a new filter was added. Often companies will skimp on filters and if this is the case the oil will go on to damage your DPF (if it’s fitted) which is far more costly down the line than a oil filter.

If you can’t find any service history then it’s going to de-value the re-sale value of your van so proceed with caution and ask many many questions.

6) Check all the doors

As sprinters age they can be subject to warping, it’s also a good opportunity to review if there have been any replacements. Doors should be flush and close well not leaving any gaps open to the environment. These drafts will mean you’ll find it a lot hard to keep cool in the winter and will constantly have to stuff them with filler.

7) Clutch & Gearbox

Perhaps the biggest difference between a car and van is the feel of the clutch and gearbox. The clutch as a car should bite towards the top of the movement. Changing gears is often heavier and requires more force than on a car. Check that there is no loud clunking on gear changes, and be sure the downshift into a gear to listen for a high pitch whine.

8) Breaking test

Perform a hard breaking test during your test drive to see if the van veers from left to right under breaking. You need to check the abs comes on and breaking happens in a straight line.

9) Suspension test

You need to check that because of the historic uneven loads in the vehicle the suspension hasn’t been damaged beyond the point of no return. Check the height of the body under each suspension, they should be even! Bounce on the corners of the wheelbase and check to see that the suspension rocks you back to the original position and doesn’t progressively move you to the start point.

10) Steering

Often with heavy loads in the rear you’ll find that the steering can start to have play in it. This is due to wear on the front two ball sockets. What you need to check for is whether or not this affects both ball sockets or just the one.

I hope these tips help you when it comes to you buying your van.

If you’d like to check out Sandy here she is and we’ll be videoing the conversion process!

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