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Old 01-03-2017, 11:57 PM   #1
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Hello - Where to Start

I am trying to decide which model van to choose. I would like something that is off road capable not necessarily a rock crawler but something that can handle back country dirt roads that are not regularly maintained.

I have to say I have been drawn to the standard height, 144 wheelbase Sprinter as I like its dimensions and layout. I am frustrated by the limitations of not having a locking differential and I do wonder what people's experiences have been regarding its durability in addition to off road capabilities.

In my conversations with Sportsmobile it sounds like the Fords are limited to select used models that are hard to come by. There is also the fiberglass body offering but a metal skin is a requirement of mine. So that leaves Chevy/GMC or Nissan. The Nissans are very well built and I get the impression they are reliable but the standard height is too short inside (I prefer not to have a pop up roof) and the tall height is much too tall for off road in my opinion. That is where the Standard height Sprinter offers an ideal interior height, you can not stand straight up but it comes close enough and keeps the vehicle height within reason.

So please point me to the correct Forum to get feedback and advice and certainly welcome any suggestions in response to this posting. Thanks....
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Old 01-04-2017, 03:06 AM   #2
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G'day & Welcome,

If you had unlimited money, I would go with the Ford E Series Cab Chassis with the rear fiberglass module. The fiberglass is lighter and far stronger & more resilient than steel. I have had many steel cars, but have had two English fiberglass cars, Lotus Esprit 1985 & 1990. Had a severe accident in the 1990 model, side on, woman went through red light and fiberglass bounces like rubber, saved my life, my door still opened & shut after impact, amazing!
Anyway, moving on, the Mercedes 4x4 Van has had some excellent rightups.
The big thing you need to think about is, are you going to tow and/or offroad tour, together with road travel from home to destination. If you want power, with high ground clearance, you need a Ford od Chev, new or used. If you want economy, reasonably good ground clearance, 4x4, then go with the Mercedes Van.
Then, you decide which floorplan. 50 plan, gives you the biggest bed option with forward facing sofa & seatbelts!
Just a few suggestions.
I love my completely rebuilt 08 Yellow Ford V8 diesel Van with Penthouse(so I have 2 bed options), propane
heating & indoor cooking, microwave, Magnum Pure Sine Wave Converter & Inverter with dual D4 House Batteries. Having the Penhouse, is like have a tent with a view & fresh air and the option to lock down and sleep inside, warmup with propane heater and sleep on huge
Sofa bed.
Another must for me is the Galley Box the Ford/Chev gives you with the barn doors to cook outside, sheltered by the awning with attachable insect screens to door openings.
Remember Sportsmobile will do partial fitouts to your budget. Do a factory tour. Meet up with other Forum members to see thier vans and layouts. Go to an Overland Expo Overland Expo 2 events, West & East or Northwest Overland Rally,
About the Northwest Overland Rally usually June.
Just some thoughts to ponder.
Cheers Doug
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Old 01-04-2017, 05:05 AM   #3
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If you had unlimited money...
Actually, a good place to start is by defining your general budget. That will be the best way to begin to narrow down your range of options.

I really liked the high roof diesel Sprinters, but for my budget they were way too expensive. Not the initial purchase, but maintenance costs. I have read in several forums of a number commercial users having to budget 10k/yr for maint & repair costs.
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Old 01-04-2017, 06:24 AM   #4
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Actually, a good place to start is by defining your general budget. That will be the best way to begin to narrow down your range of options.
E-rex is correct, knowing your budget is step one. If you have read my build thread you know I have a RB 144" 4x4 Sprinter and am very happy with it. That said, I went into it never planning to tow anything big and understanding the off-road limitations. So far it has taken us everywhere we have wanted to go and done so in fine style, no complaints here.

Suggest you better define your use case, then members here will be better able to advise you.

And FYI, the clearance inside a RB Sprinter with a PH in the down position and with the PH bed not in place is 5'-10", plenty of room for my 6'-0" height to move around and what has become our preferred configuration with just the two of us.
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Old 01-04-2017, 03:31 PM   #5
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Thanks for the thoughtful and helpful information.

Sheriffdoug - Your 2008 Ford Diesel sounds nice. Wish they still made them and with the latest 6.7 Powerstroke as well as a smog system that is far less troublesome and limits where you can travel outside the country. Of course re: smog DEF/DPM all new diesels are in the same boat, but I think I can live with that and understand the system well enough now to avoid problems. I am reading that ULSD is now available in more places in Mexico.

One requirement I have is a metal skin. I spend a lot of time in areas with serious thunderstorms and a tall fiberglass vehicle is not where you want to be. A steel skinned van without a PH, is about as safe as you can get, and I am very much looking forward to having something I can sleep through a storm in with no concerns. That leads to another issue and that is a Sprinter's capabilities in mud - rain = mud. I have read and seen some discouraging posts and videos of Sprinters rather easily getting stuck in mud. I am holding out hope that good tires and practiced driving technique can improve the odds of success. Still a locking differential and a better suspension that does not mess with the electronics are issues I think we all wish were addressed with Sprinters here in the US. Has anyone purchased a Sprinter overseas and brought it back into the US?

E-Rex yes budget is critical and I am still not certain what to believe. I am inclined to go new because I take good care of my vehicles and keep them for a long time. I like knowing what has happened to my vehicle and having confidence in the care that it has received. My current sense of expenses is that a new diesel regardless of wether or not it is a Ford/Chevy/Sprinter has the same maintenance risks. I do think these can be avoided with proper care and awareness of what to look out for before things become a significant problem. At risk of triggering a needless debate - I think the interval chosen to change your oil, oil filter, air filter, and fuel filter and DEF management are important. I believe the factory recommended 20K service interval is fine for church busses and golf course shuttle vans in a Southern California climate but otherwise is too long an interval and will shorten the life of your vehicle and increase the number of maintenance issues if you do not service your four season off road Sprinter camper van more frequently. I get the impression folks here on the Sportsmobile forum share first hand experience with the demands of off road driving and required maintenance. At any rate I very much welcome hearing what Sprinter owners have to say about their maintenance costs and practices.


Fritz - "I went into it never planning to tow anything big and understanding the off-road limitations. So far it has taken us everywhere we have wanted to go and done so in fine style, no complaints here." This is where I think I may be in the same camp as you are, although I am concerned that a Sprinter's capabilities may fall short. I have to reboot my system to mount an external drive with an image of a road that I think would be an acceptable high bar. Will follow up with that if I can find it.
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Old 01-04-2017, 03:42 PM   #6
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Anyway, moving on, the Mercedes 4x4 Van has had some excellent rightups.
I like the Mercedes 4 x 4 quite a bit. It's hard to make sense of all the rumors we hear, but I've read in the forums and heard as well some unfavorable things about them relative to reliability.

From what I've heard, it sounds like Quadvan has their conversion on the Transit dialed in and that the Transit may be more reliable.

If you are on a road trip and you have issues, I believe you need to find an authorized MB dealership to get the Sprinter serviced. That could end up being a challenge in some locations.
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Old 01-04-2017, 05:01 PM   #7
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...That leads to another issue and that is a Sprinter's capabilities in mud - rain = mud. I have read and seen some discouraging posts and videos of Sprinters rather easily getting stuck in mud. I am holding out hope that good tires and practiced driving technique can improve the odds of success.
Suggest you read Post #9, written by an experienced driver/owner. http://www.sportsmobileforum.com/for...ice-16758.html
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Old 01-04-2017, 05:56 PM   #8
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Fitz & Others,
We have had Mercedes Vans here for over 20 years. MB vans took over from F350 Cab Chassis built Ambulances here in Australia more than 15 years ago. The Ambulance service here Australia wide have 4x4 & 2WD MB diesel vans performing day in day out.
An Australian RV builder have also been building with german built 4x4 Right Hand Drive MB Vans for over 15 years called Trakka.
If you go to German web sites with Videos of MB Vans
in mud & snow performing amazingly well.
The MB diesel van in the thousands is the biggest selling Courier vehicle in Australia for over 10 years, hardly ever breaking down.
Cheers Doug
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Old 01-06-2017, 12:40 AM   #9
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Fitz & Others,
We have had Mercedes Vans here for over 20 years. MB vans took over from F350 Cab Chassis built Ambulances here in Australia more than 15 years ago. The Ambulance service here Australia wide have 4x4 & 2WD MB diesel vans performing day in day out.
An Australian RV builder have also been building with german built 4x4 Right Hand Drive MB Vans for over 15 years called Trakka.
If you go to German web sites with Videos of MB Vans
in mud & snow performing amazingly well.
The MB diesel van in the thousands is the biggest selling Courier vehicle in Australia for over 10 years, hardly ever breaking down.
Cheers Doug
"Hardly ever breaking down" - That is what I like to hear, but it also may indicate that Sprinters are more common and have much better support in Australia than here in the US to date. I do not know what configuration 4x4 Sprinters in Australia have. Are you able to order them with locking differentials? How is your aftermarket support, both independent and Mercedes Authorized? Australians definitely have some very nice rigs for off road adventures.

Fitz - Interested in what kind of mileage you have been getting. Thanks for the link - both for being considerate enough to post it and for providing exactly the kind of information I was looking for.
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Old 01-06-2017, 05:46 AM   #10
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I believe that Sprinters are likely well-built, with a greater potential lifespan than Ford and GM vans. In my initial research, I heard that parts costs were unusually high, averaging something like 5x that of more 'common' brands like Ford and GM. I would assume that labor costs are lofty at MB dealers. Would be curious if they are also pricey at Dodge or 'regular mechanics'. Was also reading that after something like 2008, emissions changes introduced problems that after 100k, became very difficult and quite expensive to troubleshoot. Not sure if that is a US-specific issue.

The more I read and chew and sketch it out, the more my plans for the Econoline are starting to gel and take shape. It will be a modest vehicle, (approx. 10-12k total cost, including vehicle, tax, mods, etc). I believe it should meet my (and She-Rex's) fundamental needs, with a set of compromises I can accept, that will keep costs in line. If my wife and I spend a lot of time out on the road and really embrace the gypsy lifestyle as we transition into retirement, I could easily envision planning our next vehicle (a few years out) with more amenities, including headroom. I would love to find that my initial readings on the Sprinter were wrong, but I have a few years to read, research and weigh out that case.

Of course, you are making that decision now. I would be curious how many here (espec in the US) have Sprinters. If there are some, it would be great to hear of their experiences in Maint and Repair. Would be most interesting to see how they compare with what I have read in other forums..
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