If you’re considering a Mercedes Sprinter for van life conversion, we’ll cover everything you need to know about why the Sprinter may be the best van for van life!
Mercedes Sprinter vans have become the new poster child for the van life movement. While Volkswagon ruled the 1960s and 1970s with the first wave of generation of van lifers, Mercedes has since come along and become the gold standard for what van life can be in the 2020s.
If you’re considering van life, particularly if you want to build out your own van, a DIY Sprinter van conversion offers all sorts of advantages. There’s a reason you see so many Sprinter van conversions on the road and on Instagram and Tik Tok.
Part of the reason is that the Mercedes Benz Sprinter van has been around a lot longer than most of its counterparts. But the other reason is that Mercedes Sprinter cargo vans simply make for great van conversions.
In fact, when we began dreaming about van life in 2016 before setting out on our big adventure we were inspired by the Mercedes Sprinter passenger van that we used to shuttle foster kids around in. We were amazed by the amount of living space the van offered and imagined how it could easily be our dream van (if only we had the skills and resources to do the van conversion ourselves!).
Six years later we’re still impressed with the idea of that the Mercedes Sprinter camper van may in fact be the best van for van life and we’ll break down all the reasons why, plus give you a few great examples of awesome van builds, below.
144” Wheelbase (STANDARD ROOF)
144” Wheelbase (HIGH ROOF)
170” Wheelbase (HIGH ROOF)
170” Wheelbase EXT (HIGH ROOF)
Interior Standing Room
Max Cargo Volume
319.1 Cu Ft
373.7 Cu Ft
486.5 Cu Ft
530 Cu Ft
Why A Sprinter Makes The Perfect Campervan Conversion
A Sprinter van conversion may not be for everyone. Here is our overview of what we found important and think you should know before you start looking for a good deal on a Sprinter van.
- Older used models available
- Very common in van life
- Lots of options are available
- Turbo V6 Diesel engine (torque and gas mileage – over 20 mpg)
- Rear-wheel drive with 4×4 options
- Ground clearance (8.5”)
- Dual rear wheel options (longer wheelbase)
- Spacious – high roof and long-length options
- Great towing capacity
- Expensive purchase price new
- Most repairs require Mercedes dealerships
- Maintenance and parts are expensive (dealers) – can’t even change your own oil
- Requires DEF
- Other sensitive engine computer issues (“start countdown”)
WHAT WE LIKE ABOUT THE MERCEDES SPRINTER
Aside from the brand association the name “Mercedes” has with high quality, there are quite a few reasons why you may want to consider Mercedes Sprinter vans for your van conversion.
Very Common in Van Life
While many people attracted to van life like to get off the beaten paths of life and go against the grain, there is a reason why the beaten path is so well tread. When it comes to the sheer number of Sprinter van conversions on the road, one might ask the question as to why.
Regardless of the specifics, the general answer is because Sprinter camper vans work out quite well for life on the road.
While actual statistics are hard to find, we’d say from experience that it is likely that at least one out of every three camper vans on the road are Sprinters. There are lots of resources for how to do a custom van build using a Sprinter and there is a big market for Sprinters – both new and used.
So while you may be one who likes to steer away from the crowds, when it comes to van life, a common Mercedes Benz Sprinter may make the best camper van for your adventurous lifestyle.
Lots of Used Models
A big reason there are so many Mercedes Sprinter vans on the road is because Mercedes has been making high-quality cargo and passenger vans for many years. This has created a vast secondary market where you can get a decent deal on an older-model Sprinter van if you don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a newer model.
If you are willing to take a chance on the mechanics of a used Sprinter van, there are lots of advantages to buying used. The biggest is the cost savings over buying new. But you may also end up with an older van that does not require DEF fluid or complicated repairs and maintenance.
Spacious High Roof and Long Wheelbase Options
Although the Ford Transit offers the highest stock roof, Mercedes comes in second with its 77″ standing room high roof option. This is almost a whole foot taller than its standard model.
There is also the option to choose between two different wheelbase lengths and the 170″ wheelbase also has an extended option offering even more space inside the van.
When it comes to overall spaciousness, the Sprinter van may be the perfect van for coming up with the best floor plan for all the things you want to fit inside.
Turbo V6 Diesel Engine
While some people may consider a diesel engine a disadvantage, Mercedes Benz has been perfecting this engine over many years. It offers more torque and power than its gasoline counterparts allowing you to take on challenging mountainous terrain without hesitation.
And with the Sprinter’s diesel engine you’ll also have better gas mileage. You can expect around 20 mpg – a full 3-4 mpg more than other vans on the market.
Rear Wheel Drive (with 4×4 options)
Unless you plan to spend a lot of time in snow or other wet terrain, rear wheel drive is an advantage for van life. With the Sprinter’s rear wheel drive, you will have more traction and better handling under most circumstances. This is because you are likely going to stuff your entire van full of all of the things you can possibly fit inside to make it feel like home.
And if, or should say when, you find yourself stuck in the sand on some beautiful beach in a remote part of the world, having rear wheel drive will be important when it comes to digging yourself out and/or using traction pads to get back on the road.
Of course, you can also go all-in on a 4×4 Sprinter option if you feel that you must have 4×4 out of the gate. Mercedes offers 4 wheel drive options – but expect to pay more for it.
8.5″ Ground Clearance
Of all of the van options out there, Sprinter vans have the highest ground clearance at 8.5″. While this doesnt seem like a lot, it is almost a third more than its top competitors and means the difference between a successful trip down a dirt road and one that ends either high-centered or with you turning around to find another road.
Dual Rear Wheel Options
Sprinter vans offer the option for dual rear wheels if you feel that you are going to custom build a palace inside your van. With a “dually” you will be able to carry more weight safely so you can add more appliances or build with more heavy-duty materials.
Duallys also double as get-out-of-sand-free cards because they offer more surface area and can provide more traction in sand or mud when needed (though note that you should not air down dually’s as you might otherwise do before driving on soft sand).
THINGS TO CONSIDER
With all of the advantages that Sprinter vans offer, you may be wondering why everyone isn’t buying and converting the Mercedes Benz classic. There are a few important things to consider before jumping on the Sprinter camper van band wagon. Here are the top things to consider before making your purchase.
Expensive Purchase Price
The biggest thing going against Sprinter vans is the upfront cost to purchase one. Sprinter vans are at the top of the chart when it comes to expense. Mercedes Benz has established itself as a high end brand and this extends to its cargo and passenger vans as well as sedans.
So if you want all of the great features the Sprinter van has to offer, expect to pay a pretty penny to get started.
Costly Repairs at Mercedes dealerships
Older Sprinter vans do not have all of the complicated parts that newer ones have. But as long as your van has the Mercedes logo on it, you can expect to pay more for maintenance and repairs. With newer Sprinter vans in particular you will be required to go to a Mercedes dealership for even the simplest task. If you are like us and you like to cut costs where you can, you need to know that it is not possible to change your own oil in a new Sprinter van.
And then when something breaks, or a preventative maintenance light turns on, be prepared to schedule an appointment at the nearest Mercedes dealership. This is a particular inconvenience for any full-time van lifers who may not always know where they will be from day to day.
We’ve heard horror stories from van lifers traveling in more remote places that have had to wait weeks for parts to arrive or, in some cases, qualified mechanics who can do the work on the vehicle itself.
And then there is the dreaded “start countdown.” If you encounter certain issue with your Sprinter van you may see the start countdown indicating how many more times you may start your vehicle before it will no longer start.
This is supposed to be a failsafe to prevent you from damaging the engine or other components. However, we know people who had basic issues – such as needing to add DEF fluid – that had to plan their route to the closest city based on the number of starts they had left just to add DEF fluid to their engine.
Require DEF Fluid and/or High Quality Diesel Fuel
Coinciding with the more costly maintenance and repairs is the fact that newer model Sprinter vans require DEF fluid and some now require ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel which may or may not be available where you intend to travel.
BEST SPRINTER VAN CONVERSIONS
Although there are many great Sprinter van conversion examples available on social media, we’ve managed to connect with a few of our favorites to tap into why they chose Sprinter camper vans for their dream van build. Be sure to check out these custom builds to get some more perspective and some great ideas before setting out on your DIY build!
Anthony & Sharon with The Bearded Van
Anthony and Sharon have a unique Sprinter van conversion in the fact that Anthony took two different Sprinter vans and combined them into one camper van capable not only of housing their entire lives inside the van, but also capable of pulling their boat.
Although this task is not for everyone, Anthony’s skills as a mechanic enabled him to see the value that each totaled Sprinter cargo van offered. So for $2,000 they aquired both vans and did their own conversion for under $40,000, including the cost of the vans.
OUR FINAL THOUGHTS
We like Mercedes Sprinters a lot. They are high-quality vans with a great track record and are capable of being relatively easily converted into the perfect van for van life. However, our dream is to drive from Alaska to Argentina along the Pan American Highway.
And to do this means that only older, used Sprinter models would be capable of making the trip. From simple preventative maintenance issues such as changing our own oil and having to find or carry DEF fluid with us to having to sort through major breakdowns or having the “start countdown” begin when we are miles away from the nearest dealership is a nightmare before we even begin.
This is not to mention that the higher up front costs for new Sprinters is a little beyond our means. And we’ve had our fair share of issues with older used RVs and vehicles as well.
If you plan to travel mostly in the US, Canada and Mexico and have a little extra money and time that you can set aside for the required dealership maintenance, then you can’t go wrong with a Sprinter van conversion.
Christopher Harvey is the founder and primary content creator for Called To Wander and Van Life Movement. He lives and travels full-time in his RV with his wife Lindsay and their two Australian Cattle Dogs. Passions include helping other people understand how to life a nomadic RV lifestyle and studying and planning an epic van build to drive the Pan American Highway in 2023.