We've all heard the stories of the million mile Sprinter, and so we all expect that our Sprinters will run at least 500,000 miles. And they probably will too, if they're properly maintained. Here's a guide on how to take care of your Sprinter based on what I've learned the hard way.
Sprinter vans are not like other vehicles. You can't treat a Sprinter the way you treated your Subaru. If you want to own a Sprinter, you will have to take care of it. Get ready to learn more about how your vehicle works than you ever had to before.
Get an oil change every 5000 miles
The Sprinter owner's manual used to recommend you change the oil change every 5,000 miles, but it was recently changed to every 10,000 miles. My feeling is that Mercedes made this change in order to artifically lower the maintenance cost of the vehicle in an effort to entice fleet owners to buy Sprinters instead of Dodge RAM Promasters or Ford Transits. If you want your Sprinter to run for 500,000 miles, change the oil every 5,000 miles. I learned this the hard way and replaced my engine after only 175,000 miles.
Sprinter maintenance is expensive. Expect an oil change to cost between $200 and $300. This is a difficult pill to swallow for sedan owners who are used to a $30 oil change.
Always use Mobil 1 ESP oil. Mobil 1 is just the brand name, they make all kinds of oil including oil for Turbo Diesel engines. Ironically, this is NOT the oil you want for your Sprinter. Make sure your oil says ESP (Emissions System Protection) on the label. All modern Sprinters (since 2007) have a special emissions system called BlueTEC. The BlueTEC system was designed to meet the stringent EPA regulations on diesel emissions in the US. If you don't use ESP oil, soot will build up and damage your catalytic (SCR) and diesel particulate filter (DPF). These two components alone will cost around $4000 to replace.
Keep your DEF tank full
The BlueTEC emissions system uses Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), which has to be replenished frequently. Do not let your DEF light come on. EVER. If your DEF light comes on, your vehicel will produce emissions that do not conform to EPA regulations. To prevent this from happening, your vehicle will display a countdown on the digital display. When the countdown hits zero, the Sprinter's computer will prevent you from turning on the engine and you will have no choice but to tow the van to the nearest dealership. Even before this happens, you will likely notice a significant reduction in engine performance and the check engine light will probably come on.
If that wasn't enough of a reason to keep the DEF tank full, here's another. The DEF resevoir has a heating element in it which extends to the top of the tank. If the tank isn't always full, the heating element will be partially exposed to air and will corrode over time. This is a frequent repair on Sprinters and can be avoided by simply keeping the tank full. I keep a bottle of DEF in my van and top off the tank every time I fill up on diesel.
Highway driving is good for your van
The diesel particulate filter (DPF) is part of the BlueTEC emissions system. This component is welded into the vehicle and is not easily replaced. Over time the DPF builds up a layer of soot and needs to be cleaned. Fortunately the vehicle is able to do this by itself in a process called regeneration. The regen process essentially heats up the DPF and burns off any soot buildup. In order to do this, the engine has to be hot, which generally happens naturally as a consequence of long highway drives. If you drive your van around the town exclusively, your Sprinter won't trigger a regen and soot will build up in your DPF. Once the soot level reaches a certain level the vehicle's computer will disable the regeneration process as a safety precaution in case the DPF catches fire. A properly maintained DPF should last 200,000 miles. A replacement will cost around $2400.
Use only Diesel #2
Diesel #2 is ultra low sulfur diesel, which is the only kind of diesel you should use in your Sprinter. Be sure to check the pump before filling up, if it doesn't say #2, move on. Most gas stations like Mobil, Shell, and Chevron sell #2, but Love's truck stops often sell biodiesel. If you accidentally put biodiesel into your vehicle, use it up as quickly as possible and get an oil change within 2000 miles afterwards.
In the past it's been difficult to find diesel #2 in Mexico, but this has been changing in recent years. If you're going to spend a significant amount of time in Mexico (as I do), check online for gas stations that sell diesel #2 before crossing the border. Stick to mainstream gas stations like Pemex and avoid everything else.
Your Sprinter is a heavy vehicle, it's really easy to redline the engine when merging onto the highway. Over time this will damage the bearnings in your engine the same as any other vehicle. You don't want to replace your engine, trust me. Just relax and enjoy #vanlife. I try to keep my tachometer under 3000 RPM whenever possible.
Get a used Sprinter with low mileage
A brand new Sprinter will likely cost around $50,000. If you're going to get a used Sprinter, get one with low miles (less than 36k) and excellent service records. Make sure you know what you're getting or you could be signing up for a huge repair bill. I bought a 5 year old Sprinter with 115,000 miles on it and spent over $30,000 in repairs (including a new engine).
Find a mechanic who specializes in Sprinters
This is a hard one. Many Mercedes dealerships won't work on Sprinters, so finding a qualified mechanic is key. Ask around and read reviews. If you happen to live in Los Angeles, you're in luck. I highly recommend BM Auto (aka Fix My Sprinter).