The Mercedes Sprinter Van
- Powerful 3.0-liter V6 turbocharged diesel engine capable of 22 mpg
- Iconic looks and style
- Excellent drivers cabin with modern features like lane-assist and adaptive cruise control
- Optional 144”, 170”, & 170” Ext Length Chassis
- Optional 4×4 (AWD from 2023)
- Prices starting at $49,900 (Pricing Link)
- Expensive to Buy
- Diesel Def System
- Expensive to Repair
- Parts Ship from Overseas
- Not Stealthy
- Difficult/Expensive to Find Used
The Ford Transit Van
The Ford Transit may not have the same level of hype as the legendary Sprinter van, but its 2015 arrival to the North American market was well received by van lifers in search of a cheaper alternative to the Sprinter. The Transit, which came as an update to the Ford E-Series, stands out due to its cheaper price point and versatile options. Many van lifers, when faced with the choice between the Sprinter and Transit, are surprised to learn they like the Transit more.
“The Sprinter van is much better off-road but we prefer the Transit everywhere else” – Darien Overland
- Surprisingly quick 3.5-liter powered EcoBoost V6 engine with 310 horsepower & 400 lb-ft of torque
- Optional AWD (or rear-wheel drive)
- Comfortable powered/heated seats
- Modern infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, and driver assist features
- Industry leading 6’ 8” standing interior height (high roof model*)
- Prices starting at $44,455 (link)
- Less Expensive
- Cheaper/Easier Maintenance
- 6’8″ Ceiling Height
- Quick, Powerful Engine
- Comfortable to Drive
- Great View From Cab
- Subpar Gas Mileage
- Low Ground Clearance
- Super High Exterior
- No 4×4
- Lower Grade Interior
The Ram Promaster Van
- Excellent turning radius and handling
- Square, wide interior
- Low floor
- Inexpensive Repairs
- Prices starting at $42,365 (link)
- Wide/Square Interior
- Short Exterior Height
- Cheap/Easy Repairs & Maintenance
- Excellent Turning Radius
- No 4×4 or AWD Option
- Small Front Side Windows
- Cheaper Parts
- Less Comfortable Seats
- Low Ground Clearance
- Fewer Aftermarket Parts
COMPARING THE THREE CAMPER VANS
Engine & Drivetrain
Comfort & Drive-Ability
The Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster, all feature modern infotainment systems with Apple CarPlay and navigation. The latest iteration of the Sprinter van features an optional 10.25” screen, while the Transit features an optional 12-inch and the ProMaster, an optional 10-inch.
Unsurprisingly, the Sprinter feels the most luxurious of the three vans, but the Transit and ProMaster aren’t far behind, thanks to their newly updated interiors.
The Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster are all designed to withstand daily commercial use. With proper maintenance, the Transit and ProMaster can last up to 200,000 miles (with many owners claiming up to 250,000 miles), and the Sprinter can last up to 300,000. Each manufacturer offers an industry-standard 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty, and a 5-year, 60,000-mile (or 100,000-mile) powertrain warranty.
Mercedes Sprinter:Mercedes classifies its maintenance services by type ‘A’ & ‘B’. Service ‘A’ represents standard maintenance and encompasses basic maintenance checks of fluid, filters, and sensors. The average service ‘A’ cost, as reported by several Mercedes dealers, is between $350 and $700 per visit. Mercedes recommends service ‘A’ checkups at 10K, 30K, 50K, 70K, 90k, 110k, 130k, 150k, 170k, and 190k, meaning the total lifetime vehicle maintenance cost for service ‘A’ fulfilled by Mercedes dealers would fall between $3,500 & $7,000.
Ford Transit:Regular Service: Ford recommends similar maintenance over the lifetime ownership of a Transit. At mile 10k, 30k, 60k, 90k, 120k, 140k, and 160k, Ford recommends servicing the brakes, the cooling system, tires, steering components, etc. The average cost to service a Ford is unsurprisingly much cheaper than Mercedes, with regular maintenance averaging $100 to $150 per visit. In total, basic maintenance is estimated at $700 & $1,050. For more in-depth service checks, which involve inspecting and potentially replacing transmission, brake, and engine coolant, average costs are between $450 & $550 and are recommended at 100k, 150k, 180K, and 200k. In total, in-depth services are estimated to cost between $1,800 & $2,200. In total, the estimated cost for all basic and in-depth services over 200,000 miles would be between $2,500 & $3,250.
Ram Promaster:Regular Service: Ram recommends basic and in-depth services based on mileage. Basic maintenance is recommended at 10k, 30k, 40k, 50k, 70k, 80k, 90k, 110k, 130k, and 140k and averages $150 bringing the total estimated cost over 200k to $1,500. In-depth maintenance checks are recommended at 20k, 60k, 100k, 120k, and 150k and average $700, bringing the estimated total to $3,500. In total, the estimated cost for all recommended basic and in-depth services over 200,000 miles would be $5,000.
Reported IssuesIt’s not all positive with the Sprinter, Transit, & ProMaster. Users report the following list of issues over the lifetime ownership of the vehicle and apply to multiple iterations of each vehicle, so the severity of any given issue may differ depending on the year of the vehicle.
- Def Problems: It’s not uncommon for people to experience problems with the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) system on the Mercedes Sprinter van, such as DEF pump failures, DEF sensor malfunctions, or DEF system contamination, leading to warning lights, reduced engine power, and emission-related issues.
- Glow Plug Issues: Another common issue Sprinter van owners experience are issues with the glow plugs, resulting in difficulties with cold-starting the engine, prolonged cranking times, and potential engine misfires.
- Clogged DPF filter: Clogged DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) filters are a common issue in the Mercedes Sprinter van, causing reduced engine power, increased fuel consumption, and potential warning lights due to restricted exhaust flow and the accumulation of soot and particulate matter.
- Torque converter: Issues with the torque converter in the Mercedes Sprinter van can lead to transmission slipping, overheating, delayed or harsh shifting, and reduced overall performance.
- Injector Issues: Injector issues in the Mercedes Sprinter van can result in fuel delivery problems, leading to rough engine performance, reduced power, potential engine misfires, and the need for inspection and repair.
- Water Leak Issue: A prominent water leak caused by a poor windshield design has caused a lot of issues with water penetrating the cab of the Transit van.
- Throttle Body: The throttle body on earlier Ford Transit vans prematurely wears out, leading to rough idling, poor acceleration, and reduced engine performance and economy.
- U-Joint: Earlier versions of the Transit van featuring a Guibo coupling were recalled because of premature wear that caused vibration.
- Door latches: Door latch issues are common on the Ram ProMaster and can result in doors not staying shut or not opening.
- Headlights: Numerous ProMaster owners report faulty headlights, which necessitate early replacements.
- Parking Brake: The parking brake of the ProMaster is notoriously problematic not only for its effectiveness but location. Owners report difficulty getting the brake unstuck after use and complain that its location is problematic when getting in and out of the vehicle.
- Brake Noise: Squeaky brakes are commonly reported by ProMaster owners.
- Blind Spot Monitoring System: The software associated with the ProMasters blind-spot monitoring system commonly has errors that result in the system disabling itself without user input.
- Limited Availability: Due to their popularity, Sprinter vans are in high demand, making them difficult to find, especially in 4×4.
- Higher Upfront Cost: The Sprinter van is not cheap. If you’re on a tight budget for your conversion, the up-front cost of the Sprinter might be a challenge.
- Repair Expenses: Mercedes vehicles, including the Sprinter, are more expensive to repair and maintain than other brands. Sprinters often require specialized tools and training, resulting in higher costs, and finding qualified mechanics can be a challenge.
- Difficulty in Sourcing Parts: Being a German-made vehicle, finding specific parts for the Sprinter can be challenging, especially in remote or non-European regions. Importing parts can be time-consuming and expensive and can cause delays and difficulties when repairing and maintaining the vehicle, particularly during long trips or in unfamiliar locations.
- Diesel Engine & DEF System: Most Sprinter vans come equipped with diesel engines, which require more maintenance and have higher fuel costs than gasoline engines. On top of that, the need for Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) adds complexity and ongoing maintenance to the vehicle.
- Lack of Stealth: The design and reputation of the Sprinter van make it less than ideal for stealth camping. It’s recognizable design and large size attract a lot of attention.
- Interior Design Constraints: The interior shape of the Sprinter van is more curved than the Transit and ProMaster, making it more challenging to build in.
- Plastic Interior: The interior of the Ford Transit features a significant amount of plastic, which does not look as good as the interior of the more expensive Mercedes Sprinter; this can be a big setback for some van purchasers who want the best when a lot of money on a new vehicle.
- Less-than-Ideal Gas Mileage: The Transit gets decent fuel economy for a large van, but its powerful EcoBoost engine makes it very easy to get poor fuel mileage if you are not careful.
- Limited Ground Clearance: The Transit van has low ground clearance compared to the Sprinter, which limits its off-road capabilities.
- Height Limitations: The best-in-class 6’ 8” standing headroom of the Ford Transit high roof comes at a cost; it’s by far the tallest van of the three making it challenging to fit in some urban environments (drive-throughs are not an option) and off-road.
- AWD instead of 4×4: The Transit has optional all-wheel drive (AWD) but no 4×4 option. AWD is great in inclement weather conditions but does not perform as well off-road.
- Lack of 4×4 or AWD: The ProMaster van utilizes a front-wheel drive (FWD) system, which does not provide the same traction and handling as rear-wheel drive (RWD) or 4×4/AWD vehicles.
- Stiff Suspension: The ProMaster suspension is considered by many as “stiff,” which can feel less comfortable than the Sprinter and Transit.
- Cheaply Made Parts: Some owners report that certain components of the ProMaster van are constructed with low-quality materials that can break or wear out prematurely.
- Uncomfortable Seats: The seating in the ProMaster van is criticized for its lack of comfort, especially during long drives or extended periods of sitting.
- Limited Ground Clearance: The ProMaster has lower ground clearance than the Sprinter and Transit, which can pose challenges off-road.
- Customization Options: The ProMaster has a relatively small aftermarket parts community compared to the Sprinter and Transit, which limits its off-the-shelf customizability.
- Resale Value: The ProMaster has a lower average resale value than the Sprinter and Transit, which could be an issue for those interested in building a new van with plans to sell after a year or two.