2013 Sprinter Ambulance / Seeking Buyers Advice

demps

New member
HI - First timer here. After years of eying craigslist for vans to convert into a camper, I happen to drive by a local parts yard / used car lot and saw a bunch of Sprinter ambulances in the yard. They apparently were purchased from an ambulance company that was retiring them.

The one I'm eying is a 2013 with 116,000 Mi. The body looks really clean and they are removing the ambulance lights and repainting so I haven't yet seen it running but he only wants $5,000, which seems like a deal if it checks out. And according to them it's a good runner. The interior in these would actually be a good start to a camper buildout... This is basically it: https://svine.com/2014/08/11/eascare-sprinters/

Anyone have any experience with Sprinter ambulances? I am a little hesitant that it may have been driven hard with that type of usage and I am also slightly terrified after reading that Tom Robertson article re: the DEF problems. I am mechanically inclined and somewhat handy but I don't have diesel experience and I don't know how hard it is to get into the exhaust and change sensors and cat's myself if it came to that.

Being a newby to these vehicles... any thoughts or advice on inspecting and buying one? Can the 2013's have the "black death" problem?

Much appreciated!

-Chris
 
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NelsonSprinter

Former Nelson BC Sprinter
Welcome to the forum,
A repainted 2013 with 116k miles for $5000 sure sounds like a great deal.
I wouldn't think an ambulance driver would do much more harm to one than a normal driver,
IF it was properly maintained.
There could be $1000s in repairs needed just from the miles already driven , like worn steering joints, brakes, hoses and fluids etc
I assume the passenger side has no air bags like a FedEx van.
Any diesel can have black death, but NCV3 models have fewer reports of it IMHO
DEF problems are hit and miss.
Just know that few auto shops have the knowledge and scanners to work on them, and will just blindly throw expensive parts into them, but we're here to help avoid that.
 
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demps

New member
Thanks for the reply, I'm glad I found this site! I will check over those things you mentioned and if I buy it I think I will put some money into initially changing the fluids and filters, etc.. There's a mechanic going through it but I don't know how much I trust him, coming from the place selling it... They are offering a 30 day warranty on the engine and tranny as well. So it may be in my best interest to take a trip in that first month to shake any issues loose, potentially. I am going to reach out to the mechanic at the ambulance company to hopefully find out what their fleet servicing looked like. And hopefully bring it elsewhere to have checked over.

Apparently it was throwing an injector code that was due to a vacuum hose that needed replacing. The last thing I want is a can of worms and a money pit, but it seems pretty sweet and I am willing to do the repairs and preventative maintenance within my abilities.

However in the back of my head I am wondering if sacrificing the MPG of the sprinter for an Express or E350 high top would save me lots of headaches down the road...
 

demps

New member
Good point Mike, the thought has crossed my mind that it's too good to be true... For reference, they bought about 7-8 ambulances, mostly sprinters and are basically taking parts off the beat up vans as needed to make the nicer ones complete. I assume they got them at a bulk discount but that doesn't necessarily means much. Also, it's basically a junk yard with a garage that's selling these.

I'm taking precautions but that does seem a bit steep for a checkup.

Thanks

-Chris
 

NelsonSprinter

Former Nelson BC Sprinter
IF THE LAST THING YOU WANT is a can headaches and a money pit, best to avoid a Sprinter. They on average, are not as reliable and cheap to fix as a Toyota or Honda.
Even an Express or E350 high top would save you lots of headaches down the road
 

demps

New member
Any idea whether the common issues with DEF system are reasonably self-serviceable with a scanner? I'm not sure I would do a turbo but what about sensors down there? It seems like the EGR valve can be cleaned regularly to hopefully avoid some issues with that.
 

Thump_rrr

New member
The biggest issue I can see with an ambulance is that they are often idled for days on end so that they can have heat or air conditioning.
That is the worst thing you can do to a diesel unless it has a high idle option and it is set to shut off the vehicle after a few minutes if the high idle isn’t activated.
 

showkey

Well-known member
Any idea whether the common issues with DEF system are reasonably self-serviceable with a scanner? I'm not sure I would do a turbo but what about sensors down there? It seems like the EGR valve can be cleaned regularly to hopefully avoid some issues with that.
EGR is more than just the valve........EGR cooler, several pressure and temp sensors, and the dreaded swirl valves are all part of the system.
The DEF system and NOX sensors require a high end scanner to adapt, learn or teach when the parts are switched. The cost of the parts in these two systems can get $$$$ quickly. There are several MB friendly scan tools ( reasonable cost)AUTEL) that will give correct codes and live data stream for troubleshooting.
 
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HarryN

Well-known member
The biggest issue I can see with an ambulance is that they are often idled for days on end so that they can have heat or air conditioning.
That is the worst thing you can do to a diesel unless it has a high idle option and it is set to shut off the vehicle after a few minutes if the high idle isn’t activated.
You are definitely correct about the idling. At least on some regions of the US, an ambulance that is "on duty" must have it's engine running.

The Ford vehicles that are set up as ambulances have some additional options that allow for multi hour idling, so I am "assuming" that Sprinter ambulances would also have similar features. At one time, this included thermally insulating the engine to better hold it at the desired operating temperature.

As a practical matter, it used to be pretty common for people to do deals where they took in multiple identical scrapped vehicles and used the parts to make 1 or more good ones. When I was in college, I helped a buddy do this to build up a 1936 John Deer tractor - took 4 of them IIRC. Of course that was a simpler time and machine.
 

demps

New member
You are definitely correct about the idling. At least on some regions of the US, an ambulance that is "on duty" must have it's engine running.

Thanks for the heads up.

I would love to find a t1n Sprinter that isn't covered in rust... but I'm from Boston... Pickings are slim. Maybe it's worth venturing down south to shop around. I just can't really see myself doing a lot of driving / trips in a van that gets 13 mpg like an Express or E-350. At $5k I'm still considering this ambulance and thinking maybe I can sell it and make at least some money back if costs become an issue. But local diesel mechanics echo what you guys are saying as well...
 

HarryN

Well-known member
I am familiar with two general categories of ambulances in the US:
- Those that are used for true emergency response use
- Those that are used to transport patients from one facility to another

Probably there are also others.

As an example, when my wife was expecting our youngest, she had some pregnancy related challenges and the doctor decided to move her to a higher care / pre-natal focused speciality hospital vs the general purpose one she was at.

The transportation was via an ambulance specifically for transportation, and but it drove in a slow / steady / low vibration mode vs the fast response mode.

I am sure that it was idling more than a typical vehicle but not continuously.

Keep in mind that no matter what used vehicle you purchase, it is going to take $5 - 15K or so to make it mechanically solid - unless it is perhaps just off of a 3 year lease.

I would not walk away from that deal so quickly. A good indication is that if it will pass a local smog test, it might be ok. The local MB dealer can also scan it and tell you what they find for a few $100s. That doesn't tell you everything but it is a good indication.

For $5K - if it passed CA smog, I would potentially buy one myself, especially if it were a "transportation" ambulance.

As far as Toyota's being reliable - all I can tell you is that my wife picked up a very nice looking lexus suv after a 3 year lease. It was our first toyota, so we bought the extended warranty - even though it was expensive. It was the best decision we ever made as it cost a lot more in repairs than that warranty. Oil leaks, rear suspension problems, etc. It is a nice vehicle looks wise, but very expensive - especially the parts. It has been fairly reliable, but not even close to the reliability of our dodge mini vans or multiple BMWs we have owned.

Just changing spark plugs is a major service - I am talking taking the top end of the engine apart - something like a grand in labor.

They clearly built it to soak customers on repairs, especially parts. As an example, we had a heck of a time dealing with wind shield replacement - it was such an expensive part that the normal wind shield repair shops were almost afraid to touch it. Parts cost more than BMW if that tells you anything.
 
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owner

Well-known member
In the Australian section of the forum a lot of us are driving ex-ambos. They are really good value for us downunder because they have the full options package. The bad part is that the conversions are done by a bunch of cowboys - leaving swarf from drilling behind fittings etc. There is a lot of work required to strip out the ambo wiring, and they put a lot of holes all over the van for various equipment.

This may not apply to NAFTA ambulances - Ours are converted locally by local companies. And after they leave the fleet they simply cut off the wiring at whatever piece of equipment was there, and shove it back into the holes. The ambos here are usually very well serviced mechanically though, having full no questions asked service contracts with MB.
 

InterBlog

Member
...
I would love to find a t1n Sprinter that isn't covered in rust... but I'm from Boston... Pickings are slim. ...
Million Mile Sprinter buys and sells them frequently. He's in Philly.

May or may not have any relevance to it - project.amber on Instagram. DIY conversion of a T1N ambulance. He's a good, humorous follow. I believe he ran into more wear-related issues and costs than he anticipated, but he seems to keep a good head on his shoulders as he deals with them.
 

demps

New member
In the Australian section of the forum a lot of us are driving ex-ambos. They are really good value for us downunder because they have the full options package. The bad part is that the conversions are done by a bunch of cowboys - leaving swarf from drilling behind fittings etc. There is a lot of work required to strip out the ambo wiring, and they put a lot of holes all over the van for various equipment.

This may not apply to NAFTA ambulances - Ours are converted locally by local companies. And after they leave the fleet they simply cut off the wiring at whatever piece of equipment was there, and shove it back into the holes. The ambos here are usually very well serviced mechanically though, having full no questions asked service contracts with MB.
I'll have to check out that section of the forum! I definitely noticed a ton of excess wiring in there... unfortunately they didn't include the inverter in the sale, so they ripped that out along with the oxygen tank and a few other things they wanted to keep for spare parts. But the ambulance build looks pristine... albeit a bit sterile. I think I would replace the wiring and take out some unwanted fixtures. Maybe take out the shelving to better insulate it and then replace the majority of it, along with a bed and sink.

Here each ambulance company seems to have their own service garage. At least for this company... I keep calling but can't seem to get through to him to pick his brain unfortunately..
 

demps

New member
Million Mile Sprinter buys and sells them frequently. He's in Philly.

May or may not have any relevance to it - project.amber on Instagram. DIY conversion of a T1N ambulance. He's a good, humorous follow. I believe he ran into more wear-related issues and costs than he anticipated, but he seems to keep a good head on his shoulders as he deals with them.
Thanks for the tip! He seems like a really good contact to make... I actually emailed him so we'll see... I also searched around the Philly craigslist and seems like they have a lot more Sprinters for sale than we do up here in New England.... not sure whats up with that.

project.amber's got a pretty cool build! If the one I found was a t1n I think I'd definitely jump on it.
 

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