Tips for filtering through good/bad sprinters

Surf44

2004 158 2500
Im in the market looking to buy a T1n sprinter preferably a 04-06. I have done my research on the problems that need to be looked at before buying a sprinter and have read the inspection tips sticky.

Im in Florida and there is a decent amount of sprinters for sale, but most of them look great in pictures like a dealer must have bought it from fedex or wherever and cleaned it nice, painted it, and are asking 6-15k. To me this is would be a red flag when searching for any other vehicle, but im not sure with the sprinters because they are mainly commercial vehicles and there’s very few that are for sale from a private owner that seems legit. The couple that I have seen are usually 12-15k for the same looking van that the dealership is asking 6-8k for. Also Most of the ones I have saved now seem like the dealership commercial ones are around 150-200k miles where alot of the private owned ones are 200-400k miles.

My question is, is there some known red flags for when searching for these sprinters? I have read online people saying that the reliability of these sprinters are incredible but you have to look and find a good one. “A good sprinter is great, a bad sprinter is BAD”.
Is it worth it to only search for the private sellers that have owned it for a while and must have cared for it somewhat, or is the commercial owned ones better since they were fleet maintained?
 
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rjc3

Member
If you're going to buy a T1N sprinter, you're going to need to invest in a sprinter specific scanner. You might as well buy it now so that you can scan whatever vehicle you're interested in buying. You will be able to look at all the past and present trouble codes.
 

Surf44

2004 158 2500
Thanks didn’t think of that, my main problem is every sprinter around me is at least an hr away usually 2-3hrs in all different directions and Im trying to weed through the 15-20 sprinters for sale in FL to find ones that are even worth driving to look at.
 

Aqua Puttana

Poly - Thread Finder
What are your anticipated annual miles? My 2004 cargo is at 330,000+ and seems to still be going strong. With the exception of unusual early failures, it isn't beyond reasonable expectation for a properly cared for T1N to get to 400k miles on the original drivetrain.

If you plan on 10k miles per year a 300k mile Sprinter could be expected to give you 10 years of service. 30k miles per year would have me looking at lower miles.

The above said, T1N's are not getting younger. Low miles with periods of non-use can take their toll similarly to high miles. Unless you are extremely lucky, expect to need to put an additional 3 - 4000 bucks into your used Sprinter to get it up to reasonable condition. That number assumes DIY labor.

Good hunting.

:cheers: vic
 

Surf44

2004 158 2500
Ill be using it as a daily driver so at most 10k a year around town with the occasional road trips so i would say 15-20k a year max.

That aside I do plan on expecting on putting money into one that I bought. I guess my main concern that Im finding Is should I be ok with buying a sprinter that was used commercially and was fleet maintained but probably drove hard or should I be weary about the dealerships selling sprinters that were obviously commercial owned and they threw a new paint job on. Should I try to go the distance and search for the personally owned sprinter that was used by an owner and not by a company?
 

thatchillaxdude

New member
I feel I was totally duped when I bought my 2004 T1N. I paid $14K for a dual-sliding door Sprinter with 151K miles on it. The dealer (a self-proclaimed used Sprinter van "aficionado" of sorts) refused to budge on the price due to the low miles and double doors. I took that to mean I was getting a really good deal.

According to the CarFax, it had previously been owned in Florida. It was a work truck of sorts; lots of sheet metal screws in the door tracks below the sliding door steps, copper tubing wedged in the walls, some rust in the corners, a cargo divider, but it had been recently painted.

I made it nearly 2,000 miles from New Jersey back to California, when it broke down in New Mexico. Castostrophic destruction of the turbo, which got sucked into the engine... a $13K fix. Cleaned out all of my savings and then some... I was devastated.

It's back on the road, I've built it out, and converted into my home, but it'll be a year before I'm back in the black. You're doing the right thing by asking around in here. There are a few videos on YouTube addressing what to look for in a used T1N, check those out, too. I didn't, and paid dearly; but honestly, I still don't know if I would've recognized potential problems in my Sprinter.

The best of luck to you in your search!


Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk
 
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Surf44

2004 158 2500
Thanks dude! That what im afraid of, all of these sprinters that I see for sale have fresh paint jobs and look perfect in the pics with semi low miles and their usually asking a little more for certain features that aren’t common. For me the 140 base dually is appealing. I just would like to know if its all kinda a crap shoot and you gotta do the most checking you can when your looking at it and hope nothing comes up or if to an experienced sprinter owner if they would right away know the lemons looking on Craigslist.

Was there anything that you could have checked to see that the turbo was going out? Seems like that would be a hard one to check for.
 

Aqua Puttana

Poly - Thread Finder
... but honestly, I still don't know if I would've recognized potential problems in my Sprinter.

...
Sometimes it's just dumb luck.

When I bought the 2006 there were 2 ea. almost identical white 140 2500HC passenger vans on the lot. Both had been in medical transport service. I suspect that both had been purchased by the seller at auction. The prices were similar... a bit higher than some would pay, but after looking for some time I was ready to just get my next T1N.

Neither had any black death issues. Both had historical DTC's, but none current. No maintenance records for either. I love my 2004 step bumper. One of the vans had a step bumper, but I didn't like the way it drove. The one that I bought had noisy brakes and no step bumper.

It turns out that I chose wisely. After mostly new everything on the brakes, 2 new tires, new rear shocks, etc. the 2006 has been a good van. I've sometimes wondered whether the other one would have been as good. Who knows? Luck of the draw.

I will say that I have now owned 4 each different vans which were previously in wheelchair or other medical transport service. Not all were Sprinters. I figure the drivers are likely not racing them around and fleet maintenance is generally kept up properly. All have been good vans.

Sorry to hear that you didn't have a similar experience.

:cheers: vic
 

thatchillaxdude

New member
Thanks dude! That what im afraid of, all of these sprinters that I see for sale have fresh paint jobs and look perfect in the pics with semi low miles and their usually asking a little more for certain features that aren’t common. For me the 140 base dually is appealing. I just would like to know if its all kinda a crap shoot and you gotta do the most checking you can when your looking at it and hope nothing comes up or if to an experienced sprinter owner if they would right away know the lemons looking on Craigslist.

Was there anything that you could have checked to see that the turbo was going out? Seems like that would be a hard one to check for.
Maybe, I could have checked the turbo impeller to see if there was any play. Honestly, I don't know. But just beware, low miles doesn't mean it wasn't properly service. It could've been 152K of terrible maintenance versus 300K of spectacular maintenance.

Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk
 

Surf44

2004 158 2500
Thats a good tip with knowing they were wheelchair medical vans and how they would probably drive, I did read the inspection tip that said to check the radio stations and thought that is also a good one!

Im thinking now that it may be better to try and find the cheapest one that is rust free and seems most legit and plan on fixing it.

There is one for sale about 2 hrs from me that has 475k miles, He said he had an expedite driver that drove all over the states, and it has a new turbo, and the alternator is a couple years old. He’s asking $4500 but says that it’s beginning to smoke a little after the new turbo install that he's not sure. He does say that the body is clean and it looks decent in the pics.
 
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ions82

Member
I feel as though I lucked out when I blindly bought a retired FedEx unit (2004). It's been used plenty (333K), but it got a new motor and transmisson in 2015. It runs and drives very well. I've seen lots of similar vans for sale all around the country for around the same price ($5K.) Don't be afraid of higher miles. I saw a 2006 that was privately owned. They blew the motor at 100K and the trans at 200K (and then listed it for parts.). Low mileage and private owner doesn't mean it's a good unit or was treated well. There's always a bit of a gamble involved with these old vans, but they sure are awesome when they're running.
 

billintomahawk

'02 2.7 T!N Freightliner
Surf,
Here is the advice of a nubie sprinter owner and an old motorcycle mechanic and north woods 'back to the lander' who has run junk all his life. Maybe you know this but I'll write it for others.

Do you have a solid set of tools.
Have you ever worked in the dirt with tools, with a shovel, with a hammer?
Do you like to smoke pot every day?
Do you really want to learn diesel mechanics?
Do you know used car salesmen are never your friends?

Read this:

https://www.outsideonline.com/2399404/van-life-difficulties

If you buy a used sprinter you will be doing all of the above but I'd suggest you quit smoking and clear your head.

Now how many vehicles have you crawled under?
Do you know how to check the brake rotors for wear with the wheels on, do you know how to assess the exhaust? Do you now how to evaluate tire wear and the age of tires?

You do? Good, do all that before you buy your sprinter. Pull the oil dip stick and look and smell, is it good?
Check the transmission oil level with the dipstick you brought with you because old sprinters don't have one.

Sit down and read the service records, no service records, don't buy.
When were the injectors last checked?

Now go for a drive, does it drive straight, does the cruise control work?
Do the brakes work
Most important, does the temperature hold at 185-190 F.

Now, does the emergency brake work?
That tells alot about the rear brakes condition.

OK, hook up your scanner after the drive and check for codes.
All OK? Check the lights. Now look at the battery and especially the terminals. look new and clean?
Check the ground strap connections.

Crawl under the vehicle again, is it bleeding?

There is no substitute for low miles and clean service records unless you are a certified sprinter mechanic.
And unless you are rich you will soon be one and if you enjoy that this forum is the best of the best.

I am encouraging you to buy a sprinter and join the collective.
You can check out my real life nubie sprinter adventure in the thread below my signature, it's pretty typical.

I have spent thousands of hours learning about and working on my sprinter.

bill in tomahawk
 
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Cheyenne

UK 2004 T1N 313CDi
And check that the CEL, ABS and Glow Plug lights come on and then go out with the ignition turned on but not starting the engine.

If not then they may have been 'disabled' by cutting out or taping over to hide a problem.

Keith.
 

az7000'

Member
I would add 2 things to the @billintomahawk post above. First, for some the pot every day keeps the frustration down and focus up, you make that call.

Second, have you ever owned this book... How many T1N owners here have or had a greasy copy of this in their life?? It sure seems like the T1N is the VW Bus of the new millennium. Mine was a 1971 Westfalia my dad bought new, I blew up the motor the first summer and learned how to put in a $399 motor from BAP!

VW.jpg
 

Surf44

2004 158 2500
Wow! Thanks for all the help. Great tip on checking the dash lights and did not know that the T1Ns did not have transmission dipsticks. There’s a dipstick tube but no dipstick?

@billintomahawk I have done all mechanical work to my own vehicles and a little bit on a motorcycle. I have plenty of tools and would definitely be doing any repairs myself with the help of videos and this forum. Ive owned a 86 ford 6.9 international harvester diesel van for about a year and got to know her pretty good, but that beast is a completely different animal compared to a newer diesel.

I don’t have a problem with fixing in the dirt or a parking lot, definitely not ideal but I understand that the time would come if your driving around the country. But I also am buying it because of the use that it will provide me, not because Im interested in it as a hobby or collector. Don't get me wrong I love the look of them, the diesel, and more simplified engine. But I would buy a brand new sprinter if they weren’t $50k+ and using the crap they’re calling reliable diesels nowadays.
 

nutterbutter

2004 LTV Free Spirit T1N
In general, I HATE new fresh paint when buying something used.

It's a red flag to me in houses and vehicles.
 

Zundfolge

1-2-4-5-3
Alright well, few things, maybe some opposing views etc.

While service records would be nice, the only records mine came with was a signed pink slip and a few phone numbers written on the back of the sun visor. I didn't really know too much what to look for in a sprinter but I did know vehicles and specifically diesels. Since it sounds like you have some experience with the diesel world, it will actually help you a lot. This may be a new and different beast but the principle is the same, there are just a lot more electronics to deal with. Depending on maintenance, those electronics can be helpful diagnostic tools, or electrical gremlins that can haunt you into selling the damn thing.

While it would take many hours to type out what to look for/at in a used T1N, and even if you bought one that checked all the boxes it can still blow a turbo on the way home; mainly I'd be in the market for a van that's rust-free, and well maintained - even if that is word of mouth maintenance - and in my opinion you can get a good sense of how well mechanically maintained it is by how well it was physically maintained.

I've always been skeptical of dealers over private parties for used vehicles. Sure, some are honest and offer good warranties.

Side note: I was once considering replacing my '97 dodge Cummins with an '03, stopped at a dealers lot and the worker dude was willy nilly rattle canning black the leaf springs and differential of a truck that I was interested in. Needless to say, I didn't spend much time there.

As some have said, part of this is luck. I feel I lucked out (though it's been said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity), and have put about 100K on mine with relatively few major issues.

Since you have an audience here now, use it as an opportunity to post ads of vans you're interested in. Few of us are immune to the temptation to view a van on Craigslist and offer our opinion. There are things that some here may see that the sprinter unfamiliar eye wouldn't think to notice.

Yes bring a scanner. Grab the Autel AP200, connects to your smartphone assuming you have one. Speaks Sprintish. Not all scanners can talk to Sprinters. Directions for its proper use are in the scanner subforum. Good luck.
 

Surf44

2004 158 2500
Here are ones that I feel are worth taking a look at. Mainly going off what the add says and kinda putting an assumption of what kind of owner is selling it. I would get the VINs before and see how long they have owned the van and I feel like that would give a little more light into the background of how the van has been treated.

https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/2372693962847810/


https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/443309626272974/

Talked to this guy says he has had a expedite driver on it all the states. Has a new turbo but he says that its beginning to smoke that he’s not sure. I would like to get it for closer to $3k if the smoking issue isn’t too major.
https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/2395261150729043/

https://jacksonville.craigslist.org/cto/d/jacksonville-2004-dodge-sprinter-2500/6967255401.html

Dealer doesn’t show price but really like the dually
https://miami.craigslist.org/pbc/ctd/d/west-palm-beach-2006-dodge-sprinter/6971103521.html

Quite a bit more expensive, but exactly what I would want.
https://westernmass.craigslist.org/ctd/d/waterbury-2005-dodge-sprinter-3500/6982254858.html
 

Patrick of M

2005 T1N 2500 (NA spec)
You like to look of the dually?
Or is it the shorter gearing/slower highway cruising, extra weight, higher resulting fuel consumption?
This one looks best value to me.

https://m.facebook.com/marketplace/item/2372693962847810/

Btw if you are using it for a daily driver the 158 is Looooong ,so parking in single space is not going to happen. The 140 will just about fit anywhere a car fits(other than height of course).
 
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