Are you thinking about building a camper van but have no idea where to begin? We’ve been there! We were lucky enough to try one out for 10 days this past March and completely fell in love with van life! Through that experience, we found a ton of things that we loved and also a number of things that we knew we could improve on for our own camper van.
In this post, we want to walk you through everything you need to know about buying a used Dodge Sprinter (or really any van) so that you can get your conversion right the first time!
Why We Chose a Dodge Sprinter
First of all, let’s talk about why we chose to buy a used Dodge Sprinter to convert into a campervan. The Sprinter is the original, high-top, extended, work van. Other options like a Dodge Promaster or a Ford Transit weren’t actually available until about 2014. What that means is that there is less of a used market for these vehicles and they will be more expensive to purchase.
There are two different generations of Sprinters: 1995-2006 (Dodge, Mercedes, or Freightliner Sprinter T1N) and 2007-current (Mercedes Sprinter). The T1N is a popular choice for budget conversions due to price point, fuel efficiency, reliability, & maintenance.
This model comes with a 2.7L diesel engine with no DPF(a device designed to remove soot from the exhaust gas). Because of that, it’s quite a bit more fuel efficient. These vehicles are also more reliable and easier to repair due to the fact that they have less exhaust regulation valves and computer components. After 2006, several emission regulations were put into effect. This made the diesel engines substantially more complicated for those of us who aren’t mechanics to work on.
What Model You Should Choose & Why
The Dodge Sprinter T1N comes in a few options that will make a huge difference in your van design and your overall experience. First up is the roof height. You have the option of a regular or high-top roof. While it didn’t seem overly important to us at the beginning, I cannot stress this enough…
Get a high top van!
The difference between 5 feet and 6 feet will be huge when you’re standing in your van. Trust us on this!
The second option you have is a short(140 inches) or a long(158 inches) wheelbase. Both of these can be very doable depending on your design. We opted for the long-wheelbase to maximize the amount of living space we have inside the van.
Lastly, you have the option of dual rear wheels. This helps to improve stability and weight distribution, but it is not a requirement unless you plan on towing significant weight behind your van.
Common Issues With The T1N
The EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve is a common weak point on the T1N Sprinter’s. These valves need to be cleaned regularly and if they aren’t, they will wear out quickly and need to be bypassed or replaced. Dealerships charge close to a thousand dollars for a new valve but luckily there are some companies that manufacture aftermarket parts for around $250.
These valves can usually be found on eBay or Amazon. Another option is to bypass the valve completely which will stop the van from recirculating the exhaust gas. This can be done by purchasing an engine tune or inserting a resistor into the wiring harness to trick the computer into thinking the EGR valve is open.
The Black Death is another common issue with these vehicles. If not properly maintained, it can cause huge problems for your engine. The black death occurs because of carbon build-up along the top of your engine due to one or more leaky injectors. The injectors start to leak because the copper o-rings have not been replaced on schedule or have cracked.
When you’re inspecting the Dodge Sprinter you’d like to purchase, bring an Allen key set and pop off the black plastic engine cover on top of the engine. If an injector is leaking, it’ll be very noticeable when the engine is running.
Next up you’re going to want to check out the mileage. Basically, the lower the better before you start to sink a bunch of money into your new home on wheels.
As a guideline, you probably don’t want to be buying anything with over 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometres). With that being said, if you take good care of these diesel engines, it’s not uncommon to get 400,000-500,000 miles out of them.
The first van we almost bought was advertised in kilometres but the odometer was actually in miles. Watch out for this! If we wouldn’t have noticed, we would have purchased a van with over 300,000 kilometres instead of 190,000 km as we were told. That ultimately was a deal-breaker for us.
Fortunately, we found our van shortly after with only 155,000 kilometres (96,000 miles)! I’m just going to come right out and say that a van predating 2006 with under 200,000 (124,000 miles) kilometres is rare…
If you find one, jump on it!
Unfortunately, rust will accumulate on any vehicle over time, but it can vary depending on location and maintenance. Some common places for rust in a Dodge Sprinter include:
- Rear Doors and Windows
- Roof Seams
- The Floor (depending on what it`s been used for)
- The Driver and Passenger Side Kick Panel
There are several products and methods out there you can use for rust control. These range from POR15 to a Fiberglass filling if the rust has created a hole. The one place you don’t want to see rust is on the actual frame. If that is the case, it may be difficult and very expensive to fix.
The Average Price of a Used Dodge Sprinter
This can vary depending on a number of factors like where you buy your van, condition, mileage, etc. We ended up getting a steal of a deal on ours – we only paid $6,000 CAD (around $4,700 USD). Sadly, I wouldn’t say this is common. The average price of these used vans in good condition is between $9,000 – $20,000 CAD ($7,700 – $15,500 USD).
Our best advice is not to be in a hurry. Do your research, know exactly what you want, and keep an eye out on websites like Kijiji and Autotrader. Expand your search to include the biggest cities in your country because they will have a higher number of used work vans for sale.
Lastly, something that really helped us was to have the money ready to go. By doing this, you can be the first one to make an offer when a good deal comes up.