Purchasing a Sprinter van for a camper van conversion

Posted on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016 in Van Building

This post is not intended to be any form of financial advice. Your van purchase is your decision. I will simply outline my own experience which turned out pretty well. Good luck! =)

I began my search for an upgrade by looking at a few options – everything from a Honda Element to an Astro Van, a Chevy Express to a Ford Econoline. Friends of mine had VW Westfalia vans and I knew those were not my cup of tea. A Sprinter van was certainly not in my budget I assumed.

Everything on my list let me down for various reasons: too small, too fuel inefficient, too incapable. The idea of a Sprinter came coming around, but the average price tag on the Craigslist listing I found left me pretty disenchanted with the idea. I expected the prices to be higher than your average Astro van, but seeing old, rusted out, 300k mileage vans still listed for $20,000 was a shock.

After a month or so of casual searching the usual places – eBay, Craigslist, etc. – I began to realize the wide margin between the listing price and the sale price. Lower prices could be found, but they don’t last long.

In order to keep the dizzying combinations of year models, mileage, conditions, locations, etc. straight, I wrote them all down in a spreadsheet. Once I had a few listed, I could begin to form a picture of what to expect to pay and which ones were the clear outliers.

A deal that fit my criteria eventually popped up on the sprinter forums – a 2004 Dodge Sprinter, 242,000 miles, minimal rust and great interior for a very good price. The owner was an active member of the forums which allowed me to see all the issues he had and how he fixed them. He appeared to be an upstanding and honest guy, so I decided to jump on the offer he made me.

After a $400 plane ticket and a 2,700 mile drive, I was back home with my shiny, albeit bug-splattered, cargo van.


Resources

The three sites I used for the majority of my search were:

eBay is a good way to see what vans have actually sold for. When you perform your search filtering my year, price, etc., you can also filter by “Sold” to see what the historical selling prices have been.

Craigslist is nice because it’s usually very easy to text or call the seller and get more information within minutes. However, I found that a lot of Craigslist posts tend to be overpriced.

Sprinter Source is a nice resource as oftentimes people in the know will comment on the listings saying whether they believe it to be a good or bad deal. On the flip side, it seems a lot of sellers avoid posting their van on the forums for this very reason. There have been a few examples of for sale listings exploding with forum members tearing apart the listing and ruining the seller’s chances.


Prices

If you’re new to the game and looking for a good starting point, here are a few:


When buying a van, or really any used car, it certainly helps to have a little mechanical knowledge. I recommend studying up on what issues are common to Sprinters and what to watch out for when reviewing your candidates.

I won’t attempt to list all those items here as there are many resources out there with far greater details than I’m capable of, but the T1N inspections tips post on the sprinter forums is a great place to start. There is a lot to learn, so take your time and thoroughly read about each issue they mention.


If you’d like to ask me any further questions, please get in touch through the comments or email me at [firstname].[lastname]@gmail.com.

See you on the road!


Purchase photos

These are the photos the previous owner supplied. My purchase decision was made from these photos and several phone conversations with the owner.

Purchase Photo 1 Purchase Photo 2 Purchase Photo 3 Purchase Photo 4 If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice in the introductory post, I said the van was a Dodge. The PO had re-branded it back to its Mercedes roots with a new grill, new emblems on the hub caps and a new steering wheel badge.

Purchase Photo 5 Purchase Photo 6 For a van with 242,000 miles on the clock, this cab is immaculate!

Purchase Photo 7 Purchase Photo 8 Purchase Photo 9 Purchase Photo 10 Purchase Photo 11 Purchase Photo 12 I was expecting worse than this given the New England roads.

Purchase Photo 13 No injector blow-by (black death)!

Purchase Photo 14 I guess the van had an alignment issue that got fixed before I purchased it. But you can see the damage it did to the front tire.