One of the questions we get asked pretty often here at Freedom Vans is: Are there any specific features I should make sure my new Sprinter van from the dealership has? We can build out any high roof Sprinter or Transit that our clients bring to us, but there are certain features you can look for or avoid to make your van the best it can be for the van conversion, and save you from unneeded options that may cost extra! This blog post specifically refers to Sprinters. For more information regarding this list, or for our Transit recommendations, please contact us.
You can build your van on the Mercedes Benz website to get an idea of features and cost.
The following list includes basic recommendations- remember that it is ultimately up to your personal preference. We recommend going to your local dealership to look at and test drive a van in person, or renting a van on Outdoorsy (basically the airbnb of camper rentals) to experience firsthand what kind of van is best for you.
Cargo van –
We typically work with cargo vans here, because they are more of a blank slate and will have the least amount of features that you do not need. One of the nice things about a cargo van is that you can pick and choose where you would like windows. A cargo van is also the least expensive option – they typically run about $50,000-$60,000 depending on wheelbase and features, whereas a crew or passenger van typically will end up being $60,000+. If you want a bench seat, however, you may consider a crew van. Crew vans also have heated floors, which is nice for passengers.
High roof –
Nearly all of the vans that we work on here at the Freedom Vans shop are high roofs. These are nice because you can stand up in them. After we add roof insulation, standing height in a high roof Sprinter van is about 6’1. If you are taller than 6’1, we can do less insulation in the ceiling to give you a couple of extra inches. Some people decide on getting a lower roof with a pop-top, however we do not personally recommend this, and do not install pop-tops here.
144 or 170 wheelbase –
The best wheelbase for you really depends on your personal preference and needs for the van! The largest difference is the roof space and the interior floor space. The Sprinter 144” gives you 10’6” of buildable floor space, whereas the 170” gives you 14’. There is also a third size, the 170” extended, which has 15’6” of interior floor space.
Sprinter 144s are great for cost and maneuverability. The shorter wheelbase makes it easier to navigate around cities and offroad. The 144” can also carry the most interior weight of the wheel base options. The Sprinter 170 is a good choice for a conversion if you are looking to fit more inside the van. For example, if you get an interior wet bath in your van, we would recommend the 170″ over the 144″ so that you have enough space. The 170″ will still fit into a regular parking spot, although you often have to back into the space. Parallel parking is a bit trickier than the 144”. The 170″ extended is good for someone who will be in less populated areas more often, as it is the toughest to maneuver and cannot fit into a parking space, but gives you the most interior space to build in.
Powertrain (4 cylinder, 6 cylinder, 6 cylinder 4×4) –
We recommend the 6 cylinder 4×4. It carries the weight of the conversion the best.
4wd vs 2wd –
A 4wd van is great for steep forest service roads, mud and sand. 2wd does well in ice and snow after the weight of conversion and upgraded tires. The 4wd will help you avoid regulated chain areas. You may want to consider gas mileage, however, as a 4wd will not be as efficient as a 2wd. If you’re on the fence as to whether or not you need 4wd, you can also look into purchasing a set of MaxTrax, which are plastic recovery tracks that slip behind your tires to help in ice or mud.
Gas vs. Diesel –
One of the benefits of diesel Sprinters is that they last a really long time. You can easily get to 300,000+ miles on your vehicle before it’s considered high mileage! Diesel is also more fuel efficient. Sprinters get an average of 18-25mpg with diesel. If you’re towing or carrying loads, diesel has more torque, which will also help with the weight of the conversion.
Before 2019, Sprinters were only offered with diesel engines. But now, you can also get a gas version. The gas models are new to 2020 and we are unsure of the exact fuel efficiency at this time. A gas engine will give you faster acceleration and higher speeds than diesel will. Gas engine parts are not only less costly, they’re more readily available, so that will make a difference when travelling in remote areas if you need your vehicle serviced. In very cold climates, diesel tends to gel and motors can have a harder time starting, so gas could be more applicable to extremely cold climates.
As far as emissions go, diesel vehicles emit suspended particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Gasoline motors release hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, etc. Both of them pollute the environment in one way or another. It used to be that diesel was considered worse for the environment, but since regulations they have similar emissions to petrol vehicles, if the vehicle is new and well maintained.
Class 2500 vs. 3500 –
We typically recommend the 2500 class Sprinters, but upgrading the suspension and wheels to increase the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating). The smaller wheel wells of single axles allow for more conversion space. The 3500 is a dually, which means larger wheel wells inside and less floor space for the conversion. If you will be towing over 5000lbs, we recommend getting the 3500. The 170 extended 2500 and 3500 have the same 5000lb towing capacity. We also recommend the super single 3500 single rear wheel (which is only available in 2wd). These have a high payload but have a single axle rather than the dually, keeping lots of space inside, and they get better fuel economy than 4wd.
Whatever color you decide to go with is completely up to personal preference, but remember that lighter colors will keep you cooler in hot weather! As far as the interior, we recommend black leatherette for durability.
Roof rails –
Roof rails can be added later if need be, but they are a must either way. Getting the OEM factory roof rails allows you to put things on the roof without drilling additional holes or having to access the interior of the roof. When there are no roof rails, there are plastic clips where the factory roof rails are supposed to go that can be pushed out by insulation and be a source of leaking. This is less expensive to add with your vehicle purchase than to have the OEM rails installed in the conversion process.
Factory swivel bases –
Swivel bases can be added later, but the factory ones have shorter bases and are more cost effective to get from the factory. Some aftermarket swivel adapters add an inch and a half in seat height, which can be an issue for some regarding feet comfort. You can also purchase lowered bases to go with the aftermarket swivels if necessary.
Multifunctional steering wheel –
This is purely personal preference, but it is a nice feature so that you don’t have to touch the dashboard.
Grab handles where appropriate –
This is another personal comfort choice, but grab handles make it easier to get in and out of the van. The factory ones are less expensive, although they can be added later if need be.
Wheels and Suspension –
We recommend upgrading shocks, struts, wheels and tires to a higher weight rating to better handle the conversion. There are better aftermarket solutions for these than what is offered via the factory. We recommend upgrading your suspension once you know the total weight of your vehicle with the conversion and gear so that you can select the appropriate upgrades for your needs.
Any additional battery system –
Although we add lithium batteries to almost all of our conversions, AGM batteries are great for anything you want to tie to your starter battery, such as headlights or a winch, or running the radio for a long time. For the cost of the battery, it is easy insurance. For example, you can run the radio for a couple hours and won’t have to worry about van not starting.
270 degree rear door hinges:
Some rear doors on the newer Sprinters do not automatically swing open all the way. Confirm that your van has 270 degree hinges with the salesman that you work with.
Additional alternator –
The one alternator works fine for charging the auxiliary battery system. We use a battery isolator that regulates the current between the batteries and the alternator. We can work with an additional alternator, but it will raise the cost of your power system. If a dual alternator is gotten, your battery bank would need to be very large and battery cable sizing would have to go up.
Grab handles where unnecessary –
If you are having a lofted bed, grab handles are unnecessary in the rear doors. If you are getting in through the back of the van, they will be useful. Sliding door grab handles are typically more useful.
Motion Sensors –
If you add motion sensors to your van, when you are inside your vehicle and the doors are locked, you may set off the motion sensors, so we recommend avoiding those.
Wood floor – We make all of our subfloors rather than using the wood floor with d rings. It allows us to create a stronger foundation for the conversion.
Floor mats –
We remove the rubber cargo floor coverings to put nice flooring in, so these are unnecessary.