Less Miles Tranny Issues or More Miles?

Howdy folks, just joined. Been researching the camper van life for a while and am looking for a sprinter. I figure I’ll make a budget build to learn how to do everything and make all my mistakes, then make a more expensive build if I feel like it.

There are a couple sprinters available nearby but I’d like some advice as I’m a bit conflicted. There’s about 5 sprinters or so that are pretty close to me that are 2006-2008 158WB. If they have roughly 100k miles they’re all roughly 10k. There are some that are cheaper(in the 6-8k range) but they have 250k-350k miles.

I went to see a 2006 sprinter about 100 miles away with roughly 170k miles for 6k but it naturally needs more TLC. Possibly needs a tranny swap, has a leaking differential, exhaust system is completely shot, broken ac, oil leak, some panel rust(no under carriage rust since it was used in a warm state), an accident in the past that may have bent the frame(no rebuilt title though and no obvious damage, was driven another 80k miles after the accident by a new owner).

My question is would it be better to get a 2006 sprinter with 170k miles for $6k with some possibly major mechanical issues or a 2006 sprinter with 320k miles for $6k and no known major mechanical issues?

One of the sellers I spoke to said it’s not uncommon to see these vans with 500k+ miles because the engine is so reliable, so 200-300k is not a big deal. Can anyone confirm that?

I figure the biggest expenses in a repair of the lower mileage one would be a new tranny and new exhaust system. Even if I do all the labor myself it’ll probably be a couple thousand dollars in material just to get it to a reliable state that passes emissions. On the flip side I could pick up one with more miles on it but find out the transmission is due for replacement anyway, along with other core engine components.

I’m mainly curious how dead these vans are once they hit 300k+ miles. Would I be replacing literally everything at that point?

Any advice from people with experience is greatly appreciated.

Everyone I know who has or had a Sprinter has had constant issues with them. Mercedes used to make a good product, and I’ve owned three of their cars and put thousands of miles on their older vans without issue, but something happened. Now I’d say get a Ford - likely far less trouble than the Mercedes.

I don’t think the Sprinter engines themselves are bad; and they’ll probably go 300k+ miles, but everything around them, especially the electronics/electrical systems are terrible.

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If a vehicle has 320k miles on it and it does not have any major problems, then I think the odds are stacked that it will. 500k is not that far away. Maybe they last that long, maybe they do not. I see just as many other vans from that era still on the road.

That other one also seems like it needs a crazy amount of work. You’d be replacing everything major but the engine itself and if you can afford that why not just get something road ready with fewer miles?

I settled for an '06 158 wb with some rust and 272k with no known mechanical issues.

@Axel Do you think an '06 was part of the ‘good years’ batch?

Don’t know. My friends Jeff and Jodi from Georgia have what I think is an '07 and they’re having a lot of electrical issues. A couple months ago they had to camp in our driveway in Albuquerque for three days awaiting parts, and once installed it fixed some problems, but then they were stranded in Farmington, NM the day after they left due to another electrical issue. They’ve had a series of problems with the van, almost all related to the van itself, not the conversion. It was sold new as an RV.

When they were here, Jodi told me about a friend of hers who has a newer one, I think a 2018, that’s spending more time in the shop for warranty repairs than on the road.

My brother has a 2011, and the last time he came through Albuquerque he had a check engine light due to a failed sensor.

Greetings!

Every computerized vehicle I’ve owned was nothing but trouble. Added complication & costs with no added benefits.

For now, I’m sticking with older pre-computerized vehicles for as long as possible.

Cheers!


"Always avoid expensive solutions to cheap problems." ~ OffGrid



Ok. First. Van Dweller…please stop telling people to buy old vans. Those days are gone. Those vans are hard to find and will definitely need loads of repairs. The modern options now require people purchase computerized vans. It doesn’t help anyone to constantly bash new tech (isn’t your income 100% computerized?). Not trying to pick a fight, I’m just getting tired of your negative view of newer vehicles. Just because you don’t understand them doesn’t mean they are junk. I’m considering not visiting this forum anymore because of the negativity in your posts regarding any option beyond your own. Yes, you’ve been successful and yes you are a huge help here BUT, there is and always will be more than one way to be successful in all life’s challenges.

@RoadPrize Sprinter vans have loads of issues. I second @Axel Axel who suggests a Ford. I once had a client with a Sprinter who complained of oddelectrical issues. When she braked, the radio stations would change or the wipers would turn on, the cruise would set/change speeds, etc. I found a shorted taillight bulb (still illinated but barely shorted) causing all those issues.

Older vehicles with loads of miles are ok ONLY if you have documented service history. No matter what brand it is, if it wasn’t maintained properly it will cost you money.

Newer vehicles that have been wrecked can have hidden wiring issues, alignments that are impossible to correct (accelerated tire wear), or unsafe structure. If it was wrecked years ago, ask if anything has been replaced or if the electrical system has issues. Check the tires for feathering or broken cords. Ask to see an alignment check printout and have an expert review the results with you. Tires costs will be expensive if the alignment cannot be corrected. If it is a recent rebuild, only buy it if the rebuilder has a proven quality track record and can produce the original damage report along with proof of proper repairs.

The advice I give my clients is this: Low mileage/newer vehicles come with less repair costs and a fixed payment. Higher mileage/older vehicles come with a lower purchase price but unexpected immediate cash needs. A loan is the same price every month but is usually much more costly over the long haul. Repairs are less expensive over the long haul but require immediate access to funds. Your finances should dictate your purchase. If you have a large safety net and decent income, go the lower cost/higher repair route. If you are closer to paycheck to paycheck you might consider limiting you unexpected expenses.

We have settled on a Ford Transit. I considered the Nissan NV simply because I am a Nissan Master Technician and I’ve seen first hand their low repair requirements. Nissan uses a proven truck frame (Titan) and a reliable powertrain. The V8 is nearly bulletproof except for a bad run in the mid 20teens. I service the largest distributor of Dip’n’Dots on the east coast (USA) who has many NV2500 V6 vans with 300k on them. We usually do only fluid services and occasionally replace brakes, spark plugs as maintenance requires. I’ve only repaired one major failure of all his vans which was caused by driver neglect. But, those vans have very limited cargo length (shortest of all available RWD cargo vans in the US).
The additional room in the Transit and decent reliability makes it the clear choice for us. The Dodge Promaster has too many engine/transmission issues for me to feel safe driving across country in. I quote 3.6L replacements monthly and replace transmissions nearly as often . The Sprinter is way too costly and has way too many issues for me to consider. The Nissan will likely be discontinued in the near future. This leaves only the Transit for me to consider. A used Transit will cost you north of $15k for a decent vehicle. Be mindful that older Transits (3.7L naturally aspirated) have water pump issues that allow coolant to leak into the crankcase. A new water pump is available that will keep that from happening. Still, the repair is not cheap. Avoid the ecoboost all together. Any turbocharged gasoline engine will require loads of maintenance and often require costly repairs. I do well repairing those engines.

@RoadPrize Don’t be afraid of modern tech. It’s not as unreliable as some would have you think. I hope this has helped you avoid a costly future. If I can help, or if you would like me to review a vehicle you are considering purchasing feel free to message me the link and I will provide my input.

@bolesauto - We have actually had a pretty good run so far in our Promaster so far. That being said we did have the transmission replaced at the 8k mile mark. This however wasn’t due to any large mechanical failure that left us stranded. The original transmission was bad from the line and always made a noise similar to having low power steering fluid that would increase or decrease with rpms. On the first oil change I asked the tech to diagnose it and a new transmission ended up being the result. We did get stuck for two weeks here, but our warranty paid for both the repairs and the hotel stay in an area we planned to be in anyways. So this was not an issue at all for us and the warranty on our powertrain is a lifetime warranty (hopefully there is not too much fine print involved on that one :sweat_smile: ).

Since that we have been across the country two more times and have brought the total miles up to over 30k without a single issue. I would not hesitate to get a promaster again, though I think a newer transit with AWD would win out.

If I were to put money into an old van again myself, I would 100% get a westy. A lot of the electrical, mechanical issues with them have been sorted out and solved at this point. The repairs are simple, a novice can handle them, and parts are fairly cheap and easy to source.

Im glad you like your Promaster. Many people do. Unfortunately for me, since I see repeated failures from them and often quite expensive, I can’t help but avoid them. Especially when making recommendations to people who will not have a warranty to cover them. I like the size and styling of the Promaster. I just hope they sort out their mechanical issues. It sounds like your transmission pump was restricted from the factory or the pump was manufactured improperly. I see that same failure quite often. It’s a shame. They are nice vans.

That’s so great you’ve been across country twice! So awesome! I hope those journeys were full of amazing memories. That’s our goal. We’re in the planning stages of our build. The fancy can builds give us great ideas for little things but we have the idea of keeping things super simple. I hope the OP finds a great used van and can hit the road like you have. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?!

It is good to hear someone enjoying their Promaster. Being a mechanic leaves me leary of nearly all vehicles. Side effect of the job.

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