Alright, so you’ve decided you want to invest in a new Sprinter van. You’re ready to do the van life thing. But how much do they cost and how do you get one? You might have heard that you can order a custom Sprinter from the factory exactly how you want it. I’ll do my best to break down what we’ve learned in buying our first new Sprinter van off the lot in May of 2016, and ordering a second Sprinter van from Mercedes, which we’ll be picking up next week (May 2018). And this is going to drive some people nuts, but I’m not going to talk much about prices in actual numbers here because it’s much easier to get that info from Mercedes. I’ll explain below.
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At some point early in the process, you’ll probably want to go to your local (or nearest) Sprinter dealer. Not every Mercedes location carries Sprinters, but we’ve found the ones that do generally have a dedicated Sprinter guy (we haven’t met a sprinter lady yet, but I sure would like to), who is usually pretty helpful and knowledgeable. Some are more familiar with people planning on doing custom conversions than others. The dealership is where you can ask a lot of questions and test drive vans with different options (depending on the inventory available).
Next step is to go home and do some research. (you may also want to make this step one before you go to the dealer). The Sprinter website is a great place to start. This is where you can check out colors, various packages, find every available option and its cost, and price out a van to your liking. I’m not going to list many numbers here. Because they fluctuate year-to-year and honestly the answer to “how much does a Sprinter Van cost” varies *a lot* depending on the year and which options you go with. The two types of Sprinters most commonly use for custom conversions are Crew or Cargo (and occasionally passenger). According to the Mercedes website, Cargo vans currently (as of April 2018) start at about $38,500 and Crew vans at $44,500. Prices go up as soon as you start adding a high roof, interior panels, extra windows, cruise control etc. The Sprinter Van "build" website provides hours of entertainment and answers way more questions than I can :)
Once you get an idea of which options you might want, it’s time to start seeing if your van exists on the lot. I would suggest dividing your list into two groups: must haves and wants. For example, in 2016, our must haves were a 2wd van with roof rails, cruise control, a factory trailer hitch, and comfort seats. We knew we didn’t want the built-in GPS navigation, active safety packages, or other expensive and unnecessary add-ons. Our wants (or things we were willing to budge on) were the 4-cylinder engine, crew model, and pretty much any other color than white.
Next you need to decide how far you’re willing to travel to get the van. We searched pretty much the entire Western US. Unfortunately, this process is not as streamlined as it could be. Depending on your local dealer, they may also be able to help you with this process (some of them seem to ‘trade’ vans with certain nearby dealers they have relationships with, but they generally can’t help you get just any van you want from any dealer in the country). There is a map of all the Mercedes Dealerships (with links where you can search the inventory) in the US here.
You go on that site, pick a dealership, search through the Sprinter inventory (for some reason some of them make it harder than others to filter options), and see if there’s anything that works for you. Be forewarned that these listings are not always accurate or current, and you might have to call or email the dealer to find out what exactly they have. (Warning: I spent the next few months trying to get my name removed from all their email lists after that).
If you find a van you like that's out of your area, I would suggest asking your local dealer if they can help you get that van (or a similar one) first. If you buy from the local guy/gal vs. someone in another state, you’ll establish a relationship, be able to discuss services with them, and have a resource if you have questions or decide to order another van in the future. It may also make the process of actually purchasing and registering your vehicle more straightforward. In certain states, it is easy enough to drive a vehicle off the lot, take it back to your home state, and register it (and pay sales tax) there. There are other states (like California?) where this seems to be somewhat more difficult (slash out of the question?).
We’re not experts, but we think it’s definitely easiest to buy local. For reference, we bought our van in Idaho and registered it in Montana, which was pretty straightforward. We’re confident that you’ll figure something out (with the help of the dealer) if you find your perfect van halfway across the country and feel the need to fly there and get it.
Now, here’s option two. If you have about 3-6 months before you actually want to start building (ie you’re way better at planning out your life than we were the first time around) and/or you can’t find your perfect van on the lot in your area, you have the option to order a van from your nearest dealership. The vans are currently manufactured in Germany (they are building a new plant in SC that may or may not change lead times in the next couple years), so it takes a while to get one. Call or pay a visit to your nearest dealer, they are the ones that facilitate this process. This is the route we went on our second van and it’s really nice to be able to get some options that are nearly impossible to find on vans in the current inventory (ie factory swivel seats). You get to design your ‘dream van’ to your exact specs, which might actually end up saving you money in the end, because you’re not having to pay for options you don’t actually want or need, and getting things (again, swivel seats) that are *much* better from the factory than their aftermarket counterparts. You’ll have to do your research on the exact options that are perfect for you. Your dealer, google, and the Mercedes website are your friends here. If you want an exhaustive rundown of what we ordered on our second van (all the options--what we changed from our first van and what we kept the same), stay tuned for next week's post.
Once you have your van picked out, your dealer will put your order in the system. You’ll be asked to put down a deposit (ours was $2500), which goes toward the purchase price of your van. Be forewarned that you might not know the exact final purchase price of the van at the time you order. We still don’t have a final number for our van that is due to be delivered next week. Also be forewarned that delivery estimates and dates are not set in stone here. We’ve read some stories on forums about people getting held up for weeks or months trying to get their van due to unforeseen circumstances. This seems to be relatively rare (ours is showing up a week or two earlier than expected), but if you absolutely *need* your van by a certain date you might consider buying one off the lot so you can get your hands on it asap, or at least discussing this in detail with your dealer.
If you do choose to order the next step is to wait approximately six months. We suggest spending all that time researching and planning your build (and ordering components and supplies) so you’re ready to get going when your van finally arrives!
Once you’re ready to actually purchase your new van, the dealer is probably the best person to explain the process. You’ll need to choose whether to add on an extended warranty (we bought one that was good up to 5 years/125,000 miles), and whether you want to do any financing through the dealership. Also keep in mind that you’ll have to pay sales tax (if your state has that) on a van at the time of purchase unless you’re taking it to another state (where you’ll have to pay it upon registration). Depending on the tax rates in your state, a $40,000 + van is going to have a pretty hefty tax due, so you might want to plan for that in your budget! Speaking of budgets, I’m working on getting a post about how we budget for vans, conversions, and living on the road up in the future, as we get a lot of questions on that front. Stay tuned!
If you’re looking for more info on how we settled on a Sprinter van, you may want to read this post.
And if you’d like to read part 2 of this post, where I go over the options we ordered on our second Sprinter van (and why!), stay tuned for next week’s writeup!
You may have noticed that I did not cover buying a *used* Sprinter van here. Why? Because we’ve never done it. We shopped briefly for used vans the first time we were in the market for a Sprinter and found it *really* hard to find a good deal on a low-mile used van that hadn’t gotten the crap beat out of it hauling around plumbing supplies or bowling balls in it's first incarnation as a cargo van. For a variety of reasons, we chose to save/ borrow money to buy a new van. If I were in the market for a used van, I would probably use Craigslist, local classified ads (like KSL in Salt Lake City), the Sprinter Forum, Facebook Sprinter groups, Instagram, and possibly auto/truck trader. Note also that there are websites that will search *all* Craigslist postings in a selected area for you, making it easy to search for vans in your region. Also make sure to check the auto, truck, and RV sections of Craigslist when you search, as private parties will list them in different areas. Mercedes dealerships and used car lots may also have used vans, but be forewarned you’ll probably pay more than from a private seller.
Bearfoot Theory goes over some of their suggestions of where to shop for a Sprinter van for sale here.
Please also note:
If you managed to get all the way through this post without thinking/ saying aloud to whoever is sitting next to you: “40,000 dollars for a van!?!?!??!”, then good job. However, if you, like us, got major sticker shock the first time you heard how much a Sprinter van costs, then hey, we feel ya. Our first van (our beloved 2wd 1998 Chevy Astro) cost us $3000. We absolutely adored it and spent almost 4 years living out of it (and playing gear tetris daily with all our worldly possessions) before we made the leap to #sprintervanlife. But just because our finances and personal choices seem to be a hot topic amongst strangers on the internet (and also strangers in the grocery store parking lot): we are 30-somethings, it was probably time to grow up a little (you may laugh, but we seriously considered our purchase equivalent to buying our first home), and it’s the only ‘house’ and vehicle we own (besides a small $500 motorcycle). We agree that we are extremely fortunate to be able to afford such an expensive vehicle, but considering how much the average American couple spends on their first home and 2 cars, we actually think it’s relatively reasonable as an investment. Cheers!
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