About Us

Hi! we're Becca and Cade. We can generally be found playing outside with our dog Tala: hiking, biking, paddleboarding or paragliding.... or making burritos in our Sprinter Van. We are committed to getting outside, having fun, making sustainable choices easy and accessible, and reducing our impact on the planet. Follow us on Instagram for updates about life on the road!

 

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Which factory options to get on a Sprinter Van

May 9, 2018

In this post I’ll share a few insights into options you may want to consider when buying a new Sprinter van. I give a full breakdown of the features of our first van, and what we ordered on our second one--what we kept the same, what we changed, and why.

 

If you find this blog post helpful, please feel free to visit our Thank You page to leave us a note or send us a Paypal contribution that will allow us to continue producing useful content. You can also use the Amazon affiliate links throughout our posts to help us earn commissions on your purchases. You pay the same price, we earn a small fee. Thanks for helping us help you!

 

This post is about the van itself. If you are looking for info on our custom conversion or building tips, check here.

 

 

If you’re wondering how the process of purchasing a new Sprinter van works (whether from a dealer or by ordering a custom van from the factory), you might want to start on Part 1 of this post here.

 

 

 

 

 

But first off, a little history. We bought our first Sprinter in May of 2016. We had been looking at upgrading from our current van at the time (a 2wd 1998 Chevy Astro), but weren’t ready to make a purchase yet. Low and behold, the Astro’s transmission went out on us unexpectedly just as we were returning to the country after a season working abroad, and suddenly we had to scramble to make the move on a new van. I cover our process of looking at various types of new and used cargo vans, and our choice to go with a new Sprinter a little more in depth in this post.

 

If you’re ready to dive into all the details, then read on!

 

During our first search for a van in 2016, we didn’t have time to order a new one from the factory (this process can easily take about 6 months… we needed a home on wheels like….yesterday.) So we were limited to finding a van that was already on the lot. We searched the inventory of Sprinter Vans across pretty much the entire western US, but we struggled to find a van that fit our needs and wants (but still seemed to be in a ‘reasonable’ price range). The vans seemed to either be basic white cargo vans with zero options (we didn’t have cruise control in our Astro, and we were ready for a few simple luxuries in life), or super fancy crew vans with all the bells and whistles (slash alarms constantly beeping at us and mysterious computer people telling us where to go all the time--yes, we are old fashioned). We wanted a van that was somewhere in between.

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I would suggest dividing your list of desired options 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 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.

 

 

 

We kept coming back to one particular van that had everything we wanted (along with a few things we didn’t think we needed) but nothing we really *didn’t* want. And it just happened to be on the lot in Cade’s hometown of Boise, ID. It was the perfect color, it had heated seats, and was definitely over our budget. We made a screen shot of it and added it to our list with little squiggles and hearts all around it and captioned it ‘Dream Van’. Long story short, after lots of hemming and hawing, we ended up buying it. Here’s the stats on our first Sprinter:

 

Pancho I

 

2016 Mercedes Benz 2500 Sprinter Van

144" Wheelbase

High Roof

Crew Model

 

4 Cylinder 2.1L Diesel Engine

7 Speed Automatic Transmission

RWD

 

Stone Grey Exterior

Factory-Painted Black Wheels

Black Leatherette Interior

 

Factory-Included Upgrades/Packages:

Cruise Control

Heated Seats

Roof Rails

Driver Comfort Package ("Comfort" Seats, Extra 12v Power Outlet, Instrument Panel Storage Bin, 2 Extra (4 total) Master Key FOBs)

Backup Camera

Tow Package (includes Receiver Hitch with Electronic Stability Control)

Multi-Function Steering Wheel/Display Package

Power Heated Mirrors

 

 

 

Notice that the heated seats, heated mirrors, backup camera, multifunction steering wheel/display package, black leatherette, and factory-painted wheels were not on our ‘must haves’ list. They were most of the reason this van was way over our budget, but they are *all* options we ordered on our second Sprinter this year.

 

Pancho II stats:

 

2018 Mercedes Benz 2500 Sprinter Van

144" Wheelbase

High Roof

Cargo Model

 

6 cylinder Diesel Engine

5 Speed Automatic Transmission

RWD

 

Stone Grey Exterior

Factory-Painted Black Wheels

Black Leatherette Interior

 

Factory-Included Upgrades/Packages:

Cruise Control

Heated Seats

Roof Rails

2 Extra (4 total) Master Key FOBs

Backup Camera

Tow Package (includes Receiver Hitch with Electronic Stability Control)

Multi-Function Steering Wheel/Display Package

Power Heated Mirrors

Auxiliary Alternator Bracket

Heavy Duty Front and Rear Stabilizers

Factory Swivel Seats (if I remember correctly the factory swivel packages automatically includes comfort seats)

 

 

 

I noted the changes we made from Pancho I to Pancho II in bold, and you may have noticed it’s not much (for some reason the boldface type isn't showing up on the mobile version, sorry). We loved the original Pancho the mostest and would have been perfectly happy to keep him! But we also couldn’t find another one like him when we decided we wanted to build again and started looking for another van back in November 2017. Which is probably why we ordered a nearly identical van the second time around. And honestly, we would have taken the 4 cylinder engine/ 7 speed transmission if it was still available (more on that below). I’ll try to break down some of the options we loved on our first van, and why we made different decisions on the second.

 

Payload

This issue is often overlooked in DIY conversions, but will depend on how much weight you plan on carrying (and/or towing). Many Sprinter conversions actually get close to (if not over) the max weight (GVWR) just with the buildout, not to mention all the food, kitchen items, gear, humans, and canines you’re going to load it up with. If you go with anything over the 2500, you’ll mostly likely upgrade to a ‘dually’ (two tires on each side in the back), which will increase the amount of weight you can carry, but also the number of tires you need to rotate, balance, and replace and will probably seriously affect your fuel economy. However, if your completed campervan is overweight, you can put excessive wear and tear on the transmission and suspension and cause expensive parts to wear out at an accelerated rate. Either way, keeping build weight low should definitely be something you keep in mind as you plan your conversion, and if you’re planning on using heavy materials, you might want to jump up to the 3500. There's also a version called the 'Super Single' that I don't know a ton about. May be worth researching if you're going to be heavy.

 

 

 

Length

For us, the 144” wheelbase is the only option. Our van is our only vehicle and our daily driver, and the 144” fits in a standard parking spot. We also tow an enclosed cargo trailer with our gear for work and play in it. If we didn’t have trailer and we were trying to full-time it, we definitely would have gone with the 170” WB (and/or EXT). There are people who fit two (or more) humans, a dog (or two), and all their stuff in a 144”, but it’s pretty tight. If you don’t have a lot of bulky outdoor gear, you can probably make it work.

 

 

 

High Roof

Most full timers choose this option. It’s also the only configuration available for anything longer than the 144”. For us, it’s a no-brainer. Standing up inside is the number one reason we chose to upgrade from our (beloved) old Astro Van to a Sprinter. And we don’t regret it for a minute. If you’re not planning on doing a lot of cooking inside your van, and you don’t need a ton of room above/below the bed, you can definitely get away with the low roof model (or if you're just really short). This would also allow you to access more (forest) campsites. We often find ourselves getting out and ‘tree trimming’ or holding up low-hanging branches to avoid scratching our roof when we’re camping in heavily treed areas (side note: still totally worth it). Somewhat of a compromise between the two is to go with a pop top. This allows you to drive in a low roof configuration, and pop the top when you get to camp, allowing you to stand up inside. Sounds perfect in theory, but they are expensive, need to be professionally installed, can be potentially tricky to maintain, and have been known to have issues a few years down the road. Plus it’s just one more thing you have to set up and tear down every time you want to change locations, and 100% destroys your ‘stealth’ factor. We have friends that have started with a pop top and replaced their van with a high-roof model less than a year later because it was so impractical. Again, it doesn’t fit our lifestyle, but if I wasn’t living in my van full time and wanted a more low-profile daily driver, it might make sense to go this route.

 

 

 

Cargo Model

So this is the first thing we changed from Pancho I to Pancho II. The main difference? Windows. Our first Sprinter was a Crew van. It came with fixed windows in the sliding door and opposite the sliding door on the driver side panel. It also had a fixed window on each rear door. This was actually something we were looking for in our search for the perfect van the first time around. Because we’d be living in it full time, we wanted a lot of light in our van, and installing aftermarket windows sounded like a huge time consuming pain in the a** to us (not to mention the fear factor of cutting giant holes in our brand new van). We did love all the light in the van, but what we quickly realized is that it’s really hard to insulate windows.

 

People (including us) spend a whole bunch of time insulating their van walls down to the tiniest little nooks and crannies, but the reality is, windows lose a lot of heat in the winter, and let a lot of heat in during the summer. The good news is that Reflectix helps a lot, and window shades are pretty easy to make. We honestly kept all the rear/side window shades in about 95% of the time (99.9% for the rear door windows), and would only pull the side shades out if we were sitting around the van and it was the perfect temperature outside. In that case, we find it easier to just open the sliding door and let even more light (and fresh air) in. Or just go outside and do something fun, because that sounds way better than sitting around when it's that nice outside. Honestly, we're not big 'hanging in our van' people, so you might want all the windows if you spend more time inside than us. This was a hard call for us, but we opted for no factory windows on round two. We’ll be adding a few aftermarket windows this time around. If you're ordering, you can also add fixed windows individually to a cargo van as a factory option as well, if you don’t want to deal with the installation (or hire a pro to install aftermarket windows). We decided we wanted the aftermarket ones so that we could take advantage of the ventilation options.

 

The other features of a crew are a rear bench seat (which some people keep if they want to carry passengers or have a bigger family). We sold the one from our first van on Craigslist. Be warned--the bench seats are very heavy! And also worth a decent amount of money. If you end up with one you don’t need--sell it! The last major difference between Crew and Cargo models is the interior finish. Our Crew van came with a headliner that went all the way from front to back (we removed the back 3 panels and also sold them, on the Sprinter Forum). It also had more interior paneling covering the walls, some of which we removed and some we kept in our first build. The floor area between the driver and passenger seat is also slightly raised and slopes on the Crew model to accommodate the rear-facing vents for AC/heat. We totally didn’t take this into account when we chose the Cargo model, but the floor is much flatter on our new Cargo van, and that seems like a bonus. Tala hangs out between the seats when we're driving, and we always had to prop her bed up on the back end to compensate for the slope in the floor of the Crew van.

 

 

 

Engine/Transmission

This is kind of a moot point, but rumor has it, they are considering bringing back the 4 Cylinder/7 speed model in 2019, so for what it’s worth… We loved our 4 Cylinder engine/ 7 speed transmission, which was only offered in the US for a couple years. It had plenty of power, it was quiet, it shifted smoothly, it got great gas mileage, it never complained once for the 55,000 miles that we owned it. People often ask us how it did towing, and we were pleasantly surprised. This is probably the single thing we researched the most when picking out our first van, and Cade especially has been impressed with how well it tows our trailer. That being said, our trailer is relatively light (under 3000 lbs) and we’re not the type to hammer the gas pedal going over high mountain passes with a trailer behind us. We’re usually not in a hurry to get anywhere anyways and we also avoid freeways whenever possible. You might make a different choice if you tow a bigger trailer or like to leave the cruise set at 80 on the highway. Seriously, the 4 Cylinder was a dream--we would have gotten it again in a heartbeat if they still offered it. But alas… word on the streets is that it had something to do with the big VW recall and emissions testing issues, but they pulled the 4 Cylinder model off the market sometime in 2016-2017. So (because we have no choice) we’re trying out the 6 Cylinder engine this time around. The biggest thing we’re bummed about is the anticipated loss in fuel economy. We’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

Rear Wheel Drive

We get so many questions on this that it deserves an entire post devoted to the question ‘is that a 4x4?’ Stay tuned. Bottom line is: 4wd has a serious effect on your fuel economy, is an expensive upgrade and unless you’re doing some serious off-roading or consistently gnarly winter driving, we don’t think you need it. Or maybe you do, but we don’t. We spend a lot of time on BLM backroads and really have never gotten ourselves into a situation where we felt like 4wd would have helped us. The sheer size, height, and clearance of the van (in addition to the fact that we have a kitchen and all our other stuff inside) are much more limiting factors than the traction, and replacing the factory highway tires with good all-terrain tires will help a lot with that. In the winter, we’ve had great success installing quality Blizzak snow tires (and carrying chains in case), and have had zero issues getting anywhere we need to go. We have spent a lot of time during the past two winters in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and didn’t feel limited in where we could take it. We would drive our 2wd with snow tires anywhere (including any ski area in North America) on any semi-maintained road in any weather. That being said, if you are rock crawling or going on some serious backcountry snow adventures in remote areas in your Sprinter van (or just want the peace of mind), by all means, get the 4x4. We ordered a 2wd again, and are spending all the cash we saved on our awesome buildout ;)

 

 

 

Color

This is personal preference, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but ‘Stone Grey’ is clearly the best Sprinter van color ever created. Also, we renamed it ‘Desert Camo’. Can someone please let Mercedes know? Thanks.

 

Factory Painted Black Wheels

Same goes for the black wheels. They look awesome. End of story. And a $75 upgrade sure beats dropping $5k on custom wheels. You can do the same yourself with a can of plasti-dip.

 

Black Leatherette

This stuff holds up well to our abuse (and Tala dog’s). We tried to always use blankets as seat covers to protect the leatherette, but honestly we weren’t always the most consistent. Two years later and it still looks great. Seems like a no-brainer to us.

 

Cruise Control

As I mentioned, our Astro Van that we had prior to Pancho didn’t have cruise. We drove all the way to Costa Rica and back in it (not that it would have helped with all the topes). We were ready to splurge on this new-fangled technology.

 

Heated Seats

This is the ultimate luxury on a cold winter morning (or a chilly summer morning, or after a long day at work, because let’s be honest: I literally use mine every day. If you live in Florida, you might want to skip this one. Or get them and just crank up the AC and dream of winter wonderlands (JK, that’s wasteful).

 

Roof Rails

If you want to put anything on your van roof, like solar panels, a roof rack, a rocket box, lights, a sweet roof deck, etc, you will want the factory roof rails. Otherwise you’re going to be drilling a lot of holes (and then worrying about them leaking for the rest of your life).


Two Extra Keys

Key FOB replacements are expensive, and let's be real, we lose stuff a lot. We each had our own set of keys, plus we always kept one extra near the rear door to have convenient to place in a lock box on the bumper when we were doing something outside where we didn't want to take a key with us. The other extra key lives in the glove box and is usually used when we've misplaced the main set(s) in a jacket or bag and don't want to tear the entire van apart looking for it when we 'know it must be here somewhere.'

 

Backup Camera

This is actually something we thought was kind of silly, and we couldn’t figure out why everyone was making such a big deal out of it when we were van shopping the first time around. Let’s just say we consider it mandatory these days. Parallel parking, not hitting pedestrians backing up in the grocery store parking lot (or small city streets) backing up to our trailer hitch without a spotter, checking the position of the trailer while we’re reversing, checking bikes while carrying them on a hitch-mounted rack…. All of these tasks would not be possible without the help of our handy backup camera. You can install one aftermarket pretty easily. We would highly recommend it.

 

Tow Package

If you regularly tow a trailer, you’re probably going to want the factory tow package if possible. You can get an aftermarket hitch installed, but the only way to tap into the ‘electronic stability program’ and ‘trailer stability assist’ features built into the new vans is if the hitch comes from the factory. I’m no expert on the subject, but these computerized features basically help with cross-wind and compensate for ‘fishtailing’ if you ever get swervy while towing. You can read more about it here. Obviously a tow hitch is a tow hitch and any hitch will work just fine, but we’ll take all the extra safety features we can get when towing our trailer.

 

If you are not overly interested in actually towing a trailer, but want to use the hitch as a mount for a bike rack, motorcycle carrier, storage, etc, then an aftermarket hitch should do the job fine.

 

 

 

Multi-Function Steering Wheel/Display Package

This is a convenience factor, with controls on the steering wheel for the stereo, etc, which is nice to not have to reach over and mess with buttons. The cab is fairly large in a Sprinter, and you’re pretty far away from the center controls. The part of it that we use the most is the display that gives you a whole menu of info on your fuel economy, range, mileage, etc. We could definitely live without it, but we use these features everyday. We’re also really excited to see that there is a DEF gauge in the 2018, which we didn’t have on the 2016. On our previous van we just had to wait for the DEF refill light to come on, which usually happened when we were at least 100 miles from the nearest gas station.

 

Power Heated Mirrors

Okay, so funny story. We actually told our dealer that we didn’t want these on our second van, because we didn’t have them on our first van and thought it was kind of an expensive option for something that never seemed to be an issue for us. He looked at us really funny, told us we definitely wanted them if we spend any time in winter, and told them that he *always* orders them on vans that are coming to Idaho. After leaving the dealership, we looked into it, and turns out Pancho I actually had heated mirrors all along. They just work so well that we never realized it. We called him later that day and added them to our order. These kind of go hand in hand with heated seats. Probably not really *necessary* anywhere, skip them if you live in Florida, but if you drive a lot in the winter, you’re probably going to want them.

 

Auxiliary Alternator Bracket

This one is kind of a specialized option, but might be something to consider if you plan to rely heavily on your alternator to charge your auxiliary batteries while you drive. It gives you the ability to add a dedicated alternator that can charge your batteries up to 280 amps without interfering with the van’s electrical system. If you have a robust solar charging setup and your electronics aren’t super power-hungry you probably don’t need it. Honestly, we’re still not sure if we’re even going to get an auxiliary alternator, but we wanted to have the option. It’s much cheaper to get the bracket from the factory than aftermarket. You can also order the auxiliary alternator from the factory if you're sure you're going to utilize it. We just went with the bracket, which gives us the ability to easily add the alternator if we decide our solar panels are not sufficient. Even if we don’t end up using it, it gives the next owner of our van the option to add the alternator if they want to use high-load electronics like a rooftop AC unit. We will update with more info as we finalize our electrical system and down the road if we choose to add another alternator.  

 

 

 

Heavy duty front and rear stabilizers

We don’t know a ton about the exact nuts and bolts of this package, but we thought it was a reasonably inexpensive option to upgrade the suspension a bit. Adding a full conversion to a single axle van is almost always going to get close to the weight limit, as we mentioned above, and we do drive on rough roads frequently. At first glance, we can definitely feel that the suspension is stiffer on our new van. We’ll let you know how it goes once we add a couple thousand pounds and put some miles on it.

 

Factory Swivel Seats

We saved the best for last, and we really hope these things are as awesome as we’ve heard because they may just be the number one reason we started over on our van build. Don’t get us wrong, swivel seats in general are a thing of beauty and we are firm believers that they transform a van from a vehicle to a home. However, aftermarket Sprinter swivels are notoriously plagued by a few annoying issues. First, they raise the seat height to ridiculous levels. The seats in a Sprinter van are already pretty high. But by adding the 1.5” swivel plate between the seat base and the seat itself, you make it almost impossible to sit comfortably without the use of a stool or foot rest unless you’re a bloody giant. I’m 5’7” with long legs and could barely reach the floors (or pedals) in our first van once the swivels were installed. Add to that the problem that the floor in the rear of the van is actually significantly lower than the front foot wells, and by the time you turn the seat around you feel like a kiddie at the adult table on Thanksgiving Day. Which is fun for a minute until you move into your new #homeonwheels and realize this is your only chair for the next few years of your life.

 

Let’s be real. It’s totally possible to just use random stuff for foot rests (side note: those cork yoga blocks are great for this purpose). We did it for almost 2 years and we survived. There are much more important things to worry about in life. You can also get extreme and order lowered seat bases to use with the aftermarket swivels. But if you are ordering a new van and plan to utilize swivels to expand the living space in your build, we would strongly suggest ordering the factory swivels. Bonus is that you don’t have to deal with installation (which involves removing the seats, adjusting the e-brake height (or at least the cover) on the driver’s side, and usually tapping out one or more holes because for some reason they never manage to line the damn things up). We also find the aftermarket swivels to be pretty clunky to operate and fairly disappointing for how expensive they are. We’re really hoping the factory swivels fulfill all our Sprinter van dreams. Stay tuned. We’ll report back on how they live up to the hype!

 

One other thing to note is that with the swivel seat package, we automatically got the 'comfort' seats. Even if I didn't get the swivel package, I would still want the "comfort seats" Honestly, I haven’t spent a ton of time in the non-comfort seats, but we both have back problems after years of abusing our bodies in the outdoors, and this seemed like a no-brainer for us. I had hip surgery a year and a half ago, and the difference between driving in our Astro (where I couldn’t sit comfortably for longer than about 30 minutes) and the new Sprinter seats has changed my world. This might sound dramatic, but hey, we drive a lot.

 

 

There are a million other options out there, and you can find most of them on the “build” tool on the Mercedes Website.

 

Depending on how you plan to use your home on wheels, you will probably make different decisions than we did, as there are as many ways to outfit a campervan as there are #vanlifers on Instagram. We’d love to hear your thoughts--let us know in the comments which options worked for you, or how you’d configure your dream van.

 

If you found this blog post helpful, please feel free to visit our Thank You page to leave us a note or send us a Paypal contribution that will allow us to continue producing useful content. You can also use the Amazon affiliate links throughout our posts to help us earn commissions on your purchases. You pay the same price, we earn a small fee. Thanks for helping us help you!

 

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