Buying Our Sprinter Van

Ian works on the van shortly after driving it from Minnesota to Virginia. We were able to check off most of the items on our van shopping wish list.

Ian works on the van shortly after driving it from Minnesota to Virginia. We were able to check off most of the items on our van shopping wish list.

HOW WE GOT OUR DREAM MACHINE AT THE RIGHT PRICE

Choosing a van is a very difficult process. There are a lot of considerations, and with buying any used vehicle, it's hard to be sure you aren't getting a lemon. 

First, we had to decide what kind of van we wanted to buy. We decided to go with a Sprinter, because we wanted a larger space and the ability to stand up inside. Diesel engines also get better fuel economy.

One thing many people don’t realize is that all Sprinter vans are produced by Mercedes, but some are rebadged by Dodge and Freightliner. The only difference between these three makes of Sprinter are the badges!

After we picked the type of van we wanted, we created a “wish list” of the features in our ideal van. We wanted:

·       Extended height

·       A 170-inch wheelbase

·       A mechanically sound vehicle

·       A vehicle with a rust-free body

·       Relatively low mileage

·       A pre-2007 vehicle because they are easier and cheaper to repair

We started by searching locally, but eventually expanded our search nationally. We searched craigslist, and CarSoup, cars.com, and Auto Trader. We had a spreadsheet with over 30 eligible vehicles on it, listing their year, location, mileage, list price, web link, contact information, and notes about whether we had contacted them or not.

We went to New Jersey to what felt like a mob-affiliated dealership to look at three vans. One had a wad of cling wrap shoved in to the place where the oil dipstick is supposed to be.

Ian went back to New Jersey to look at a different van at a different dealership, but it wouldn’t start on the cold morning that he got there. The seller “fixed” it, so Ian and his dad went back to take a look, but the dealer refused to negotiate the price of what was clearly not the most mechanically sound vehicle.

Don’t try to buy a used car in New Jersey…

At this point we decided to expand our search beyond the East Coast. Fortunately, Ian only had to fly to one other city to find our dream machine.

Shout out to Dodge of Burnsville for their great customer service! Prior to Ian’s trip to Minneapolis, they fixed a few different issues with the vehicle. In the meantime, they held the vehicle to give Ian a chance to come and see it. When Ian flew to Minneapolis they even picked him up from the airport.

The van is a 2008 Dodge Sprinter, with a 170-inch wheelbase and a high roof. Aside from a few minor repairs, it checked out mechanically. It only had one previous owner, and was serviced every 10,000 miles with full records. For a diesel engine, it has fairly low miles, about 130,000 miles. And it’s blue!

The van has some rust (which we removed—read about our Rust Abatement here), and it’s not a pre-2007. But all the vans we were looking at within our price range required some type of compromise from our wish list. Choosing your compromises is one of the most difficult parts of picking a van.

After signing the paperwork, Ian drove it the 1,200 miles from Minnesota to Virginia in a major snowstorm and with a sinus infection. But we finally brought home a van.

 
Violet B. on a snowy Wisconsin back country road. For how big it is, the van handles surprisingly well in snow.

Violet B. on a snowy Wisconsin back country road. For how big it is, the van handles surprisingly well in snow.