(this was written in approx 2005 before the latest model )
Ok. Im writing this as a sprinter fleet owner and delivery driver that has done over 500,000 miles in sprinters!
There are many variants available as shown below.
swb models approx 7ft behind bulkhead to rear doors.identified by one rear panel
mwb approx 10ft to doors. identified by 2 rear panels
lwb approx 14ft to doors. identified by 3 rear panels.(huge cube but lower payload due to higher body weight)
2 roof heights low and high (standard roof, tall enough to walk around in without hitting your head)
The model numbers represent the gross vehicle weight (thanks to andrew for correcting me)
Normally the 2-- series was a 2590kg, but could be uprated to a 2800kg GVW - mainly low roof models favoured by builders etc.
the 3-- series has a 3500kg gvw. the most commonly seen.
the 4-- series are twin wheelers 4.2 ?? tonne but can be downrated with new springs and re test. (less room between wheel arches inside too)
the sprinter 3-- series are the most common seen on UK roads. usually high roof models favoured by couriers etc.
The older models 308, 310, 312: diesels
Having test driven a 308 i found it only really suitable for local work, ie carpet fitters etc as it was a bit underpowered for loaded motorway work only a 2.3litre engine! roughly 80hp
The 310 d. 2.9 litres of turbocharged diesel producing a leisurely 110 hp or thereabouts. Available in short , medium or extra long (14ft behind bulkhead to rear doors). This was my first sprinter! Driven 125000 miles in a year. Never let me down! less to go wrong, no abs, slip diff etc on most.
312d. again 2.9 litres leisurely producing 120 hp or thereabouts. Again available in all 3 lengths.has abs, asr etc on this model which makes it a bit safer. a preferable buy if you can find a well looked after one.
I still drive a 312 today. I regard it as more comfortable and leisurely smooth than the newer models to drive due to its torque you rarely have to change down unless into traffic.
Dont write these vans off as old hat, they are still very capable, extremely comfortable for long journeys (believe me sometimes i drive 18 hours a day! and in my old transit i couldnt do 6)
Good points: comfort, load space, Smooth gearbox and underworked engine.
Bad points: Sprinters rust! chassis and underside is well protected and stay good but the bodywork paint isnt the hardest and stone chips and scratches soon blister and scab, although superficial this can look ugly.
Sprinters eat front lower ball joints: if doing multi drop local youl probably need to replace these annually, motoway milage every 3 years at a push (from experience my fleet which does mainly motorway miles has lower ball joints every 2 years. The part costs £8 factored but you really cant do this yourself as it requires garage facilities. We pay £150 a pair fitted but our mot station charges £180 a side!
Avoid cheap budget tyres. why? they wear out too quick! I run 4 sprinters. A budget tyre costs roughly £50 fitted.Life span roughly 20- 40 000 miles. A bridgestone duravis tyre costs roughly £70 fitted (but i have a pair on the front of my 312 that have done 190000 miles and arent done in yet. what does that tell you?
(update october 2010. one tyre threw a bit of tread off in 2010 after being on the van since 2002. it had covered 350069 miles. Unbelievable but true. replaced with new bridgestone duravis @ £90.each. Pretty sure the new tyres will outlast the van) annoyingly it had perished but still had 3mm remaining!
stay on top of it with a touch up stick. The body is big and quite expensive to get re painted!
tips: Look for a well looked after example. Service printout history although nice just tells you whats gone wrong in the past. sprinters dont have timing belts so thats good news, ive never had timing chain problems! Change the oil and filter every 6000 miles. i know the service period is longer but the oil is stinking after 6000 miles. Roughly £20 for peace of mind
Things to look out for: Noisy fan belt. usually alternator pulley sprag bearing seizing. (it will drop off soon and leave you stranded) (only £32 from mercs so get it changed) also the hydraulic damper unit can cause this along with a worn bushing, cheap and easy to replace.
Rattling from gearbox area. Flywheel dual mass unit. £500 approx to buy
Vibration when driving. No.. we thought propshaft too but it turned out to be the expensive flywheel . see above.
Other than that there are 2 main points to note (which means crawling under the van)
There is a brake compensator at the rear under the van which allows more back brake when loaded. this requires regular lubrication. If it seizes in the loaded position and you hit the brakes hard the back wheels can totally lock up. ( ive read a few crash reports of this so make sure its checked regularly) it is an open unit and not protected from spray, road salt etc. Solution make sure its free and litterally plaster it in grease
The same goes for the hand brake mixer which again is an open unit which tends to seize up, usually noticed first when handbrake doesnt release properly when put off.
New models sprinter 311, 313, 316 diesels short, medium and long wheel base
Watch the payload you put in them, the long wheel base only has approx 1000kg with full fuel and a driver. You find this out for the first time when pc plod pulls you over and takes you to a weighbridge then kindly takes you to court and issues a hefty fine! again through experience... doh!.
some lutons etc with tail lifts are huge inside but you could only fill them with polystyrene. Use a public weighbridge to find out what you can carry. Go there with no load on but with normal driver and full fuel. You will be amazed at the result.
311: The most popular sprinter on the road now.(mainly due to it having the lowest new buy price) check the specs, there are a lot of imports of this model about.
2.3. litre 4 cylinder injected td pushing out 110 hp
313 2.3 litre 4 cylinder injected td pushing out 130hp rarely for sale because theyre so good. Long distance couriers favour these because you have a bit more hp and a more relaxed drive
316 2.8 litre 5 cylinder injected td pushing out 158 hp . Like rocking horse droppings to find because of very high new price not many around (but i have one :-) slightly less payload due to extra engine weight but so torquey that they are a pleasure to drive, especially when your getting boxed in on the motorway and you need fast acceleration, just put your foot down and it pulls like a train. fuel burn averages out about the same as 311 and 313. These also can have so many extras fitted so check the specs.
The main differences between the older and new models:
Gearstick is dashboard mounted on new models (but beware the cables to gearbox need regular maintenance or they stretch and make gearchange sloppy. if left they can leave you stuck in 1 gear which isnt much fun)
New headlamp layout on the front and an air intake mounted into offside wing which looks cool
To be fair to mercs there is probably a lot of other things they put into it but from a driving / owning point of view hardly any difference (apart from a pen holder and a can holder which pops out of ashtray)
fuel burn on all the sprinters i have driven averages out approx the same . expect 450 to 500 miles from a tank fill of 75 litres giving a reserve of 5 litres (most have an 80 litre tank) which is enough to drive in 1 hit.
The bad points on the older vans as above still apply. ball joints, brake compensator etc
additionally they seem to eat heater glow plugs which can be very awkward to change.
Electronic injectors dont seem to last too long and you cant just replace them. you then need to go to mercs and have them callibrated by number as they are precision metering units. A worn injector can cause over fuelling to a cylinder and crack pistons which is engine out and replace...ouch!
Engine management can be a pain. if it detects anything wrong it can put you into limp home mode which is just that. lose enough power to just get up a hill in 2nd gear max 3250 revs. No fun if your 400 miles from home when it happens. The older models never seem to suffer this!
Servicing tips for all models:
regular oil change at 6000 miles
lubricate the wiper arm output shafts otherwise they wear and the wipers squeel when on..and i bet you thought it was the blades!
check and lubricate brake compensator unit and handbrake mixer.
have brake disks removed and inspected for cracking on inner section, always seems to happen on inside where it cant be seen easily
Lubricate the spare wheel hanger unit or you wont remove the spare when you need to.it can seize solid (use vinegar to penetrate the rust if seized)
Errors and ommisions excluded in my appraisal. Its written from experience of sprinters not from full technical knowledge but if you find huge mistakes let me know. if you find it helpfull. buy me a pint! (loads of people contact me for help with sprinter faults, il help where i can but i dont work for mercs! i was a mechanic for 8 years so have a good knowledge of lots of bits and pieces that i have come accross as a mechanic and fleet owner only)