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Sprinter vs Transit: Which Is Best For Van Life?

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Whether you’re new to van life, and looking for the ultimate adventure machine, or a seasoned full-timer thinking about an upgrade, you’ve most likely encountered the great Sprinter vs Transit debate during the course of your research.

The Ford Transit vs Mercedes Sprinter argument has been dividing van dwellers for years now, and shows no sign of being resolved any time soon.

Before we weigh in on this touchy subject, though, let’s get a couple of things straight: both of these vans are particularly well-suited to van living, and either van can be converted in pretty much any way you can imagine.

Still, there are significant differences between Mercedes Sprinters and Ford Transits, and choosing which one is best for your van life needs is very much a question of personal choice.

In this article we’ll take an in-depth look at each van, weighing up the pros and cons, as well as taking things like cost, fuel economy, and suitability for van life into consideration.

Let’s start our own Ford Transit vs Mercedes Sprinter debate by taking a closer look at each van!

Sprinter vs Transit: Mercedes Sprinter Overview

4x4 sprinter van for rent parked in a parking lot
You can rent this 4×4 Sprinter van on Outdoorsy.

Until fairly recently, Mercedes Sprinters were the van of choice for DIY conversions. Sprinters have been around for a long time, with the original Freightliner introduced to the North American market in 2001.

This was long before the Dodge ProMaster and the Ford Transit vans were introduced, so Sprinters got a real head start on gaining a dedicated following.

Sprinters are available in three different size options, and come as cargo vans or passenger vans.

Most Sprinters have diesel engines, and are available with either 2WD or 4×4 drivetrains. You can find older used Sprinters for around $20,000, but you’ll pay upwards of $60,000 for a new 4×4 version.

With a sleek silhouette and clever branding, there’s no doubt that Sprinters have an irresistible appeal that has made them the darlings of Instagram.

Social media is full of images of sexy Sprinter conversions that have helped propel van life into the popular consciousness.

Mercedes Sprinter High Roof Specs

Exterior lengthExterior heightInterior heightInterior cargo lengthInterior cargo width Cargo volume
144″ Wheelbase Cargo Van233.5″ 107.5″ 79.1″132.9″70.4″372.8 cu ft
170″ Wheelbase Cargo Van274.3″107.3″79.1″173.6″70.4″488.1 cu ft
170″ Wheelbase Extended Cargo Van290″107″79.1″189.4″70.4″532.6 cu ft

Mercedes Sprinter Pros And Cons

Pros
  • Fuel economy. Thanks to its diesel engine, you’ll get really good gas mileage from a Sprinter, with 2WD models averaging around 20mpg on the freeway.
  • Comfortable ride. Sprinters are really comfortable to drive, and handle like an SUV. Plus, they have a fantastic turning radius.
  • Long lifespan. On average, diesel vehicles last twice as long as those with gasoline engines.
  • High payload. Sprinters have a higher payload than Transits, so can easily handle heavier build-outs.
  • Resale value. In the Sprinter vs. Transit debate, this point really works to the Mercedes vehicle’s advantage. Thanks to their desirability and long lifespan, Sprinters tend to hold their value, making them solid investments.
Cons
  • Expensive upfront. Although a Sprinter is a fairly solid investment if you’re planning on selling in the future, it’s definitely a more expensive purchase upfront.
  • High maintenance costs. Sprinters are complicated to work on, so regular services or repairs have to be taken care of at a dealership, which can be very expensive.
  • Problem years. Sprinters of a certain vintage – especially those produced between 2007 and 2015 – often have problems with the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) system.
  • Wait times. Many parts have to be imported from Germany, so if something needs to be replaced, it can take a long time form the part to arrive.
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Sprinter vs Transit: Ford Transit Overview

Sprinter vs Transit: Ford Transit camper conversion by VanDoIt
Photo Credit: VanDoIt

The Ford Transit van was introduced to the North American market in 2015, quickly becoming a dominant force in the commercial market.

Today, Ford claims around 30 percent of North American cargo van sales, and it looks like this popular workhorse is going to stick around.

It’s only in the last few years that the Ford Transit has started to make waves in the van life community, but more and more people are beginning to see the Transit’s potential for part-time or full-time van dwelling.

In 2020, the Transit went through a major overhaul, and Ford introduced the long-awaited AWD drivetrain as well as a raft of high-tech upgrades, including adaptive cruise control and pre-collision assist.

The majority of Fort Transits have gasoline engines, although 2020 also saw the release of a 2.0L EcoBlue diesel option.

Without a doubt you’ll pay way less for a Transit than a Sprinter.

In general, prices range from around $15,000 for an older used Transit, to upwards of $40,000 for a new model.

Ford Transits don’t have the Sprinter’s perceived “drool factor,” and there aren’t as many resources for Transit conversions, but that’s changing fast.

Quite a few popular companies such as Vandoit are beginning to offer Transit conversions, which is only adding to this vehicle’s popularity.

Ford Transit Cargo Van Specs

Exterior lengthExterior heightInterior heightInterior cargo lengthInterior cargo widthCargo volume
130″ Wheelbase Medium Roof235.5″109.6″79.1″132.9″77.0″372.8 cu ft
148″ Wheelbase High Roof235.5″109.6″81.5″143.7″77.0″404.3 cu ft
148″ Wheelbase Extended High Roof263.9″110.4″81.5″172.2″77.0″487.3 cu ft

Ford Transit Pros And Cons

Pros
  • Easy to drive. A Ford Transit van is a joy to drive. Not only is the ride quieter than a Sprinter, but the Transit handles like a sedan!
  • Low maintenance costs. This is a big plus for Ford in the Ford Transit vs Mercedes Sprinter debate. Not only are parts cheap and plentiful, but a Transit can be worked on pretty much anywhere.
  • Highest roof. The Transit has the highest roof of any panel van, making it ideal for van conversions, especially if you’re on the taller side!
  • AWD. Although 4×4 Sprinters have been available for years, the introduction of an AWD Transit is an important development.
  • Reasonable price. You’ll likely pay thousands of dollars less if you buy a Transit rather than a Sprinter.
Cons
  • Fuel economy. A Ford Transit will average well under 20mpg on the freeway, which is substantially less than a diesel Sprinter.
  • Less popular. Although Transits are becoming more popular, there are still way more available resources for van lifers with Sprinters.
  • Shorter lifespan. Those who fall on the Mercedes side of the Sprinter vs Transit debate claim this as a real negative. Especially if you’ll be traveling and living in your van full-time.
  • Lower clearance height. You’re best advised not to attempt a McDonalds drive-through in either van, but making it under low bridges is easier in a Sprinter.

Sprinter vs Transit: Things To Consider

Looking for the right vehicle for van life can seem like a daunting task. Whether you plan on converting a van to live in or having a van professionally converted, there are so many things to take into consideration that it can feel pretty overwhelming.

When it comes to Ford Transit vs Mercedes Sprinter, there are a few important points to think about that’ll help you decide which van might work best for you.

  • Budget. You’ll have to decide how much you’re willing to spend on a van and, if you plan on a DIY conversion, how much that’s likely to cost. It’s also a good idea to think about budgeting for maintenance and repairs.
  • Lifespan. If you’re planning on selling your vehicle at some point, it’s a good idea to think about resale value. Diesel vans, in particular, are going to hold their value for longer.
  • New/used. Perhaps the ideal situation here is to find a lightly used van with low miles that’s still under warranty. That may sound like a unicorn, but those vans are out there!
  • Height. Shorter folks don’t really have to worry too much about interior height when it comes to the Sprinter vs Transit argument, but this is a major consideration for taller people. Don’t forget that you’ll lose at least two inches for flooring and insulation!
  • Usage. How you plan on using your van can have a big impact on which vehicle you’ll need. If you’re going to be traveling a lot during the winter, for example, a 4×4 van should definitely be on your radar.

Sprinter vs Transit: The Nitty Gritty

Let’s take a closer look at how these two awesome vans compare in a few important areas.

Sprinter vs Transit: Maintenance Costs

Red Mercedes Sprinter Van
Photo Credit: Mercedes

Let’s face it: at some point every vehicle needs repairs, and getting issues taken care of is extra important when your vehicle is also your home!

Aside from budgeting for regular oil and tire changes, you’re well-advised to have some extra savings for when something unexpected needs to be addressed.

A Ford Transit is not only more affordable upfront, it’s also way cheaper to maintain.

Replacement parts are not only affordable but also widely available, which is a huge bonus.

You’ll also have extra peace of mind knowing that Ford dealers and mechanics can be found in almost every town, should the worst happen.

Things are a little different when it comes to owning a Sprinter. Internet forums are full of horror stories about DEF sensor failure, black death, and the dreaded limp mode.

When a serious problem arises a dealership is often the only place that can help, so you’ll have to find your way to the nearest big city.

Add in the fact that repair costs can be substantial and you may have to wait weeks for parts to arrive, and it’s no wonder this a major sticking point for many people in the Ford Transit vs Mercedes Sprinter debate.

Sprinter vs Transit: AWD/4×4 Options

Sprinter vs Transit: Sportsmobile Ford Transit 4x4 conversion
Photo Credit: Sportsmobile

For those who plan on traveling the back roads, especially during winter, a 4×4 Sprinter is definitely the most attractive option.

A 4×4 Sprinter has a much higher clearance than a standard 2WD model, and it can go just about anywhere, making it ideal for off-grid adventuring.

Although you’ll need to spend a lot upfront for one of these awesome vans, it will hold its value in case you ever want to sell it in the future.

The AWD Transit is becoming more and more popular, though it’s only available with a gasoline engine.

Although it’s a big step up from the 2WD Transit, you’ll need to pay for a lifted suspension if you want more clearance.

Another option is to pay for an after-market 4×4 conversion.

Although you’ll pay around $13,000 for a Quigley’s conversion from Sportsmobile, the overall cost could be less than what you’d pay for a 4×4 Sprinter, leveling the playing field in the Sprinter vs Transit game!

Sprinter vs Transit: Suitability For Conversions

Tourig converted Ford Transit campervan
Photo Credit: Tourig

As we’ve already seen, there’s much more interior standing space in a High Roof Transit, which could be the clincher for taller friends.

Although there’s less space in a Transit, overall, the square shape makes it easy to do a quick and affordable conversion.

Another big plus is the Transit’s interior width, which makes it possible to install a bed width-ways, freeing up more living and storage space inside the van.

When it comes to converting a Sprinter, the biggest advantage is the amount of space inside, especially in the 170″ wheelbase extended model.

If you’re planning on living in your van full-time or with kids, the huge amount of space inside a Sprinter will mean a lot.

Although you’ll probably have to sleep length-ways in your van, there are loads of ways to integrate storage space in your design.

Sprinter vs Transit: Diesel vs Gasoline

Sprinter vs Transit: Coachmen Ford Transit conversion van
Photo Credit: Coachmen

When considering the Sprinter vs Transit question, one of the most important differences is the fuel that each van uses.

Most Sprinters have Diesel engines, which not only means better fuel economy, but also a longer lifespan.

That said, diesel is more expensive at the pump, and locating the Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) that Sprinters require could be a real problem if you plan on traveling to Central or South America.

If you do plan on extended foreign journeys in your camper van, you’re probably better off going with a Ford Transit, in spite of the van’s inferior fuel economy.

Sprinter vs Transit: Resources

You can rent this Sprinter van camper on Outdoorsy

Sprinters have been around for such a long time that there’s a wealth of information available when it comes to conversion ideas, layout plans, and problem solving.

Not only that, but thanks to the Sprinter’s popularity as a conversion van, there are loads of companies dedicated to providing Sprinter-centric toys, gadgets, add-ons, and extras.

Because the Ford Transit is much newer, there’s much less information and conversion support.

That’s changing, though, as more people decide that they sit on the Ford side of the Sprinter vs Transit debate.

Several companies are now offering Transit conversions, with companies like Vandoit and Modvans dedicating themselves exclusively to converting Transits.

Conclusion On Sprinter vs Transit

If you’re hoping for a verdict on which vehicle is better for van life, you’re out of luck!

Both of these vans are excellent choices for van dwelling, and each has its own set of pros and cons.

The Sprinter vs Transit debate rages on, so you’ll just have to decide which one best fits your needs and pick a side!

We hope you’ve found this article interesting and helpful in your quest to find your dream van. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below!

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