The new new factory will be producing the newly styled Sprinter. The Sprinter will be available with current two diesel options (4 & 6 cylinder) and a new gas engine option.
Last week the new Sprinter factory opened in Charleston, S.C. The factory was just beginning to assemble a big order of 20,000 vans for Amazon distribution, before Hurricane Florence shuttered the factory today.
The new new factory will be producing the newly styled Sprinter. The Sprinter will be available with current two diesel options (4 & 6 cylinder) and a new gas engine option.
OAs an owner of two late model diesel vehicles which use Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) it's important to remember your DEF tank this time of year, as the freezing weather moves in.
DEF's freezing point is about 12 degrees F and if you find yourself in those temperatures it's not uncommon for DEF to freeze overnight. There is generally nothing to worry about, as your vehicle should start up and run normally. Most DEF tanks are heated and will melt the DEF so you can drive without issue. However it is suggested that one doesn't completely fill the DEF tank during the winter months, to better allow for expansion as it freezes, even though most all tanks should be built for expansion.
DEF will not be harmed by freezing, nor will their be any dilution issues as it unfreezes. Whatever you do, DO NOT ADD ANYTHING TO YOUR DEF TANK, EXCEPT PURE DEF.
Winter weather is approaching, enjoy.
My wife and I purchased our 2015 Freightliner passenger van last January, pre-owned with just 25 miles on the odometer. Since that time we haven't given dust a chance to collect on it; some miles for the many enjoyable family trips and others due to the numerous, unfortunate (450 mile r/t) emergency room visits to Portland.
Before we purchased our 2015 Sprinter we figured that we would put around 8,000 miles per year on it. We laughed at the thought that the engine oil needed changed every 20,000 miles or one year. After all, 8,000 miles is what we were averaging in the final year of ownership with its successor, our trusty and comfortable Toyota Sequoia which we had for 8 years. However, after just 9 months with the Sprinter we had accumulated over 20,000 easy miles on the odometer! While the Sequoia was comfortable, the Sprinter is more comfortable and less fatiguing on extended road trips. The seats are more firm in the Sprinter, which apparently reduces fatigue as it supports you in a healthier posture. The Sprinter is a comfortable cruiser with a fuel efficient turbodiesel 6-cylinder engine that easily swallows up big road trips. Road Trips are now far more common, more enjoyable and more affordable than they were in our previous gasoline fed V-8 SUV.
The Sprinter is actually fun to drive and it is remarkably agile, even on twisty highways. With a height of over 9’ tall, the only notable sacrifice has been fewer drive-thru options and practically no parking garage options. With the Sprinter, I have unfortunately outgrown Walmart's Tire Center, which is now too low of clearance to enter. I've mentioned before that the big, beautiful windshield is a magnet for road gravel. However the benefit of being able to walk around inside without needing to hunch is worth all of the sacrifice, especially when we use the van for my son’s wheelchair transport, its main purpose. The interior height also comes in quite useful when we put the van to work on the family’s box hauling duties.
You might think, as I had figured that the high profile of this van would present a freighting scenario with gusty cross winds. To my surprise that hasn't been an issue. Despite driving frequently in strong wind storms of the Oregon coast and through the windy Columbia River Gorge I have had only one occasion when the Sprinter's "Cross Wind Assist'' feature has actually kicked into action. That event was swift, lasting about a second with no drama, outside of the warning beep noise and the windsock symbol that showed up on my driver information screen. The Cross Wind Assist automatically applies the brakes to certain wheels to keep you in your lane. In fact, the Sprinter takes less effort to drive in windy weather than our Sequoia and Subarus I have owned. It drives like a big German van should, nice and stable.
We purchased the van with the rare factory tow package, as we did a lot of towing with our previous Toyota Sequoia. The tow package is a rarely seen option, as other other options like the common rear step bumper package often deletes it. The factory tow package ties into the Sprinter's stability system. This makes towing more stable and more safe, such as in an event of a sudden trailer tire failure. Previous towing was mostly (90+%) loaded Uhaul trailers, used to transport boxes for the business. Our Sprinter's vast interior volume has so far eliminated the need to rent a U-Haul trailer, as it allows us to stack boxes up to the 6'4 ceiling height.
Naturally, the fuel milage is much improved over our Sequoia's average of 15 mpg. In fact, on a recent 2500+ mile trip up through Alberta and British Columbia, Canada we averaged between 22-25 mpg. This is an impressive number, as the van is tall and was full of family, luggage, food and extra supplies which took us up and over 7,000' elevation often, as we drove 400+ miles daily. We traveled through Glacier National Park in the USA into Alberta, Canada to see Banff & Jasper National Park and beautiful Lake Louise. On the way back, we traveled the beautiful Coquihalla Pass; made famous on The Discovery Channel's "Highway Thru Hell" reality show. We stayed the night in Hope, B.C and visited the hallowed Jamie Davis Tow yard in the morning. It was a long, but surprisingly not fatiguing trip.
Last week, while already in Portland for an unscheduled hospital trip I took the Sprinter over to Mercedes of Wilsonville for its 20,000 mile service. Mercedes recommends an oil change every 20,000 miles on the Sprinter along with a few other minor services; a new fuel filter was recommended by the dealer and it was replaced. I have rotated the tires every 5,000 miles and despite the correct air pressure it appears that the factory Kuhmo tires are about spent. I loved the way these tires handled. These factory Kuhmo tires are the only tires I have driven without ever hydroplaning. However, with that said I have not found the identical brand and model to replace with. New Michelin "60,000 mile" tires were ordered at Costco and installed, but they didn't handle the corners nearly as well and were promptly removed and replaced with my former set of well worn Kumho's. Incidentally,
Costco managed to damage all four of my stock alloy wheels, to the tune of $500 with some extensive gouging and scratches. To make matters worse, they have so far denied any accountability. My first visit with the 1 star rated, Eugene Costco Tire Center will be my last. I am proceeding with collection efforts from them.
Wilsonville Mercedes performed the 20k service and I was provided with a well equipped 2018 Mercedes C-class sedan as a free courtesy car (which had just 70 miles on the odometer) to drive while the service took most of the day. Courtesy cars go along way in my book, as my day was a productive one while my rig was in the shop. Kudos to Wilsonville Mercedes-Benz.
Below is what I have spent on various items for the Sprinter. I was amazed that Mercedes parts were in some cases much cheaper than what I have spent on my previous Toyota, Subarus and VW's.
Expenses Over the past 20,000 miles:
I have had one taillight broken and replaced, $70.00 (my fault)
Cracked Windshield- $225.00 (nature's fault)
20,000 mile service & oil change- $530.00
Typical Fuel Consumption has been city/hwy mix of 18.5-19.2 mpg-
Fuel Cost not recorded
2- Cases of DEF @ $7 case= $14.00
Braun Under Vehicle Lift (UVL) Wheelchair Lift & Installed- $12,500
New Set of Mercedes Alloy Wheels (for Winter)-$580.00
New Set of Michelin Tires- $738.00
New Set of Studded Tires/ sensors/install from Les Schwab-$932.08
Removable Bug/Rock Screen-Which covers radiator- $100 ?
SIDE NOTE: Did you know the Sprinter model was introduced into the US market under the Freightliner badge in 2000? The Dodge badge was introduced in 2002 and replaced with the Mercedes star in 2010 after they went separate ways. Regardless, Mercedes has made every Sprinter in their Dusseldorf, Germany Plant. The cargo vans are then disassembled, shipped to the U.S and reassembled, to avoid the 25% tariff. A new U.S Sprinter plant is currently being constructed in South Carolina.
The Sprinter is actually categorized and regulated with the US Government as a "BUS", (as is the Ford Transit) visible from the driver's door jam.
Specs of vehicle mentioned here:
2015 Freightliner Sprinter 144" wheelbase
W/Optional HighRoof Option
W/ Optional V6 Turbo Diesel
(With Various Options new cost $55,000 when New)
In conclusion, I and the family are very happy with the Sprinter. It has resilient commercial bones, with a powerful, no-nonsense diesel engine. I expect that the Sprinter will provide us many hundreds of thousands of miles of use and enjoyment. In fact there are many Sprinters still running strong with well over 600,000 miles on the odometer.
Stay tuned for the next 20,000 mile update.
What I like so far:
I Love the diesel engine sound
Driving Height, Position and Visibility
Seat Comfort over Longer Trips
Heat & AC, Front & Rear Passengers
17,000 btu Diesel- Heater Booster (on days below 40F)
Load Capacity of more than a ton and a half
Towing Capacity that stays at 5,000 pounds regardless of load
Maintenance is seldom and reasonable cost
Taillight was inexpensive and super easy to replace myself (after watching 12 year-old on Youtube do it first).
Factory parts, such as the alloy wheels have proven to be relatively inexpensive, despite being made in Germany, for Mercedes.
The data/info center provides tire pressure for each tire and other great information
Possible Improvement areas:
The Sliding Door requires force to close and sometimes contributes to
occasional cabin noise when driving.
GPS is not intuitive to use and is easy to mess up settings, with no good map default.
No built in satellite radio
Built in rear view camera or wiring, is not standard
Around the world there is a buzz about electric cars being the car of the future. Just recently the Chinese owned company, Volvo announced that it will phase gasoline only engines out of production in the next few years. VW Group, Mercedes and BMW also have electric cars on the hot burner. This makes some sense for Volvo and others doing big business in China because the Chinese market requires a high sales quota of electric cars for the communist country, if you want to participate in their market. The Chinese auto market is now larger than the US. VW and Audi have been good sellers in China for a long time and along with the American EPA, the "Dieselgate" drama has further pushed VW toward EV market.
One problem with this excitement is that today's battery technology revolves around the lithium ion battery. Lithium is very flammable and this technology has seen more than its share of fires, from lap tops, cell phones, Dreamliner Jets and electric cars as well. This should make anyone who parks their car in the garage at night a bit nervous.
Lithium is also in short supply, with electric cars making up less than 1% of new car sales. As battery production is expected to increase significantly in the next few years, it will be hindered by supply shortages and significant cost increases.
Tesla, (the most subsidized car company in the USA) is producing a large battery plant for its vehicles in the state of Nevada. The problem is that this isn't new technology, they are still using the lithium ion battery. Tesla appears to be in the same boat as other manufacturers in this regard, using lithium ion batteries.
Tesla has invested big dollars in installing battery chargers throughout the country. That's a good thing for the short term, but what happens when technology and reality finally catches up with Tesla or it's competitors and the switch is made to exit the use of the very rare and flammable lithium ion battery?
People buying today's all electric cars run the very real risk of quickly being stuck with yesterday's dinosaur technology with no upgrade option for the future and possibly only their home to charge them in; remember nickel cadmium? Batteries all also have one inherit trait, every day makes them less efficient and closer to death, whether you use them or not. The warranty is nice, but as mentioned before that may be a moot point when they are no longer produced.
I dislike electric cars for other reasons, besides the fact that they use a rare, very flammable fuel storage source. Batteries are just plain inefficient. If you put 100% of electricity into a battery, you may only have 80% to pull back out. You simply don't get the energy out that you put into them. Furthermore, just something as fickle as the outside temperature can make what energy that is in the battery be wasted alarmingly quick and with no effort from the owner. A 200 mile range gets a giant chop when driving in freezing weather. That's before you switch on the heater and the heated seats and the rear defroster and heated mirrors. Conversely, driving in hot weather will also reduce range (to a lesser degree) as the AC use kicks in. Heat is hard on batteries and most actually fail during the summer season.
In comparison, I can hop into my reliable 2015 Golf Sportswagen (diesel) car that costs significantly less than an electric car, (even after including the ridiculous EV subsidies) and achieve 47.5 highway mpg all year long. The car runs on a widely available and safe fuel and I can do this with my AC or heater on, even with my heated seats, mirrors, rear defogger and headlights on as well. When I stop to refuel my 13.2 gallons it can take me less than 5 minutes and I am then good for another 627 or so miles. I can park my car in my garage with little fear that it will spontaneously combust and I know that it has the potential to be good for use decades from now, whether I use it now or not.
I could pay a bunch more money and buy an electric car that takes me about 30 minutes to charge, every 80-200 miles in an unusual best case scenario. Sales will inevitably increase for these subsidized electric cars and as they become more popular (to the 1% and beyond) the lines will begin to form charging stations. The lines for charging your EV car in some areas may take hours. No Thanks.
The last time I considered leasing an electric car as a second car I wondered if, in a pinch I had to drive out of town for for an emergency because my loved one was flown to the hospital from a serious accident, involving our main car, how fast could I safely get there? If I had a "partial tank" in my diesel car I could refuel quickly on or along the way, if I was in an EV and had a "partial charge" it would take more than one recharge stop along the way. That dreadful thought was enough for me to turn to diesel reliability for my second car as well. Today's electric cars are already dinosaurs on the edge of either drastic redesign or extinction, either way, with no inexpensive battery upgrade solutions it's a clearly a bad investment to buy one.
The EPA has approved VW dealerships selling their new, unsold and updated 2015 2 liter diesel inventory. That's good news if you want to buy or lease what looks to be the last of the new 2 liter diesel TDi's until at least 2018 (according to the EPA & VW agreement), although VW says no more diesels period.
The new 2015 3 liter diesel, such as in the Touareg, Audi A8 & Q7 and Porsche Cayenne is still not available for sale or lease. Although I have read in the dealer magazine "Automotive News" that Porsche intends to sell their new inventory of 2015 Cayenne Diesels as "Used" in the near future.
My local VW dealership called me up several times because I was looking at continuing with a new lease on a 2015 TDi. I was expecting some great deal, however this dealership and some others shrewdly took a waiting list for this day and are aware of the profit making potential in this situation.The dealership says that VW is offering $5k off of purchases and with great financing or $8k of of a leased car, that sounds pretty good to me. The part where they lost my interest is that they wanted to add a $3k dealer markup. I told them that my 2014 looks like a keeper.
It's worth mentioning that there are soon going to be other diesel car choices available. Mazda has long teased us with offering a diesel option and they are suppose to introduce their small suv with a diesel option this year. Chevrolet will offer the Cruze and their small suv with a diesel option as well. Landrover and Jaguar are selling their diesel suvs and BMW and Mercedes is offering their options as well, with some exceptions.
I didn't know this before we applied for our son's handicap permit, but here in Oregon there is a tier system of sorts. There is the red, dark blue and light blue permits.
The red permits are "temporary" and good for only about 6 months and allow the permit user to park in any blue space that isn't marked for wheelchair users.
The dark blue permits are for the permanently disabled, without wheelchair or other wheeled device.
The light blue permits with a "W" on them and is for wheelchair (& other wheeled devices) users. This permit allows the driver to park in any handicap parking spot that is available, including wheelchair van accessible spots...although they are supposed to avoid wheelchair van spaces if possible.
My suggestion for the state is to make one more tier, or just reinforce the one we have a bit more. Wheelchair Van accessible spots should really only be available to those who have vans or other vehicles with side lifts. This would make a lot of sense because while other spaces can accommodate all other users, only the wide wheelchair van spots can accommodate wheelchair entry and exit from the side of a vehicle.
Its also worth pointing out that there are 4 different types of wheelchair signs and half of those are open to anyone with any type of handicap permit, while the other two are shared between "wheelchair users". You would think that it is easy to find a good space with all of these signs, but I have found that it really isn't easy much of the time. Many of these spaces are for any permit user, so It's especially difficult if you are in the larger cities with a wheelchair van, or at a busy event. Too often I see people with Mini Coopers, Prius and other small cars park in wheelchair van spaces, walking into the store with their empty car waiting car behind.
I put wheelchair users in parentheses because out of the dozens of people I have witnessed (and I am sure you have also) parking in wheelchair only spots, none that I have seen have ever had a wheelchair with them and all of them travel alone or with another able biped. This point displays the fact that handicap permit use has gone out of control, with a severe lack of enforcement. People are not to legally use the permits without the permit holder present.
In the morning I drop my son off at his school. A couple days a week I spare him the bus trip and pick him up for his appointments. Every afternoon, at every teacher conference and every school event I have ever attended I see people without any handicap permits parking in all or most all of the marked handicap spaces! In one instance I decided to take pictures of a small suv that always parked in the best wheelchair van accessible space and a lady (teacher) walked out of a classroom, and says to me that she was just moving it. I am pretty sure that her urgency in moving had something to do with me and my phone. I've complained several times nicely to the Coos County Sheriff's office about putting some teeth into enforcement, but as of yet no effort observed.They don't typically use deputies for this. Normally retired volunteers write up the violators.
In closing, here are my key points numbered below:
1. If you have no disabled parking permits then you have no business parking in the blue spaces, even it is open and you are just going to occupy it for a second.
2. If you do have the proper parking permit and are not going to unload a wheelchair from the side, please avoid the wheelchair van spaces, as more spaces will work for you than will work for vans.
3. State reps get to work on remedying this situation, the way I explained it. Wheelchair vans are increasingly popular, especially as our population ages. Make these useless Electric car parking spaces an overflow for disabled as well as allowing the rich to charge their cars.
4. The permit should not be hanging in your window if you do not have the permit holder with you. Therefore you already know that sentence #1 applies to you as well with regards to disabled parking.
5. Onto my last point or rant, it says on the bottom of the permit "Important: Remove from Mirror Before Driving Vehicle." That sounds simple enough.
Okay, now I feel better.
Since my last post a series of remarkable and fortunate circumstances aligned into an unbelievably perfect opportunity so that my family was able to afford the purchase of a handsome, like new, pre-owned 2015 Freightliner V6 diesel Sprinter. It has the high roof (exterior height of just under 9'3) and the regular 144" wheelbase (just under 20' long). Our van was previously purchased by a travel company and driven less than 25 miles. So, this is the newest "used" vehicle I've ever owned. It still has the factory warranty and even had the factory window sticker still in place. So, with this in mind let me tell you what we know about it since we have had some time behind the wheel.
My wife and I are very pleased with our Sprinter thus far. We have already logged some trips. The first trip was about 3 hours in awful traffic from Oakland Airport to Sacramento, Ca. and then a straight 7 hours (plus) back up Interstate 5 to Eugene, Oregon before finally heading back (2 hours) to our home on the Coast in Coos Bay.
Not long after that trip we had another trip, this was our first trip delivering boxes to Portland. However we had to drive past Portland to and continue our 6 hour trip up to The Dalles, Oregon to deliver 4 studded tires on wheels, before then driving back to the LBC terminal at the Portland Airport to drop our 14 LBC cargo boxes, destined for the Philippines. That was the easiest delivery of LBC boxes I've ever made, thanks to the ample room in the Sprinter and the heavy duty build quality. Unlike deliveries of the past in my previously owned and capable Sequoia SUV, there was no vehicle sagging, or squashy handling, in fact there really wasn't any indication that I had a large load of boxes in the back. I know the Sequoia is a 1500 equivalent and this Sprinter is a 2500, apples to pears you'll say, but this really handles more like one ton in the van realm, as it out hauls the Ford Transit T-350 diesel. Despite pushing our 9' tall van into the wind, (with a heavy foot) loaded with 14 heavy overseas boxes, 4 heavy duty truck tires on wheels with my family and all of their belongings we still averaged better fuel mileage (17+ mpg) than our previous Sequoia workhorse, all thanks to the benefits of the Sprinter 6 cylinder diesel. The 4 cylinder diesel, according to Mercedes should return approximately an extra 18% fuel savings.
The weather, as is typical this time of year has been very windy and very wet each time we've have had to drive more than an hour out of town. To my surprise the Sprinter has been nothing but rock solid thus far; concealing strong wind gusts and deep, rain filled rutted highways into a smooth, calm, no-drama drive. In fact I remember saying after the last 6 plus hour trip in the miserable rain and wind storm that this is my vehicle of choice in bad weather. This Sprinter (and all 2016's) are equipped with the "Cross-Wind Assist" feature that under certain circumstances applies the brakes on certain wheels to keep you in your lane. While that feature gives me some comfort, I have not seen that feature activate in my instrument cluster. It's really all the more impressive to me that such a high profile vehicle has handled so well without the use thus far of this extra safety feature.
We like our new rig, but that isn't to say that there haven't been issues. The first of which is that I learned how vulnerable that large windshield really is to rock damage, its like a rock magnet. On day one, driving back from the Oakland Airport to Sacramento, in awful rush hour traffic I was somehow able to get a small rock chip on the bottom of the window that resulted in a large crack snaking itself up and across the windscreen the next morning and through the next days drive. The good news was that the repair bill for replacement was a much better than expected $310.00. The next day however, driving up Beaver Hill, just south of Coos Bay on Highway 101 a passing Ford Explorer added rock chips on my one day old windshield. My conclusion; this won't be my last windscreen replacement.
The quirky and the annoying things I've noticed thus far:
1. I noticed that the fuel light kicks on at the 1/4 tank level. which is the earliest I've ever seen a fuel light kick on. No big deal, just a little odd to have it kick on with 100 miles left.I can see why all my test drives were done with this alert on the instrument display.
2. The factory horn is a beep-beep horn. Mine now carries a proper Freightliner (air) horn. No Freightliner branded vehicle should ever beep for a horn. C'mon Mercedes, Freightliner's image is your concern.
3. There was no rear view camera mounted on my van, despite having the stereo with the GPS which is typically paired together. Stranger still, some Sprinters are pre-wired for adding a camera and some (mine) are not. Why would they put in the proper monitor and add the factory hitch and not just pre-wire this vehicle? Why don't they pre-wire or add cameras to all of them?
4. The bench seats are for the most part heavy, but not complicated to remove; with the big exception to the rear-most, four-passenger seat. For a reason I cannot figure out, Mercedes deliberately made the rear most row an extra pain in the neck to remove. I seldom look in my driver's manual, but I made an exception for this purpose and it failed me, terribly. The drivers manual simply said to take the vehicle to a specialist to remove. Hmmm, my nearest dealership is a 2 hour drive one-way and not open much on the weekend. I searched online, in the Sprinter Forum to learn that a claw hammer was needed and applied in the same way the other seats are removed. Mercedes, if you are listening, fix this nonsense. Mercedes should've had the same release mechanisms on the rear seat as they do on the others. The rear seats are also bolted to the walls, so make sure to not lose the bolts. When you use the hammer you will unlock one side of the bench seat from the floor only to have the other side lock, an exercise in frustration unless you have another person to help hold it in the unlocked position. This explains why I have seen used Sprinters with scratched up rear floors. I assume it has to do with removing this rear passenger seat. Be sure to not let the rear row slide on the floor when you remove it.
5. My last quirky or annoying observation is that the exterior door handles all appear as though they were designed to pinch fingers.
My vehicle has Parktronic, which is a feature that makes you aware of your front and rear bumpers proximity to objects by way of colored lights on the exterior mirrors and the front center dashboard and accompanied by sound. I previously thought this was a nonsense option and it probably is if you buy the whole package, just because of its cost.. However, broken off the package it has proven to be a very useful option; especially if you don't have a rear view camera to count on. Do not count on Parktronic to inform you of your roof proximity against low clearance roofs, such as garages, as the sensors are located in the bumpers. Roof sensors is something that Mercedes should work on, as it can be easy to forget that you're driving a van that is over 9 feet tall. No incidents for me to report thus far though.
I enjoy the automatic passenger stair, located on the sliding door entry. This is a $1,000 option that I would have normally avoided on a new order, but it has proven very useful for loading/unloading my son in his wheelchair. It's something to help me out until we gather our funds to install the wheelchair lift.
I haven't mentioned it in this post, but I really love the higher driving position and the large, bus like windscreen view of the road, despite rock damage. It took awhile to figure out the front seats, but they have proven comfortable on long trips.The sound of the diesel engine is also something I love to hear, which is absent on my 2014 VW Jetta diesel.
Due to my vehicle having aged one year prior to me owning it, I followed Mercedes/Freightliner service guidelines and had the oil changed at a Mercedes dealership in Sacramento. My next oil change/ service is scheduled at 20,000 miles.
I will keep you posted.
Wheelchair vans are growing in popularity, as they serve not only the ever growing elderly population, but also those who are injured or ill or like my youngest son, just born with life-long health issues.
Most anyone who has searched for a wheelchair accessible van, or anyone who already has a wheelchair van will tell you that they are expensive to purchase or rent. This is especially the case if you are looking for a fuel efficient (diesel), full-sized van, as my family is.
I imagine many are in a similar situation. We are looking for something that is big enough to haul the whole family, for many years of service with room for a wheelchair and all of the stuff that family's need to bring. Our van needs the extra ability to pull a 2-ton trailer and to do so with good road manners and fuel mileage.
Buying a good quality vehicle is important, because installing a wheelchair lift is an expensive proposition. Lifts and other conversions are either not transferable at all or near cost prohibitive to move from vehicle to vehicle.
The vehicles by themselves are expensive, often between $45,000-$65,000 and the up-fitting for a lift can easily add another $12,000-$24,000 (in my research, on the same van and same lift, different installers) and even more for other, more involved conversions.
My purchase challenge needed some immediate solving, as my wife was reaching her physical breaking point with transporting our growing son and his newer, larger, heavier wheelchair around town and to appointments.
Like any reasonable person, I sought out financial institutions in my area for a solution. What I found was disappointing and downright frustrating. There were no programs created to address this need. One could buy a new RV, which had the same drivetrain and a similar price tag as my preferred wheelchair van, with an RV loan of 10-20 years to pay it off. One could NOT do the same with an equally expensive (but more urgently needed) Sprinter or Transit wheelchair van, without the stove, toilet and bed. What gives?
I talked to an acquaintance of mine who is the manager a local bank. He tried all the avenues available to him to offer an RV loan for my wheelchair van, before being shot down by his underwriters, thus exhausting his options. I called all of the banks in town and visited my local credit union. My choices for a long-term loan beyond 84 months was limited just to RV's. Online I spotted longer term loans that were again limited, to just classic and collector cars.
After these findings I paid an organization that searches for grants and loans alittle money to search their resources for a couple of months. I looked to see if anything was available to help offset the cost of a wheelchair van, to which I was again disappointed in finding nothing.
I visited "GoFundme" as a possible resort; as to see if gathering donations would be feasible. Gofundme, as you might expect at this point was over crowded with many, some more worthy, but nonetheless unsuccessful donation requests for wheelchair vans.
Lastly, as to leave no stone unturned I looked at my local government resources. I discovered that while it is possible, in certain circumstances to receive some financial assistance with having a wheelchair lift installed in a van; the assistance was essentially limited to installation on late model vehicles, just a few years old and with no more than 50,000 miles. They mentioned that they could assist with the cost of up to $5,000 for a lift, if we qualified, but not towards the vehicle's purchase. Different programs do vary; depending on your military service, social status and race, among other categories. As for my family (and many others), we are not in any special class, we just have a very special little guy, looking for ways to make the payments on very expensive equipment more bearable.
You may be just thinking why not buy an older version of the very van I am seeking. I am doing so, but I point out that I have found that new vans and slightly used vans cost almost the same, especially towards the end of the model year. Keeping the door open to possible future assistance towards a lift is a always a good idea and the vehicle really has to last a long time to help offset the installation cost and the lift itself. Upfitters, (according to the state) have reportedly declined to install lifts on vehicles with more than 50k miles or more than a couple years old. I haven't found that to be true, yet. Either way, it pays to start fresh, if you have many years left on the earth's surface.
It's been said that freedom isn't free and thus is the case with almost any disabled person's freedom. In an effort to appreciate the freedom to move about, some just have to pay mightily for it. That is just a hard fact of reality. I believe there should be ways to make that big burden more affordable for people, without making it a giveaway or charity case. The question is why don't our lenders offer 120 or 180 month, low interest, fixed loans, like they do for their RV customers?
So, Bankers and Community Credit Unions, if you want another avenue to serve your fellow citizens and still make a buck doing so, you now have a way to serve an existing and growing need. Just extend your longer term RV loans to include solid new wheelchair vans. There is no further need for ignoring the needs of the handicap and their (support) families any longer!
Everyone American who has lived in the US since the 1970's or 1980's knows that full-sized van offerings from Ford, GM and Dodge changed very little in their design and offerings until around 2003 when the Mercedes built Sprinter entered the US market, under the Dodge nameplate. The Sprinter offered a taller, slimmer, more sophisticated European design influence and much improved fuel efficiency, that American vans needed but sorely lacked.
Over the years, the Sprinter has remained the only one of it's kind in the US van arena and was a favorite for new van consumers that could afford something better. The Sprinter model name has remained the same, while the front grill and steering wheel have carried names from Dodge, Freightliner and Mercedes Benz. Dodge's name disappeared in 2009, as Daimler Chrylser disolved, the Mercedes badging appeared, begining on the 2010 models and runs current today. Freighliner also offers it's rebadged Sprinter, made by parent company Mercedes Benz.
Today, things have changed quite abit since the 1970's, 80's, 90's and early 2000 for the full sized vans offerings. Today Dodge and Ford both offer full sized vans, similiar to their European counterparts. (Fiat) Dodge offers the front wheel drive Pro-master, Ford offers the rear wheel drive Transit, not to be confused with the small Transit Connect. Mercedes Benz/Freightliner offers the Sprinter.
Before the European van invasion, the full sized American vans were gas hogs, typically returning single digit or low double digit fuel economy numbers and the diesel versions returned a meager improvement over the dismal gasoline numbers.
Today, Dodge, Ford and Mercedes have diesel versions that return high teens to upper twentys in miles per gallon. That is obviously a big improvement, made even bigger when you account for the much taller and longer van size proportions available and the cleaner exhaust emmissions.
As in politics, I believe there it really boils down to two serious contenders worth considering. The first is the Mercedes, the second is the Ford. GM isn't in this game anymore (after 2016) and Dodge needs an overhaul on their transmission, drivetrain and interior ergonmics before I consider it a worthy competitor.
Over the years I have always watched the Sprinter with interest,as it entered the US market. Over the last few weeks I have gone "all in" and researched these competing vans, test driving them back to back before diving into the MSRP's and then the real purchase price points, from dealers all over the USA. This is no small feat, as there are likely more configuations then people on our planet. For example, the Ford offers three length choices and three roof height choices and they offer the T-150, T-250 and T-350. Ford has two gasoline engine choices or the 5 cylinder diesel option. After that point it begins to get alittle tough to find one in stock that has your desired seating options and materrials and then one of three exterior mirror choices and axle ratios, etc. With Mercedes you have really only the 3/4 ton 2500 to equip your passenger van and a choice between two diesel engines and two roof heights.In the cargo van configuration you have more roof heights and options to choose from. The MB also offers the 4WD option, that Ford- and everyone else does not.
Contrary to the well established Mercedes Benz name known in the US for offering well equipped, (if not posh) vehicles, with safety and performance standard; their Sprinter is just the family work horse that seems to be held at arms length from the rest of the Mercedes line up. For example, the Sprinter passenger van isn't on the normal MB site with it's family members, no it's segrated to the commercial stable...er I mean site, with it's strong, commercial half pint brother, the Metris. Without any added options or added features the Sprinter can be a (bleak) vehicle without even basics like rear AC, map lights, illuminated exit lighting ,cargo or passenger compartment lighting, front insulation, rear insulation, cruise control, front adjustable seats, various assist handles, passeger compartment cup holders, seat armrests, even the windshield glass band filter and rear view camera are all absent unless added as options. After these small options are added the real options for better comfort and added safety peg the needle towards sticker shock. You want rear AC in your Mercedes van? It's going to cost you $3,435 in a Special package that just includes the AC and one extra battery. If you want to add the neat 4x4 package it will add around $6800.00 to the msrp.
If you look for a full-sized passenger van and visit the dealer lot hoping to drive one you may find it difficult. It isn't uncommon to see about 10 cargo vans for every one passenger van. This means that you won't see a great variety of passenger van inventory for any make, which means that your search may require time, as you custom order one.
In order to save time I will just highlight the good and bad between the Ford Transit diesel and the Mercedes 4 or 6 cylinder Turbo Diesel.
When comparing the 3500 Ford Transit Medium Height Roof with 5 Cylinder Turbo Diesel:
1. The Sprinter offers much of the same safety technology as the Ford, plus they add Crosswind Assist, which brakes certain wheels on your Sprinter when cross winds above 20 or 25 hit, to help keep you in your lane. Especially useful if you chose the highroof option.
2. The Sprinter offers a steady 5,000 tow rating across the board on the 2500 model, no matter if you have the 4 or 6 cylinder or what features you laden it with, or even if you are loaded with cargo. The Ford T-350 with Powerstroke diesel has a tow rating that is diminished as you add more options or weight, so tow rating is at a rather disappointing 4400 pounds, well equipped and even less so after you load it with people and cargo.
3. The Sprinter has a higher, comfortable and commanding view, even more so with the 4x4 option. Despite being higher, the Sprinter felt a bit less tippy to me, likely due to a stiffer suspension.
4. The Sprinter seemed to offer more low end grunt, with even some wheel spin in the 4 cylinder.
5. The Sprinter 4 and 6 appear to hold a slight fuel milage advantage
6. The Sprinter is a well proven work horse by the heavy hitters, used by Fed Ex, DHL and UPS, among others
7. The maintenance calls for oil change service very 20,000 miles or ONE YEAR, costing roughly $350- $550.
FORD TRANSIT ADVANTAGES:
1. The Transit's Midroof option allows for more inside height when moving through the passenger compartment, and a lower exterior roof height than the Sprinter's high roof option. The Sprinter only offers the normal or high roof option on passenger 2500 vans and there are no 3500 passenger vans offered from MB, they turn into a shuttle buse configeration.
2. The passenger Transit 3500 in the middle length option is just another 4" more in wheelbase over the standard Sprinter 144" wheelbase and has far more cargo room behind the rear seats. The transit comes in three lengths, the Sprinter passenger vans come in two; the 144" and the 170".
3. The rear seats are more cushy and comfortable in the Transit. There are aftermarket options available however with the Sprinter.
4. The rear AC and Heat is no extra option and vents push air from the floor and the ceiling, with no AC unit adding height, mounted on the roof.
5. The standard Ford Warranty is much longer
6. The Transit is B20 friendly, The Sprinter is only B5 bio diesel friendly. This means that Mercedes could void your (already short) warranty if they find anything over 5% bio diesel in your fuel tank. Some small towns I have traveled through only offer B15 or higher.
7. The Transit has available rear windows that open for fresh air, The Sprinters just pop out in emergencies.
8. Ford offers the Sync system that allows for easy voice prompts for navigating, phone calls, text messages, radio selection without taking your eyes off the road.
9. Ford offers the airbag canopy protection through all the rows, Sprinter just offers airbags in the front seats.
10. Ford pricing is more competitive, with bigger discounts
11. Oil changes are quoted at about $100.00, instead of $350-$550 for the Sprinter at the dealership. Although, the Ford may require 2x the oil changes over 20,000 miles it still looks more favorable for the Ford.
12. The Ford Transit has smaller 15" wheels, which will likley be a bit cheaper to replace than the 16" on the Sprinter.
Which is better? In the long run the Sprinter probably has my preference over the Ford in longevity, although Mercedes doesn't seem overly confident in their own product, as they offer a much shorter warranty period.
A Mercedes dealer mentioned to me recently that MB has halted production of the Sprinter until the second quarter of 2017. This includes the 4x4's and the rear wheel drive vans. I understand this delay is the aftermath of the VW emmisions recall. Your deals on the Sprinter may become more difficult, as time goes on and stock dwindles.
I know I am not alone, in fact there are two people in my own family who would love to buy a new VW Touareg TDi today if the stop order was lifted on selling new diesels. If you count me, that would make three people who would buy or lease a new TDi. I know my family and I are not the only people wanting to get our hands on the new TDi's.
I have talked to many VW dealers who have actual waiting lists of interested parties, patiently waiting for first dibs on the brand new 2015 and 2016 VW TDi cars and Touaregs sitting on dealer lots.
Volkswagen hasn't returned my calls to confirm the future of those brand new VW TDi cars sitting at the factory or on dealer lots, but Automotive News reported on October 10th that VW will not be able to sell new TDi cars until 2018. Apparently this detail was in the recently approved court agreement with Volkswagen that indicated they would sit the diesel models out for the 2017 year and resume sales of new diesel cars no earlier than 2018. Further, the great bargins for which many were hopeful to take advantage of will most likely be sold off dealer lots and back to the manufacturer. That in a nutshell is, yet again our government gone wild.
For those of us who enjoy the value of of our leasing dollar (as I do) with a VW TDi, this is the end of the road, for awhile. However, if you prefer to buy your cars, their are still a few good pre-owned, new-ish TDi models out there to enjoy. I don't see any bargains though. I expect that finding a good, recent model VW TDi will become increasingly difficult as time churns on and as many current owners are accepting the company's buy back offer. This supply and demand issue may very well drive resale prices back up again. As for my wife and I, we think we may very well keep our 2014 Jetta TDi until the lease ends and we are now considering buying it at lease end, this coming summer of 2017....if there really are no new VW TDi's to start over with.
Nathan Crook has researched vehicles and vehicle pricing for over 20 years and has visited and talked with hundreds of dealerships nationwide. He is a former Oregon vehicle broker, who specialized in commercial vehicles. Nathan now occupies his time with his current venture, Nathan Crook Insurance, LLC. His office is located in Coos Bay. Nathan specializes in Business and Life insurance.