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Ok - I'm about to be cast out from the clan of The White Van by spilling the beans on what motivates us, other than a copy of The Sun on the dashboard (which I don't read) a Macdonalds in one hand (I don't eat them often) and a phone in the other (ok - now and again)
As the owner of a small business I have owned a few vans, ranging from ex-builders Transits (about which more later, perhaps) to this smart but old motor. In addition I have driven many thousands of miles in vans owned by others, so feel I can bring some insight to this obscure field.
Having had our Transit van stolen and used in a high speed police chase in Kent (I know - an oxymoron if ever there was one - high mileage, tired diesel Transit in high speed chase) I part exchanged it for a V reg Mercedes Sprinter (in white, naturally)
I had chatted to a number of people about what to buy - Renault make some nice looking vans, the venerable Transit in all its versions (although I really don't like them much) Citroen make some very affordable vans (but they appear to be made of very thin bean cans) along with every other manufacturer on the planet.
The general opinion was that "if you want a van that will last, buy a Sprinter" so I dutifully went out looking.
At the moment, on VanTrader.co.uk there are 272 used examples of these for sale within 40 miles of my office, so availability is not an issue. Deciding which of the plethora of versions is for you is more of a challenge. With at least three wheelbases, four different gearboxes, three or four engine sizes (depending on year of manufacture) three roof heights, even a petrol option, it is a difficult decision to make. At least the colour was a simple choice!
I was tempted by a flappy paddle gearbox version (images of Porsche 911 and Top Gear flashed through my mind!) but it did strike me that this might prove a tad pricey to fix were I to break it.
I have driven the very long wheelbase version across Europe (nearly 6000 miles in well under two weeks) so I know they are a fine option on the autobahn (90 miles an hour plus, fully loaded) but this was the 5-cylinder turbodiesel version - mighty quick and powerful but a bit thirsty and quite expensive to maintain.
So I plumped for the 2.2 litre 4 cylinder one and eventually found a high mileage, medium wheelbase, high roof, single owner example for just under £4000.
It seemed to be in very good cosmetic condition - no dents or scratches, decent tyres (although a budget brand) and started and ran well.The seller even gave me £500 part exchange on the running remains of my Transit, so I was more than happy.
I put tax on it, booked in an MOT and away I went, feeling very superior in my Merc. All went well for about a month (apart from the radio not working) and I was happy with the purchase. Considering the van had just over 200,000 miles on the clock, it handled well, looked good and seemed reliable....
...until I dropped into the reserve on the fuel tank. Within about ten miles, the beast ground to a halt. Out of fuel! Inevitably this was mid December, freezing cold and a good two mile walk to the nearest garage. Oh and no jerry can on board.
After this had happened a further three times (I know - I'm a bit slow on the uptake sometimes!) I had a local independent Mercedes specialist look at it. Once we'd made it past the regulation tooth sucking (Oooh, that's the four cylinder you've got there, mate, always a bit tricky, what you should have bought was.....etc.) It transpired that the fuel gauge was a bit iffy. For a princely sum (I think about £300 including labour) the tank level became more reliable and I had less occasion to hike around with a fuel can of diesel.
On one occasion the RAC ended up coming to help and nearly wet themselves as the battery was apparently from a Ford Fiesta - not really man enough for the trials of strting a decent sized diesel engine - once replaced the van strts every time on the button (ok there is no button, but I like the phrase!)
Otherwise the van ran well, and after three years of running it, I can genuinely say that it was a good buy. I have had a couple of other problems - the electrics are starting to show their age, with the fan blower having failed recently, a couple of lighting problems and the ball joints needing replacing. Considering the fact that this van has now covered nearly a quarter of a million miles, it looks good (after its seasonal wash) although there are scabby patches and evidence of a slightly dodgy respray on the rear doors (and I can't blame Mercedes for that!) Yet it starts first time, every time. I can fit items up to 3.2m long in the back yet park in a space designated for a normal car (parking meter bays etc)
There are a couple of things I would like to change:
The dashboard: This has a flat surface on the passenger side. Great - apart from the fact that everything you put on it slides across from one side to the other every time you turn a corner. Why can't they have a cup holder, grippy surface, pen holder, slot for a clipboard and a few other useful hidey holes as well as the lockable glove box? To be fair, some of these problems may have been addressed on the more recent models, but it is a challenge when your lap is suddenly full of A-Zs, delivery notes, PVC tape, cable ties, half sandwiches, CD cases (where are you meant to put those?) whilst negotiating a mini roundabout in the dark.
The stereo: Whilst I have replaced the radio cassette deck that was originally installed with a CD player, the real problem is the speakers. Bearing in mind that the van is a diesel and therefore not entirely silent, having speakers that struggle to deliver more than about 10W per channel is pretty poor - particularly in a premium brand vehicle. Not good enough!
Security: Apparently the older model Sprinter (like mine) is a prime target for car thieves. They won't nick the van (it has an immobiliser fitted into the ignition key) but the door locks don't offer much resistance to a determined oik with a screw driver. I know - mine has been broken into three times - all within a month and in three different locations. There are lock reinforcement plates available for around £25-30 a set, but I've yet to pluck up the courage to dismantle all the locks to fit them. (The "ping, wheeee, where did that bit go?" factor is too large in my mind!)
One of the good things about this van is that there are plenty around to cull spares from (normally from a breakers, rather than just helping yourself in a car park) and a fair few independent specialists who can fix problems when necessary. Tyres are not too expensive (£75 each inc fitting last time I needed one) and fuel economy is fairly good (low 20's to the gallon around London is not a bad return) If you plan on a lot of long journeys, particularly on the motorway, I'd look at the 5-cylinder 2.9 litre engine, but as most of my work is local, where reaching 20 mph is a breakthrough, I don't really miss the extra oomph, except when the back is fully laden.
Everyday driving is a pleasure - the power steering is responsive, the gearbox easy to use and both the driving position and visibility are good. With practice the van is as easy to position as the average family car, although it does wander around a bit in high winds when empty.
I have the van serviced annually as I don't really do huge mileages, and it costs around £500 each time. I'm about to change my mechanic, as I don't really like the current one and have found a new "Man who can when it comes to the van" so hope to see a reduction in running costs as a result... watch this space!
I really enjoy driving the van - the views are good, the seats are comfortable, my four year old daughter loves having the car seat in the front, with enough space for both Mum and Dad as well. All in all a good machine with plenty of life still left in it.