After extensive research, I was eager to buy a Sprinter van to begin my van conversion project. One popped up for sale online only a few miles from my house. So I jumped in the car that weekend and headed down to see it. Unfortunately, it had a few issues that I found difficult to ignore. As eager as I was to purchase a van and begin my project, I decided it was better not to bite at the first worm I saw.
I had been researching vans for a couple weeks now and settled on a Dodge Sprinter. This van was released under a few different brands and so I was really looking for a Dodge, Mercedes, or Freightliner Sprinter van. I decided that being able to stand up straight in the van was important to me and so I needed a high ceiling model which had a six-foot ceiling. I had also decided that I wanted something large enough to fit a two-person bed along with two mountain bikes. So I was now looking for a van with an extended cargo bay; 158WB (wheel base) or longer. I didn’t realize at the time how difficult this would be to come by.
I began scouring the internet for a van that fit my criteria. Being in Ohio, I didn’t want to look too close to home where we salt the roads all through winter. This results in anything more than a few years old beginning to rust. After a few days of searching, I found one that fit the bill and it was only an hour drive from home. I set out looking for something much farther away, but this one was so close to home and within my price range. The pictures made it appear that the van was in great condition with little to no rust. I had to at least check it out.
I was nervous that if I didn’t move quickly, someone else would some along and purchase my dream van from me. So I called the dealer and arranged a test drive. One snag though, I didn’t have cash on had to pay for it. I had planned to buy a van, but I didn’t plan how I was going to actually pay for it. I could finance it through the dealer, but this place was one of those shady looking corner lot dealers that you find in the more run down parts of town. I wasn’t about to finance anything through them. So I scrambled to secure a loan. My loan was approved on a Friday, the day before I had planned to go test drive the van. Phew!
Me and a couple friends that I had brought along (why buy a car alone?) arrived at the dealer later than planned. This typically wouldn’t be a problem, but I had arranged for a local mechanic to inspect the vehicle and I had to make my appointment with him. So we got in the van and only had enough time to drive to the mechanic before handing it over to them. The van seemed to be in relatively good order. As the pictures suggested there was surprisingly little rust on it for having lived in this part of the country for more than ten years. There was one small problem we noticed, however. One the way to the mechanic’s shop, the van wouldn’t shift out of first gear. I thought that maybe there was some setting or trick to this vehicle that I wasn’t familiar with. I wanted it to be nothing. So we dropped it off with the mechanic and went to grab a coffee while we waited.
An hour later the mechanic called me. He mentioned the transmission issue as well, but said that after he pulled over, shut off the engine, and restarted it, the transmission began shifting. Aside from that, he couldn’t tell me what he thought might be the cause of this. Worthless! I knew that there was a possibility that it could be something small or something that could just be “lived with”, but it could also be something big. I’ve done my fair share of fixing cars and transmissions are scary. So I did some quick Googling for worst case scenarios. In my mind, the worst thing that could happen was that the transmission needed to be replaced. How much might that cost? My Googled estimate… $4,000! Yikes! We returned to the mechanic to pick up the van and take it for a longer test drive ourselves. I was eager to buy and really wanted this to be the one. Even with the transmission issue, I still wanted to be optimistic.
We took the van for a drive through the local neighborhoods. I wanted to see how it felt to drive it through smaller, city streets. The transmission problem didn’t rear it’s head at all. Maybe there wasn’t anything to be worried about. Then again, it did have its fair share of body rust. Further investigation showed that the floor in the cabin, between the drive and passenger seat, was almost rusted out entirely. Now a new floor would need to be welded in place.
After we spent some time driving it through the neighborhood, we returned the car to the dealer. I told them I would think about it and left, very disappointed. I had been so excited to buy a van a begin my project, but deep down, I knew that I shouldn’t rush too quickly into such a large purchase. I could have negotiated the dealer down further on price, but I’m not sure if it would have been worth the cost and so I went home a little saddened.