Road Trip: Mercedes Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive; Part III winter driving trucks travel car test drives mercedes benz
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive; Part III. Click image to enlarge

Day 3
Coldfoot Camp lived up to its name and offered me one of the coldest sleeps I ever had.  While the lobby, lounge and hallways of our rooming building were toasty warm, several of the bedrooms did not receive much heat, mine included. At least my van was nice and warm waiting for me; to avoid any of the issues we had in Fairbanks with vans not starting, we left them running all night long just like the half dozen big rigs and half dozen support pickup trucks sharing the Coldfoot Camp parking lot with us.

Today we would truck back down the Dalton Highway to Fairbanks. The weather promised to be another crystal clear but ice cold day. In fact, the morning of Day 3 was the coldest of the whole trip. It was -43 C outside and playing havoc with the Sprinter’s sensors. The van was firing off warning signals for check engine lights, low brake fluid and low tire pressure due to extreme cold weather. Mechanically the van was 100 percent and drove fine, except for the steering getting very stiff after extended highway runs thanks to the power steering fluid freezing up. A radiator grille cover, as seen on virtually every truck in Alaska, would most likely solve many of these issues.

Road Trip: Mercedes Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive; Part III winter driving trucks travel car test drives mercedes benz
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Arctic Drive; Part III. Click image to enlarge

Because of the fact it is so cold and they do not use road salt in Alaska, it is impossible to clear the roads completely after a snowfall. So for the third straight day, we were driving on snow and ice covered roads and I must say, the Sprinter is planted on the snow. I never thought I would be travelling at 100+ km/h on snow/ice covered roads in an unloaded rear-wheel-drive commercial vehicle through mountain passes. Only the steepest and iciest of inclines would provoke the Sprinters traction control to momentarily engage, and never once were the anti-lock brakes needed when descending a mountain pass thanks to careful driving and downshifting the five-speed automatic transmission. Even with a mere 188 hp, the 325 lb-ft of torque from the 3.0L turbocharged diesel would muscle the Sprinter up every inclined we tackled.

Day three saw our first incident involving one of the vans.  During a stop at the Yukon River a van was negotiating a U-turn in a parking lot when it drove over an area that had been plowed, but was really a snow-filled ditch waiting to swallow the sprinter like an evil trap.  While we waited for it to be freed by the GL 350, we noticed that idling for too long in -43 C temperatures would eventually render the heater useless, even with heater booster on. Ramping up the engine rpms and/or getting back on the road cured this in a hurry.

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