2006 Dodge Sprinter
2006 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase; photos by Grant Yoxon

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What’s bigger than a breadbox? If you’d been a guest on the “What’s My Line” television show in the 1950s, you likely would have been asked that question. But around here, the better question might be: what looks like a great big breadbox on wheels?

Easy: the Dodge Sprinter. This Mercedes-built carry-all has been a fixture on narrow European roads for years, but only arrived here in 2004. And what a rolling breadbox it is: its European design means the Sprinter is tall where large North American vans are wide. And where our typical vans get V8 or at least V6 power, the Sprinter came here exclusively with a 2.7-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel engine, mated to a five-speed automatic. According to Natural Resources Canada testing, fuel consumption ranges from 9.0 L/100 km in the city to 7.9 L/100 km on the highway.

While the Sprinter was available with just one powertrain option, it seems like this van could be had in about a million different body and chassis configurations. There were three wheelbases offered here, plus two different roof heights and even a choice of a dual rear axle for extra payload capacity.

The Sprinter’s diesel’s 154 horsepower sounds awfully low for such a large vehicle, but the motor’s 243 lb-ft of torque was meant to make up for that. However, one fleet manager posting in the forums here at www.Autos.ca says that when his company tested an early Sprinter in 2003, gas mileage wasn’t much better than that achieved by the V8-powered Ford full-size vans in his fleet. He blames that on the lower-powered Sprinter engine, which likely has to work harder than the big-bore V8s in domestic-built large vans.

2006 Dodge Sprinter
2006 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

Another fleet manager posting at MySprinterVan.com says that out of his fleet of 70 Sprinters, six have suffered from engine crankshaft pulley failures. This seems to be a common problem, and might be partly linked to aftermarket compressors for rear air conditioning units, according to another poster at that site. Whatever the case, the failed crankshafts sometimes damage the rest of the engine to the point that the only solution is to install a new engine.

There are some complaints of expensive routine service costs, but DIYers swear that the Sprinter is a relatively easy vehicle to work on as far as changing the oil and oil and fuel filters are concerned. I noticed at least one complaint, in this thread at
Topix.net (which deals with the same crank pulley issue mentioned above), from a fleet manager unhappy with the Sprinter service he got at his Dodge dealer.

2006 Dodge Sprinter
2006 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

He said a local Freightliner service centre (Freightliner sells a version of the Sprinter, too) seems to know the vehicles better. Whether this is the case everywhere isn’t clear, and it’s also not clear whether a Freightliner shop will even work on a Dodge version or vice versa, so buyer beware there.

Plenty of other reliability-related discussions can be found in the Sprinter forum at

While the Sprinter mainly appeals to fleet owners, it seems that many individuals find it’s a good candidate for RV conversions. This thread in the Sprinter forum at Topix.net contains lots of links to companies selling camper conversion necessities for the Sprinter.

The first-generation Sprinter sold in Canada was not crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Anti-lock brakes and traction control were standard, but side airbags weren’t available.

2006 Dodge Sprinter
2006 Dodge Sprinter
2006 Dodge Sprinter
2006 Dodge Sprinter. Click image to enlarge

The Sprinter was a pricey vehicle when new, and it’s still a fairly expensive proposition off the used car lot. The best deals are to be had on higher-end models, which suffered a higher rate of depreciation. According to Canadian Red Book, values range from $22,900 for a 2004 short-wheelbase, standard-roof cargo van, to a high of $34,925 for a 2006 high-roof passenger version. That doesn’t take into account the different wheelbase lengths, though, so you may find that longer-wheelbase Sprinters are a little more expensive.

Unless you harbour a strange fetish for quirky European carry-all vehicles (they are pretty nifty, in all honesty), the Sprinter probably isn’t the best choice if all you need is a big box on wheels. A full-size van from Ford (E-series), General Motors (Chevy Express or GMC Savana) or Dodge (the Ram Van, which the Sprinter replaced in 2004) will be easier to deal with in terms of maintenance and repairs. These vans will also be much cheaper and may not use much more fuel in real-world conditions. The Sprinter has an edge in interior space with its high-roof option, but the domestics will be almost as good at carrying the big stuff that only a full-size van can hold.

As always, the choice is up to you. Some breadboxes might be bigger than others, but what’s inside the box is more likely to be the deciding factor for you if you’re in the market for a big van.

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Online Resources

The most comprehensive Sprinter resource I came across isn’t even part of a Dodge website; it’s the Sprinter forum at Topix.net, a general forum site that covers a wide variety of, well, topics. There’s a Sprinter section in the forums at

DodgeTalk.com, as well as at DodgeForum.com. MySprinterVan.com is a promising URL, but the site isn’t any busier than other Sprinter-related resources, and while Allpar.com promises Sprinter info in its “Vans” forum section, info on this Euro-built van is hard to come by here.


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005018; Units affected: 1,397

2004-2005: On certain vehicle equipped with 16-inch tires and operated in hot ambient conditions, the rubber and metal portions of the valve stem may experience separation or cracking. This condition may lead to loss of air pressure at the valve stem and subsequent rapid loss of pressure in the tire that could result in a loss of vehicle directional control with minimal advance warning. Correction: Dealers will replace the tire valve stems.

Manufacturer’s Website

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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