Promaster vs. Sprinter-- which is the perfect van for your van life conversion? Today we're sharing real life experiences and insight into the decision making process when choosing between these two van conversion options.
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Meet Caroline, our Promaster Point of View
What to Consider When Choosing a Van
Sprinter vs. Promaster Maintenance Costs
Sprinter vs. Promaster Sizes
Diesel vs. Gasoline in Sprinter vs. Promaster
Rear Wheel Drive vs. Front Wheel Drive vs. Four Wheel Drive
Sprinter vs. Promaster Exterior Looks
Accessory Availability for Sprinter vs. Promaster
(Note: This blog post is geared towards readers in North America. If you have experience with van models in other areas of the world, we’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!)
A few years back we were exactly where you probably are today: trying to decide which van is the perfect van to convert into the dream #vanlife adventure mobile. We knew pretty early on that our decision was really between two vans and the debate quickly became Sprinter vs. Promaster in our house. How were we going to choose the right van for our new home on wheels?!
After months of researching and debating which van was the perfect fit for us, we landed on one specific make and model: the Mercedes Sprinter van. While we have been happy with our van decision, what’s the perfect fit for us might not be the perfect fit for you. We know that there are lots of people out there who are trying to navigate this major decision too, many of which will land on the Promaster instead of the Sprinter.
Instead of only giving you our one sided opinions and experiences, our friend Caroline graciously agreed to share her point of view and experiences that led her to choosing a Promaster. Her experiences choosing the van as well as converting and living in her van are incredibly valuable! We know that if you’re trying to decide Sprinter vs. Promaster, her words will be incredibly beneficial.
Alright, let’s just jump right in to talking about Sprinter vs. Promaster!
Meet Caroline: Our Promaster Point of View
After years of research and weighing pros and cons of all the different cargo van options, Caroline purchased her van (a.k.a. Jeff Goldvroom) in March 2020. It took her four months to convert her van to the beautiful home on wheels that it is today. She lives in her van full time except for the times she’s renting it out on Outdoorsy. Caroline’s job allows her the flexibility to work remote part of the time as of now, but once her job is 100% remote she plans to be traveling in Jeff full time.
Be sure to stop by and say hello to Caroline over on Instagram and be sure to follow along with her #vanlife adventures! :)
What to Consider When Choosing a Van
If you’re like us, cost is a huge consideration when choosing a van to convert! Van life can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be. Without a doubt though, the van itself is the most expensive part of van life. Makes, models, extra bells and whistles, gas vs. diesel, 4WD vs 2WD and more all add to the price. How do you know which options are necessary and which ones aren’t? Would it be better to go with a less expensive van option but get more features? Or is it better to go with a more expensive van but get a more stripped down model?
Promaster vs. Sprinter Maintenance Costs
If you’re like us, cost is a huge consideration when choosing a van to convert! Van life can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be. Without a doubt though, the van itself is the most expensive part of van life. Makes, models, extra bells and whistles, gas vs. diesel, 4WD vs 2WD and more all add to the price.
While the initial cost of the van itself is expensive, maintenance and care over the years will be expensive, too. Both Sprinter and Promaster have their pros and cons when it comes to maintenance, so let’s compare the two.
The Dodge Promasters are American made, gasoline engine cargo vans. Assuming you’re planning to keep your van in North America, you will never be far from a Dodge dealership! The accessibility to getting your van fixed or have basic maintenance performed (oil change, tire rotation, etc.) will be much more convenient. Caroline even noted that because it’s not a diesel, she can “take it almost anywhere to be worked on,” even to shops that aren’t Dodge specific.
General consensus: Promasters are a lot less expensive to maintain and fix!
Mercedes has been making the Sprinter vans for years. While the technology has changed over the years, they’ve fine tuned the machine to be a long living, comfortable driving cargo van. Like all vehicles, one day the Sprinter will have things that break and need replacing. However, you can expect the Sprinter to live longer than many of the other cargo vans.
Because Mercedes is not based in the USA, you’ll find there are fewer Mercedes dealerships to work on your van. While there are shops in just about every mid size and major city who are willing to work on Sprinters, you’ll have to do a bit of digging and search them out. Because of the lesser number of Mercedes service stations and parts accessible in the USA, cost for repairs is more expensive than that of their American made competitors.
But here’s where Sprinters have an advantage when it comes to service: diesel Sprinter vans only require oil changes every 20,000 miles. That’s half as often as the every 10,000 miles that a Promaster requires. The same goes for when things break and/or need replacing. The price to repair Sprinters is more expensive but you can expect to have fewer repairs than the other competing models. (NOTE: This is what we have learned from talking with other van life friends. I am not stating this as fact or research. :) )
Promaster vs. Sprinter Sizes
A few inches different in size doesn’t seem like that much until you start trying to design and squeeze everything from a house into a van. A few extra inches in just the right places can open up a whole new world of options when it comes to van layouts.
When it comes to Sprinter vs. Promaster, there are several different size options. Both come in
low roof and high roof options as well as 3 different lengths. Most van converters tend to gravitate towards the high roof options because of the extra head room which allows most people to stand upright in the van.
Like all aspects of van life, choosing a van is a personal preference that should reflect your own wants and needs. When designing your conversion, we always recommend drawing lots of blueprints and even use 3D design to help you get a better grasp of how the van’s size will feel and flow. Caroline highly recommends using SketchUp, a free online tool that allows you to create 3D models of your van designs.
Infographic from Sportsmobile
As the infographic above shows, Promasters come in 18’, 20’ and 21’ long. The low roof option has a height of 64” and the high roof option stands at 74” tall. One of the Promaster’s greatest assets is it’s extra wide body style which is standard across all Promaster sizes. Every Promaster model is 73” wide. While that might not sound like a big deal, a couple of extra inches in width opens up a whole lot of opportunities. In fact, the wider body style of the Promaster is the number one thing that sold Caroline on this van:
“The Promaster isn’t an actual square but it is closer to it than other vans which helps with sleeping and building. I am able to sleep width wise, which is a space saver for the rest of the “living space” in the build. I am 5’7” for reference. The width also adds to the space below for your “garage” if you go with the fixed bed route. If you choose to go with the couch/bed convert, you’d have a bit more space to play around with in that area. You could create more distance between the two benches (extra leg room), or extra surface area on the bench itself for more space to actually sit on.
I went with a fixed bed, but I still was able to make my bench in the living area a bit larger in surface area so it is super comfortable to sit or lay on. Lastly, the width (to me) allowed for me to feel like my vehicle was more centered (height/width relation).”
Infographic from Sportsmobile
As the infographic above shows, Sprinters come in 19’, 23’ and 24’ long. The low roof option has a height of 64” and the high roof option stands at 75” tall.
Back in 2018 when we purchased our first van we went with the Mercedes 170 extended Sprinter van. It’s the largest of all cargo van options available in the USA (which is precisely why we chose it). We knew we really wanted the flexibility of van life vs. RV life, but we were still hesitant to give up too many of our everyday luxuries from back home. Because of this, we decided to go with the largest of all van conversion options. In hindsight, we didn’t need that much room. But, we were doing what we thought was best. We loved that van and it truly was a special design that to this day we’re proud of. The extra space allowed us to have a full size work area, shower, fixed bed, bike storage, oven, and more!
However, on our second van (the one we’re currently building out), we decided to go with Mercedes' shortest option: the 144” wheelbase. The idea is that we now know exactly what we do and don’t need on the road. Sure, extra storage space is nice, but we know we don’t need it and having the short wheelbase will be easier for parking and navigating down sketchy mountain roads.
As Caroline mentioned above, the Promaster is a wider van option and allows for sleeping side to side more naturally. It is possible to do so in a Sprinter van with the help of Flarespaces. Flarespaces will take a significant chunk of a van conversion budget, but if you’re dead set on a Sprinter and want to splurge to make that happen, you can. We decided to do just that in our new van because we really love our Sprinter and didn’t want to switch to a different van option, but we still want to be able sleep sideways.
Diesel vs. Gasoline in Promaster vs. Sprinter
Diesel engines are known for being more economical for their ability to get more energy out of every gallon. However, if you find yourself driving more around cities and towns than on highways and interstates, this might not necessarily be the case since diesel engines perform best at higher speeds with less stop and go.
The Promaster’s gasoline engine was a huge selling point for Caroline. Gasoline engines are easier to fix which will save time (and money) whenever she needs to take her van into the shop. Promasters are only available with a gasoline engine (no diesel option at this time). If you’re a van lifer who plans to stick in cities and/or not drive too far or too often, a gasoline engine might be the best option for you!
While we don’t always drive on interstates, we do regularly make long distance trips across the country which is one reason why we decided to go with a diesel engine. Fuel efficiency is important to us and our fully loaded up 2018 Mercedes 170ext Sprinter van regularly got about 18-19 miles per gallon. Our new van is a smaller van but is a 4x4 drivetrain so we’re expecting it to get a little less than the 2WD van even though the 2WD van was larger and heavier.
The downside to diesel engines is that diesel can be a bit harder to come by on road trips. This has only left us in a sticky situation once. We were running low on diesel in Nebraska and couldn’t find a diesel station (lesson learned). We ended up riding into the station on fumes and barely made it (oops!).
The Mercedes Sprinters are available in both diesel and gasoline, but the gasoline option is very new (2019) so I can’t vouch for its reliability yet. However, do note that Mercedes does not offer an extended warranty option on the gasoline models which to us speaks volumes about the reliability difference in the two options. Who knows, maybe the extended warranty option will be available for the gasoline engines too in the years to come.
Rear Wheel Drive vs. Front Wheel Drive vs. Four Wheel Drive
Let’s start by saying that most people do not need four wheel drive (4WD) in their van conversion. Truthfully, most two wheel drive (2WD) options can go just about everywhere you’d want to. Especially if you add all terrain tires to your van (we highly recommend these KO2 tires). Our first van was 2WD van and we took it down 1,000+ miles of dirt roads and it performed wonderfully. That being said, our new van is 4WD and we have noticed a performance difference in mud already.
Here’s the truth: there will always be roads that will get even the most decked out van stuck. We do recommend carrying traction boards if you plan to drive on sand and/or dirt and mud roads. If you plan to regularly off road in your van, a 4WD option might be worth the extra money. If you plan to mostly use your van around cities, save your money and stick with a 2WD option.
When we were shopping for our first van we knew this: our van was going to be our home on wheels. It was our office, home, and adventure mobile. For a while we thought we needed 4WD, but then we realized something: do we really want to take our entire home down a road that required 4WD? Once we realized we didn’t want to risk losing our entire home if we took it down too sketchy of a road, a 2WD option was the obvious choice. However, this new van is being built to be a part time home on wheels and we’re building it in a way that it’s made to go anywhere whenever, thus making 4WD justifiable.
We strongly encourage you to consider thinking about how and where you plan to use your van. If you plan to use it more off grid, consider 4WD. If you plan to stick closer to cities and on pavement, 2WD is probably plenty!
Promaster vans are only available in 2WD. All Promaster vans are front wheel drive. Definitely keep this in mind while van shopping if you plan to go off road a lot.
Sprinter vans are available in 2WD and 4WD. All 2WD drive options are rear wheel drive.
Promaster vs. Sprinter Exterior Looks
If the exterior looks of a van are important to you, you may have a strong preference when it comes to Sprinter vs. Promaster. Both vans are available in a variety of colors from white to blacl and everything in between. Personally, we think the Promaster and Sprinter vans both have solid exterior looks (definitely the best two looking cargo van options on the market), but like everything with van life, it comes down to personal preference.
One piece of advice though: if you’re completely set on a van model already and it’s only the exterior looks that are holding you back from making the leap and buying that van, look beyond the exterior looks. If you still really dislike the way your van looks after you’re finished converting it, perhaps save a bit of extra money and make some fun add on purchases such as Aluminess bumper, roof rack, or ladder.
The Dodge Promaster has a more square look to the cargo area of the van. The front cab and engine area are more unified in a slanted 45 degree angle from roof of the cab to bottom of the front bumper giving it a very clean line look.
Caroline was originally not a fan of the Promaster look, but after shopping around and finding her van in a different color, she was totally sold on the option!
“Another con for a lot of people is the actual appearance of the Promaster. Many people want the inside and outside of their van build to be beautiful (duh! It’s your home!) and they don’t like the “worker van” appearance. I was in this boat also, but I ended up buying a gray Promaster and I LOVE it so much. So if the white appearance is a deal-breaker for you, see if you can find a different color. Because personally, I like the way the back looks in the Promaster. Something about the windows just makes me happy.”
The Sprinter vans have a more rounded look to the cargo area of the van than that of the Promaster. The cab is distinctly different from the engine and the engine is set out in front of the van. Much like a normal pickup truck.
Our first Sprinter van was white and even though white wasn’t our first choice of color, we still loved the van and didn’t mind the look of it. Especially after we added our Aluminess ladder and all terrain tires. Typically Sprinter vans get more expensive if you want a more premium paint color. Sometimes you can get lucky and the dealer will knock the paint upcharge off the cost if they don’t have any other paint color options on the lot at the time (this happened to us on our second van). If color is very important to you, definitely make paint a part of your van build budget.
Accessory Availability for Promaster vs. Sprinter
One thing I had never considered when shopping for van components is the availability of products from one brands model to the next. Because we’ve only owned sprinters we’ve never struggled to find the components we need.
Caroline notes that “the lack of variety for customized add-ons to your build. Sprinter vans have a ton of things you can add to your van: ladders, roof racks, etc. Yes, the Promaster has a couple of things, but definitely not as many options which forced some people in the Promaster Facebook group to make their own.”
Caroline has a HUGELY helpful tip for all van owners, but especially Promaster owners: join a Facebook group dedicated to your specific van! There are groups online for Promaster, Transits, and Sprinters. These groups are full of people who are helping one another work through their van's pros and cons.
Like Caroline mentioned already, there are a lot of options for Sprinter vans on the market already. However, the market is rapidly catching up by creating custom products for both Promaster and Transit options. While the options might still be more limited for these van models, I believe you can expect to see a much more balanced market in the near future.
Like we’ve said a thousand times already, choosing between Sprinter vs. Promaster is 100% personal preference. The biggest piece of advice we can offer is analyze how and where you plan to use your van. Each van has their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s up to you to decide which one will best fit your lifestyle and budget.