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Vanlife

Offroading in a Sprinter Van

Going offroad in a Sprinter van is possible, but is different than offroading in a truck or Jeep. Many of those vehicles are designed for offroading and the Sprinter is meant for.. well.. delivering things. However, the they are surprisingly capable for a giant, tall awkwardly-shaped delivery van! (The photo in the snow above is a 2WD van with chains on.)

A Caveat/disclaimer: Be sensible and safe. If you have little to no offroad experience, start slow, take a trails course, consult the experts. These tips below are just what has worked for me.

Avoid places where you will get stuck

  1. Obvious right? But the first rule is to avoid places where you will likely get (seriously) stuck. You can do this by pre-walking questionable trail sections.
  2. Be constantly considering a back up plan and where you can turn around or bail if things get worse than expected.
  3. Get comfortable with the capabilities/limits of your Sprinter before you get into trouble. I did this by heading out just outside of town with a friend in another 4×4 to try some different terrain. He stood by to pull me out (but didn’t need, as I was able to self-recover!)

How to prevent getting stuck:

  1. Lower your tire pressure. This is easy and cheap! Many Sprinters spec a tire pressure of 70+PSI. That’s great for handling highway corners at 100km/h but not so great off-road. Airing down the tires to 30PSI or even 25PSI can give you a extra traction for FREE! It lets the tires “wrap” around things like rocks and provides more flotation in mud and snow. With the stiffness of the Sprinter’s suspension, airing down the tires helps with the suspension flex problem too. Warning: going too low will increase the chances of your tire coming off the rims. (This is only likely if you go below 25PSI and push your tires up against rocks or stumps.)
  2. Turn off ASR (Anti-slip regulation). This is the button in the middle of the console near the emergency flashers (on a NCV3). ASR is great on the road, but when your tires start spinning, it kills the throttle (and your forward momentum). This usually happens at the exact wrong time, resulting in you slowing down right when you most need momentum, and becoming stuck.
  3. Put your tire chains on before you need them. Seriously, nothings sucks more than having to chain up on an icy hill with the van tilted precariously (speaking from experience here). If it feels like things are getting dodgy or if you have any doubt, chain up.

Things to help you get unstuck.

Winches are highly over-rated. These two things below will cost you under $200 but will get you out of almost all questionable scenarios:

  1. Chains. Seriously. Chains will work everywhere unlike a winch which requires an anchor (tree, other vehicle, etc). I’ve kept up to 4WD trucks in the snow in my 2WD Sprinter with tire chains on. I use the Peerless AutoTrac which are great off road and ridiculously easy to put on and take off. These have saved my butt SO many times and are super easy to put on (which is the important part as I mentioned above). They are amazing for ice, but work great in mud/snow too. I also carry a set of V-bar chains for if things get really sketchy but have yet to use them.
  2. Traction blocks (I use the “truck version of the TracGrabber). Seriously. I thought these were an “as seen on TV” gimmick until I tried them. They have ALSO saved my butt many times and are super easy to put on. They act like “paddles” in deep snow/sand and give you a crazy amount of traction in those cases. They do not work on ice, but that’s where the chains excel.

How to stay unstuck once you’re free.

  • Don’t stop forward momentum if you can help it. Keep moving until you reach ground that is level and firm.
  • Sprinters typically benefit from a fairly amount of throttle when going through mud and snow. (Obviously be safe & sensible about this). They don’t “crawl” as well through obstacles due to the lack of suspension flex. I typically have to take a pretty good run at things and “drive it like I stole it”
  • If you feel yourself slowing down, but the RPM is staying the same, turn the steering wheel side to side to give the tires something to bite into
  • If you’re tires are just spinning forward, and backward and you are just “digging” downwards, STOP! Air down, put chains on, get out your shovel. The more your tires dig down, the bigger the hole they need to come out of
  • Make sure ASR is turned off. (it turns back on every time you turn the key off, and is easy to forget to check if you are getting in and out of your vehicle a lot)
  • Avoid putting branches, rocks, etc under the tires. This often doesn’t help and they just become hazards (Spinning tires will often just launch them out at high speed)

Other things to consider:

  • Winches are over-rated in my opinion. I used them extensively in my years of offroading in Land Cruisers, but they are expensive, often problematic and IMO not really needed for the types pf places Sprinters will go. But they are the cool bling that everyone puts on the front of their Jeeps ( and LED light bars, and $2000 bumpers, etc.) Maybe if you like spending money and go into really dodgy places by yourself, they are a good idea.
  • Sprinter’s do not have much suspension travel. Thankfully the traction control does make up for this ( somewhat ) by directing power to the other tires when one loses traction. It takes a while to get used to this behavior so practice ahead of time.
  • Not all 4×4 Sprinters have Low Range (Downhill assist). This is helpful when trying to navigate undulating terrain or maintaining slow control around obstacles
  • If you air down, don’t forget to air back up as soon as you can. I carry an portable Viair compressor for this task
Slow and steady down the hill.

Have fun and be safe out there! Have any other tips? Share them below!

By darylchymko

Code Wrangler and ultrarunner

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