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Mercedes Sprinter: Ground Clearance
Photographer and cyclist and Mac expert and software engineer Lloyd Chambers is available for consulting on general Sprinter considerations at his usual consulting rates via phone, or in person in the Palo Alto, CA area. Save yourself hours and mistakes by discussing issues up-front. More about Lloyd....
This page discusses ground clearance for the 2017 Mercedes Sprinter 4x4, using the 17" wheels and tires I chose that replace the stock 16" wheels and tires. Ground clearance will be 1/2 inch lower with stock fitment.
Wheel and tire size
A significant benefit of going to 17" wheels with appropriate tires is an additional 1/2 inch of ground clearance with 265/70R17 tires.
265/70 R17 = sidewall height of 185.5 mm, total diameter of 803mm (3.7% difference on speedometer)
17 inches = 431.8mm
.70*265*2 = 371.0mm for both sidewalls
ground clearance gain: +14.5mm
Requires 7.0 to 8.5" rim such as the Moto Metal M0970 or Black Rhino York
It is possible to gain 1mm more clearance using 235/85R16 and another 6mm using 275/70R17. However, this might cause rubbing at full wheel lock. More important, it could also cause snow and mud packing problems against the fenders and inside the wheel wells unless they are modified for more clearance.
Measured ground clearance with 17" wheels, 265/70R17
Shown below, the key limiting factor is the clearance for the (1) the rear differential and (2) the rear springs.
As the ruler shows, the rear differential (top right of picture) sits about 9 inches above the ground (from 9 to 18 on the ruler) when using 17" wheels with 265/70R17 tires.
Bashing that rear differential is a Very Bad Idea, since loss of transmission fluid means dry camping until the tow-truck arrives. If one will even venture into the places some people take their Sprinters. But more likey is damaging something else forward.
In practical terms, 8 inches is the safety zone, with that extra critical to unforeseen vehicle lurches that could bash the rear differential. That said, very careful driving (ideally with a spotter) allows nearly 4 inches more clearance if the obstacle can be driven over placing it between the springs and the differential.
Note that most SUV clearance is highly misleading—claimed 8" is considered good, but the differential might sit at only 5" or 6"—way less than the Sprinter. The Sprinter’s clearance is impressively uniform fore/aft and across.
Clearance to the rear springs is about the same, perhaps slightly more. The rear springs are important of course, but bashing them probably won’t disable the vehicle, whereas rupturing the differential means game over.
Clearance at front is just about 11 inches at center (18 to 7 on the ruler), but that’s only at center. Near the wheels, the frame slopes downward, see the next image.
Clearance approaching the front wheels is two inches or so less right near the wheel. This is not a big deal: the usual technique of getting the tire on top of the high point will allow that area to clear insofar as it can be done.
The rest of the underbody has more clearance than at front or rear, so getting the middle of the underbody high-topped is not too likely. Still, it is a long vehicle even with the 144" wheelbase so that driving over a berm or water bar or similar should be approached with caution lest the underbody get stuck on top, right in the middle of the van!