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Mercedes Sprinter Issues and Breakdowns: Toy-Grade Clamps on Steering Fluid Hoses Pops Hose Off
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....
I bought the 2017 Mercedes Sprinter because of its excellent feature set, but also its reputation for sterling reliability. Less than a year into it, I can sadly say that the 2017 Mercedes Sprinter is not nearly as reliable as I had hoped. Maybe my situation is unusual; it’s kind of irrelevant less than one year in for a design that has been around for a decade. It’s unacceptable.
This page discusses what I was told (June 2018) is likely to be a recall for the 2017 Mercedes Sprinter—and if it is not made into a recall, then Mercedes is irresponsible indeed.
At about 17400 miles and less than 11 months into service.
Toy-grade spring clamps on steering fluid hoses let hoses pop off
The basic issue is that Mercedes has used toy-grade spring clamps on the steering fluid hoses where they attach to the radiator side. We’re talking here about clamps that with a little force release easily. There is just no excuse for this miserably poor quality. How Mercedes could toy-quality parts in a crucial area is baffling.
I was particularly irked because it cost me 4 days of work (photography, my profession) a ruined trip and two days to obtain parts and fluids and two grubby hours under the Sprinter fixing it myself, trying to avoid burning myself on the hot engine parts. I was just lucky not to be stranded entirely—the Deep Springs area is about 260 miles from a Mercedes dealer.
Mercedes ought to do something for me, something very nice, because I count this ridiculous fiasco as a $1500 detour: 700 mile round trip to get back there from home, 4 days total wasted, a ruined trip not easily repeated, and the stress and and unreimbursed costs.
Take your Sprinter into the dealer ASAP and replace them with the stainless steel screw-on type. The spring clamps on the steering fluid hoses are unacceptably poor quality—the wrong parts for the job.
Half way up a remote canyon (Wyman Canyon), the lower steering fluid hose just popped off completely, which let all the steering fluid drain out with an immediate loss of all power steering. It also made a heck of a mess over the front lower half of the radiator, not to mention polluting the pristine creek and it sure smells nice too.
Do you know how hard it is to manhandle a Sprinter down a rough and rocky and twisty canyon road without power steering? It is a major workout. And then worrying about getting out at all (at least a $2000 tow if at all), not knowing for sure what the problem was. A little stressful to be sure.
- Finally manhandle Sprinter out of canyon back down to Hwy 168. Stop and verify that it appears to be only the power steering fluid.
- Drive up and over Hwy 169 (twisty and steep for 3500 vertical feet, thus risky and arm-twisting).
- Near Big Pine, stop and take a closer look to verify that it is just steering. Call dealer (240 miles away for the nearest one in Reno), learn that flatbed tow there will likely waste two days , given that it would take at least 5-6 hours just to get there. Which would likely mean waiting over a weekend for service.
- Spend 4 hours trying to find the right kind of steering fluid, first in Big Pine, CA (nothing there), then in Bishop (the clueless guy at the first shop wanted to sell me the wrong fluid). I finally got fluid at O'Reilly Auto Parts on the north end of Bishop—but they had only 24 ounces and there was no more available. Mercedes in their wisdom states the required type of fluid in the manual, but not the amount required.
- Spend two grubby hours trying to reattach hose, getting absolutely filthy with no way to shower. It is just about impossible without the right tools to reattach the hose and spring clamp—I finally gave up and attached two stainless steel screw-on clamps—far superior (even the mechanic and service manager noted that once I got to Reno).
- Add 12 oz of steering fluid. The steering does not work.
- Add another 12 oz of steering fluid, the last available at the auto shop—the steering works, but sounds very unhappy.
- Drive about 15 miles to a friend’s place and stay overnight.—oh lovely water and soap. The steering sounds like hell in the morning but it works.
- Make several phone calls to Mercedes of Reno (service departments at all dealers often take an hour or more to return calls!) and finally get specifications for steering fluid. Locate compatible steering fluid in Mammoth Lakes, CA, drive there. [To Mercedes of Reno’s credit, Joe Castleberry offered to call around to find fluid for me, but being very busy, I figured it out a little faster].
- Add steering fluid. Since Mercedes does not state required amount in the manual (hello?), and I had spilled a little prior, I overfilled it, not knowing how much was needed (about a quart as it turns out, but I forget the exact amount).
- Spend 45 minutes dabbing out excess steering fluid with rolled-up shop towels.
- Drive 180 miles to Mercedes of Reno, wait ~3 hours for service (they got right on it starting at ~3 PM, kudos!). MoR drains fluid reattached both steering fluid hoses with my stainless steel clamps and agreed strongly that the spring clamps are a poor choice. They seemed to be of the view that it might warrant a recall, but don’t quote me or them on that.
I have nothing but praise for Mercedes of Reno because in my distress, they got right on my Sprinter and worked past 6 PM to get it fixed and working. Kudos to Joe Castleberry — I’ll rate him an 11 out of 10 for going above and beyond. Thanks also to Kwanny.
It could be worse
Mercedes: what happens if the Sprinter is up in Alaska or similar, 800 miles from any auto shop? It’s outrageous to ship such poor quality fittings.