Monday, May 18, 2015

Mechanical Moment: The Turbo "Thingy"

*I have a 2011 Sprinter Van, converted to an RV by Pleasure-Way.

I'm writing this for anyone else who might encounter a similar problem with their Sprinter Van, I believe this is a rare problem so who knows if anyone else will encounter this.

Last July, on the first full driving day of my summer trip, I was under three miles from my destination when the van lost power! I was in a residential area, on a busy road, traveling about 30-40 mph trying to get up a fairly steep p, but short, hill. Without warning, without any indicator lights illuminating, the van simply stopped moving and the RPMs dropped suddenly. I attempted to give the van more fuel but pressing the accelerator but it did nothing. I was able to get the hazard lights on and I coasted, slowly, but still moving forward, to the top of the hill. Once I began to descend the van shifted gears and began to gain speed. All was ok until I hit the next hill - a more gradual climb, this time I was on a more deserted street almost to my uncle's house. I was able to pull into his driveway where I pulled out the unhelpful owner's manual.

Soon, my parents got back and I began describing the problem to my dad. He and I took the van out for a test drive. At first, it seemed that there was no problem, it went up several hills and didn't lose power at all. But then, just as we were returning to my uncle's thinking it was just one of those weird things, it happened again. This time the Check Engine Light (CEL) came on. We decided that "turning it off/back on again" had possibly reset things and was why we were able to drive around without it losing power, so we tried that. It did work to restore power, but the CEL was still on.

The next morning I drove over to Mercedes of Ft. Washington. The technician was confused by the codes the CEL was giving him, he said that it indicated that the turbo needed to be replaced, he was hesitant to get on board with that because it was a rare problem and the repair would take days and I was living in my van, so this was going to be a problem. He took it for a "restorative test drive" and cleared the codes. He also wrote up a detailed report with what codes had come up and what he had done in case this happened again, I could give that to the next Mercedes Dealer so they'd know. I tossed the paper in my glove box and headed out with fingers crossed.

I drove about 5,000 miles - all types of driving conditions - highway, country roads, mountains, steep inclines, long gentle inclines, long driving days, short driving days, - without having another obvious problem. Then, on the 2nd evening of my spring break trip I was heading up a long steepish hill on Little River Road in Great Smoky Mt. National Park when suddenly the van lost power again. It was exactly what had happened back in PA. This time I tried shifting into a lower gear to try and get the engine to change and snap out of whatever was causing it to stick, but that didn't really work. I was able to coast into an overlook where I turned the van off and back on again. That seemed to cure the problem and didn't happen again, despite me giving it lots of chances too! This time the CEL did not come on. I drove over 500 miles - even took it up to a trailhead with a hill so steep I had to put it in first gear to get down! I suspect that there may have been some "glitches" or minor "seizures" with the RPMs, but the van did not dramatically lose power again.

Last Thursday I took the van in to my usual Mercedes dealer - Meredes of Chantilly, here in VA, for its 30k miles service. I was about 4k miles early, but I have plans to drive it to Oregon next month so I wanted to be sure everything was working! I'll probably be putting 10k miles on it and I'd rather get the service early than late! When I dropped the van off I casually mentioned the to kid the problem with it losing power. He, and I, were skeptical that they'd be able to find the problem, but I asked them to look and agreed to the $130 diagnostic fee. I forgot to tell him about my note from the Ft. Washington Mercedes guys, but I did tell him that my visit to the other Mercedes dealer was probably in the computer.

I was shuttled to school and went about my day. It was at 4:00, when I was trying to get I touch with the Mercedes people to come get me, that I got the call from the Service Writer...the turbo needed to be replaced, it was covered by warranty, and the van would be ready Monday! WHAT?!?!

Now, this did not come as a surprise, I fully expected we might be looking at replacing the turbo, the problem was the van was my only transportation home (I live 30 miles from the Mercedes Dealer! It's close to my work, but not my house) and my friend who could have driven me home had already left! I explained this to Joe and he quickly understood and rather than giving me the van back and waiting for me to arrange my own transportation so I could leave the van with them for a few days, he gave me a loaner car! NICE! They don't usually give loaners for Sprinters, but this was an unusual situation!

Joe did say that potentially, the other 2 random CEL incidents I've had could be related to the turbo. That would be really nice...if this was the answer to all the weird stuff the van has done!

I got the call today, Mon, that they had finished the repair, they were test driving it and I could pick it up Tuesday morning! I'll be going to school and then going to the Mercedes Dealer to pick it up!

This was truly the best case scenario for getting this problem fixed! I'd much rather deal with this here than in the middle of Iowa! I'm so glad that I will have the van in perfect working order for my trip to Oregon!


1 comment:

  1. The symptoms sound just like the common problem with the previous generation of Sprinters when the turbo resonator goes out and the vehicle switches into "limp home mode." Many of us have experienced this problem with the older models and it has been discussed at length in the Camping Van Conversions forum on I had to limp from New Brunswick to Boston to get mine fixed the first time it happened. But I have never heard of the older version Sprinter having the turbo itself fail, probably because they seldom failed. (