While we were overseas in Europe, we made some upgrades to our 2017 4×4 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van in preparation for a trip across Central Asia, Russia, and Mongolia. That trip didn’t happen due to closed borders and an invasion so we’ll try again at another time. So what upgrades did we do while we were traveling overseas?

Switzerland 2021

  • We replaced our OEM 90-liter tank with an extended-range 180-liter diesel fuel tank. The company ACGB, that a lot of van outfitters in the US use, is actually based in France. So you know what that meant? We got it for about half the price by being near the manufacturing facility in France. And they helped us find a local mechanic in France to install it for us. It was a win-win. (You can watch the video here.)
  • We also installed skid plates under our engine and transmission. This helps prevent damage to this essential part of our vehicle when confronted with rough rocky roads.
  • We installed a snorkel on the driver’s side of the van as well. This helps us get cleaner air by having the air intake higher up than the OEM setup. A good upgrade for those who find themselves on many dirt roads like ourselves.(Video here.)
  • We installed an extra rear leaf spring to help handle the increase in weight caused by building our van. This extra leaf upgrade essentially increased our capacity from a 3.5-ton to a 5-ton.
  • We replaced our original 224 Ah lead acid batteries with 280 Ah of lithium batteries. This helped increase our capacity drastically and saved us weight as well. We did a DIY build and you can watch our how-to here.

After we shipped our van back to the US in May of 2022, we knew our new plan was to drive south down the Pan-Am, probably all the way to the tip of South America. So in preparation for that leg of our travels, we took advantage of the availability and ease of purchasing additional items in the US. Here is what we did.

  • We worked with FrontRunner to install a completely new roof rack system that is more slim and streamlined. We now have a lightbar, side lights, a place to attach our Starlink, MaxTrax recovery boards and 4 Wolfpack Pros for storage. We also worked with Zamp Solar to install four 100-watt obsidian solar panels as a nice upgrade as well. We previously had 350 watts up on the roof and this switch saved us weight up on the roof as well as increased our capacity. You can watch our entire selection process and install here.
  • We installed Koni rear springs and Koni front struts to help with suspension and make our ride smoother. Upgrading to heavier-duty shocks can sometimes cause shearing of bolts in the rear so we also installed VanCompass Baja Bracket Rear Shock Mounts as a safety measure. We already had rear Sumo Springs as part of our original self-build but this time we also installed front Sumo Springs as well. (Warning: DON’T install rear sumo springs without also upgrading your leaf springs to handle the load like we did. You can watch that video here.)
  • The Sprinter’s front recovery points are not efficient enough for a van of our weight. So to remedy that issue, we installed a VanCompass Front Winch Bumper that will now give us two sufficient recovery points from the front in case we run into issues on our travels. (We did not buy the additional winch to go with it.)
  • We also did something we should have done a long time ago. We registered our van in South Dakota. It hurt a bit to remove our California plates but on the plus side, we now don’t have to worry about smog checks, save a lot of money, and can renew our fees online.

With all these upgrades to our original van self-build, we now feel more confident to continue overlanding the world.

Thanks for reading and following along!


Scott · January 27, 2024 at 10:32 am

What did you do to ensure there were no problems with the diesel fuel you were getting in South America.

Mali Mish Newsletter #9: Thoughts from the start of our journey south – Mali Mish · January 22, 2023 at 5:39 pm

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2018 Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 :: Featured Classified - Expedition Portal · January 20, 2024 at 12:16 am

[…] The Mercedes Sprinter is arguably the van by which all others are measured, and the 4WD variant is widely considered the most desirable. It’s a powerhouse of the commercial sector with a proven engine and drivetrain that regularly exceeds half a million miles with basic servicing. The Sprinter has long been a figurehead of the vanlife movement and, in more recent years, has become a favorite amongst the overlanding community. In stock form, the 4WD variant showcases impressive backcountry credentials, but thanks to aftermarket support, these vans can be transformed for hardcore off-grid exploration. I’m not sure there’s another van on sale today that has access to such a wide array of parts, accessories, and services. Subsequently, there’s no shortage of expedition-ready Sprinters online, including builds from Living the Van Life, Bruce Banner, and the half-a-million-dollar offering from Benchmark Vehicles. Today’s low-mileage (30,000 miles) 2018 Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 incorporates a wealth of premium upgrades and a beautiful camper conversion. If you’re looking for a turn-key, live-in option for exploring at home or overseas, then this go-anywhere van is a great option. In order to better understand the merits of this platform for international travel, check out the adventures of our 2023 Overlanders of the Year :: Mali Mish in their 2017 Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 170. […]

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