The consensus is, even with 4WD, taking a stock Sprinter van off-road has substantial limitations. Until now, loose sand or deep mud have been day-enders for advanture seekers everywhere. This limited the 4×4 van community to Ford and GM options with heavy-duty solid axles and locking differentials.
Limits you say? Challenge accepted.
With decades of overlanding expertise, ARB looked to make quick work of this problem as they have for so many applications around the world – install an Air Locker. But evolving a Mercedes into a true 4×4 rig wasn’t so easy to, well, lock up. Luckily, vetted van builder Agile Offroad partnered with ARB on the project and their combined powers have delivered an air locker, suit #vanlife! Yes. Rear Air Lockers for Mercedes Sprinter Models NCV3 (2007-18) and VS30 (2019+) are now available for pre-order.
If you’re new to the off-road world, grasping the magnitude of this lies in understanding what a locking differential is, the capabilities it delivers, and why an Air Locker specifically is the best option on the market.
WHY IS A LOCKER SO CRUCIAL FOR OFF-ROADING?
A locking differential, known as a locker, significantly increases a vehicle’s off-road capability by sending equal power to each tire.
Stock vehicles are equipped with an open differential – which sends power to the tire with the least amount of traction at any given time. This is great for driving on pavement when all four tires are constantly touching the road, especially when turning. But when off-roading, equal power is not ideal.
Taking on muddy, rocky, snowy, unpredictable terrain often leaves 4×4 vehicles off-kilter with one tire in the air, or one tire sunk into the mud. An open differential only makes matters worse in these situations by sending power to the tire that does not have traction. This causes the power-less tire to spin continuously without any vehicle movement. What off-roaders need, is to power the tires that do have traction so the vehicle can free itself and continue down the trail.
A locking differential accomplishes this with a mechanical component that prevents, or “locks”, the differential gears from spinning which allows all tires to spin with equal power. Differentials are located on the front and rear axle, each controlling two tires. A locking differential can be installed on one or both axles.
WHAT IS AN AIR LOCKER?
The ARB Air Locker® is a selectable, pneumatic locker that uses compressed air to engage the locking mechanism that locks gears in place. Selectable lockers are engaged manually with a dashboard switch and this level of control is ideal for off-road use. Automatic lockers are another option, but one that doesn’t offer enough flexibility to the off-road driver.
ARB Air Lockers have been the most trusted locking differential for decades. From Ultra4 racers to weekend warriors, Air Lockers are relied upon for performance and reliability.
ARB Air Lockers feature:
– Patent timed locking mechanism to lock in the strongest possible position
– Two-piece case ensures reliability with fewer moving parts
– Use of commercial-grade forged gears
Technology and off-roading have changed drastically over the years. Off-road tires have become larger, vehicles have become heavier, and different manufacturing processes and materials have become available. In order to adapt, ARB continually pushes Air Locker technology forward with relentless testing and R&D.
One of these changes is the presence of van dwellers and adaptation of Sprinter vans for adventure travel. It’s true, Sprinter vans open up a great deal of possibility; but they’re heavy. And heavy gets stuck. Fortunately, ARB teamed up with an exceptional Sprinter shop in SoCal to research and develop an Air Locker to suit the Sprinter.
“ARB’s high-performance racing heritage; top-quality design, manufacturing & testing process; long-term commitment to off-roading; worldwide distribution network; and most importantly the fact that ARB is a key innovator in this space.”
BRINGING A DREAM TO LIFE
In 2019, Agile Offroad founder John Brindell began a Sprinter Van locker quest. Being an adventure van enthusiast and off-roader himself, he always dreamed of the capabilities that a locking differential would bring to the Mercedes Sprinter.
He says of his passion for the platform, “The Sprinter’s high ground clearance and ability to fit large all-terrain tires is a huge advantage over other adventure vans – and did we mention it’s a Mercedes-Benz?! Top notch engineering, a wide variety of build configurations, cutting edge tech, and its handsome looks, make the Sprinter a great package.”
As do most 4WD’s, the Mercedes Sprinter Van incorporates an open differential and ring and pinion set. Typically ring and pinion sets are interchangeable, but in this case the ring gear and the differential is one single piece, which made aftermarket differential development a real chore.
It took countless hours of phone calls and research but eventually the team struck gold. A manufacturer overseas was already developing a replacement ring and pinion. Elated, John acquired a set and shipped them to the Air Locker engineering team in Melbourne, Australia.
With all the pieces at hand, the team conferred across many time zones to share measurements, test components, and assess prototypes. Agile Offroad provided their knowledge of Sprinter Vans while ARB Engineers and Product Managers lent their Air Locker expertise. After many, many months the quest was complete and John installed the first Air Locker into a Sprinter van just ahead of Overland Expo West.
He says, “To be honest a stock 4×4 Sprinter is a fairly adventurous vehicle. And its capabilities can be increased further with our signature RIP (Ride Improvement Package) suspension kit. It’s great for where we’ve been using it. Now with the Air Locker, it’s opened up new places to go. Finding more traction provides access to places that weren’t available to us before.”
Air Lockers to suit the Mercedes Sprinter are expected to arrive Spring 2022 and are available exclusively through Agile Offroad.