My First Sportsmobile Adventure

10 Starts Remaining . . .

From Austin, where I had picked up my MB Sprinter Sportsmobile the day before, I headed to San Antonio to see my sister. Just before Seguin, I stopped at a truck stop to top off my diesel tank. When I cranked up my van, the warning “10 starts remaining” popped up on the dash display.


What the #%$# does that mean? “10 starts remaining” sounds like the end of the world — or, minimally, the end of my Sprinter. Had I already worn it out? I had only driven it one day. Seemed a little soon. I had heard that those Sprinter engines were good for 200,000 miles or more. This was a whole lot less. What do I do?

After thumbing the Sprinter Owner’s Manual both print and PDF versions, I didn’t find the meaning of that very threatening message. So, I turned to Google and Bing. Turned out, I was not the first who had shrieked at this message. The consensus was that it meant that the Sprinter was low on DEF. Hmmm. I had never heard of DEF. Wikipedia explained that  DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) is required to lower the bad stuff in diesel emissions. The consensus of Sprinter owners on the Web forums I scanned was that the message means exactly what it says: after 10 starts, the Sprinter will absolutely not start again. I get it. I hoped that that meant it would not start again until Mercedes-Benz worked some magic. By now, I should have known to call Mercedes-Benz Sprinter service hotline — but, I’m stubborn.

I went back into the truck stop and bought a gallon of DEF and a funnel. I read the manual to figure out how to open the hood. I popped the lever inside the cab and found the release latch under the hood. Like a weightlifter, I did a two-handed lift only to find that as I stretched and stood on my tiptoes, I was about 6 inches too short. Fortunately, I had a little stool with me. Standing on it and on my tiptoes, I could barely get the hood to lock in place. Those German women Sprinter drivers must be really tall, either that or they are just not considered potential Sprinter buyers, which also explains the belittling treatment I had received from the first Mercedes dealer I had visited when ordering my Sprinter. But, back my 10-starts-remaining adventure.

Under the hood after removing the screw cap labeled DEF in big letters (thank you)\, I slowly poured the entire gallon into the reservoir. I screwed the cap back on, let the hood bang into place, put away the stool, put away the funnel then confidently climbed back into my Sprinter and I started the engine.

9 Starts Remaining . . .

Same message, but now it was “9 starts remaining.” On well, I thought, maybe it just needed some times to figure out that it had a gallon more DEF than it had the last time it started. I drove on to San Antonio.

Parked in front of my sister’s house, more Web browsing suggested that it might take another start or two for the Sprinter to figure out that it now had enough DEF. I started the Sprinter again.


8 Starts Remaining . . .

After a good sisterly visit, I cranked up the Sprinter the next morning to head for Dallas confident that that #$@%$*$# message would be gone. No joy

7 Starts Remaining . . .

More browsing suggested that even more DEF might be needed. I headed out of San Antonio on I-10 towards Houston, planning to bypass Austin on State Highway 130 ( 80 mph toll road). I stopped at Love’s near Seguin to add even more DEF. The reservoir swallowed nearly 2 more gallons. I started the engine confident that the message would be gone. No joy.

6 Starts Remaining . . .

OK. I’m stubborn, but I know when I’ve been bested. I knew of a Sprinter-service-capable Mercedes-Benz dealership in Georgetown, which was on my way to Dallas. With the engine running, I called them, and – wow!– they said they could get me in about 1:00 PM, which, with the 80 mph speed limit, I could just make.

Thumbs up to Mercedes-Benz of Georgetown!

In the picture below, my Sprinter is in the right service bay hooked up to a diagnostic computer.


While I munched on unusually good snacks in the Mercedes-Benz service waiting room (as it turned out, both my lunch and my dinner), the Sprinter service guys ran diagnostics on my van. They were terrific in explaining to me what was going on and how they determined what was wrong.

Ugly Message Gone!

Within a couple of hours they knew the problem: the Sprinter had not necessarily been low on DEF, but rather, the entire DEF electronics module was not being “seen” by the van’s control computer. Turned out a fuse was in the wrong slot, which left the DEF module effectively dead. The DEF module is one of those things that absolutely must be operational. If it is not operational, the 10-starts-remaining-countdown is initiated.

What the 10-starts-remaining message really means is “get your butt (with Sprinter) to the nearest Sprinter-servicing Mercedes-Benz dealer.” There are reasons other than DEF problems for the message and only the Mercedes-Benz diagnostic computer can figure it out.

From the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Website

“All Mercedes-Benz Vans come standard with our 24-hour
Roadside Assistance Program and expert advice 24/7
through the Mercedes-Benz Customer Assistance Center.”

I better get that number, which I didn’t find on the Website. Maybe it is somewhere in that really big stack of manuals that I suppose I am now motivated to read?

Why Was the Fuse in the Wrong Slot?

How did the fuse come to be in the wrong slot? I certainly did not move it. The MB service folks and Sportsmobile talked during my check out, and, although when I left, they had not agreed on who would pay the bill on the service, it was not to be me.

On the Road Again — Happy


1 comment

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  1. Shari

    Wow! What an adventure for your maiden voyage. And as usual you are like Super Woman trying to solve the problem.

    You are looking way thin the picture–how’s the healthy eating going?


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