How not maintaining your Sprinter air filter can leave you stranded

Brrrr…  Its freezing outside, 7.00pm the phone rings…”The van has broken down… it will not come out of Limp Mode.. I need to get my delivery done tomorrow ..”  You know the story I am sure.

Sprinter air filter clogged

I pack up a limited tool kit and set off to a stranded van parked at the drivers house some 30 miles away.  I find the van parked up on a rural unlit junction outside the drivers house, I collect the keys and begin.

I plug in the code reader.  Some weeks earlier this vehicle had had a repair to the boost actuator valve wiring and I considered this had maybe failed.  The code reader showed the normal ‘Glow Plug Failure’ codes in three instances, along with a single low boost pressure flag.  I cleared the codes and started the van – sure enough it would not rev above a 3000rpm ceiling.

Immediately I re-read the codes, the glow plug issues remained but the low boost pressure did not appear again.  Strange.  I checked the rear lamp clusters for shorts and bulb failure, (All the first base reactionary stuff) the brake pedal switch and the clutch switch.  The clutch switch seemed to be ‘dirty’ resistance wise and I removed it and soaked it in switch cleaner.  Once tested good with the Ohmmeter  it was refitted and the van run up again – no change!  Problems with either of these switches should have normally thrown a fault code.

The engine compartment was an oily mess, this is not unusual for this owners vehicles as they are ‘breathing heavily’ through the separator/breather due to worn bores, but this was not the issue at this juncture.

I checked all the turbo hoses and intercooler for splits or leaks and after a tweak here and there on the hose clips, all proved well.

The driver started the van as I looked into the engine bay.  Signalling him to rev the engine, I felt the pressure on the manifold inlet hose with a squeeze, it was hardly pressurising at all.  This complimented the real-time reading I had previously obtained from the code reader.  On removing the inlet hose to the turbo from the air box (Engine off) I spun up the turbo vanes to check all was well with the turbo.  There was no play at all and the impeller ran freely without any stiction.  The actuation arm on the turbo body that operates the VNT vanes functioned as it should falling downwards on engine-start, oscillating upward and downward on a no load rev.

Reassembly of the intake hose and a signal to restart the engine took place.  I noticed the strangest thing in my torchlight.  As the engine was revved, the concertina moulded rubber inlet hose from the air box-to-turbo inlet was physically shortening!  Continued revving proved the hose was being sucked in and the concertina section was contracting in length as the engine revs increased.

Sprinter Air Filter Fault

The only thing that could be causing any suction at this point was a restriction in the air box or its fresh air intake routing.  I flipped the lid on the air filter housing and shone  a torch inside.  The filter element was so clogged it had begun to pull out from its foam frame, lifting up, as the paper element unfolded to block the outlet from the air box.  The filter element was removed and what was left of it inspected. – WOW that was almost completely choked with dust and soot, presenting almost a complete barrier to any air flow, so much of a barrier in fact that the engines scavenging for air had begun to pull the air filter into the upper section of the air box, unravelling the filter paper construction and blocking off almost completely the intake air’s route to the turbo.

Removing the filter and testing the engine proved it was the issue, though seeing it with my own eyes, I had no doubt that this was the problem.

Discarding the old filter element I told the owner/driver to get a replacement filter and  slot it in the following morning and all would be fine.  Lesson learned!

Dirty Sprinter Air filter

On reflection, this should have maybe been the first place I looked during my diagnosis regime, but at the time – end of the day, dark, cold, roadside, a distance from good tools etc. I had checked elsewhere first.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing and maybe if you are reading this, you too will think on in future to check the condition of that air filter if the vehicle is not known to you or you don’t know when it was last checked out.

26 thoughts on “How not maintaining your Sprinter air filter can leave you stranded

  1. Hi Steve

    I have a similar problem with my 2004 Vito 109.

    Driving along quite happily at 70mph then the Engine Warning Light came on and a lack of power. Connected my code reader & it had 2 faults listed:
    2133-2 Cyl 1 glow plug short circuit & P2511 MIL on

    I fitted a new glow plug then cleared the 2133-2 code.

    Engine light still in & P2511 code still there & still no power 🙁

    Also, when watching “Live Data” the ECT shows in red @ 215 Deg C.

    A new ECT Transmiter was fitted 2 months ago following your advice.

    Can you suggest anything to get van going properly again?



    PS Keep up the good work 😉

    1. Hi again Dunk,
      P2511 is EGR valve positioner error. Could just need a good clean out with carb cleaner and brush – or its broken. There was a recall by MB due to prem. failure of this unit, do you have any history of it being changed at some time in the vito’s past?
      With regards the coolant sensor I am wondering if this is a default value put in by the ECU. What happens if you pull off the connector. any change?
      Stating the obvious, did you change the complete stat housing as I mentioned before or just the sensor if you got it out, it is the correct sensor range (Think its a Facet 73300 sensor)
      Al the best

      1. Hi Steve

        Thanks for your quick reply, No history if EGR Valve has been changed in the past.
        I just changed the sensor once I managed to get it out, as I got your message about changing the complete housing. 🙁

        I will try removing connector in the morning.

        One thing I can mention is that in the past, If van was driven hard up a long dual carriageway hill. 70mph & full throttle, the engine light could come in & loss of power happens, all i would do was to stop in lay-by, switch off for 1 minute, then restart & light would go out within 1 minute, and normal power was available.

        Is that a symptom of a faulty/sticking EGR valve?



      2. Morning Dunk,
        The issues I have seen are where it does not close correctly and it bypasses useful boost pressure to the exhaust and bogs down the engine, nearly always illuminating the EDC lamp. It usually only actuates at idle/low revs and during the warm-up cycle to reduce emissions (and fill your inlet with recirc. combustion gasses and soot!!! 🙂 ) but if it is not closing properly then trouble could be had at higher load/speed conditions. It usually produces a black smoke output from the tail pipe when this happens – basically because there is too much fuel and not enough air being forced in the correct mix to the combustion chambers!

        The EGR is easy to remove with reverse torx sockets and give it a once over, if the valve looks as if its not seated correctly then this will be your problem. If you peer inside you will see a rod that operates the valve, this will be coked up and have a coal carbuncle on it. Carefully scrape this off and swill out with carb cleaner and a stiff brush. This lump can restrict the valve movement. Obviously if the problem is electrical – either in actuation or any feedback electronics then I am afraid you may have to replace it wholesale.

        There is no escaping the EGR P code, this is telling us that something is not as it should be in this area – fact. So its a good place to focus attention.

        See how you get on.
        All the best

        PS. If you ever fancy taking a few photographs of your efforts using your photographic expertise – I can always use good pictures on the site!

  2. Hi Steve, Thanks again for providing excellent information to assist with fixing my problem. 😉

    We removed the EGR valve, well sooted up, cleaned it carefully & refitted. Mil Lamp went out first time! :-), Road test, Going well. Not yet tried a long up hill section yet, but fingers crossed.

    We also replaced heater plug no1 as code said it was faulty, it was faulty, code cleared, then it appeared again after road test! Bizarre!

    Is this a known problem with Vito’s ?

    Thanks again for your help, no doubt I will be in touch again soon! 😉



    1. Hi Dunk,
      If the glow circuit detects a plug down it illuminate the glow plug lamp after start. There is a chance another one has gone down. Check the eyelet and contact tip for a nice clean connection. Lots of current here. Did you fit an original, Bosch, NGK or Beru?
      All the best

      1. Hi Steve,

        When we did my “Injector job” we fitted new glow plug to No 2 Cyl, Now it has a new one in No 1 cyl. Can the system give a “No 1 Glow plug warning” if 3 or 4 was faulty, or are error codes specific to each cylinder glow plug?



      2. Dunk,
        I don’t know is the short answer but it is very possible a ‘generic code’ covers a range of faults on lesser than MB Star code readers. This I have noticed. They are a good insight and do indicate the area of trouble but often fail to drill down to the finite detail. Be an interesting experiment to say drop the lead off No4 and start the vehicle then read the codes.

        I am betting that another has gone, 2 more and all will have been replaced!

        All the best

  3. Hi Steve, The black smoke symptoms are exactly right, and it wont pull the skin off a rice pudding! 😉

    I have also just seen your comments about some photos, yes I will, if/when I need to remove the next time. As if it happens again, I will replace EGR Valve.

    Can you send me your email address for future photos?



  4. Hi Steve, Further to my first message on this topic, I have been running my van with the diagnostic code reader plugged in, and finally got the van to illuminate the engine light when really pushing up a long gradient. The code reader shows: 2359-2 “The charge pressure control is faulty, Specified value below range”

    Can you help yet again?



    1. Hi Dunk,
      The code you have there is not necessarily the charge control that is faulty.

      There are 2359-1 and 2359-2, High and Low boost pressure detected against expected levels for a certain engine load. Usual culprits for this are an air filter that needs replacement or a leak somewhere on the turbo pipework. Intercooler connections, manifold or turbo snail. Just look for obvious splits and loose hose clamps. Black oil staining will be a dead give away.

      Check also the turbo actuator is moving without any stiction especially towards its maximum, you will most probably need a hand vac pump to test this properly.

      Hope this helps.

  5. Great story on the air filter Steve, I once had a friend rebuild a motor, only to realize, the blocked air filter was his problem.
    Your a legend!
    Great advice, keep up the good work.

  6. hi i have a sprinter van 09 313cdi on my texa machine tells us overboosting code 2359-01 have you ideal what we can look for thanks

    1. Hi Jason,

      The later series of twin turbo Sprinters from 2007 on have most problems with EGR valve and sticking turbo actuator arms or internal turbo vanes. That 2359 overboost code is a generic ‘could be a lot of things ‘ code and the fact it does not exist with any other reported code points to a mechanical problem – either with the turbo actuation or faulty/sticking EGR valve.

      There are some reported cases of the threaded fixing inserts pulling out from the composite inlet manifold and causing boost leaks here, but you would see these as oil staining, Just as you would on a leaking pipe or joint in the boost charge circuit.

      Its very difficult when you don’t get a clear fault diagnosis and most frustrating when you need a fix, but if I were you I would go over the engine with a fine tooth comb and look for any signs of boost hose leaks, include in that the inlet manifold. Get the EGR valve removed and at least cleaned, make sure it works correctly and more importantly fully closes. My money is on this being problematic and more likely the root cause.

      Just as a parting shot, you sometimes get non specific codes relating to overboost if the DPF is clogged. Last resort but do not overlook it completely.

      Hope that helps you out a little.

      All the best

      1. steve had to fit new egr valve a week ago the drive was broken now every time you turn off key egr valve clicking for 6 or 7 times

      2. Hi Jason,

        The noise is usually like an electronic high pitched ‘sawing’ sound as it moves on the motor, a clicking doesn’t really sound right. I would have a look here as a starting point. Do you still have the old one? With the old Sprinter, you could close it off, refit and disconnect the wire to it. A test run would prove it, as although the fault light would be lit the van would not trip into limp mode. Unsure if this is the case with later NCV3 Sprinters with the ‘Whaler’ make EGR like yours, but it would be worth a go.

        All the best

  7. very similar problem on my 06 sprinter 2.7l. engine died at a stop. hard restart but once running it idled very poorly and had low power. proceeded to limp home. was interrupted once when low oil light came on. had to add oil twice on a 100 mile limp. next day found the plugged filter when removing parts to do a check on the turbo resonator. cleared low boost dtc and now starts easily. however lots of blue smoke. poor idle. and still low power. parked for now till I figure it out.

    1. Hi Frank,
      If the filter was plugged it would have wanted to draw combustion air through the crank case breather (connected forward of the turbo, but after the air filter) Your increased oil consumption was because was it was probably drawn through as vapour into the induction air via this route as the filter was offering so much resistance or air from the normal route. It quite possibly could have deposited a great deal of oil into the intercooler and associated hose work and really needs a look-see and clean out. This would explain the continued smoking as lying oil is being drawn into the engine. Check and clean out the intercooler and pipework.

      All the best

  8. Hi Steve.

    I’ve got a similar problem with a 2006 Sprinter 315CDI.
    Yesterday the van suddently went into limp mode, no engine light. Stopped it and started it over and it ran fine. Today, same story, only this time the engine light came on.
    Read codes 2359, 2134 and 3050 on ECU and 1955 on OBD.
    It won’t rev over 2500 rpm.
    I have checked all vacuum hoses, pressure hoses, intercooler and the VNT can be moved, all seems okay.
    However I can see a bit of oil leaking at the left side of the engine. It looks like it’s leaking from the intake manifold or perhaps from the pressure pipe just under the intake.
    Have you seen this before?
    Haven’t checked the airfilter, but the van was serviced less than 6 months ago, with all filters changed, so I kind of rules this out.
    I know the P1955 OBD code points at the whole air system, but it could just be a reset of the airfilter, so I turn to 2359 ECU code.

    Best regards

    1. Hi Dennis,
      Chances are that your problem is little more than a boost leak. Oil staining is often an indicator of where the boost leak is, it could be there is a leak at the manifold if you see oil. Check carefully all boost pipes and connections one leak will cause exactly what you describe – all is fine until you start to load the engine, boost pressure is down and it latches into limp-mode.
      Inspect and tighten is the way to go as a first step.

  9. Hi Steve, what a geat site for reading-I dont have any running issues that need help (touch wood)
    I have a Vito 108cdi No EGR with 70k on the clock, i just wanted to ask if there was any way of eeking a little more power out of this engine?
    Thanks again for this site, very educational, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  10. Kind thanks Steve for sharing your knowledge and time, please know it’s much appreciated! I love learning about these T1N’s as one never knows when you can help another or yourself when they have issues. Also please know, by sharing the steps you go through to diagnose is also very much appreciated! These vehicles are much different than anything I’ve worked on in the past and to say ‘intimidating’ would be an understatement.

    Thanks again!

  11. I have a Sprinter 412D 2.9 904 chassis/platform unit 4 tonne. I found over a period of 18 months I had a lot of black oily deposit all over the top of the engine. I mentioned it to my garage and they said that “diesels do that” and it seemed to be getting worse, but two annual services showed up nothing and the vehicle used 1 litre of oil/10,000 miles.

    I was fitting a new pollen filter and was having issues getting the cover back on when I knocked the EGR valve, AND IT MOVED!! One bolt was missing and the other was half undone. I took the EGR (its non electronic!!) off and it was totally blocked solid and the vac valve did not work. I fitted a replacement which works well BUT as soon as the engine is started the valve opens and presumably stays open.
    I note that the vac pipe is connected to a control valve on the bulkhead which I assume is connected to the ECU. Does that mean that the control valve is faulty as the odd post I have found seems to suggest that when cold the valve should remain closed . I get black smoke at idle or over-run but no black smoke when I am pulling hard. I have ordered a replacement control valve and I assume that the control valve will open and close the EGR on demand depending what the engine is doing and at what temperature. Should the opening of the mechanical EGR valve be variable, or just open or closed.

    On another subject, I asked last year about getting a replacement LHD exhaust system. Easier said than done if you have a 904 chassis platform unit. The after market guys don’t want to know because the 904 is the base for a complete body, and is often modified. I ended up getting a custom built stainless steel system built by Fast Road Conversions at Ashford in Kent. Cost £550 + vat with a vehicle lifetime guarantee. It took them 5 hours to build it from scratch and it is a lot quieter than the existing Merc system and cost the same as the Merc parts excluding fitting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *