Suburban Dad Vacation: Hidden Gems, Nasty Surprises
Not every feature was readily apparent on the Sprinter. Here are some gems and surprises we uncovered on our trip.
Hidden gem: For this trip, we bought a converter to plug into a 12-volt outlet that gave us a household outlet, and another with a couple of USB outlets. When we loaded up the van, the cupholder on the center stack was pulled out and it had a 12-volt outlet in it. Unfortunately, the lip of the cupholder blocked us from plugging in our converter. We shrugged and lamented the fact that we’d bought converters we couldn’t use.
While cleaning out the car on the second morning, I tossed a water bottle and closed the cupholder when something big caught my eye. Directly below the cupholder, and I mean directly below, was a 12-volt outlet, unencumbered by any cupholder lip. Huzzah! Our converters got quite a workout on that second day. We still managed to miss the third 12-volt outlet in the cockpit area; it’s on the driver’s seat, but facing the passenger’s seat. We didn’t find that one until we finished cleaning out the car at the end of the vacation.
Nasty surprise: When using that 12-volt outlet built into the cupholder in the center stack, be sure to hold onto the cupholder when you plug something into it; we nearly sliced a Coke can in half because the act of pushing the charger into the outlet forces the cupholder back into its hole. Lucky for us, the can was mostly empty when we tried. In addition, while there are three 12-volt outlets in the cockpit area and two in the back in the storage area, there are no outlets in the three rows of passenger seating. In this day and age of cell phones, iPods, GameBoy DSs, laptops, cameras and a thousand other rechargeable devices, that’s a crime.
Hidden gem: When I got home from work the day the Sprinter arrived, my wife greeted me with a mischievous smile.
“Guess where the gas cap is on this,” she smirked.
I started by the driver’s seat. No levers on the door, dash or floor. I walked around the entirety of the van, looking for push panels or pull covers. There was no sign of anything.
Finally, I gave up: “OK, where?”
She smiled. “Here.” There’s a panel just behind the driver’s door that swings out, but only if the driver’s door is open. It’s pretty cool because it lets the Sprinter keep its smooth lines, and because the diesel pumps at many gas stations are in odd locations, making the forward location easier to access.
Nasty surprise: This one isn’t Dodge’s fault at all: As diesels become more popular again, given that they’re cleaner than they used to be and very efficient, some drivers are going to find the hoses at some gas stations hard to use. We filled up in Olean, N.Y., home of St. Bonaventure College, and found that the diesel pump at the station there had a very wide nozzle — so wide, in fact, that I pretty much had to just hold it at the opening of the gas tank. I did some math in my head, so I had a pretty good idea when it was going to be full, but a motorist not good at math or distracted by something else might find $5 worth of diesel all over him and his car.
Hidden gem: Again, this one has nothing to do with Dodge: As I pulled up to the pumps at a Valero station in one of Ohio’s very nice toll plazas along Interstate 90, I saw a station employee walking toward me. I couldn’t tell which one was the diesel pump or whether the station had diesel at all. Before I could wave him down, though, he walked up to my window. “The diesel pump is pump 13, just up on the left,” he said. “How did you know this was a diesel?” I asked. “Oh, you get to know the vehicles out here,” he smiled back. I thanked him, and I get it, but I have to say I’ve never seen any other gas station attendant actually take the time to walk out and save someone the trouble of having to find an unusual pump.
Nasty surprise: While it’s clear that the Sprinter is meant primarily as a commercial vehicle, if Dodge is going to market this to consumers it needs to remember some of the advances it put into its successful minivans. Behind the driver and passenger seats in my 2004 Kia Sedona, for example, there are these nifty pockets for passengers to store their iPods, snacks, directions, sunglasses, whatever. They don’t exist in the Sprinter, and they should.
Hidden gem: This one isn’t exactly hidden, but you won’t notice it until you need it. I’m talking about the plastic floor of the Sprinter. It’s grained in a way that makes it look like it’s covered in gray carpeting, but once you need to clean it (a spill here, a smear of dirt there), you can easily take a damp cloth and clean it right up. It’s such a great surface, I suspect they could make it an option on other cars in their lineup for people like the Weekend Athlete who often find their car floors dirty.