Catastrophic engine failure in 2004 Dodge Sprinter

So this issue will require some detective work, sound knowledge, and hopefully a class action suit for people like me who have had this problem and lost > $15,000.

As many Sprinter owners know, there have been issues with harmonic balancers falling off and causing major issues and damage. I unfortunately experienced such a problem with a 2004 Sprinter that I bought used with ~94k miles on it. There is alot of background info, which may be relavent to the situation but I’ll try to explain as concise as possible:

At 104,599 miles, I had some transmission repair work done on my 2004 2500 sprinter (140in wheel base) by a certified sprinter mechanic at Christopher’s Dodge World in Golden, CO. In addition to the transmission repair, the mechanic attempted to replace a burnt out #2 glow plug. Upon trying to remove the glow plug, the glow plug broke off inside the head. They said it would cost about $3000 in labor to remove the head and retrieve the glow plug from the inside. I argued with them (and called the corporate headquarters) about doing the job for free, but I could only negotiate to have them do the job for 50% off. Later I learned that if the engine was warm when he attempted to remove the glow plug that it probably wouldn’t have broken off, but thats a separate issue and I can’t prove anything… moving on.

Several months later, after saving up $1500 and going almost the entire winter running off of 4 out of 5 glow plugs, I brought the van in at 107,242 miles to have the cylinder head removed to extract the broken glow plug. They did the repair, I paid them the money, and was off on merry way. As a side note, my coolant warning light started going off but the service provider explained that once the engine was warm the fluid would expand and the light would turn off (which doesn’t seem to make sense, since water is a non-compresible fluid… but what do I know?). That just seemed a little dodgy…

About two months later and at 109,099 miles, I heard a loud clacking sound from the engine and while attempting to coast the van to a safe place to get towed, the engine seized up. I had the broken van towed back to the dealership and the same mechanic that did the work earlier looked at the damage. Basically the engine lost timing because the crankshaft keyway broke, which of course caused the valve timing to be off thus smashing the valves, which in turn caused the camshaft to break in half as well. So the mystery, and why I need a 2nd opinion, is figuring out how and why the crankshaft keyway broke. The mechanic hypothesized that the bolt that attaches the harmonic balancer to the crankshaft (i.e., the crankshaft center bolt) had “somehow” gotten loose, which caused all the torque of the engine to rest on the keyway, which sheared off since it’s just a little sliver of metal used to line everything up.

Why did that particular bolt come loose, you ask? The mechanic claimed that when he pulled the head to remove the broken glow plug two months earlier, that he never touched the bolt because he kept the timing chain fixed on the crankshaft. Indeed, as other mechanics have mentioned, you can do this job without having to mess with the crankshaft center bolt (??). Nonetheless I have some secret video recordings (That I collected to document the whole case) that suggests that they might be lying. Regardless of if the dealership is at fault for negligence, there is an additional piece to the puzzle. Maybe other folks (particularly FedEx drivers) have experience with the crankshaft center bolt coming loose and causing major damage. I find it very strange that this particular crankshaft center bolt, which should be tightened to 240 lbs. ft., would come loose and not be addressed by Dodge as some kind of recall. However in 2006, Dodge sent out two service bulletins on Feb 25 and June 17, informing mechanics of a “Crankshaft Replacement Policy Change…” (Bulletin #09-003-06) and “New Crankshaft and Center Bolt Design” (Bulletin #09-006-06). The June 17th bulletin clearly illustrates the old and new crankshaft designs and after March 2006, all the Sprinters had the new design. Hmmm, so why would Dodge change the design? They must have recognized a problem with the old design, otherwise what was the rationale for the new design, right? Why not recall the vehicles? Why send out a service bulletin rather than telling owners that at anytime your crankshaft center bolt might come loose and then your engine is done? It appears to be a coverup on behalf of Dodge (owned by Daimler-Chrysler at the time of the accident, April 2011). When I asked the mechanic why he didn’t check the crankshaft center bolt for tightness, since it appeared that the health of the engine relied on the crankshaft center bolt being tight, he simply replied that it wasn’t part of the routine checks.

I have since argued this situation to Daimler-Chrysler (or at least what remains of them), posted the story on the Sprinter Forum, and even consulted with legal experts. To my dismay I have not gotten any straight answers or help, nor been called back by Click and Clack when I’ve left about 20 messages! :slight_smile: Any help with this matter would be greatly appreciated. Sorry for the novel.


Here are the Service Bulletins

This isn’t a car repair qyestion, it is a legal one. By the way Daimler-Chrysler has not exister for some time. Chrysler is now owned by Fiat.

I’m wondering if the timing chain case can be removed or relaxed enough to get the cylinder head off without removing that crank bolt? I would agree that the change in design of the bolt indicates there was a problem somewhere in that area, whether it would cause catastrophic failure or not is the question. Surely the bolt would show markings if had been removed and re-used?

@KiwiME it is IMPOSSIBLE to remove the crank bolt without leaving some kind of a mark.

@dvuono like @oldtimer11 said, DaimlerChrysler no longer exists.

Who is “responsible” for your van now?



It is an interesting question, because a Sprinter is a Mercedes-Benz van that was originally not sold in the US. When it came here, it was sold BOTH AS A DODGE AND AS A MERCEDES-BENZ, depending on the model year. As far as I know . . .

I believe your only hope now is to hire a super aggressive, no holds barred, gets down in the trenches, pit bull lawyer who will not stop until he’s down (meaning all legal venues have been exhausted) or he wins (even if that only means a partial settlement)

There are several such specialized lawyers here in my area. But I must warn you. They’re not necessarily the most pleasant individuals. That said, they do know how to dig up dirt (I mean company documents, correspondence, etc.) and get results.

Good luck. You’re going to need it.

Hey, thanks for the responses everyone. Indeed you are right @oldtimer11, this question falls into the legal arena as well. However I think it is still suitable for discussion here in the Repair and Maintenance section because others that encounter this problem will indeed need to follow up with repair, maintenance, and most importantly advice :slight_smile: Also @oldtimer11 and @db4690, yes I understand Daimler-Chrysler no longer exists, but this incident occurred in 2011 before Fiat bought Chrysler… So yeah, who’s responsible for the van now? I’m pretty sure its not MB because it was warranted by Dodge (before I bought it). But as for Fiat or Chrysler? I don’t know, hence why I need all the luck I can get! @db4690, think you can send me some info for those lawyers? Thanks!

@dvuono Daimler had already dropped Chrysler like a hot potato BEFORE 2011

You have no warranty OF ANY KIND on that van because it’s too old.

When I said “who’s responsible” I meant who is servicing these vehicles, and who is handling any warranty and/or goodwill claims.

When you find that out, that’s who the pitbull lawyer is going to go after.

Just my 2 cents, but I don’t think you have a legal leg to stand on. You bought a 10 year old vehicle with going on a 100k miles and likely bought it with an “AS IS” disclaimer.

A service bulletin or redesign of a part means nothing. Countless parts on every car on the planet are redesigned all the time.
A Recall is usually issued for something directly related to safety; fire hazard, brakes, suspension, airbags, door locks, etc, etc.

I’ve never worked on a Dodge Sprinter but can say that I have removed cylinder heads on other timing chain equipped cars without touching the harmonic balancer bolt. Is it possible with a Sprinter? I have no idea.

Chrylser filed bankruptcy and warranties, even on much newer vehicles, are null and void after the BR filing date except under their good graces and I would not hold my breath on that.

Please don’'t tar and feather Dodge. These disasters are pure Mercedes junk. We bought two of these in 2006 and have regretted it ever since. We haven’t had this problem but nearly everything else has broken on these nightmares. In 6 1/2 years, 2 engines, 3 transmissions, 2 turbos,2 radios, and countless engine fault codes for everything from bad wiring harnesses to bad glow bars. Plus they must have the worst prep and paint department since Yugo. Every little scratch or ding instantly rusts. Both have already been in the body shop for extensive bodywork and complete paint jobs to keep them from rusting apart before their time. We knew we were in trouble when within two weeks of delivery the wipers fell off one and the other one had chronic check engine light from the intake piping never being tightened from the factory at three different points. Forget any ideas about warranty, way too old. Cut your losses and buy something else.

Holy smokes, @kriley! Tell us what you really think! :slight_smile: While this incident was rather painful, I do own another sprinter that has been excellent. Anyhow, I’ve heard bad reviews and good ones, but in the end I did cut my losses and just traded the wreck in for something else.

@ok4450, you are correct. I bought it AS IS, but when it was only 6 years old :wink: Thanks for the clarification on the meaning of the service bulletin. Probably nothing shady going on, but it does make one wonder given all the horror stories with that particular bolt coming loose.

@db4690, thank you for the clarification as well. All I remember doing is calling the headquarters which was still named Daimler-Chrysler, but maybe that was just a front.

Anyhow, thanks for the feedback I really appreciate it. It’s good to know that I can at least stop wasting my time on this matter. If anyone has any additional comments or experiences such as mine I would be grateful to hear them (okay maybe I’m not done wasting my time on this yet :slight_smile:

I have driven a 2003 Sprinter since 2006 that has over 300,000 miles on it & as a foreign commercial vehicle the costs have been very high after 200,000 miles, but so has my paycheck mostly over the years I’ve owned it as it is cheaper to fix than buy new as they fill a gap for expedited or special delivery freight the bigger guys/ordinary vans can’t or won’t handle so either get busy driving or get busy whining as the longer it sits the less you make, huh?

P.S. Regular service intervals that cut corners by not following guidelines required in the service manuals supplied w/the van are your responsibilities, as ordinary fleet service protocol is not acceptable when doing anything on these vehicles including fluids, tires, fuse, bulbs, etc. as the regular does not apply to this vehicle like it or not—learn the new or curse it, huh?


" I unfortunately experienced such a problem with a 2004 Sprinter that I bought used with ~94k miles on it. "

End of story. “This vehicle is sold as is with no warranty expressed or implied…” You can whine and cry and moan all you want, this engine is on YOU…Benz over and take it like a man…

@Caddyman a former supervisor told guys to do that when they screwed up

Actually, I think Chrysler was owned by a group of Canadian investors in between Daimler and Fiat. These vans were also sold as Freightliners for a while for folks who thought Dodge dealers repair prices were too low. I don’t know who owns Freightliner now since I have been retired from trucking for almost18 years.


I believe Freightliner is still owned by Daimler Benz, the parent of Mercedes-Benz