Mercedes Hit by Lawsuit Over Sprinter Model

Drivers have complained about water leaks from the rooftop air conditioning unit on the Mercedes Sprinter.

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    Mercedes Benz has been hit by a class action lawsuit, accused of selling a van with a defect that many passengers have said they find unbelievable. NBC 6's Tony Pipitone investigates. (Published Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014)

    Mercedes Benz has been hit by a class action lawsuit, accused of selling a van with a defect that many passengers have said they find unbelievable.

    Some drivers have said the water leaking from the roof of the Mercedes Sprinter can be so bad, it feels like it's raining inside the vehicle.

    Mercedes acknowledges there’s a problem in some of the 2500 and 3500 model Sprinters that are equipped with rooftop air conditioning units, but the fix may not be a simple one. The suit accuses Mercedes of fraudulently concealing from customers the problem. The suit also claims the AC design is so defective, that it not only leads to mold, but that repairs often can't fix the problem.

    Pembroke Pines resident Elizabeth De Feria and her friends said they decided to splurge by renting the Sprinter for a trip from South Florida to Tennessee. Among those friends was a Team 6 investigative producer. The group paid more than $1,700 to rent the stylish Sprinter for a little more than a week.

    “I expected top-of-the-line first-class,” De Feria said.

    But she said while the amenities and space were great, she couldn’t believe the water that leaked from the air conditioning unit in the roof onto the passenger area.

    “We couldn’t enjoy the sightseeing because all we were worried about was the water dripping on us and us getting soaked from the waterfall,” De Feria said.

    The Team 6 investigative producer who was on the trip shot home video of the leaking air conditioning unit which showed the passengers holding a garbage can under the leaking air conditioning unit and a front seat that was wet.

    This is not an isolated incident. Other frustrated drivers have posted complaints about the Sprinter online.

    One of those complaints is in the form of a YouTube video where a driver shows water pouring into the cabin. That driver said he took it in for repair three times, but it still leaked.

    Sharp turns seem to make the problem worse, as seen in another YouTube video where a band pokes fun at the defect.

    Another Mercedes driver, Selcuk Huryasar, said he had to rent two of them in less than a week, but both had the same problem.

    “The second one was a nightmare. I returned it back in six hours,” Huryasar said.

    Sharky Laguana, who owns San Francisco vehicle rental company Bandago, said 80 percent of his Sprinter fleet has had the same problem.

    “You can see some water stains where it has happened in the past,” said Laguana as he pointed to black marks on the roof of a Sprinter.

    Laguana said the leaking vans make for angry customers. He said they also cost him big bucks in repairs, saying he's out more than $100,000 in repairs and discounts for unhappy customers.

    “We were paying Mercedes to repair their mistake," Laguana said. "We paid thousands of dollars to Mercedes to fix these seals and they took our money and meanwhile they’re selling these vehicles knowing the leaks are happening.”

    While Laguana said he's complained to Mercedes, he claims that the company has done nothing in response, so he is suing as part of the class action suit.

    Why is so much water getting trapped in this AC compartment? Mercedes declined an on-camera interview, but sent the following statement by email:

    "In a small number of cases, the seal around the air conditioning unit could need repairs, as could the drainage system... even in dry conditions."

    Team 6 investigators discovered similar complaints online with the Dodge Sprinter, a vehicle that was made by Mercedes Benz from 2003 through 2009.

    In a statement, Chrysler, which owns Dodge, said it is “aware of some customer complaints about water accumulation” in the Dodge Sprinters and is responding on a “case-by-case basis.”

    Mercedes wouldn't tell the Team 6 investigators how many complaints it’s received about the leaking air conditioners. The company also said it has no plans to issue a recall because it’s not a safety issue.

    In a statement, Mercedes said that when a customer complains, “an authorized dealer assesses it on a case-by-case basis to determine the course of action, including how payment is handled.”

    The class action lawsuit was filed in California state court, so only California residents with the rooftop AC units can join it. It will only include the Sprinters equipped with the rear AC. Laguana said he wants Mercedes to pay for repairs. He also wants the company ordered to disclose the defect to consumers before they buy the vehicle.