Welcome to the VW Camper Van T25 / T3 / Wedge / Brick Vanagon Buyers Guide
VW T25 / T3 Buyers Guide
I have written this guide as an aid to anyone who is thinking of buying a Volkswagen T3 camper van (also referred to as a T25, Vanagon, Wedge or Brick). Obviously there are different model versions depending on the year as well as different conversion companies such as Autohomes, Autosleeper, Carthago, Danbury, Dehler, Dormobile, Devon, Reimo, Viking, Weinsburg and Westfalia so some of the information will apply to some campers and not to others. Some of the information mentioned is general and would apply to any vehicle but I will try to highlight issues that are specific to VW T25 / T3 campers. Also when checking a bus be realistic as you cant expect a cheap van to be totally free of faults. The idea of this guide is that it will help you make an informed decision highlighting any problems that exist so that you know exactly what you are buying. You can decide if the camper is worth the asking price and also if you can point out any problems to the seller it can give you a basis for price negotiation. Some of the information is based on my own personal opinion and you may not agree so feel free to e-mail me and let me know. I am also hoping readers will e-mail me with any useful advice that I can add to the site for the benefit of others.
When going to view a van at the very least try and take someone with you that knows about general mechanics and bodywork. If at all possible take someone who has experience of Volkswagen campers. If you don’t know anyone see if there are any VW Owners Clubs in your locality and ask if someone in the club will come with you, as it really helps to have a second opinion (and pair of eyes!) especially if they know about VW campers.
When going to view a bus try to go on a dry day (not always possible in the UK!). On a wet day it is very easy to miss blemishes in paintwork and small rust bubbles. Also if the underside of the van is wet it can mask problems such as leaks from braking systems either from brake pipes, connections or from brake cylinders. These leaks would be noticeable as damp patches on the brake drums or on the floor underneath the van. Also if brake fluid or oil is dripping underneath the van it may not be as noticeable if the road underneath is wet.
Unless you have welding skills I would suggest that you buy the best van you can afford paying particular attention to the bodywork. If you have to pay a garage for welding and respray work it can add up to a lot of money. Generally the initial quote will end up being a starting point as it is quite likely more problems will be discovered once work commences. Mechanical problems are generally easier and less expensive to fix and can quite often be done by yourself with the help of the appropriate workshop manual. When you do get stuck there are plenty of forums where you can post questions and get answers from other Volkswagen enthusiasts.
Ask the seller of the bus if he has any service history, bills for work done, previous MOT’s (can help verify mileage) or any other documentation. Generally the more history that is available the better the chance it is a good van as it is a sign the previous owners have looked after it.
Items that you will find useful to take on a viewing include a torch, a mat to lie on, a magnet and thin cloth, small step ladder and a cloth or tissues to wipe oil etc.
The T25 / T3 Wedge Vanagon Camper that you will be looking at is going to be anything between 15 and 30 years old so you should be aware of areas to check for rust. Rust proofing was much improved compared to earlier Splitscreen and Bay Window models but on a vehicle this age it is quite likely to have some rust issues.
Just because a bus has a nice shiny respray does not mean that it has been restored properly so sometimes it is actually better to buy a bus that hasn’t been resprayed so that you can see any problems before you buy it.
If buying a restored van ask the owner if he has photos showing the van before and during the restoration. Most people and garages restoring vans take photos so that you can see the job has been done properly using new panels and minimal body filler. Also if the van was restored by a garage ask the seller if you can see any receipts to confirm exactly what was done. If the seller does not have photos and receipts you run the chance that after a few months ownership you will start to see rust bubbles coming through that nice paintwork where rust has been patched and disguised with excess body filler. If you suspect that any area has been filled excessively then a simple test is to take a magnet and check if it sticks to the area. Put a thin cloth such as a handkerchief between the magnet and the bodywork. Ask the seller before doing this as he may be worried about his paintwork but if he says no then it is quite likely he is worried about what you might find. If the bus has been filled then it can normally be spotted by standing at each corner of the bus stepping back slightly and looking down the entire length of the van. If you see ripples in the paintwork then there is a good chance that there is filler underneath.
On a T25 / T3 the first place to check a bus for rust is on the seams that join the body panels. These seams had some kind of sealant that with age either becomes brittle or lets water/salt/petrol/diesel penetrate and then rust develops along the seam. Remember where the seams are located and then check for rust and also that the seams are visible. Sometimes the seams have been filled with filler and sprayed over and it is almost certain there will be rust underneath that will reappear at a later date.
Front Panel Seams
This seam runs vertically from behind the bumper alongside the indicator up to to the headlight, it then continues above the headlight to the base of the windscreen. Notice that in the photo on the right the seam has been filled and sprayed over and is most likely hiding rust.
Side Panel Seams Below Driver and Passenger Doors
These seams run vertically from top to bottom below the rear edge of the drivers and passenger side. The side with the petrol/diesel filler cap is prone to rusting most likely due to fuel weakening the seam sealant and aiding ingress of water. If the van has a fridge fitted this can lead to rust in the seams on the side the fridge is located. This is most likely due to condensation forming behind the fridge and rotting the panel from the inside out.
Side Panel Seams In Front of Rear Wheels
These seams run vertically from top to bottom of the van in front of the rear wheels. On the first photo you can see the vent for the fridge and as mentioned earlier this panel can rust from the inside out due to condensation forming at the rear of the fridge. Rust can also form behind the fridge vent for the same reason and can then spread outwards.
Side Panel Seams Behind Rear Wheels
These seams run vertically from top to bottom of the van behind the rear wheels. Also there is a small horizontal seam across the top of the wheel arch and a small horizontal seam running towards the rear bumper that is prone to rust.
Main Chassis Rails, Sills and Floor
If possible try and view the underneath of a VW bus using garage ramps so that the van can be raised to a comfortable position. If the seller cannot provide these facilities maybe you could have a word with a local garage and offer to pay him a small fee if he will let you use his ramps for fifteen minutes or so. Otherwise you will have to crawl underneath which isn’t too easy especially if van has been lowered.
As mentioned earlier the rustproofing is a lot better on T3’s than on the older splitscreen and bay window vans but have a good poke with a screwdriver around any suspect areas (with the sellers permission of course!). Be wary of any van that has freshly painted underseal as it could be hiding rust so check it carefully. Check from underneath and then look from inside if possible and don’t forget to lift up the rock and roll bed seat base and check around the rear seat belt mounting points as any rust near these will result in an MOT failure. The sills are the panels that run horizontally along the bottom of each side. Check the sills for rust and make sure that they are not full of filler and then painted with underseal. Sometimes patches have been welded to replace rusty areas. If any area of the inner or outer sill has been patch welded check the quality of the welds and also check that the patch has been welded to good metal all round.
As mentioned earlier check the front panel seams for rust. Also look for rust in the front panel around the windscreen. The most common place is at the base of the windscreen in the corners. Generally if allowed to develop this can lead to water ingress into the van causing rust in any area that the water can build up such as the base of the front panel or the cab floor. Water can also drip on to the fuse box leading to corrosion of the contacts and related electrical problems.
Also check for rust at bottom of the front panel, behind the bumpers and at the bumper mounting points. The flat panel behind the bumper acts like a tray for storing water on and is quite likely to have signs of rust. Generally this is a cosmetic issue rather than a structural problem.
The front panel is also susceptible to stone chips that can develop into rust patches if left untreated.
Examine the front wheel arches from underneath and then open the doors and check the inside. Check for filler all around this area. Look for any rust around the front seat belt mounting points as any rust within 30 cm of these will fail an MOT.
There are some expansion tanks for the main petrol tank in the front wheel arches and they can let mud and hence moisture build up leading to rust.
If the cab floor area has a carpet or rubber mat then ask the seller if you can lift it up and check underneath as it can be hiding rust holes or bad repairs.
Look for rust around the bottom step area as rainwater can become trapped under the rubber trim so lift up the edges and check it out.
Open each of the doors and check at the bottom for any rust. If drain holes at the bottom of the doors become blocked then rainwater can leak in through bad window seals and build up at the bottom rusting the door from the inside out.
Check the operation of the window winder on each door by winding window from top to bottom and back as parts of the assembly can become rusty or worn causing problems. If the van has electric windows then check that they operate correctly by opening the window fully and closing.
Check that door can be locked and unlocked using key (and plastic popper). Ideally the same key should lock and unlock all doors including sliding door and rear tailgate. This is normally a good sign as it suggests the van hasn’t been messed around with too much.
Check the condition of the door trims on the inside the door.
Open and close the door a few times checking that a solid slam closes it properly with each attempt. The hinges should be solid and the door should not drop when you open it. Check by applying light pressure that the door cannot be lifted when open.
With the door closed check that the gap between the door and the rest of the bodywork is equal all round. Check the condition of the rubber seal around the doors as if they are not effective water can drip onto the floor causing damp carpets and rust underneath as well as a damp seat which isn’t very pleasant to sit on!
Check the sliding door from inside and outside the van for rust which will usually be at the bottom. Check also around the window aperture inside and out.
Next check the operation of the sliding door. It should roll freely and remain level when opening and closing.
When the door is closed it should fit flush with the body and the gaps between the door and the surrounding bodywork should be equal. If not it could be that the door is not adjusted correctly.
Check that the door can be locked and unlocked using the key and also using the little lever on the lock mechanism inside the van.
Sliding door handles are prone to snap and are quite difficult to get for older models.
The rear wheel arches are another area that can be subject to rust. Look inside the wheel arch as rust can be found where underseal has peeled off and water penetrated. Also if mud has built up in any area rust can build up underneath. Use your hands to feel round the edge of the wheel arch and check if filler has been used to disguise any rust. Also check with a magnet if in doubt as this a popular area to use filler and underseal to hide any rust.
It is common for these to rust at the edges especially at the bottom and also around the locks. Check also that the rubber seals are doing their job otherwise if water leaks through the tailgate it is going to cause rust and also damp in your rear cushion which apart from causing a mildew smell is also quite possibly where you are going to sleep at night! A common place for water to leak in is at the top corner. On a Westfalia the water can be caught by the rear shelf in the top locker assembly and if left long enough the wood of the top locker will start to disintegrate (you can see an example in the photo above right were if you look closely you can see the base of the locker has separated from the main assembly). Check around window seals for rust inside and out. Check that the hinges and surrounding areas are solid and operate correctly. Check the lock is working properly using the key.
The hydraulic struts that hold up the tailgate can become weak especially if a heavy cycle rack has been attached to the tailgate. The struts are easy to replace and not too expensive.
If a bicycle rack has been attached at some time then it is likely that there could be a dent or two in the tailgate as the weight of the rack plus bikes can leave its mark.
If the bus is a tin top or has a pop top that doesn’t cover the whole roof then there will be a defined gutter ridge along each side of the bus. On a high top the gutters are usually filled with sealant (that holds the roof on!) but water can still build up on top of this or penetrate any cracks in it. These gutters can rust from the inside out. The main reason for the gutters to rust are when the van is parked up during winter. If the guttering becomes blocked with dirt or leaves rain water cannot escape and sits in the gutter rusting it away. Also if the van is parked on a slope ie: with one side higher than the other then water can also build up in places and cause problems. To check the gutters, don’t just look at the outside, as unless they are really bad most of the damage will only be visible by getting a small step ladder and looking from above inside the gutter. Gutters can also become damaged and rusty if a roof rack has been used particularly if it has been left on for a long time so look out for this.
On the T3 the main and leisure batteries are stored under the driver and passenger seats (except in diesel engines where the main battery is in the engine compartment). They are accessible by moving the seat forward and then at the rear of the seat you will see a flap to lift up (under the carpet). If a battery has leaked the acid can cause corrosion to the underneath and surrounding areas.
Pop Top and Elevating Roofs
There are many different types of roof and each type has its own idiosyncrasies and weaknesses so ask the seller to demonstrate how the roof is raised and make the following checks:
Check the structure of the roof ie if its made from fibreglass check it for cracks or damage. Check for leaks as this is where you will be sleeping and/or storing your camping gear and any moisture, damp smells or mould will make camping unpleasant.
Check any hinges for cracks and rust and that their surrounding areas both on the van and on the roof itself are solid. Check that any lifting mechanisms are working and that the area surrounding the mounting points are solid. Check that the roof canvas is not ripped or rotten. Check any air vents in the roof are working, that they are not cracked and that seals are not leaking. Check that all roof parts are present as certain parts can be difficult to get hold off. For more information on camper roofs and where to get spares for your roof or even get a new roof fitted CLICK HERE to visit my other site.
Check for cracks in the fibreglass and look for filler repairs especially where the roof could have been driven into something. If the roof has windows check that they are not cracked and that the surrounding seals are watertight. If the roof has vents check that they operate correctly (normally by turning a handle). Check that the vent and seal is watertight and doesn’t have any cracks in the casing.
When arranging to view a bus ask the seller not to run the engine till you get there if at all possible. Ideally you want to see the engine start up from cold. With the engine cold switch on the ignition and you should see the oil pressure light and engine temp warning light flash and the alternator charging light and hand brake light illuminate. After a few seconds the engine temp warning light should stop flashing and go out. If standard petrol the choke is automatic and is activated by pressing the accelerator once and then releasing before starting. If diesel there is a cold start lever like a choke that needs to pulled out to start the engine and then can be pushed back in once engine running. If diesel there is a glow plug light (coil symbol) which will illuminate for a few seconds and then when it goes out the engine is ready to start. With the van in neutral start the engine. The oil pressure light should stop flashing and go out and the alternator light should also extinguish. The engine should run smoothly from cold so go for a drive and check that it continues to run smoothly and doesn’t stall. After taking the van for a test drive and performing the checks that are outlined below park up and after leaving the engine idling for a couple of minutes check underneath and in the engine hatch for any oil leaks. Most camper vans like to mark their territory by dripping a bit of oil on your path but this should be a small amount generally from the rocker box gaskets. Any excessive oil leaks will require further investigation. Look under engine, gearbox and axles.
Earlier vans (1979 to 1982) had the air-cooled engines similar to the later bay window versions in either 1.6 (economical but slow)or 2.0 litre forms. The 2.0 litre is the better of the two although obviously at the expense of fuel economy. Fuel injected versions were made for the American market and are now quite common in the UK due to the number of imports. You can tell an air-cooled van because it only has the headlight grill at the front and not the extra radiator grill underneath that the water cooled models have.
From 82 onwards the water cooled (Wasser Boxer) engines started production and was continued in various formats. The main weakness of the engines is the cylinder head bolts as they are susceptible to corrosion. This can be prevented if the correct anti freeze is used and changed at regular intervals. Antifreeze contains chemicals to stop corrosion and if it has been changed every couple of years then there should be no problem. If not then the bolts can become corroded and snap and this can lead to cylinder head gasket problems and if really unlucky cracking of the cylinder head.
Firstly do a visual inspection by having a good look in the engine hatch. On the T3 the engine is in the rear and is accessed by opening the tailgate, lifting the rear cushion (if there is one) and removing the inspection hatch by twisting the two catches. Check for oil leaks and inspect all fuel pipes are in good condition. Water level and oil level can be checked by opening the small flap behind the rear number plate. If water cooled engine then open both the expansion and the main water tanks and look for oil in the water or a sludge deposit as this could be a sign that the cylinder head gasket or cylinder head have problems (allowing water to mix with the oil or vice versa). Also remove the oil filler cap and check the dip stick for the same type of sludge. Check that all cylinder head bolts are in situ and look for any leaks from the cylinder head gasket area.
Listen for any knocks coming from the engine as these can be due to something serious such as worn big end bearings or worn crankshaft. Get someone to sit in the van and increase the revs of the engine (or pull the throttle linkage on the carb if you know how) and check that there is no black smoke coming from the exhaust. On a diesel you may get a puff of smoke on start up but not once running. Check the condition of the exhaust. Exhausts can be expensive for some engines. Check the engine is running smoothly as if it is running unevenly it could be running on only 3 cylinders. If you are not sure carefully pull a plug lead off at the spark plug end with the engine running and you should hear the engine note change and it will start running a bit rough. Replace that plug lead and pull of the next and so on. If you pull of a plug lead and the engine note doesn’t change then the engine is not firing on that cylinder. There could be a number of reasons for this but it will probably be an engine out job to fix.
The engines have hydraulic tappets that can make an alarming clattering noise if the van has been stood for a while. This is because the oil drains from the tappets if the engine hasn’t been started for a while. Generally once the van has run for a while the noise should stop as the tappet fills up with oil.
On fuel injected engines it is important to check that the van starts from cold and continues to run smoothly without cutting out. Listen to the engine and make sure it doesn’t hunt when idling (engine revs build up and then drop again).
On diesels it is important to check the engine starts from cold and that apart from that initial puff of smoke at start up it doesn’t continue to smoke once running.
As mentioned earlier the flashing oil warning light should go out once the engine is started. The engine contains sensors and if the oil pressure drops below a set level when the engine revs are above 2000rpm then the oil light will start flashing and a buzzer will alert you that there is a problem. Whilst you should obviously stop and check things out it may not mean that your engine is knackered as sometimes it is a problem with the sensors themselves or a problem with the instrument cluster or the connections to it.
Obviously the more service history information the seller has the better and as with most vehicles if you don’t have any proof that the cam belt has been changed then it is a good investment to get it done. If the cam belt snaps it can cause bent valves and damaged pistons and cylinder head and will be very expensive to fix.
Gears and Gearbox
VW T3 camper gearboxes are as far as I know very reliable but things to check are that all gears can be selected and when on a test drive make sure that it doesn’t jump out of gear by speeding up quickly and then taking foot of accelerator in each gear. Also on the test drive listen for any excessive noise or whining in each gear as differential bearings can become worn at higher mileages. Another test that will check the clutch and confirm that the van doesn’t jump out of gear is to put the handbrake on and with the engine running put van in first gear and slowly release the clutch. Assuming the handbrake works the van should stall. If you just hear the engine note getting higher then the clutch is slipping and will soon need repair and most likely replacement. If the van jumps out of gear it is quite likely that the gearbox will have to be repaired or replaced with a reconditioned one in the near future. Don’t forget to test reverse as well! On the T3 earlier vans had a 4 speed box and later had a 5 speed box and whereas normally you would think it a good idea to avoid the 4 speed it is generally accepted that it is actually ok and should not put you off buying a van. The five speed just has similar ratios but closer together. The five speed has a dog leg arrangement so first gear is in the bottom left position (below reverse)and then second is where first normally is and so on......sounds confusing but isn’t a problem once you get used to it. Five speed boxes can stick in gear due to worn synchromesh. Oil can leak out of the bell housing due to oil seals and whilst the seals are cheap the gear box has to come out to change them.
Take the van for a test drive and on a straight road hold the steering wheel lightly and make sure the van does not pull to one side. Steering wheel should be straight when van is moving in a straight line. Check there is no play in the steering by turning the steering wheel and making sure van responds immediately. Listen for any noises or clunks when turning the wheel. Look under van and visually inspect all steering components and check for excessive play. Also check all tyres looking for even tread wear. If the tyres are worn on the inside or outside there could be a problem with the wheel alignment, tracking or something more serious so get it checked by an expert.
First of all do a visual inspection looking underneath behind each wheel. Look for any damp patches on drums or leaking brake fluid dripping onto floor. Inspect the brake pipes and check that they are routed properly with no corrosion, cracks or leaks. Whilst on a test drive build up a reasonable speed and after checking that there is nothing behind apply the brakes firmly. The van should stop smoothly without any judder and should stop in a straight line without pulling to one side. Check the operation of the handbrake by parking on a steep hill and seeing if it will hold van (preferably when there is nothing behind!) or put the hand brake on and try and pull away and van should stall. Handbrake should take around 5 clicks until it is fully on.
Find a car park and turn full lock one way do a couple of circles and then turn full lock the other way and repeat. Listen for any noises. A clunking noise from the front could be due to a snapped anti roll bar link rod. A squeaking noise from the front when going over bumps could be due to worn upper wishbone bushes. Look under van and visually inspect all front and rear suspension components for wear and corrosion. The rear trailing arms can rust so inspect carefully.Check the tread on all tyres and look for uneven tyre wear. Check the van is level and doesn’t lean to one side.
Due to the design of the the fuel tank water can become trapped in a channel at the top leading to it rusting away so crawl underneath and look for signs of leaking petrol which may not be apparent until the tank is filled up above half full. You may be able to smell the petrol or see marks on the petrol tank where the fuel has leaked out. Bits of rusty metal can drop into fuel tank and this can cause the van to cut out intermittently as the bits block the fuel supply and possibly the fuel filter.
Check that the wiring has not been messed about with. If the wiring looks like it has been knitted by a previous owner (and it hasn’t been done properly) then it will probably cause annoying intermittent problems and make fault resolution difficult. The original wiring loom is made using standard colour codes so when there is a fault a wiring diagram can be used to trace the fault. If home made wiring is used the only person that knows which wire connects to what is the person that did it. Generally this is more a problem on earlier vans such as splitscreen’s and bay window’s but it is worth checking just in case as parts of wiring looms can go faulty and some people will try and make their own rather than buy a replacement. Also if any accessories have been added try and check that they look that they have been wired in correctly and they have been fused in case of a fault.
Lights, Wipers and Indicators
Check that the side lights, head lights and full beam are all working. Check indicators and wipers are working. Problems can usually be traced to the connecting blocks under the dash. If the van has a rear wipe it is switched on by pushing the wiper lever forwards. If the van has intermittent wipe it is switched on by pressing the wiper lever down.
Speedo, Clocks and Fuel and Temperature Gauge
Check that the speedometer is working and that the needle movement is smooth and not jumping backwards and forwards. If the fuel gauge needle does not move at all or shoots up to full immediately it is most likely a wiring problem. If it moves but doesn’t show the correct level it is most likely a problem with the sender unit in the petrol tank. Check the temperature gauge works. The instrument cluster is prone to having problems that can cause intermittent faults and the faults are normally related to either the connector that connects the board to the wiring loom which can develop bad connections or to the circuit board which can develop cracks in circuit tracks or burn out leading to various problems . Therefore it is a good idea to check all gauges, clocks and warning lights work as they are meant to. Also the connections at fuse box can become corroded (especially if water is leaking through corroded windscreen seal edge). If neither the fuel gauge or temperature gauge are working it could be due to fault with voltage regulator which is a small transistor mounted on the circuit board at the rear of the instrument cluster.
Buzzer Of Doom !
VW came up with a system to alert you if your oil pressure drops below expected levels called Dynamic Oil Pressure Warning System or DOP. It has become known as the Buzzer Of Doom (BOD) as it consists as the name implies of a loud buzzer in the cab that will come on in conjunction with the oil pressure warning light if there is a problem. Normally when you turn the ignition on the oil light comes on to indicate there is no oil pressure. You start the engine, oil pressure builds and when the predetermined pressure has been exceeded the warning light will extinguish. If whilst driving there is a loss of oil pressure then the buzzer will sound and the oil light will come on. At this point it would advisable to stop sharpish and check your oil level and if that’s ok then have the engine oil pressure checked as driving with no oil pressure will kill the engine. Sometimes there is no problem with the oil pressure and the fault lies with the actual BOD circuitry. Common causes are faulty sensors, broken wires / bad connections near the sensors / faulty circuit board or bad connection in the speedo binnacle (where the buzzer is located) or faulty earth connection near the speedo binnacle.
Check the horn works as if it doesn’t it’s an MOT failure. If it doesn’t work and you are lucky it will just be a loose earth spade connector at the base of the steering column. Otherwise it may be one of the metal contacts in the steering wheel assembly.
If you are going to be using accessories such as fridges, lights, radios when you are camping it is a good idea to have a leisure battery. It is wired in such a way that all your accessories run from it. When the engine is running the leisure battery is being charged and then when you switch the engine off and use your accessories they do not run down your main battery so that your camper van still starts in the morning.
If the bus has a leisure battery it should be fused near the battery and then also have an auxiliary fuse box with a fuse for each accessory connected. Ask the seller to show you how it is connected and if you buy the bus get him to write down which accessories are connected to the leisure battery and via which fuse. If you don’t have this information it can be difficult to work out as you will have to follow wires that may run behind units and panels. It may also save you getting a flat main battery when camping as you may assume that an accessory works of the leisure battery and leave it on when camping only to find it runs of the main battery and the van wont start because it is now flat. For more information about leisure batteries CLICK HERE to visit my other site.
Check the drivers and passenger seats for rips and cigarette burns. Also check they can be adjusted (especially the drivers seat) so that you can drive in a comfortable position. If the seats are not the originals be careful to check the height as some people fit after-market seats that are higher than the originals. This is ok for some drivers but may make it awkward for the taller driver who will bang their knees on the steering wheel and their head on the roof !
Headlining And Interior Roof Panels
Can be difficult to replace and relatively expensive so have a quick look for rips or damage. If van has been owned by a smoker then it will most probably be stained and the stains are difficult to remove successfully.
Check the windscreen for scratches, it is quite common if the wiper blades haven’t been renewed for the screen to have been scratched by the wiper arms. Also look for stone chips and cracks, if they are in the field of view then it is an MOT failure. If the van has sliding or louvre windows then check their operation and also that they fasten securely when closed. If the bus is a converted panel van then check for rust around the edges of the side windows. When the holes for the windows were cut out sometimes the metal edges were not treated. Water builds up behind the rubber seals and rust starts forming from the edge outwards. Lift the corners of the rubber seals to investigate properly.
On aircooled models the heating system on the VW T3 window is not renowned for being very efficient. Unfortunately as with earlier splitscreen and bay window models the system has to get the warm air generated by the engine at the rear to the cab at the front. On a cold winter day a lot of the heat is lost before it gets inside in the van. The main components involved are called heat exchangers and if they are not working correctly then heating will be ineffective. The genuine original VW heat exchangers are more efficient than after market versions so be aware of that if heat isn’t forthcoming! Also the pipes that connect between the heat exchangers and the cab should not have leaks (normally at joints) or the hot air will disappear. After taking the van for a test drive leave the engine running and try switching the heating on and off and seeing if hot air comes out. For more useful information on how the heating system should work on aircooled models and possible problems CLICK HERE to visit my other site. On water cooled models the heating system is very good and rarely gives problems.
If the van has an after market heater such as Propex, Truma, Eberspacher or Webasto fitted then ask the seller to demonstrate it working. If the van has been imported from Germany sometimes these heaters are disconnected before the van is exported. For more information about after-market heaters CLICK HERE to visit my other site. If you buy the van and are in any doubt as to the safety of an after-market heater get it checked out by a qualified expert.
Check the camping interior furniture carefully. Open each cupboard door and check the hinges and handles are intact and work properly. It is common for handles to get broken and also for units to become damaged where the hinges fasten to them. If the units are made from chipboard then check it isn’t damaged especially on the rear faces where the edges touch the bodywork. It is here that it can get penetrated by damp and the chipboard expands and falls apart.
Depending on the model it may have only a cool box or on better versions a fridge. Some models have fridges that will work from 12 volts, LPG/Gas and 240v mains electricity. Ask the seller to demonstrate the fridge working. Note that as fridges generally have a high electrical consumption on some campers (eg Westfalia) the fridge only works on 12 volt if the engine is running. If the fridge works from LPG/gas then check that there is a vent to the outside at the rear of the fridge as this is required to remove dangerous fumes from the van when the fridge is on.
Check that the cooker functions correctly ie if it has two burners check they both light. Check that all pipes and shut off valves are in good condition. If you buy the van and are in any doubt as to the safety of the gas fittings get them checked out by a qualified expert.
If the sink has an electric tap or foot pump check that it works. If the van has fresh water tanks and/or grey water tanks find out where they are, how they are filled and emptied and check that all connections are good.
Assuming you have made all the above checks and you are still interested in buying the van then use any problems you have found to try and negotiate a price you and the seller are happy with. If you agree a price before handing over any money do a few final checks by checking any documentation the seller may have.
Firstly check the registration document. Check the registration on the document matches the registration plate on the van. If the van is being sold by a private seller check that the name and address matches the address where you are viewing the van. Don’t arrange to view a van at a meeting point other than the address on the document as the van could be stolen and the document forged. If you are viewing the van at a show or similar arrange to pay the owner at his home address so that you can be sure that the van is not stolen. Check that the chassis number (VIN - Vehicle Identification Number) on the registration document match the ones on the van. You should see the chassis number on a metal plate that should be fitted on the inside pillar when you open the right hand side door. It should also be on the front chassis outrigger on the right hand side of the van and on a sticker under the dashboard near the fusebox. The chassis number should also be inside the front cover of the service book. Check the engine numbers on the document match the ones on the engine (they may not always match as reconditioned engines have often been fitted and the details not updated) but is certainly a plus point if they do match. Then check that the number of previous owners matches what you had been told originally. For me the less owners the better as I think that the longer an owner has the van the more likely he is to look after it and service it etc. (However I have also heard people say that you always look after a vehicle for the first 12 months and then the novelty wears off suggesting that if it has a new owner every 12 months that would be a good thing.) I guess you have to make your own decision about that one! If the van is being sold by a private seller check how long he has had the vehicle. If he has only had it for a month or two you should question why he is selling it as it may be that it has a serious problem and he is now trying to offload it.
Unless buying the van as a restoration project then I would try and insist the seller puts 12 Months MOT on the bus before handing over the full payment. MOT’s are not a guarantee that there are no problems with the bus but they can certainly highlight any issues and it’s better to let the seller sort them out than for you to have to do it at your expense after purchase.
Also if buying from a dealer then ask if he provides a warranty. Make sure that if he agrees to provide a warranty that you get something in writing stating exactly what is and isn’t included. If a dealer has confidence in the vans he is selling I would expect him to provide at least some kind of warranty.
Service history, receipts and photographs all help to show a van’s history so the more information available the better.
If previous MOTs are available it a good sign that previous owners looked after the van (if they cared enough to keep documents relating to its history) and they can be used to verify the mileage is genuine and how many miles it did each year. It is now also possible to check a vehicles MOT history back to circa 2005 online HERE. This will show you if the vehicle failed any MOT’s or had any advisories in previous MOTs and what they were. In order to check you need to know the vehicle registration number.
Obviously when buying a vehicle it helps if you know what the requirements for the MOT test are. The actual MOT Testers Handbook is available online and is a useful source of reference.
You can also get some information about a vehicle from DVLA by doing an online vehicle check HERE.
Currently there are many convincing online SCAMS around trying to trick people that are looking to buy a camper van (and other vehicles) into paying money for a van that doesn’t exist. I could write a full book about all the different ways these scammers are operating but this is just a quick paragraph to say whatever the circumstances DO NOT send money to anyone via any method for a van that you haven’t seen in person at the owners house / motor dealers premises. Every day vans are being listed on sites such as Ebay / Gumtree / Preloved normally at prices that are below market value in an attempt to get you hooked. When you make contact you normally receive a text or email stating that the owner is out of the country, working on an oil rig, in the armed forces etc but if you send the money in advance they will have the van delivered to your door. They will have all kinds of stories about vehicle delivery companies and secure payment via bank transfer, escrow sites that supposedly are run by paypal / ebay etc but once you send the money you will never see it or the vehicle you supposedly bought again. These frauds are quite sophisticated now with fake company websites for car sales / vehicle delivery companies etc, fake paypal / ebay /escrow/ payment sites. The fraudsters know that you may check companies house so they may use valid company names etc but as I already said DO NOT send money to anyone that makes an excuse when you ask to come and see the vehicle in person as IT WILL be a SCAM.
I hope that you find this guide useful. Don’t be put off by the fact that it points out all the problems a bus can have. Hopefully by following the guide you wont get any nasty suprises after buying your van and can enjoy all the pleasures that VW bus ownership entails. Please feel free to email me if you have any information to add to the guide that will help other potential VW bus owners. I am also preparing guides for VW Splitscreen, VW T2 Bay Window and VW T4 Transporter (Eurovan) so any useful information about these would also be appreciated.
If you are thinking of buying a Westfalia T25 / T3 Vanagon camper then you will find the Westfalia model specific buyers guide on my other site useful as well. Click here to visit “The Westfalia T25 / T3 / Vanagon Useful Information Site”.
To get notifications when this website is updated subscribe to my VW Camper Blog or Follow Us on Facebook.