You may already know which model and style of camper you want or you might not have decided exactly what you want yet. I have written this section to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of each model of Volkswagen bus as well as the different options available. It is based on my own personal opinion and some might not agree with everything I say but I hope it will be a good starting point for you to assess your requirements and help you to buy a van that is suitable.
Generally VW Campers are not fast (there are exceptions of course). Petrol Campers are probably going to average around 25 miles per gallon so they aren’t particularly economical either. If you are planning on keeping a petrol model for a long time or doing very high mileage you could get an LPG conversion which will cut down the expense at the petrol pump but you have to do a lot of miles to recoup the initial costs. Diesel models are more economical but the non turbo models are very slow. I have also read that diesel vans can be run on cooking oil / bio fuel and I believe the government are going to change rules regarding this so that you can buy so much per year tax free as it is considered green. However I don’t know much about this so I suggest you “google” it and find out from the experts before you turn your engine into a deep fat fryer or attract the attention of the Customs & Excise !
Split Screen Campers
It was the Splitscreen camper (or Splitty as they are affectionately known) that first attracted me to VW campers. They are a design icon that have classic ageless looks and they seem to sum up everything that’s good about VW’s. The main drawbacks are that they are slow (unless they have been modified) so you wont be getting anywhere fast. For a lot of people that’s part of the attraction and not a problem for the odd weekend away and going to shows in the summer. However if your planning a tour round Europe, of course it is possible in a Splitty and many people do it, but I personally would find it a bit too slow. A lot of Splitties run on 6 volt electrics (if standard specification) which are not really up to modern standards. Only the last year of manufacture offered 12 volt electrics. However the main drawback for me and the reason I didn’t get one is that in order to get a good one with no issues is relatively expensive ( at time of writing I would say between £15-25K. ) When your buying a bus for that kind of price you probably need a garage (that it will fit in!) to store it over winter or at least space to erect one of the many shelters that can be purchased to protect it. A lot of parts are available at reasonable prices but some are difficult to get hold of so if the Splitscreen you are thinking of buying needs any parts check if they are available and how much they will cost before buying the van. Generally a Split Screen isn’t a vehicle to use as your daily driver.
Bay Window Type 2 Campers
For the average VW camper enthusiast the Bay window is a good starting point. Its more modern design in many aspects including brakes, suspension, steering and engines make it a better prospect. It still has the classic looks and bullet proof simple mechanics. 1600 models are still fairly slow but later models included 1700, 1800 and 2000 engines giving more speed at the expense of fuel economy. The main issue to be wary of is rust. Values have started to increase and at the time of writing you will be looking at between £7k-15K for a reasonable example with no issues. There are many different types of conversions available to suit all requirements so have a good look in magazines and at VW shows and you will find the right van for you. See Bay Window Buyers Guide for more details on what to look for when buying a VW T2 Bay Window Camper.
T25 / T3 / Wedge Vanagon Campers
Earlier models are air cooled and then the later models switched to water cooled diesel or petrol engines (still in the rear). Petrol engines still fairly slow until the later 1.9 and 2.1 petrol engines came out. Early diesel models are also very slow but later diesel engines were Turbo Diesel and give reasonable speed and good fuel economy. Later models also include a 5 speed gearbox. At the time of writing the Wedge is just starting to become more popular. Always regarded as not having the classic lines or status of the Splitty and the Bay times are changing. Possibly due to the increasing prices of Bays and Splitties people are starting to look at alternatives. The design may look more square and to me more modern than the older generations but the shape grows on you (it did me anyway as I own one!). I find the driving position a lot better than the bay I previously owned and in my van the 1.9 fuel injected engine and 5 speed box make it comfortable to cruise at normal motorway speeds actually overtaking lorries and caravans instead of tucking in behind them. These vans had better rustproofing so rust isn’t such a problem. The main places that rust are at the seams that run between the body panels and the usual places such as bottom of doors, sills etc. At the time of writing prices can vary from around £4.5k for a reasonable older model with no major issues up to £12.5K for a top of the range 1990 Westfalia Atlantic (The last model that was made with all the extras!). See T25 / T3 Buyers Guide for more details on what to look for when buying a VW T25 / T3 / Vanagon camper.
T4 Transporter Campers
Since writing the original guide I have added this section as the VW T4 Transporter (called the Eurovan in USA and Canada) is becoming more popular. Due to the prices of earlier VW camper models increasing it has made the T4 Transporter camper look like good value for money. Because they are not as old it easier to get parts for them and the more modern design also means less problems with rust and better performance and reliability when compared to older models. At the time of writing prices can vary greatly due to the number of years the Volkswagen T4 Transporter was manufactured (1991-2003) and the vast range of conversions available but prices start at around £5.5k for a reasonable professionally converted early model with no major issues (although home converted vans are plentiful and cheaper) up to £25K for a top of the range 2003 Westfalia California Exclusive (last year of manufacture of T4 and a top of the range conversion). See VW T4 Buyers Guide for more details on what to look for when buying a VW T4 Transporter Camper.
Tin Top / Pop Top / High Top Campers
The main advantage of a tin top is that it doesn’t leak as some other types of roof can. There are no moving parts to break and it offers a reasonable amount of insulation as far as sound and heat are concerned. The disadvantage is that whilst in the van you cannot stand straight which can be a bit irritating when cooking and washing up. The solution really is to get an awning and then use the van for sitting and sleeping in only. Tin tops are best suited for singles/couples who don’t require too much room.
There are different types of pop top. Some just add head room and others contain bunks or space to sleep or store stuff. When compared to a high top a pop top has less wind resistance which can make the handling better in windy conditions as well as maybe slightly improving the fuel economy. You can raise the roof when on site and either use it to store stuff in or kids (and some adults!) can sleep in it. If the canvas is ripped or has rotted due to damp, replacements are available, but can be expensive. Some types of pop top are prone to leaks leading to mould or damp inside the van. I expect pop tops with canvas sides allow better ventilation of the van when camping in hot weather. Some parts can be hard to get hold of so be careful if anything is broken, worn or missing. Pop tops are also not as high which may make parking easier in areas where car parks have height restrictions.
High Tops can be prone to catching side winds but unless driving in winter winds it is not a major problem. The high top is less liable to leak than a pop top and provides a comfortable bed or a massive storage space. I have a high top myself and find it great that after a night camping you can throw all the sleeping bags etc in the high top, leaving the downstairs tidy and set off driving. If you want to stop and make some tea or food whilst en route the downstairs is free of clutter. In a pop top you have to put the top down whilst driving so all your clutter has to be stowed before leaving site. Obviously you have to be careful when parking as some supermarkets, multi storey and council car parks have height limits with metal bars to stop high vehicles entering. A moment of day dreaming could lead to some nasty damage.
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Left Hand Drive LHD versus Right Hand Drive
With the growing demand for vans and the increasing prices many people have found vans are cheaper abroad in countries such as Germany and USA. This has led to a number of specialist companies and individuals importing left hand drive vans. Also some of the best conversions such as Westfalia and Dehler were almost exclusively available only in Left Hand Drive versions so if you want one of those you will have to consider buying LHD. Whilst it sounds like it may be difficult to drive a LHD it is in practice relatively easy. The human mind seems to switch over automatically and after a few times looking up to the left for the rear view mirror you will start looking to the right and it all becomes natural. If you are planning on going to European countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Portugal etc then a LHD will be easier to drive whilst away anyway.
One problem I have noticed when driving a LHD in the UK is when pulling out of a slip road onto a motorway or when on the motorway and pulling out to overtake you need to check the passenger side mirror and sometimes there can be a car in the blind spot. The answer is to lean forward and check again, get the missus to check or buy one of the small blind spot mirrors that stick onto the main mirror.
Another problem you may encounter in a LHD is when paying for toll roads, toll bridges, car parks etc. in the UK if you don’t have a passenger you will have to lean over and wind down the passenger window as the payment counter/ticket machine will be on the passenger side.
Most classic insurance policies don’t seem to add much (if anything) extra if the van is LHD but you should check with your insurance company just in case.
On a left hand drive the sliding door will be on the road side (as opposed to the pavement side) when the van is parked on a road correctly. However for most people driving a camper the sliding door is normally only used when in a car park or camp site when this isn’t a problem. It is more likely to be a problem in a commercial van when the sliding door is to be used for loading and unloading materials or if being used as a daily driver (ie dropping the kids at school).
Other than that I really don’t see any reason for not buying a LHD.