Tips on buying a used VW Camper

This page has been kindly provided by Adrian Chandler who runs a VW Camper inspection / search and buying service. Inspections are 100 plus 75p per mile one way from Ringwood, Hants. Search and buying service 700, plus collection and delivery charges. For more information contact Adrian on 07785 941 676 or email at adrian@cwad.fsnet.co.uk – You can also read more about the service at www.vwcamper-reborn.co.uk

Buying Tips

Age: Up to middle of 1967 (E reg) ‘Split Screen’, Beetle type 1200-1500cc engines as standard, 6 volt electrics, although the last ‘Splits’ (most E reg) were 12volt. Swing-arm rear suspension (like the Beetle) using extra reduction gears on axles to increase ground clearance. “Barn Door’ type side opening doors.

Age: 1967 onwards (F reg) ‘Bay Window’, Improved rear suspension & handling due to universal joint rear axles, improved front suspension with ball joints. 12 volt electrics, sliding side door. Walk-through interior from front seats. The Bay is upgraded in most areas over the Split and generally drives better. Bays had the option of the type 4 1700-2000cc engines from 1972 onwards, a stronger & more powerful unit than the Beetle type 1 unit. Also some Bays are fitted with servo brakes which provides much improved braking.

What to look for when inspecting:

The most important thing to look for on either model is rust as it the most expensive and time consuming in repairs. The bottom 6″ usually suffers all round. Look for signs of serious rust on chassis box sections especially at the front near the front axle and up to the front bumper, but also on the front and rear outriggers up to the sills. The roof guttering, sills, rear bottom corners, front panel edges (especially at window bottoms), wheel arches – all can disappear with rust. Floors can usually be reasonable, but could have patches anywhere in front of the rear wheels and also a common floor rust place is side to side behind the front seats (above a box section that gets wet from driving wind blast. If there are cover plates under the floor this can hide a horror story of trapped moisture and rust. Look for signs of filler or other repairs all around, because if they’ve been done badly, they’ll rust through in no time, and it’s an expensive and time consuming repair job. Check for rips in lifting roofs.

Any vehicle that has been ‘lowered’ be wary of, because badly lowered or adjusted suspension can be dangerous, and the ride may be harsh. It may look ‘cool’ but you’ll be uncomfortable on long journeys and you won’t be able to see over hedges or over other cars, which is part of the fun. Neither will you be able to crawl underneath for any impromptu repairs.

Engine oil leaks near the gearbox flange usually mean an ‘engine out’ job to change the flywheel oil seal. Gearboxes are usually tough although some can leak or rumble after time, and synchros usually last, but listen for bearing whines, floppy gear change is usual, but check all gears work and don’t jump out of gear (accelerate and decelerate sharply in each gear with warm engine). Engine should not blow out smoke.

Knocks are bad, rattles usually less serious. Lots of oil inside the engine compartment is bad news. Pull and push the bottom pulley wheel – if you feel a loud ‘clunk – clunk’ the engine needs a rebuild and will not last very long. Very very small movement is OK.

Watch out for inoperative heaters and controls, that often means it needs new heat exchangers and can mean lots of new cables and pipes resulting in unpleasant grazed knuckles.

Petrol tank leaks – a smell of petrol inside the car usually means the rubber breather pipes in the tank chamber (in front of the engine behind a fire wall panel) need renewing – an ‘engine out’ time consuming and fiddly job. Or it could be the flexible filler pipe. Also tanks can rust through underneath if exposed to other rusty bits of bodywork underneath.

Steering should be direct with hardly any play. The steering box can be adjusted or replaced, but check it hasn’t been fully adjusted and it’s still wonky.

Where to get repairs advice:

Look for an experienced VW Camper repair shop that’s been there for more than 5 years and you can inspect a vehicle that have been restored there or get a customer reference.
I am prepared to answer peoples queries only by email as much as I can and have 25 years air-cooled VW experience.

Where to find spare parts:

The best places are eBay UK for a continuous supply of most parts, www.justkampers.co.uk and www.vwheritage.com Alan Schofield for most body panels. German and Swedish.
Read VW Motoring magazine for other leads.

The prices

Split:
Totally original and un restored with MOT 9000 – 25000.
Restored with MOT 8000 – 20000 (Watch out for hidden patched over horrors)
MOT ‘d but needing work 5000 – 8000
A ‘basket case’ 1500 – 2500

Bay:
Totally original and un restored with MOT 5000 – 15000 You can still buy new Bays built in Mexico, vans (approx 10000), minibuses (approx 13000) or campers (approx 30000)

See VW Motoring or Volks World for prices.
Restored with MOT 5000 – 15000 (Watch out for hidden patched over horrors)
MOT’d but needing work 2000 – 6000
A ‘basket case’ 1000 – 2000

Reasons why people shouldn't buy one:

Because ‘it looks cool’ or restored but you haven’t looked underneath or don’t want to constantly maintain it. These are old vehicles and usually have strange quirky characters, even if they have been restored. They need lots of maintenance. It looks immaculate but it has been restored superficially (like changing rooms – It won’t last).

It has a 6 volt system when you want reliability. (However 6 volt systems are often easier to convert to 12 volts that people realize – see www.nls.net/mp/volks/.

You think it will be fast and/or economical.

Text copyright Adrian Chandler 2005