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Tips on buying a VW camper - Read this and avoid nightmares!

So you're thinking of buying one of those gorgeous split screen camper vans like the one in the picture that we once owned. Well before you take any decisions you need to read this now if you want to avoid problems later! This article was compiled by experienced VW restorer Adrian Chandler. Edited and published by VW admirer Aidan O'Rourke. Please note, the prices included here are just estimates and may not reflect current values.

Wouldn't you be better off buying a post-67 camper? It has many improvements including...

  • Larger and higher bay window
  • 12 volt electrics.
  • Improved suspension and handling.
  • From 1972 the type 4 1700-2000cc engines provide more power.
  • Some models had servo brakes.
If you're set on a pre-67 camper go for it but...
  • Expect to put up with the quirks and limitations of a 40+ year old vehicle including...
  • 6 volt electrics.
  • Weaker 1200-1500cc engines.
  • Smaller and lower split windscreen.
When buying any camper look out for...
  • Rust, particularly on the bottom 6 inches all around...
  • Rust on chassis box sections.
  • On front and rear outriggers.
  • On roof guttering, sills, wheel arches.
  • On floors in front of the rear wheels.
  • Behind front seats.
  • Under cover plates which can hide a horror story of trapped moisture and rust
Be careful of campers with suspension lowered to make them look cool...
  • The ride can be harsh.
  • Visibility is reduced.
  • You can't crawl underneath to do repairs.
Check the engine carefully...
  • Oil leaks near the gearbox flange usually mean an 'engine out' job
  • In gearboxes listen for bearing whines.
  • Check all gears work and don't jump out of gear (a floppy gear change is normal).
  • Pull and push the bottom pulley wheel: if you feel a loud 'clunk clunk' the engine needs a rebuild. Very small movement is OK.
1963 VW camper in Lichfield with Aidan's wife Ann
1963 VW camper in Lichfield with Aidan's wife Ann

Other things to look out for...
  • Inoperative heaters and controls - requiring new heat exchangers.
  • Smell of petrol inside the vehicle usually means rubber pipes need replacing.
  • Tanks can also rust through where they come in contact with more rust.
  • Steering should be direct with hardly any play. If not check the steering box.
Get repairs advice from...
  • Any experienced VW camper repair shop that's been there for more than 5 years.
  • Inspect a car they've restored or get a customer reference.
Get spare parts from...
  • eBay, www.justkampers.co.uk and www.vwhertitage.com.
  • Alan Schofield for most body panels.
  • VW Motoring magazine for other leads.
1963 VW camper on a camping trip to Bala, North Wales, with school friend and his son
Aidan's 1963 VW camper on a camping trip to Bala, North Wales, with school friend and his son.

Prices you can expect to pay for a Split (pre-1967)...
  • Totally original and unrestored with MOT 9000 - 25,000.
  • Restored with MOT 8000 - 20,000 (Watch out for hidden patched over horrors).
  • MOT'd but needing work 5000 - 8000.
  • A 'basket case' 1500 - 2500.
Prices you can expect to pay for a Bay (1967 onwards)...
  • Totally original and unrestored with MOT 5000 - 15,000.
  • You can still buy new Bays built in Mexico, vans (c 10000), minibuses (c 13,000) or campers (c 30,000) - 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 you shouldn't buy one...
  • Because it looks cool or restored but you haven't looked underneath and don't want to constantly maintain it.
  • It has a six volt system when you want reliability, though conversion to 12 volts is easier than people realise see www.nls.net/mp/volks/.
  • You think it will be fast and/or economical.
Recommended websites...
  • www.nls.net/mp/volks - Speedy Jim's VW technical tips. Excellent and easy to understand, even if you're a beginner.
The author of this article, Adrian Chandler, offers a 'Find A VW Camper' service to those looking to avoid the risks of buying on the second-hand market. Click here to find out more.

Adrian Chandler is a self-employed graphic designer/digital photographer. He has over 30 years experience in buying/selling, restoring, tuning and driving air cooled VW's, mainly beetles and campers. Using his extensive hands-on mechanical expertise, he aims to upgrade the vehicles to suit today's road conditions whilst retaining as much originality as possible. He owns a 1968 1500 Beetle and a 1972 bay window Devon camper. You can contact Adrian by e-mailing vwinspections (at) gmail.com

If you're interested in hiring a VW camper I can recommend www.campervanhire.com.

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