Van Buyers Guide
After a fair few years and 15 + vans later I'd consider myself at the sharper end of the wheeling and dealing that’s associated with buying Volkswagen T5's. Here's what I've learnt so far…
The Volkswagen T5 - T6 chassis has remained the same since its inception in 2003. We're on a good run and things look set to stay that way for the next few years. This has given us a window of nearly 20 years making products for ‘em so yeah… Yeharrrr let the good times roll! Joking aside, the main reason for the 20 years without change to the fundamentals of the chassis is that, they are good.
The wild thing is that nearly 20 years after launch (today), if you walk into the VW dealership and buy the very latest variant, tick all the boxes inlcuding all the gucciest bits you'll be spending north of £100,000 which is a fun thought when you think you can now buy the same fundamental thing, that came out of the same factory, if you shop well, for sub £2k.
I recently found a stinker for a thousand pounds and sure she'd had a hard life but it drove, it worked and it still continues to haul daily. I've also bought baller ones for £20,000 and a fair few in between. I'll reiterate I have never bought or considered buying a brand new one, or really considered going down the route of finance. Aside from never feeling like I'd really own it if we bought fresh ones on finance, I'm of the attitude that if you buy well and become a good custodian, by applying yourself and doing minimal maintenance, be sure to breathe on these vans only in a tasteful and timeless manor, they'll not only serve you for many years well, they’ll also become an asset rather than a liability- Which is a nice thought. What’s not to love about a modern, reliable vehicle that is going up in value? It can be a real thing and, at the mercy of puffing my chest out too far, we've yet to loose money when it comes to selling any of VW T5's we've bought.
FINDING THE HOLY GRAIL
Our interpretations of Holy Grail vans are the very basic panel vans. The more basic the better, 'trend line', 'start line' etc. Less stuff to go wrong, easier to fix, lighter, less obnoxious, less chintzy and just feel better behind the wheel. Better for your soul too. I'd choose windy windows given the choice.
If your budget is circa £5k you're going to be shopping in the 2003 - 2007 department in terms of age. This body of text is aimed in that zone.
There are two engines to choose from, the one you're after is the 1.9tdi. These are known as the PD engine (pneumatic diesel). They are crude and are arguably the more bulletproof of the variants to choose from. Even if they aren't (they are), the main attraction is the price of parts to fix them if something does go wrong. Volkswagen rolled this engine out en-mass throughout their range of Golfs, Jettas, Passats to name a few. These engines are good for over 300,000 miles. I know cause our shop truck has one in it and is edging towards the big 300k mark. Yea, that's further than driving to the moon! Which now means I'm putting it's price up.
These engines need a cam belt every 70k miles. Make sure it has had a new one with a receipt and a date. If it hasn't, use this to hustle on price as you will need this done immediately. It is a sub £400 job with you local mechanic and is actually important, that's coming from me and I'm a big believer in luck favouring the brave. You will kill it if you don't get this done. Don't. Be. Brave.
The second hustle factor is these vans need a new clutch and dual mass flywheel every 70k miles. Again it is a circa £500 job however, it isn't as life or death as the cam belt. You'll know it is about to die when the van begins to judder when you start to reverse, (test this when buying by slowly reversing and pulling away in first gear, (up a hill to add extra dramatic effect). If it does judder it will get worse and develop to all the gears before long, with it eventually failing completely. It will need doing. I've quite proudly 'nursed' vans north of 20k miles while the dual mass and clutch go through the varying stages of shiting themselves and yea, I take pride rather perversely in seeing how far I can take them till they eventually explode. Long story short, if it judders in reverse, hustle on price. Get a new one installed after you're fed up with nursing it or you've got a big trip lined up.
Check under the oil cap for any residue that looks like 'cappuccino'. That is a term. A very ‘mechanic-y’ term- use it often. The seller might think you know what you're talking about for a few minutes. If it does have the 'chino' residue, it means that oil is mixing with water and that isn't very good at all. I've never seen it that bad on these engines but if you do I'd probably go and find another one.
Also make the seller aware that you'd like to view the van when it hasn't been ran and it's cold. if it takes a few turns to fire up when you start it, the injector seals or the injectors might need some loving which will cost to replace. Basically if it starts and runs ok you're looking at a good one.
The T5 chassis comes in four variants. T26, T28, T30, T32. These numbers mean very little to you and I, as long as you heed the rule of making sure the van you're buying isn't a T32 you'll be sweet. The numbers refer to the weights of the van and the T32 is a big old lump (looks identical to all the other vans BTW (also not relevant to SWB or LWB). The T32 has a different front hub assembly and can be a pain to MOT as it has a different class rating. Keep it simple and stay away from the T32. Plus, it’s no good if you wanna slam it. Important stuff.
THE BUCKET LIST
VW are notorious for bending their customers over when the poor original soul places the initial order in the dealership. There are a few hammers that we reckon are not necessarily deal breakers but make the difference between good vans and holy grail ones in our eyes. At the mercy of sounding a little precious I've come to admit Aircon is nice. It really is. It cost's over £1k as a factory add on too so yea not a deal breaker but kinda (really) nice.
These vans came with either barn doors or a tailgate at the back. You get 1 tailgate to every 10 barndoor variants. The tailgate vans are rare. Tailgated van's not only look way better but are half the weight and are an instant awning when opened. You can get them with Glass which is handy but yea, heavy. I'd rather no glass because I'm a weirdo (and I think they look cooler and are light weight and I have weight OCD (it makes a really big difference to how these van's go). Tor likes glass though cause she likes to not reverse into things and parking sensors to date seem to be…a luxury.
Our kind of vans, the basic ones, come with a single drivers seat and bench seat as standard. Nothing beats having three lads upfront with boards in the back if your heading on a surf mission, it's a riot. Top chat, superior banter and easy to pass around the McDonald's however, half an hour in and the lads are having a nightmare. The angle of the bench seat is akin to a wall. IT. IS. BRUTAL. But more bearable if you're not sharing it. If you're just a couple doing more than a few hours driving I'm telling you that 'twin captains chairs' (the baller option) is a really, really nice thing to have. The armrests are game changers too.
The vans have never really had corrosion issues so little bits of rust I wouldn't worry about, dents, dings and scratches are cool with us too. That stuff doesn't bother me personally and I actually dig a van with a few dings. It's lived an honest life and it's ageing gracefully in my eyes. You can pull the dents out and tidy that stuff up when you come to sell it if you feel the need, it's cheap to do that.
I'd check the 'blanking bolts' on the roof as these are inherently soft and are a slag to remove if some heavy handed Derrick has turned the tops off the bolts. Check this. The roofs have very thin metal indeed and are usually dented to hell, which is cool with me too. Put a roof rack on and get on with it. If it doesn't have dents on it you've got a rare one. Congratulations.
Tow bars are awesome. You can tow stuff which kicks arse. Reverse into stuff too. To have one fitted if it hasn't got one is a massive pain, be mindful of this if you need to actually tow stuff. We had one fitted to van recently and it was nearly £1000 to install (due to them having to tear through the entire van to wire in the electrical loom).
Factory head units are good rather than heinous aftermarket ones. Early vans have tape players which is good as you can then go buy Blacksabbath and Dio tapes on Ebay for £1 each.
Oh and try and get one that is Black or Grey. Any colour other than white from the factory costs a lot more on the order sheet. To the masses they look a bit less 'tradie' which will help with resale values. That said, I adore a beaten up white panel van so yea, the choice is yours.
WHERE TO SHOP
As for buying them I shop in one place and one place only. Ebay of course. Ebay is the place for van shopping.
'VW T5' into the Ebay search bar will automatically prompt 'Commercial vehicles' category. Yes ma'am.
You'll be met with over 500 vans, which is a little daunting. Enjoy scrolling about to get your bearings however if you actually want to buy one, a good one for a good price, your going to have to familiarise yourself with a little button that says 'best match.' You don't want that as you've got 500 'matches' because you and ebay don't have the same taste in vans right?
Change that sucker to 'newly listed.' You're now looking at the freshest meat and this is where the guys who actually BUY vans shop. One in so many of the vans that get listed daily will be undervalued. It is rare, we're all guilty of thinking our stuff is worth more than it is but when you see a van that fits the bill there will be many people moving fast and I can assure you, it will not be there for long. Also be mindful that if a van does hang about for a while, it’s similar to the grumpy chick/ guy with the strong opinions and sketchy relationship history at the party. There's a reason no one is taking her/ him home.
Gone are the days of 'what's the best price for it mate! What would you take? Etc.' Attempt to establish a rapport like a gent. Sign off with your full name. Use eloquent words. Be polite and come across a bit less like a thug. This will subconsciously cut through the savages emailing the seller too. A 'hassle free' sale with a polite chap over a battle with a painful brute will be a much more attractive proposition. Be that guy.
I'd be a bit wary if the van has had a load of owners, any history is also a bonus but not essential. I don't think you can underestimate the power of looking the seller in the eyes with a sincere look yourself and asking 'is it a good van? Is there anything else I should know about it?' Do this! That will test their mettle and you'll be able to tell in an instant moment if you're about to buy a lemon. It's hard to buy a truly bad one so yea. Just buy it and let the good times roll I reckon.
Tits to the wind!