Choosing a van is like buying a new apartment. It will be your home during the whole trip. It’s an important decision which will influence your life on the road.
Even if we are not experts in the domain, we would like to share with you our experience and the different steps we passed through during the van researches.
For our part, we decided to directly go for an old Volkswagen. That’s why we only talk about these vehicles in this article. So, they offer three different varieties : T1/T2/T3.
T1 Split (1950-1967) :
Same round headlights, same engine position (at the back) than its little sister “The Beetle”. T1 (named combi in French) is easily identifiable with the front in a shape of a V, the butterfly windscreen and the double side door. The interior is simple but comfortable. The new type of nomadism from the early sixties began with T1.
T2 Bay Window (1968-1979) :
T2 is a real emblematic figure for the Hippie movement and it’s a symbol for a whole generation. It made the most of almost 20 years of technical evolutions. With its refined design it’s now well known from everybody and it’s a classic vehicle (like its predecessor). The price is going up and the purists can’t get enough of it. The interior is similar : simple, effective and clever. Cruising speed : 80 km/h.
T3 Transporter (1980-1989) :
T3 is a real liaison between two generations and it’s the last vintage Volkswagen. The Transporter marks a break with the mythic vintage tradition thanks to its broad lines and the round headlights desertion for the latest ones. The pros and cons of the two olders give way to a stronger van and a more financially reachable vehicle. More robust and mechanically more reliable T3 is a great price-quality ratio, for still a little bit at least. So, we choose THE T3 !
Finding the good deal
For a couple of years now, T3 became really coveted. However there is a big offer probably because of the amount of the different styles. Buying a T3 at a correct price is still possible. So it’s the perfect time to buy a T3 before the prices explode.
Nevertheless when you are searching for this kind of vehicle you need to stay careful. In general, it’s better to stay away from too attractive offers. A lot of T3 look good from the outside but they usually suffered a lot from tough winters and intense uses on the road.
Finding the vehicle’s goals
It’s important to find a van that responds to your needs and your way of living. So you have to ask yourself the future use of your new fellow traveller.
Are you going to travel alone, with someone or in family? What will be the travel frequency and in which environment are you going to venture yourself?
Even if those questions seem obvious, it will help you guiding your researches and choosing the right model among all the others.
We choose a Westfalia California High Top T3. It’s about 4m50 long, 1m85 wide and 2m70 high. It’s between a motor caravan and a car so it’s practically unremarkable. You still can stand up inside but it’s easy to park it almost everywhere thanks to its reasonable size. Even if it’s fully equipped inside, we still are going to make some arrangement.
You have to know that the choice is very large in the T3 section. There is something for everyone and every price! The least we could say is that it’s hard to choose a van when you barely know something about mechanics.
Some questions to ask yourself before buying a van
What is my budget? What is the van shape?
The first step is to estimate the money you are ready to invest on your future home on wheels. Indeed, when you are searching on the web you realize that the prices can vary from a good €1K to more than €20K.
One advice : go to town, way to town.
The price will often depend on the vehicle shape in sale. It’s also going to be a first choice.
About the inside, if you are not a do-it-yourselfer, that you are impatient and that you don’t have a lot of time in front of you, you will probably opt for a ready to go van with everything equipped inside. It will cost you more with the purchase but the costs will normally be limited after and you will definitely save weeks/months/years of arrangement and Tetris game. If you have the perfect arrangement in mind, if you prefer the walnut tree than the plywood and if you are ready for a brain-teaser, you will start looking for an empty van with a healthy framework.
Healthy is the watchword for your first vintage van visit. The mechanics in this kind of vehicles is quite simple and easy to repair but it’s way more complicated to patch the rust up. Don’t forget that the vans you are looking for have for the most 30 years of road trips in the wheels. The rust and the corrosion on the body will be your worst enemy. The only way to get rid of it is to cut the part off and weld a new one. Good luck! To sum up you better have a healthy car body with a broken engine than the other way around.
In general, it’s good to know the vehicle history. By checking all the documents and the invoices you will probably save some money after. Why is the person selling his van? Is the person the first vehicle owner? Did she take care of the van? You need to ask all the questions you want answers back. Believe us, you don’t want to leave with a mistreated vehicle.
5 tips when you are examining a van:
- Check up the rust at the right places (see the image).
- Examine the van during the day and when it’s dry outside (rain can hide some defaults on the body).
- Be careful with recent painting (it can also hide ugly stuff). If it was painted by a professional, you can ask for the invoice.
- Ask the seller to not start the engine before you arrive so you can start yourself the vehicle while it is cold (if you hear a sound like “claclaclac” it’s a bad sign).
- Test all the gears, even the reverse gear and be sure non of them trip.
Where to look ?
It’s good to have some advice but you still need to know where to look for a van. In general, Germany will be the best place to look in Europe, but we also can find some in the Netherlands or in France. We are Belgian so we are pretty close to these borders. But the easiest way to do your researches is the web. This way will save you a lot of kilometers and money. However you will find everything on the web so you are never sure of the quality. Prudence and patience. Don’t forget Facebook either: there are a lot of groups passionate about these VW vans and some of them are devoted for selling and buying.
Also, be aware of the searching period. Indeed only a few people think about buying a van during the winter so it could be the time to make a good deal even if there are less offers. During the spring people has itchy feet so you have a bigger choice on the web.
It also exists specialized seller in this kind of vehicle like T3busjes garage from Tom Laureyns in Ghent (Belgium). That’s where you found what we were looking for after months of searching. We got pretty well hosted and we had a large choice with professional advice and service. We choose pretty quickly our vehicle because of our deadline.
Once we are on the road, don’t worry, we will flash of our lights and wave at you. It’s normal because you just joined the happy community of Volkswagen van owners.