Buying a VW Camper

I should have known that things were going to get expensive when someone drove into the side of my car just before Christmas. The upshot of that was that my car was a Cat D right-off so I bought a replacement. This proved to be a little too small which then convinced us that really we wanted another big family car or possibly a van ready for conversion into a camper. Things then escalated, until at the weekend we put a deposit down on a full-blown VW Camper! Spending that sort of money is stressful stuff!

How Big is Big?

The previous car that was written off was a Citroen C4. It was quite nice, pretty big and had almost everything we needed. The damage was only minor so I probably should have got it repaired for around £500 but we were uncomfortable with the Cat D status so rushed into trading it in while we could.

We did have a lovely VW Touran for a week or so as a hire car which didn’t help matters as that was REALLY nice so the replacement had a lot to live up to. We ended up with a Vauxhall Meriva for £5,750. Not a cheap car but not too bad and the fact that I traded the C4 in and had some money from the insurance pay-out meant that it actually cost £2,500 in hard earned cash. However, I wasn’t really happy with the Meriva from day 1.

  • It was just too small.
  • I couldn’t get my bike in it.
  • It didn’t have bluetooth and the aux connection to my phone wasn’t the same.
  • The rear seats didn’t fold in a very sensible fashion.
  • It wasn’t great on fuel consumption.

That said, once the bike rack was on and the roof bars and roof box were installed it did grow on me a little. It was really comfortable to drive, had nice seats and all mods cons from a driving perspective. The bikes went on the back, I could get my surf ski on the roof and it was doing the job. It was a nice colour too.

It was still far too small for family trips away though and we had started looking at camper vans. If we needed something bigger we may as well go back to a van and get something properly big!

Van vs Car

I guess we could have gone with a large car again. That would have been sufficient and you do gets lots more for your money with a car. Versatile seating, all mods cons and lots of nice gadgets for driver and passenger are pretty much standard in cars. By contrast, vans, even the top specced ones tend to be a little less well equipped. Power Steering is a given, but electric windows, electric mirrors, and air conditioning are all only available on the top specced models. Passenger airbags are virtually non-existent, the seats tend to be a little shabby and other extras are usually nowhere to be seen. The nice things that you get on top of the range cars such as multi-zone climate control, heated seats, automatic windscreen wipers, automatic lights, electronic and auto-handbrakes, built in bluetooth or Apple CarPlay etc are just not available on a van. Vans have often had a fairly hard life too so often aren’t in such condition and have a whole heap of miles on the clock. Even so, the vans are still much more expensive than a car. Despite the extra expense we were quite taken on the idea of owning a camper again so the search began.

Vivaro vs VW

Our initial searching led us down the route of getting a Vauxhall Vivaro or something similar which we could then get converted into a camper. Even this wouldn’t be cheap. We wanted a van that was 2010 or younger, preferably around 2012 and without too many miles on the clock. We found some that were ideal and the company in Poppit Sands selling them were already underway with a conversion. We were able to modify the conversion specs though to save a little money here and there and get the extras that we wanted elsewhere. Even so we were looking at around £17,000. That’s a lot of money for anyone but it’s more than a years salary for me so a serious spend.

In some ways this would have been a good option but if I’m spending that much money I wanted something that would put a smile on my face every time I looked at it. The Vauxhall Vivaro is a nice looking van but when converted it still looks a little too much like a builders van, especially when it’s white. Either that or it looks like an old persons camper, not a cool camper! The specs were good, the price was good and it would have done everything we wanted but it didn’t quite have the curb appeal. It was also a little basic with manual windows, no air-con and standard seating up front which meant it felt very much like a white van to drive as well.

Yep, you’ve guessed it, we were starting to look at the wonderful world of VeeDub! VW T5 vans are the thing to have for campers. They look a little nicer than the other vans, have endless customisation options, have a good name as far reliability is concerned and tend to be a little better specced too. They have something of a cult following. All of this does of course mean that they hold their value really well, especially when converted and customised. This will be a good thing if selling one but also means that they don’t come cheap if buying one.

VW Camper

So, what could have been a normal day out had turned into a written off car, I could probably have got that repaired for £500 but instead went for a £5750 car as a replacement. This led us to realise we wanted a van and a camper at that. All of a sudden we were looking at panel vans for £10,000-£12,000 plus around £6,000 for the camper conversion. told it would get expensive! Whilst looking we were also looking at ready converted campers too. You know what it’s like though, you’re looking at campers around the £16,000 mark but see one or two that look so much better at £18,000. That soon leads to looking at £20,000 campers in the hope that you’ll get it cheaper than that!

We had looked at loads online and just couldn’t quite find what we wanted. They were either too expensive, too old, or had too many miles on the clock. We looked at a few in the flesh too but again there was always something wrong with them. Some were too tatty, some just didn’t feel right, others weren’t as nice as they were in the photos. Many looked as though they’d had a hard life as a work van and far too many builders boots on the dashboard! Whether it was a van ready for conversion or a fully converted camper ready to go we just couldn’t find anything quite nice enough that we could afford. We were going to have to make some compromises, lower our expectations or raise our budget.

Finding the Middle Ground

In the end we found something that we hope was a middle ground. There wasn’t really much leeway on the budget, we did look at anything up to £20,000 all in though (that meant £13,000-£14,000 if just a base van) with the hope of knocking something off that when it came to the haggle. We also, after much conversation and advice from those in the know, decided that anything up to 100,000 miles on the clock was OK. Previously we had been looking for less than that but apparently that’s not a problem on a VW engine that has been fully serviced.

So, on Friday afternoon we took a detour to Llanelli whilst on our way to Bristol and looked at a fully converted camper there. It was listed at £20,000 so was right at the very top of our budget but it did look good. It was a 2011, T28 102PS van that had colour-coded bumpers, a rear spoiler and nice 19″ black alloy wheels. It had done 97,000 miles but was looking good. Inside the conversion was good too. It had everything we wanted, including of course the kitchen sink! It had a full 240v Hook up, leisure battery, water pump and gas. Rock ‘n’ Roll bed and two seats with seat belts in the back. It had a fridge too, which was something we would probably have left until later to add were we to get it converted ourselves. It had plenty of storage as well, including some extra cupboards above the sink and above the bed that we probably wouldn’t have paid for were we doing our own conversion.

On top of this, the colour scheme was good. The rock ‘n’ roll bed was covered in black and grey leather-like vinyl and the front seats had been made to match too. The front seats also folded flat so that they could be used as seating around the table in the back. Up front there was electric windows, electric mirrors, air-con and a passenger airbag. There was also a bluetooth connection kit and the cab looked clean and tidy too. There were even some VW themed cushions in the back

VW cushions

VW cushions

Haggle Time

We liked it but it wasn’t cheap and we wondered if we were being duped by the nice colours, the shiny sink and the funky VW cushions! We mulled it over during the weekend. Brad checked out it’s history for us and we continued to look. Anything else that looked even close was at least as expensive if not more so and most of these had more miles on the clock, were older, or were at the other end of the country. In the end we decided we wanted it. We therefore headed home on Sunday once more via Llanelli.

We asked a few more questions about it, took it for a drive and had another good look at it. The cupboards were still full of camping kit so we emptied a few out to check out the interior of them We poked and prodded it, played with the interior electrics and tried to get the LED floor lights to turn on. We haven’t worked them out yet but they aren’t essential and certainly wouldn’t be a deal breaker. The price was already down to £19,000 and we would have paid that but we wanted to get it down to £18,000 really. We’re rubbish at haggling though so made an attempt at it. Our haggling skills are pretty much something like this.

Us: Ummm, uhhh, hmmm, so,  [mumbling] can you do it any cheaper than that.

Them: Nope

Us: Ohhh, OK, not to worry then we’ll pay the asking price!

We did a little better than this and did get it down to £18,500 but we were still rubbish at it – I even forgot to ask if he could go lower than that for cash. Oh well, £18,500 it was and £4,000 part-ex for my Meriva meant that we now had to get £14,500 up together to pay for it.

We did get them to MOT it for us and to change the timing belt and water-pump on it before we collect it. They also agreed to leave the tent in the back of it as well. We’ll check that out but have quite a few tents so might end up selling it. We paid a deposit and arranged to collect it the following weekend. Once we have we’ll be fully signed up members of the VW T5 Camper brigade and will be hoping to wave at every other VW T5 owner on the road! We need to sort out a roof rack, a bike rack and insurance for it but now can’t wait to have weekends away in it and some family adventures. Not to mention warm cups of tea after cyclo-cross events, and a dry place to get changed after surfing!

It’s still a hell of a lot of money though and I do keep having anxious moments wondering if it was the right thing to do but our plan is to pay ourselves back over the next 5 years so that we don’t end up bank-rupting ourselves!



2 Responses

  1. Mum says:

    Stop being a worry wart! Its looks and sounds just what you need ,you’ll get many enjoyable trips away, making good memories.
    Enjoy your selves whilst you can , That’s what you’ve worked for. Xxx

  2. Emily says:

    We have a camper van too! They’re so much fun. Yours looks comfier and more modern than ours, which is from the 1970s. Definitely no power steering. Enjoy 😊

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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