Whether you’re planning a simple, back-to-basics interior or one with all the home luxuries, you’ll likely be putting a fair amount of hard-earned cash into your camper. It’s therefore vital to put your investment into a donor vehicle that’s not only a dream on paper, but passes muster in person. In the following guide we offer some pointers for divining the overall condition of a prospective T5 or T6, while suggesting areas where there’s room to budge.
Budget allowing, it’s never a bad idea to start with the youngest vehicle with the lowest mileage on the market. But age and mileage aren’t always the clearest indicators of a van’s condition.
It takes only 12 months (or 20k miles), for a commercial vehicle to be ruined by a poor driver, where a well-driven, 3 year‐old with 120k motorway miles could still be in good shape as a base for a conversion.
Our advice: Don’t get overly caught up in the figures, always consider how your van has previously been used and how you will be using it.
The importance of the miles already on the clock depends, to a large extent, on how many you plan on doing each year:
If less than 10k
Consider a van that has breached 70k. You can expect a Transporter T6 or T5 to reach at least 250k if well-driven and properly serviced, meaning it should last you well over 15 years.
If more than 10k
If you’d like to do more annual miles or want a van to last you 25 years without an engine and gearbox overhaul, it’s important to find the lowest mileage possible. Take note, however: if you try to source a van below 30k, the pool of available vans will be greatly reduced and you may find ordering a new van with its 3 year warranty offers better value.
Generally with a pre-owned vehicle, we’d set the upper mileage at 60‐80k, depending on your overall camper budget, but not be too concerned about age (the T5 started production in 2003). Let budget and fixtures like electric windows, air-con, rear windows with wipers dictate the year.
We’ve seen the inside of enough ailing vans to know which areas tend to cause the most trouble, and most aren’t immediately obvious. For a proper diagnosis you’ll need to examine the following:
On many pre-2007 models and a fair few of the later ones, the air direction control (a knob on the right of the central heater panel) commonly fails to re-direct the air to all of the vents correctly. This is because a cable attached to the control bends out of shape preventing the knob from rotating properly. It can be expensive to repair properly, so make sure it is fixed by the seller or get a quote from your local dealer before buying. You’ll have to remain vigilant even after a patch-up, as the cable can easily bend out of shape again if only the cable, and not whatever is sticking and causing it to bend, is repaired.
A part of the clutch used to absorb vibrations from a diesel engine, a dual flywheel, is commonly fitted in modern vehicles and the T5 and has a habit of falling apart. If the engine idles in neutral and the van has a slightly erratic judder or emits a jangling sound (particularly common in 2.0 models) be wary. While many vans will go on driving with a little rattle or vibration without issue, now’s the time to seek a second opinion. You should at least contemplate a new flywheel (approximately £200 to £400 ) when the clutch is due for renewal.
If the cam belt has been replaced (as it should be at 7 years of age or every 60,000 to 120,000 miles depending on model), have a flick through the service history to see if all the pulleys (tensioners and idlers) were also replaced. If not, you may experience the cambelt flying off without warning when pulleys run low on lubricant, doing serious and preventable damage to your engine.
Of the T5’s two fuel pumps, when in good health this one should make a short whine as the ignition is turned on and then stop. If this whining continues, the pump’s probably faulty and needs replacing.
Cargo doors undergo a lot of strain on the average day. Always check for broken straps, (halfway down the door in between the hinges) poor alignment, and so-called “spider” cracks in the bottom left corner of the right door window panel, frequently caused by excessive slamming.
All too often, central locking or lights give out due to the computer under the driver’s seat getting wet. This can lead to keys getting locked inside the van when the locking system cuts out and fails to recognise that you’ve remotely unlocked your vehicle. For a dead giveaway, check if lights fail to come on when you open the rear doors.
Given away by a dull clunking sound, drive shafts have been known to cause trouble in post-2010, 2.0L facelift models. This is usually a matter of poor lubrication of the splines, which it’s worth checking and re-oiling every 40K. If your seller hasn’t oiled theirs, make it one of the first things you do as the new owner. This may involve a little extra grunt work, and even be worth paying a garage take care of, but will help you steer clear of unnecessary expenses later on. The seals also commonly wear out, potentially letting oil escape into your back tyres and brake unit, so keep an eye out for patches on the road after a test drive.
As this is intended only as a basic guide, we strongly advise having any vehicle independently checked by a trusted garage, (the good garage scheme :link http://www.goodgaragescheme.com: is worth checking) the RAC or a similar vehicle examination service.
Once you’ve determined that your van has a clean bill of health (or you’ve haggled over the price for the necessary repairs), it’s time to make sure it checks out on paper.
Gather the following 3 items and take these steps:
Step 1: Confirm that your book looks like this:
Step 2: Check that the name and address in the V5 log book match the name and address of the seller.
Step 3: Make sure the VIN (vehicle identification number) plate on the van, usually located at the bottom of the windscreen, is the same as the VIN on the V5. If you have trouble finding the VIN plate, the vehicle handbook should be able to help you locate it.
Step 4: Ensure that no alterations have been made to the logbook and that nothing is misspelt. If you are unsure of anything, call the DVLA helpline on 08702411878
Step 1: Ascertain whether the service book has been stamped regularly and that the stamps match the MOT and other receipts.
Step 2: Check the service history for cam belt changes (ideally conducted every 7 years or 60,000 miles) and other key service details. If anything is missing try to negotiate your price, and have a garage check over the vehicle as soon as you can.
With all of the information above stored away in your mind, we recommend taking the following approach.
Drive a few vans, preferably starting with a low mileage 2 to 3 year-old van for an idea of how a vehicle should feel in its prime.
Try to settle on an engine (1.9 or 2.5 or 2.0), the summaries above, but test a few of each for the sound and feel.
Whichever you settle on, aim for a van that feels tight, has little slack in the drive when you roll on and off the power in 4th or 5th gear, doesn’t suffer from suspension knock when going over potholes, and has a good service history, whether a printout or stamped up book (check either against MOTs to verify that they are genuine).
For a step-by-step run through of the buying process, print out our Buying a Base Van Checklist.