Before we bought the campervan I proposed a budget, in consultation with Granny Anne, and tried to learn as much as I could about T4 vans without becoming totally confused. Part of this research involved following Ebay almost daily for about three months. The latter proved very useful. I was able to see numerous vans on sale week by week and learnt about the many variations in the original T4 van as well as numerous van layouts and the many other variations including empty vans just begging to be converted to campers. Elsewhere on the Internet I found the technical details of the VW T4 range of vans, advice on the various engine and fuel systems and a great deal of useful information from owners on the T4/T5 Forum and from a fairly new magazine in Cardiff’s main newagents shop called VW BUS (“The leading magazine for all T4 and T5 enthusiasts”).
Unfortunately, there were very few campervans within my budget in or reasonably near Cardiff. Day vans, weekend vans or surfers vans were not as scarce but we wanted the complete camper – including all the facilities that I described in an earlier post. Most of these were 80-120 miles away and I was not prepared to drive that distance just to inspect a propective purchase.
Eventually I came across a VW T4 Autosleeper Trooper in Bristol, which looked promising. We kept an eye on this one for a while until, some time before the auction was due to finish, the owner closed the auction and went on holiday for a month. I was still prepared to go and look at it when the owner returned though I had some misgivings about its precise condition. A few days before a visit could be arranged I came across our present camper. Mind you, the Trooper was in what I regard as traditional caravan colours – creams and browns - with a sober interior to match, which, possibly, might have been considered by some to be more suitable for a couple of senior citizens on tour! But, for the money, which (to Granny Anne’s considerable dismay) greatly exceeded our budget, the newly advertised van seemed to me to be a much better bet – even if it is bright red with a checkerboard bonnet bra and absolutely shouts “Fire Engine”. Well, why not, I thought. I have never been good at conforming to the expectations of the majority and it’s too late to start now.
On buying the van I was satisfied with its condition. There is a limit to how much can be seen underneath the vehicle but what I did see seemed to me to bode well for the bits that I couldn’t see though I was prepared to discover a few developing problems later. The interior was as new. There is a tiny amount of rust on the exterior bodywork but in general it is just as good as it looks in the pictures. As for the mechanics, again there is a limit to what could be discovered by visual inspection but it sounded good, drove well, and produced no smoke or odd noises etc. that might have given me cause for concern.
Shortly after I drove the van home I took it to the local VW Main Dealer, Sinclair Motors, who were offering a free “general health check”. I knew that any work required would be more expensive than at a small independent garage but I had to be confident that it would be done correctly by people who specialise in these vehicles. Although the inspection didn’t include bodywork, the technician’s informal comments were to the effect that the underside was pretty good. Sadly, the mechanicals needed attention. Yes, I had noticed that the brake discs (all round) were a bit corroded but I didn’t think they (and the pads) needed imminent replacement. I didn’t notice that one steering link was a bit worn or that the driver’s door lock was “breaking up”, or that one tyre was much closer to the legal limit than the other three. Add to these a precautionary change of brake fluid, wheel alignment and new alternator and power steering belts and the bill added another £1,000+ to the cost of the van. However, nearly all of these are safety-related items so I have no regrets and it will be years before the work needs to be done again, given our modest annual mileage.
This was just stage one of my programme of improvement for the van. In a few weeks time I plan to return to Sinclair Motors for a full service. This will complete my initial “survey” of the van’s mechanics. In the meantime I plan to do some DiY work on the van (weather permitting) and already I have had the windscreen replaced. The old one had at least seven chips, four of them with small but significant cracks radiating from them. The work was arranged and carried out promptly and efficiently by Autoglass, at my home on a Sunday morning! This was interesting. The last time I witnessed a windscreen being replaced (not on one of my cars I might add) was years ago. It involved fitting the rubber seal around the new windscreen and then a loop of strong string around the rubber seal. The string would help to insert the windscreen/seal assembly into the aperture in the bodywork. Then a narrow rubber fillet would be inserted into a slot around the front of the rubber seal to lock it in position. On my modern windscreen it is a very different story. The rubber around the windscreen is entirely cosmetic. The glass is actually glued into place and it is recomended that the vehicle is not moved for at least an hour after installation of the screen. Removal of the old windscreen involves cutting the glue with a special tool. As it happened, my old windscreen was lacking glue around about one third of its perimeter. Fortunately there was no evidence that this had caused any rust.
By the end of the year this will be a much better campervan than it was when we bought it a couple of months ago.