A newbies buying experience

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Please note that club 80-90 members helped out considerably in this purchase out of their good nature. It is not a service that the club offers, and any help that is returned (in response to a polite request on the forum) is arrived at as a personal agreement between the two parties. Generally people get out of the club what they put into it. New members that ask for help on their first post may or may not not receive a positive response.


Thought I'd share a bit of info on how I went from being a newbie non-owner to slightly less newbie owner, mainly thanks to this forum and the cracking guys on it.

I'd like to mainly send thanks to the brilliant and colourful metalmick8y. He 'adopted' me as a newbie when I posted questions about a few vans I had seen on the web (more on this later) and I swore then this guy had x-ray vision (though he denied it I'm still not convinced I believe him), he can tell you the history of a van's body work from a few snaps and I reckon could spot a dodgy panel at 1,000 yards after leaving the pub. Metalmick8y, thanks for being an ever-present and humourous guide. I reckon what you don't know about these buses isn't worth knowing.

And another huge thanks to paul66beetle, a member of these forums and owner of beetle fan site http://www.bajaclub.co.uk - without his cross post to this forum flagging the van as 'a bargain for someone' I would never have know of its existence (very pleased that 'someone' was me!). You can see his original post about the van for sale here: viewtopic.php?f=18&t=88587 and the same day as seeing this, with metalmick8y's guidance once more, she was essentially in the bag.

Final thanks. Matt - seller of the van and, judging by his yard, a VW Baja genius. matt, you are as straight as they come, hope your dream job worked out. If anyone is looking for a Baja I recommend looking up Mattstang on the bajaclub forums to see if he is selling or drop him a PM.

Things need doing on it without a doubt, but then it is 30 years old this week: it squeaks, it leaks oil, it has a spare passenger door currently parked inside it, the sliding door will drop on your toes if you open it too far, and the small, strangely angled steering wheel that someone put on it obscures pretty much the entire instrument panel for someone as tall as me, and has the 'little miss sunshine' horn syndrome on occasion.

But the fact is that it is newly mot'd (done just before sale) and essentially all there and pretty much original. The roof was replaced in 2005, so although it doesn't have the bed up there currently, the pop top action and canvas is totally sweet, the engine is music to my ears (takes me back to my teenage years when friends owned bugs and I could hear them starting up from two streets away), and the inside needs an overhaul but, as I say, all the original elements are there (fridge, cooker, sink, cupboards etc.). Plus Matt was good enough to throw in a spare passenger door and a cd player with speakers, as well as half a can of oil and - you can tell this guy knows what's what - a funnel and rag.

At times The Great Van Hunt became obsessive, I was looking at the forums 'for sale' sections several times a day at least, watching countless ebay lots, gumtree and plaguing metalmick8y with pictures and questions about conversions, costs, possible vans, you name it. The good thing is that it was well worth it in the end.

With that in mind we reckoned it could be worth documenting a bit of the experience of The Hunt for other newbies. As metalmick8y put it, be nice to have it in the 'collective conscious' - who knows, perhaps it will save someone some money and heartache!

At the outset of my hunt I was still unsure of what I wanted, but with help I whittled it down to a 2l Aircooled, family friendly, pop top, and most importantly something that wasn't going to be a money pit. I budgeted for about £4k and let several vans pass about that mark because they didn't fit the bill or were overpriced, or because of sage advice on this forum (thanks guys!).

I decided interior I could do at my own pace but wanted it to be original, however tatty, engine I plan to learn at least the basics but the better the better, but body needed to be in pretty decent shape as I have no skills in that area so that is all money out. I also didn't want anything unduly funked or punked up, so nothing lowered or sported or with a gleaming overpriced paint job and costly alloys. Nothing against them and some look very cool, but just not what I was looking for. I also looked at some vans where people had clearly put the money into the wrong places - remember, you'll pay for those additions when buying secondhand, so if they have been done make sure the important things were done first (i.e. rust fixes before respray, body before bling!)

Anyway, guess that kicks off a bit of a splurge on what I learnt on my journey that ended with Bumblebee (van already named by my three year old son!). It has been a very fast learning curve so if anyone wants to add, expand on, or correct anything then that's all good. This is all just my own experience; knowledge I have gleaned from others and adapted to suit my needs. Take it or leave it, laugh at it or do what you will. If it helps someone else from rushing in and making a fool of themself, then great.

So here goes..

GET WISE Go into buying with your eyes WIDE open. Know these vehicles as well as you possibly can. If you are reading this, then you've got the first step right - scour the forums, fill your head with knowledge. It took me a while to find 80-90, certainly long after my ebay watch list was filling up with just about every type of VW van going (most of them overpriced hunks of junk) and before I'd got to grips with the ins and outs. Finding this forum was like finding a goldmine; enthusiasts, experts, and experienced owners, all under one roof. And for the lowdown on just about every aspect of these lovely machines, make sure you spend a lot of time on this forum's wiki, it will pay off: http://wiki.club8090.co.uk/index.php/Main_Page

ENGINE Know what you want early on. Is it the Aircooled engine (simplest of the bunch), or watercooled, or would you go diesel or diesel injection? If you don't know straight off then make sure you find out the relative advantages/disadvantages of each. From what I gleaned a 1.6 petrol is underpowered for a bus this size (unless you live somewhere very flat, like Holland!) and a lot of people seem to rate a 2l Aircooled, which is what I knew I wanted early on (the sound alone is enough to put that certain 'something eating grin' on your face - owners, you know what I'm talking about here).

BODY The more you read, the more you understand that specific models of any vehicles have specific weak points. I think many others would do a better job on expounding on this, and there is plenty of info on the forums if you search around. As a start though, the ever sage metalmick8y advised getting pics of the following on one of the vans I was interested in, and I used this list to request extra photos whenever I had any interest in a van that wasn't local (ALWAYS request extra photos! If they don't reply, can't be bothered, or say something like just come and see, then walk..). rear arches seams bottom of fridge side panel jacking points door bottoms inside and out front panel behind bumper metalwork under windscreen sliding door bottom inside and out rear panel under bumper

BUDGET Get an idea of what costs what - the general opinion seems to be engines can be fixed cheaply and easily but if the bodywork/chassis is far gone don't touch it unless they are pretty much giving it away and you are prepared to spend a LOT of money on it (and know a very good welder). So in terms of importance to your pocket, think: body, engine, interior.

Once you set a budget, stick to it, otherwise it is not a budget. There will always be running costs on these, but budget to have a van safe and on the road and if you are going for ebay, beware of getting bidding fever. As someone wisely told me - there are always other vans... remember that when there are 2 minutes on the clock and you're thinking about what else you could go without to throw hundreds more pounds in the pot!

WATCH AND LEARN Watch the market. Add as many as you can to your ebay watch list even if they don't exactly fit the bill. Check back through listings on gumtree over the last couple of months and see what is still for sale. It really suprised me how overpriced many were once I had got a good handle on pricing from spending a couple of months seeing what was still hanging around and figuring out why.

TO EBAY OR NOT? With hindsight, I would say ebay is a very useful tool for juding the market, but for me it wouldn't be the place to buy. Everyone knows about it, and genuine bargains for anything that is not totally obscure are rare nowadays I think. Having said that I requested extra pictures from many sellers to see the state of a van (before considering pishing away petrol money going to look) and it all added to the knowledge. I would say get on the 'for sale' area on forums where there are genuine enthusiasts, this one of course, volkzone vsi (general VW), and maybe pistonheads (though some are too customised for me). There are always going to be chancers, so don't be afraid to put a post on the forums asking for advice on a specific van you like - you can always request answers via PM if you don't want to upset anyone or be public.

LHD? Left hand drive or not? Personally, most of my time is going to be on these shores so wanted a right-hand drive. The only thing is this pretty much rules out Westfalia conversions (shame) unless you see one of the VERY rare right hand models. If you are going to be tooling round Europe in it, a LHD has to be a serious consideration (and if your German is up to it you could always buy native).

TO POP OR NOT TO POP? I always had it in mind that I wanted a pop top as I have two kids and this is going to be a camper most of the time (also our only vehicle, though local it is mostly on a bike or walking) and was kind of fixated on the Devon pop top as it is a full length double (I'm 6ft 2"). I ruled out the Westfalia one due to the LHD issue above even though I think they look neater. Ended up with a Reimo top, which is pretty much identical to the Westfalia style and am very happy with it, it goes up and down in seconds and leaves a great head space for you if you are tall above the cooker when up. Anyway, get to know the tops, there are different pop tops (side elevating, front elevating) and also fixed tops, which may work for you.

HISTORY If you get to the buying stage, request and look through as much paperwork as you can. An owner who cares about their van will probably be slightly obsessive (can I use the word anal) about keeping ALL relevant documents of work done, MOT's (fails and passes). Very unlikely it will have a complete history if it is a 30 year vehicle, but not unheard of and obviously the more the better. Mine has only 8 years history, but that was enough to tell me it had a new roof 5 years ago and has done about 10,000 in the that time and had nearly £7,500 spent on it from 03-06 including the roof. Also I remember reading this gem - always check the spare, if an owner cares for the van it will be not only present but matching the other tyres and in good nick.

Also, before you pass cash I reckon it is worth spending a tenner online to make sure the vehicle hasn't been written off, stolen etc. as those kind of sellers will probably disappear in a puff of smoke and there'll be nothing you can do but weep if you find out the truth after your cash has left your pocket, and in the worst case scenario watch the debt collectors tow your pride and joy away.

WAIT AND WAIT THEN MOVE FAST! I remember reading on this forum about one guy who said he'd taken a year to find the right van. When I read that, I had just started my hunt and couldn't believe it. As the hunt went on I could believe it. I guess what he means is the right van at the right price. Remember, whatever the price, chances are you can knock it down, especially if you have an expert on board who can point out all the faults and you can show what other similar vans have sold for.

So that's my story, and I guess I kind of spoilt the happy ending already

I was lucky. I decided what I wanted and I waited, sometimes patiently, sometimes impatiently, but I stuck to my guns and when the moment came I had a gut feeling this was THE ONE and moved as fast as I could. Ushered along by the safe hands of Metalmick8y (who phoned the seller and got the lowdown almost straight away) I had a cash offer in, the offer of a deposit via paypal (refused for his own reasons, but he held the van on principle that I offered). I made sure he knew I wanted it 100% and had the cash waiting using emails, texts and generally I did everything I could to make sure nobody pipped me to the post. Fortunately Matt, the seller, was honest and once we'd agreed a deal he stuck to it and turned away numerous other hopefuls from as far flung as Scotland. Not sure how many ebayers would do that...

Finally, I did something that most would probably advise against and I personally never thought I would do... I bought this without seeing it.

I can almost hear the sharp intake of newbie breath...

I admit it was a risk, but a very minimal risk (Metalmick8y even gave me the cushion that he would buy it off me for what I paid and break it to get the money back if needed). Also, it had just passed it's MOT, Metalmick8y gave the guy the ninth degree on the phone, and a couple of dozen photos of specifically requested areas swapped hands.

I wouldn't recommend it, but it worked out fine, even better than fine in fact. I did it as the van was never going to hang around. I did it because it was £1,000 and I had spent a long time asking countless questions and getting to know these vans inside and out and this fitted the bill and left money in the pot to get it right.

And hey, rules are there to broken after all...

I will get some photos taken of Bumblebee as is and before I put it in for a bit of work to make it road safe and usable for summer. At the moment, front ball joint, oil leak, rear seat belts, front passenger door swap, and welding on the slider door rail. It is going to New Malvern Service Station in Portslade, as recommended on these forums. If anyone has a different opinion of this garage then it would be good to find out before next Monday (18th July 2011)!

If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading, hope you found something useful. This forum is a brilliant source of information and hopefully this post, though a real newbie's guide, can give something back and strike a light for someone just setting out in the dark.

It is with fond memory that I think of The Great Van Hunt and needless to say, I am absolutely over the moon with the end result. I am very glad I heeded the advice given to me in the early stages and didn't rush in on an overpriced rot box before I really knew what I was looking for and what to look out for. If you are looking at buying, remember this is just the first signpost on a long road to ownership, use the wiki and never be afraid to ask questions. Good luck with your journey, and make sure you have a good guide.

Astoundingly happy to finally be a T25 owner. If you see a bright yellow Aircooled with a grinning driver, that might just be me