Misc tips and tricks buyers guide
check under the footwell carpet for rot, and in the dash pod for corrosion on the electrics in there, may be an idea to check all lights and indicators are switching on OK and fuel+heat guages register if the electrics have moisture in them these may be faulty. Something to watch for if there has been water ingress is has it started to rot either the interior, beds and units etc. Or whether it is puddling in the sills. Also might be an idea to remove the lower fridge vent to see inside, check with the owner first as when you unscrew this the screw holes may just disintegrate, if not try and get a look at this area from the insidethrough the cupboards. take a small mirror and torch and see if you can get a look at how much rot there is in there. The fridge condensates here and typically there will be some rot, just how much will determine weher you can slow its progress as I did with waxoyl or wether you be on the end of a welding bill in a years time. Try and get a feel for the seatbelt mouting points, the inner points are hard to see on the fronts you may need to feel for them. The bottom of the battery tray under the drivers/passengers seat and the area below the rear air vents to the engine are also favourite rot spots. surface rust is treatable and unavoidable some might say, I'm talking corrosion to the point where its holed or the metal has become brittle.
I have put this guide together to try and help those people that are thinking of buying a T3/vanagon/wedge/brick or what ever you want to call them, but also as a bit of a guide of what people that already own them of things to watch out for. I am not the keeper of all knowledge when it comes to T3's but I would say I know a little more than others, so if you feel you have anything to add to this guide then please let me know or if you feel that I am wrong also please also let me know (I am a big boy now, I can take it!). I have based this guide on my time owning, driving and repairing other peoples vehicles and looking at T3's in scrap yards and at VW shows.
This along with the engine is the biggest deciding point of your purchase so it's imperative that's its in good condition, spending a little time inspecting your propective purchase may save you a hell of a lot of money in the long run. Buy on body condition.
As you are probably aware, T3's tend to rust a little around the body seams, due to modern manufacturing techniques, body tolerances and panel fit have come along way since the "bay window" van ('68-'79) but to the cost of rust on our vans, I believe it to be because the seams aren't big enough to be able to get a sponge in properly to clean them out, the flexible sealer cracks, salt and road dirt get in and hey presto...rust. Once its in there your going to have great difficulty getting it out, so be warned, walk away from a van with rot around the seams unless you are confident you can get rid of it. Most vans are now getting to that age where a little crispiness around the edges is inevitable, also check that all the seams that are meant to be there actually are! A lot of repairers either weld the seams up or fill over them, it WILL be hiding something!
With the standard height of a T3 it is quite difficult to wash the roof and gutters so they are often overlooked and hence get blocked which holds water against the panels which eventually leads to corrosion. Roof racks also scratch the paint around this vulnerable area and impede the free flow of water away, so when your going to inspect a van, take something to stand on and take a good look at the state of the guttering (or cantrail to give it its correct name). It is a good idea to give the gutters a good clean out once in a while with some cutting compound or T-cut and give them a thin layer of protective wax such as Finigans Waxoyle. Some of the lesser camper conversions (who will remain nameless!) tend to rot around where the hinges for the side opening roof attaches, and tend to break away. If your looking at a camper then check the area around the gutters with the roof up.
Sounds silly doesn't it?, well I'll explain... its not actually the windows, rather its frame or surround, windscreen surrounds are prone to corrosion in the bottom corners normally noticed by a small pool of water in the foot wells after rain, although you can't go pulling someone's windscreen out when you are thinking of buying it you can probably get away with lifting the corner of the rubber with a small screw driver and having a little sneaky peaky underneath for brown crispy bits, or alternatively you can have a look at the underside from under the dashboard (so remember your torch!). It's not just the screen you have to watch out for, its converted panel vans, these are the vehicles that left the factory as a delivery van and have had windows "cut" into them. When the hole is cut for the window, the bare metal isn't often primed or painted so the first time it rains the water runs behind the seal and sits there rotting the metal so watch out for bubbles around these windows.
Factory fitted windows should give you no problems. If they have the chrome inserts in the rubber, these tend to fade and lose their finish but can be replaced easily with the right tools. Some of these parts are still available from VW (allow for a budget of 100GBP2007 for rubbers and inserts) but alternative sources of similar parts can be used.
Front wheel arches
Volkswagen in there infinite wisdom put some expansion tanks in the front wheel arches for their "wacky" fuel tank design (more later), trouble is that they are a bit of a water trap and hold mud (therefore water) against the interior of the arch. Regular washing is the answer here but if its already taken hold then watch out for M.O.T failures as it lies within the prescribed 30 cm of a seat belt mounting. So check under the matting around the seat belt mounts. Also watch out for the cab step as the rubber anti slip thing holds water underneath it also leading to rot.
Rear wheel arches
Just because they have a seam around them, that's the worst bit, Oh and they are a real swine to fit as they disappear into the tub of the arch. Cab floor. Normally due to a leaking screen and water collecting under the rubber mat and not being able to get out, a cursory glance under the mat isn't going to go amiss, not that bad to repair, just watch out for the throttle cable conduit!!
A lot of people have rotten fuel tanks and they are blissfully unaware! you see the top of the tank is more or less flat and level with a valley pressed into it for clearance for the antique heating system on air-cooled models. Its not till you fill up over half way until you find out! You can imagine a conversation at the factory "oh no we can't fit this big numb hose between the body and the tank" says one designer "don't worry" says another " we'll put a big dent in the top of the tank and some silly tanks in the front arches, oh and we'll need lots of fiddly pipes too!!" so.. Anyway back to the point, the top of the tank is a big water trap, water sits there rusting the tank from the outside in. So a grovel around under the van is in order here, look for clean patches on the tank where the under seal and paint have been washed away by the leaking fuel, the tanks aren't that bad to replace Its just those damn fiddly pipes in the top that are a pain!, oh and please be aware that the earlier (pre '85 model year) tank are now deleted from VAG stock so a good second hand one or a later tank and filler neck must be fitted. Tanks are interchangeable between petrol and Diesel models except the 2.1 petrol which has a swirl pot for the injection system. New replacement tanks are available from the usual sources.
Not many problems here, just the window winder knobs fall off just like the rest of the VW's of the same era. The use of later MK III polo style winders usually works. Window winder mechanisms wear, easy to repair. Doors are interchangeable between years.
Not may problems here either, later (post '85) models seem to rust a little on the inner edge by the striker mechanism, locks seize from lack of use. The struts that hold up the tailgate loose their strength but are quick, easy and inexpensive to replace. Tailgates are interchangeable although there are differences between early and late, the lock aperture for one is larger on later models.
(Side loading door). These especially the commercials rot a little along the bottom edge, earlier ones (pre '85) are by design difficult to close without slamming them, this is one of the things that was picked up by most owners when the vehicle was launched back in 1979 but it took VW 5 years to rectify, also watch out for worn door runner bearings resulting in a less than smooth operation of the door and are quite expensive from VW, again good second hand ones are the way forward. Early and late door are not interchangeable, something to think about when purchasing a replacement. Door handles are also different as are the hinges. Early door handles are getting hard to find, expect to pay over the odds.
In my opinion is quite a good strong setup and doesn't give that much trouble. Most were fitted with a brake servo to aid you weary leg but some early 1600's came sans servo but still pull up well compared to a polo!
There were two systems used, the early style with pressed steel lower wishbones and the later with a cast (forged?) lower wishbones, Im not too sure why they changed them, maybe they weren't strong enough but what ever the reason the two systems suffered the same problems, broken anti roll bar link arms, the earlier cranked ones break off at the top of the thread and at around £40 each they aren't cheap but on the plus side they are quite easy to repair. Upper wishbone inner bushes also wear, be careful if you tackle replacement as the bolt that secures the wishbone to the body also sets the camber angle for your steering geometry and if you cock that up you in deep doodoo as you need all manner of fancy machinery to reset it! Upper ball joint also wear but are dead easy to replace.
The rear trailing arm has been know to rust through in places, have a scrape of the seams and the spring cup, if lowering your van then be aware that you will gain lots of negative camber, this is adjustable if you can get the bolts undone! they do seize into the metal bush sleeve. Syncro 16" Syncro arms are longer to cope with the increase in suspension height, thus not interchangeable with 2WD models. Rear wheel bearing do tend to have a small amount of linear movement, this is normal and not generally cause for alarm.
Again two systems used, the front brakes were robbed from the "bay window" and used on the T3 until 6/'86, bleed nipples fall off due to corrosion. The pistons leak when the front wheel bearings are left unadjusted for long periods. Flexible brake hoses are very long, sometimes known to foul parts of the body and suspension, also prone to cracking and bubbling up. Later brakes "feel" better. The brake disc carries the wheel bearing so if you are replacing front brake discs remember that you will also need to purchase wheel bearing kits too. Rear brakes. The automatic adjusters never seem to work as they should, one of the tags on the back plates corrode and fall off and that's about it, nothing is hard to replace, cables are straight forward to do. Rear brake adjuster bars wear which don't allow the rear brakes to adjust as they should, this can be rectified by clever filing of the bar.
4 and 5 speed manual gearboxes were available. Regular oil changes are a good idea. Differential bearings tend to get a bit noisy around 100K miles, 5 speed boxes get stuck in gear due to synchromesh failure but VW modified the parts from about '88 on. Pinion oils seals go hard and leak oil out of the bell housing, the seal is cheap but you have to take the gearbox out. 5 speed boxes generally aren't that good or as high geared as people think, its just the ratio's are closer together. Don't be put off by a 4 speed box.
Just stuff that doesn't come under the above headings! Electric's.They don't seem that bad Its just when someone has been messing with them!, have a poke under the dash and look for scotch locks (or bodge locks as I like to call them) they are those little blue connectors that you squeeze together with pliers, they are OK but...... The printed circuit on the back of the instrument cluster is prone to burning out where it goes around corners and the connector that connects it to the loom often corrodes and causes trouble and at 70GBP2004 for just the PCB well Its not a risk you want to take so make sure all the warning lights and the dash illumination works, if the fuel gauge doesn't work it could be a few things and could lead to fuel tank removal so check it! If the horn doesn't work Its normally a little earth strap at the lower end of the steering column.
There are a few different engines to choose from, to be brutally honest none of the engines are brilliant, Its just which one do you go for, I will try to list as many know faults of each engine to give you some idea of what to watch out for. I'll only concentrate on the engines available in the UK although the others are based around the same engine anyway. ALL of the petrol engine available for use in the UK are capable of running on unleaded fuel with little or no alterations.
Air-cooled - petrol
CT 1,6l 4-cyl. Flat4 air-cooled 79 to 82, 37Kw / 50bhp
Loosely based around the type 1 VW engine with added hydraulic tappets, removable spin on type oil filter, cooling fan on end of crank. Very under powered at 50hp, but quite economical. Watch out for cracked cylinder heads as these thing eat them, make sure thermostat is opening as if it isn't then your looking at a cooked engine.
CU 2,0l 4-cyl. Flat4 air-cooled 79 to 82 51Kw / 70bhp
The better of the two air-cooled models, based around the older type 4 engines that were fitted to type 4 VW's as well as the later bay windows vans. Engine features modified cylinder heads with "D" shaped exhaust ports, hydraulic tappets and spin on oil filter, cooling system is more or less the same as the earlier bay with slightly different fan housing and heat exchangers. Twin Solex carburetor are fitted from factory but are troublesome and prone to air leaks and worn throttle shafts at around 80 000miles, replacement is the only cure. Leaking push rod tubes are quite easy to repair as the cylinder head no longer needs removal, quite a good, strong engine but again, check thermostat operation, smoke emitted and endfloat of crank (Quite hard to check as there is a mesh guard over the fan).Heat exchangers are very expensive at well over £100 each to replace, check for fumes in cab and that the outer cases are in good nick. Not very economical!
CV 2,0l 4-cyl. Flat4 air-cooled 79 to 82 51kw / 70bhp injection for USA
(see CU) water-cooled - petrol. First a note on water boxers or wasserboxers (German term) as they are sometime known, These engines suffer from cylinder head bolts that corrode due to the antifreeze not being changed at the correct interval, after much conflab and deliberation between the members of Club 80-90 we came to the conclusion that no matter what antifreeze is used it must be replaced every 2 years, Antifreeze contains corrosion inhibitors which break down in time to the point where they are no longer effective and internal corrosion of the engines occurs (head bolts). In the US, VW of America recognised this problem and gave vanagon owners a discount on a new engine, VW of America also said that the use of pink antifreeze (G12) would be better as it was phosphorous free, there's loads of chemistry behind all this and to be frank It's a bit baffling, you can read what American vanagon owners have to say here and some more here. If I were you I would check if the van you are looking at has had the antifreeze changed and if not then state these facts. At the end of the day as one club member said," the head bolts won't grow back" which is a good statement! and prepare for an engine replacement at somepoint in the future, as the bolts once corroded and broken are nigh on impossible to remove. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the engines with leaky head gaskets can be repaired, most of the time the head bolt nuts do pull and a repair can take place, you just need to be armed with the risks!
Water-cooled - petrol
DF 1,9l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled from 82on 44Kw / 60bhp
Check head bolts aren't missing! Check for signs of head gasket leaks (Black seal between the crankcase and head) not bad engines apart from that, the DF does feel under powered even in empty van form so imagine what's its like with a camper interior and a couple of people in there, no real problems except for the one mentioned above.
DG 1,9l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled from 82on 57Kw / 78bhp
The 1900cc to go for if you have a choice,again, headbolts and gaskets. Later exhaust systems, the one with the pipes everywhere, they can be very expensive to buy and time consuming to replace as some of the studs break away from the head and clearance to get a drill in is tight on some parts.
MV 2,1l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled with injection and cat from 85on 70kw / 95bhp or 89bhp with autobox
Cats lower power output and aren't needed for the MOT till 1993 so if its got one you can quite legally remove it (UK). Injection systems are a bit weird and there's not much info on them, they confuse some garages nevermind owners, most faults can be traced to faulty coolant temperature senders etc., check the van starts well from cold, take for a drive and make sure they keep running, no cutting out, no hunting. Check head bolts and gaskets!! Check exhaust as they can get expensive if a whole new system is required.
DJ 2,1l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled with injection from 85on 82kw / 112bhp
The highest output of all the engines - these fly! Again, injection systems are a bit weird and there's not much info on them, they confuse some garages nevermind owners, most faults can be traced to faulty coolant temperature senders etc., check the van starts well from cold, take for a drive and make sure they keep running, no cutting out, no hunting. Check head bolts! Check exhaust as they can get expensive if a whole new system is required.
SS 2,1l 4-cyl.Flat4 water-cooled with injection and cat from 89on 68kw / 92bhp.
GW 1,9l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled with injection 83 to 85 66kw / 90bhp.
EY 1,9l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled from 85on 40kw / 55bhp.
SP 1,9l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled from 86on 54kw / 73bhp for Swiss export.
DH 1,9l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled with injection and cat from 84 to 85 61kw / 83bhp.
SR 2,1l 4-cyl. Flat4 water-cooled with injection and cat from 86on 64kw / 87bhp for Swiss export.
Diesel - Water-cooled
The following engines are based around the VW Golf Diesel engine that first showed its face in the 70's as a 1500 (I think!) In time it has increased in size, output and complexity. Parts and replacement engines are quite easy to come by as you can get them from other cars including VW Golfs, Passats, Jetta and some Audi's. To get the engine to fit in the Transporters lower engine bay they have been leaned over on their side at a 50° angle as opposed to the 15° it is normally mounted at so if you do want to replace the engine either with another diesel or a petrol engine (quite popular) then you will need the sump, oil pick up pipe and some other bits from the diesel engine. Check for anything other than a little smoke, you expect a little smoke from a diesel but not excessive, this could indicate worn injection parts which can get very expensive. Check for good cold starting. Black smoke indicates unburned fuel, could be as simple as a blocked air filter but could also be dribbling injectors, incorrect injection pump timing or a faulty pump, could be cheap, could be expensive, be careful! White smoke indicates low combustion temperature, again could be pump timing but could also be a blown head gasket. Blue smoke is the same as a petrol, worn engine, turbo seals, valve stem oil seals, worn piston rings, none are cheap!! Another thing to consider is that most of these vans will have been a working vehicle at some point driven by people who couldn't give a monkeys about them, check service books for timing belt replacements as a snapped belt will wreck your cylinder head.
CS 1,6l 4-cyl. Upright diesel from 81 to 87 37kw / 50bhp
This was the first water-cooled engine VW put in the Transporter back in 1981, from the beginning of the development of the Transporter VW always had in mind putting a water-cooled engine in it, why else would it have that massive grille and all that space behind it? To be fair these engines are very slow, you don't often see them either, They were available when diesels weren't very popular in the UK I suppose. These engines are quite economical though but are often in poor condition and worn due to the owners having to drive them hard to get anything like reasonable performance from their measly engine.
KY 1,7l 4-cyl. Upright diesel from 87on 42Kw / 57bhp
These engines are slightly better but still unpopular. Exclusive 1.7 Diesel engine parts can be expensive due to its unpopularity.
JX 1,6l 4-cyl. Upright turbo diesel from 85on 51Kw / 70bhp
To me this is the engine to go for but still has problems, Cylinder heads crack but replacements are reasonably priced even from VW (about 300GBP2004 complete). They are as quick as the 2.0 air-cooled engine and twice as economical, there are two turbo's fitted to this lump, the earlier Garret and the later KKK.