In the rush to become a VW camper van owner, it can be easy to forget that your purchase is a big decision, and there are things you need to look for carefully before committing. Take the time to do a thorough inspection, and walk away if you are not happy.

You may want to consider buying a camper which was manufactured after 1967, when many enhancements were introduced. An earlier model may also be slower.

Rust is probably the single most important thing to watch out for. VW vans are often parked for months on end, and spend summers in damp fields, so corrosion does happen, and there are several parts which are particularly prone to rust.

While you can buy replacement panels for rusty bodywork, clearly the fewer you have to buy, the better. Check all over, but inspect the following areas in particular for signs of rusting:

  • Rear and front outriggers
  • Inside and outside the windscreen corner areas
  • Tanks can rust through when they come into contact with rusty parts
  • Chassis box sections - get underneath, probe with a stick and look for crumbling
  • All around the lowest six inches of the vehicle
  • Behind the passenger and driver seats
  • On floors in front of the rear wheels
  • Roof guttering, sills and wheel arches
  • Cover plates are also known to trap dampness and corrode
  • If the van isn't a Kombi and has fitted windows, look around the edges

Equally, of course, you’ll need to give the engine a once-over, looking for:

  • Gearboxes which make whining sounds
  • Gears that jump or don’t work at all (don’t worry about a “floppy” gear change though)
  • Loud clunking sounds coming from the bottom pulley wheel when you push and pull it. These kinds of noises mean you are looking at a complete engine rebuild, although tiny movements are not a problem.
  • Leaking oil close to the gearbox flange: this usually putting this right means taking the engine out
  • An intact, healthy looking radiator
  • Steam and smoke coming out of the exhaust
  • Find out when the cam belt was last renewed. If it is about to wear out, negotiate on the van price
  • A low oil level - this may mean the van has not been cared for properly
  • A blown head gasket, which will be expensive to put right
  • Hoses and pipes should be clean, with rubber hoses uncracked and no rust on metal ones

Be wary of vehicles where the suspension has been brought down. The ride may not be a smooth one, you won’t be able to access the underside for repairs, and visibility will be reduced.

Other things to put on your checklist include ensuring all heaters and controls work properly. Have a sniff inside the vehicle - if you can smell petrol, it often means the rubber pipes have to be replaced.

Check out the steering, too, which is a potential problem area, and the steering box. The steering should be direct and easy, without excessive play. On your test drive, go to a car park and turn the vehicle on full lock. If there is a banging noise, the steering knuckle probably needs replacing.

Brakes in VW campers are usually hardwearing and easy to repair if not. Look for scored discs on late models and vans that pull to one side.
Finally, check the van’s transmission.

No matter where you are buying from, or how many vans you have bought previously, work through this list methodically every time you make a purchase.

You can get further advice from any experienced VW repair shop which has been in business over five years. Ask for customer references, and perhaps view a model they’ve previously restored.