How to: Choose a VW Campervan

VW Campervans through the ages VW T5 VW Type 25 VW Type 2 Bay VW Splitscreen VW T4

How to: Choose a VW Campervan

If you are new to VW Campervans you will soon discover they are far from all being the same. Which one or type is right for you? Let us help you choose a VW Campervan which meets with your requirements and hopefully budget.

Old or new?

The VW Type 2 first arrived on the scene in 1950 and ever since it has been an icon of the freedom and fun that camping offers. Our first question to you is are you are searching for nostalgia and charm in your camping experience, or are speed and practicality bigger priorities for you? The wildcard in this equation is the Brazilian Kombi, which utilises the classic Bay Window body style and partners it with a modern VW engine. Read our Kombi buyers guide here for all the info.

Choosing a classic VW Campervan

If you're ready to embrace your inner hippy then one of the rear-engined VW Campers, such as a Split Screen, Bay Window or Type 25 (also called T3) would probably be best for you.

Choosing a modern VW Campervan

Should you feel comfort and reliability are most important to you then consider a VW T4, T5 or T6 with their front engine and more 'car-like' driving characteristics. We'll come back to both options later on when we discuss costs, for now, both old and new are typically available in the following four configurations.

The 'Tin Top' VW Campervan

So-called, as the roof is fixed, this is the closest the Volkswagen Camper comes to its roots as a commercial vehicle. You might choose this option if you only plan to use the vehicle for day trips, if there is only one of you (and you aren't particularly tall) or if you have to deal with height restrictions such as a garage or a multi-level car park to store it or take it to work.

The 'Pop Top' VW Campervan

The evolution of the Tin Top was brought about by Westfalia who first fitted an elevating fibreglass hatch in the middle of a Split Screen bus roof. Whilst it was too small to sleep in, it offered much-needed headroom for cooking inside and getting dressed. The Bay Window (68-79) took this to the next level and a host of other conversion companies joined the party with their take on the pop-top camper roof. Westfalia continued to be the 'official' VW option but conversions such as Devon, Dormobile, Danbury, and later Reimo and Autosleeper (for the Type 25 market)  to name a few, gave options of single and double beds in the newly created roofspace. The good thing about the Pop Top is that the vehicle remained 'normal height' most of the time, so travelling through tight lanes or parking in town isn't a major concern. The downside: they can get tatty with age and you'll struggle to fit a roof rack with most.

The 'High Top' VW Campervan

Starting life as a Tin Top version, High Top campervans have had their roof skin removed and typically a large fibreglass hat put on top. The 'hat' is designed to create a permanent headspace and/or sleeping area for at least one, if not two people. What's good? Well, finally standing up inside is something that can be done at any time and the additional roofspace creates a much comfier mezzanine level for extra beds.

The downsides of a High Top VW Campervan?

Practicality starts to become an issue when an extra metre is permanently added to the top of your vehicle. Not only will car parks (even flat ones with barriers) become trickier but the extra mass at the top of the vehicle won't do your handling, fuel economy or experience with crosswinds any favours. We should also mention that the older vans with fibreglass high tops, namely the Bay Windows and Type 25s will likely have, or have had water ingress issues over the years. If you are lucky this is just some water damage on the interior, if not the fibreglass roof could be sat on rotten roof gutters, and you'll be in for a shocking repair bill.

The Coachbuilt VW Campervan

The last option is the most unusual and strays furthest away from the original shape of the VW Campervan. Retaining only the front cab section of the Volkswagen (and the chassis and engine in most cases) the Coachbuilt option is a caravan style body bolted onto the back. This gives the most practicality when it comes to using it as a camper, with the potential for a toilet/shower cubicle, multiple sleeping and social spaces and acres of headroom, all the time. One of the first examples was built by Jurgens Autovilla in South Africa and used Bay Window vans as the backbone. Type 25s were a more popular base vehicle with coachbuilders and Karmann created several 'Gipsy' examples and German company Tischer also produced 2 versions with a standard and longer wheelbase, such as our XL-65.

The downsides of a Coachbuilt VW Campervan

As with the High Top, a bigger vehicle takes up more room driving on the road and will be much trickier to manoeuvre in tight lanes and parking spaces. With extra wind resistance all around, you won't be setting any lap records! Coachbuilt Campervans had a much higher purchase price and as such are a less common sight and more expensive than the other 3 options. With the least amount of the original vehicle left, spare parts for the camping conversion will need to be sourced from the company who originally did the work. The 'caravan' part of the body is often made with a wooden frame and this can suffer from rot over time, which could mean a costly strip down for a workshop to repair it.

The Big Rig VW Campervan: LT and Crafter

Generally only sold as a high-end conversion or with a Coachbuilt body, the VW LT and more recently the VW Crafter offers a huge jump up in living space if you can handle their size - both on the road and parking them somewhere safe. The LT models first appeared in 1975 and remained largely the same aesthetically (big and square) until 1996 when the 2D body style took over, which was basically a re-badged Mercedes Sprinter (with a VW engine). This ran until 2005, after which the VW LT was replaced by the Crafter, which also shares its shape with the Mercedes delivery van. Due to their increased living space and relatively cheap entry price, these are also popular as DIY 'panel van' conversions, often favoured by 'van-lifers' - people who have chosen to live off-grid in their vehicles to avoid ever-rising house prices. VW LT campervan parts can be tricky to come by, especially for the first generation models. We can help with some parts, but others you'll be limited to finding good used items online or through owners clubs.

Should you buy a RHD or LHD VW Campervan?

If you live in the UK and only plan to travel here then RHD is the obvious choice for the newer of the Campervan options. If you are leaning towards a classic, then the option of LHD will be a much more serious one. With rust a major issue on all older vehicles, many Volkswagen Campers have been imported from overseas meaning the steering wheel is on the other side. Don't completely write it off without trying a LHD campervan - you soon get used to it, and should you decide to tour Europe or further afield in the future you'll be ready!

Which VW Campervan can I afford?

So, you've seen the styles and the base vehicles that each VW Campervan is built around. Maybe you are closer to making a choice, or perhaps the purchase prices will influence the final decision for you? With money in mind, let me guide you through a few price points to help narrow things down further.

Can I get a VW Campervan for less than £5,000

Yes... You could buy a VW Type 25 or VW T4 for less than £5,000. What will you get? Probably a DIY conversion 'day van' either a Tin Top or a High Top. A Bay Window project or even a T5 panel van 'blank canvas' could be possible on a £5,000 budget too.

Should I buy an unfinished VW Campervan project?

You could save some money, or buy a vehicle beyond your initial price point by purchasing an unfinished project, but what should you be aware of? Just like the owner who is selling it, you may not have the time, or skill set to finish it. It may have lots of parts missing, so it could become more costly in the long run. Ask yourself, are you looking for a Camper to use straight away? A quick project in reality, is never a quick project! There are benefits to be had beyond saving your bank balance though. A project offers you the chance to personalise the vehicle to your tastes, as you build it. Whether that is deciding on paint for the outside, the colour of the campervan trim inside, or even choosing new campervan wheels it will truly be yours when you are done.

What VW Campervan can I buy for £10,000?

Your options are much wider with £10k in your pocket. You'll still be choosing between a Type 25, a T4 and a T5, but you can now afford to buy 'an official conversion' in the older vans at least. The occasional roadworthy Bay Window will fall into your budget too if you are set on owning something much older.

Buying a VW Campervan for £15,000

Along with all those previously mentioned you've now entered 'Coachbuilt' territory, namely T4 and Type 25.  Bay Window buses are definitely on the cards with £15k to hand and you could even grab a Split Screen project or a Brazilian 'Fleetline' import with your hard-earned. (The Fleetline was produced in Brazil until the mid-seventies, using a Split Screen body but a mixture of 'leftover' running gear components from Beetle and Bus.)

How much could I spend on a VW Campervan?

You could spend over £100k if you really wanted to, but you don't have to. The older the bus the more expensive it is, likewise the newer the bus the more expensive it is. If you have your heart set on an original German-built Split Screen you'll be needing £20k plus and if you want a brand new T6 you could be spending £40k pretty easily. If you are shopping online, stay safe. Sadly there are scammers out there to catch out the less cautious Campervan shopper. If it looks too cheap, or the account has no feedback, or the description isn't really compelling (genuine adverts tend to have a story attached, or a list of works carried out) it is probably a scam.

Hopefully, this guide has given you some idea of what model best suits your requirements and budget. Next step is to do some more in-depth research with our various VW Campervan buying guides, or even hire a campervan for a weekend to get a better feel for what works for you.

Here's to the start of your VW Campervan journey.

Good luck Andy

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Pamela Tyrone
Thank you , very helpful
This article was somewhat helpful but I'm looking for a relatively new (within 5yrs) VW campervan with the pop up roof and looking at businesses supplying both conversions and new, used campervans. This is a minefield too as reviews vary from appalling to fantastic. Also prices, models are all yet another mind ending minefield varying enormously between £25,000 - £57,000 for what appears the same type of campervan of similar age, mileage and model... How can I possibly know if I'm getting a good deal or being ripped off just because its a VW!?