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VW T5 Buying Guide

red t5

VW T5 Buying Guide

Whether you are shopping for a modern people mover, need something cool for carrying tools at work or you have plans to take the family away camping, the VW T5 could well be your answer.  As an added benefit, their values seem to be holding so you could be making a shrewd investment too. Read our VW T5 Buying guide to find out more.

Cool, versatile & in demand

'New vans' don't come much cooler than the VW T5 and T6. They are one of the most versatile vehicles available and good ones are very much in demand. Replacing the T4 in 2003, the T5 was bigger and more refined in all ways and there are models to suit pretty much every requirement. Original owners had the choice of Panel Vans, Campers, Caravelles and nine-seater Minibuses, not to mention a host of Pick-up and coach-built camper versions. The red van below is a 2011 LWB 2.0 Diesel, which sports the facelifted front end. It has been lowered slightly on aftermarket alloy wheels.

Four weights, three heights, two lengths...

Potential purchasers today have the pick of two wheelbases (LWB and SWB - they are the same up to the C pillar), three roof heights and four weights, with the maximum payload being an impressive 3.2 tonnes (this is indicated by the T32, T30, T28 and T26 badging). Hopefully, we'll be able to walk you through this minefield to find the VW T5 to best suit you. Along the flanks, you have the choice of a single or double sliding door configuration. Generally, the RHD models will have a sliding door on the left, and vice versa. To the rear either a single piece tailgate or double 'barn doors' will grant you access to the rear luggage /load space.

Which T5 Engine do I want?

There was a choice of two different diesel engines in the T5, producing a total of four different power outputs; the 1.9 PD offered either 85 or 105bhp, while the more torquey five-cylinder 2.5-litre was available in 130bhp or 174bhp guise, the latter getting the option of VW’s 4Motion four-wheel-drive technology. There was also a 114bhp 2.0-litre petrol offering, but it’s relatively rare.

Possible problems with 2.5 VW T5 engine

While the 2.5 offers a lot more poke than the 1.9, making it better for long, fast motorway jaunts, it also suffers more problems, not least the fact that the incredibly complex timing mechanism means that many specialists wince at the prospect of working on them. The 2.5-litre is also prone to premature camshaft wear, the first symptom of which will be a misfire from cylinder number 2.  Plus, it’s also more susceptible to the injectors moving around in the head because they are bolted down on just one side, which means that when under load they try to lift themselves out of their seats. When this happens, fuel moves into the head and subsequently into the sump, and if the level gets too high, it can find its way into the turbo and cause the engine to over-fuel and run on with dire consequences, bending rods and basically rendering it unmendable. The water pump on 2.5 T5 can also fail – the seal will either leak coolant into the engine oil or the bearings fail and it pumps water out of the overflow on the rear of the engine. If you find a vehicle with low coolant, this could be why.

The VW T5 1.9 Diesel engine

The 1.9 is arguably a more bulletproof engine and because it was used in a variety of VAG cars, they are far easier to get hold of should problems arise post-purchase. The 1.9 employs a cambelt which should be replaced every 80,000 miles or five years, while the 2.5 is gear driven and is thus virtually maintenance-free – although it’s necessary to change the freewheel and elastic drive coupling at around 100,000 miles which can be expensive (£500+).

VW T5.1 engine options

Post-2010 facelift T5.1s feature a totally different 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit – it was available in 83bhp, 101bhp, 138bhp, 177bhp guise and this is altogether smoother, more efficient and more reliable. There was also a 114bhp petrol unit, but again you’ll struggle to find one. Assuming you bother looking.

Watch out for dual mass flywheel wear

Something that always causes concern among potential T5 owners is the dual mass flywheel (DMF) and the fear of having to replace it. It has to be said that driving style has a lot to do with DMFs wearing prematurely – dumping the clutch or erratic acceleration or gearchanges being the reason for their early demise. Engines with wildly mapped ECUs can also push the DMF past its limits, so view with suspicion any that judder horribly while accelerating.

Beware of VW T5 electrical issues

Potential electrical woes include issues with the EGR valve, various engine sensors and coil packs. Here, again, a decent test-drive and systematically checking that everything works as it should, will highlight any problems. According to specialist workshops, the consumer unit itself is also fragile – and it’s not a cheap item to replace. What undoubtedly makes matters worse is the fact that a huge chunk of the wiring harness sits in the cylinder head where it’s exposed to oil and extremes of heat and soon becomes brittle. Needless to say, when this happens diagnosing electrical problems can prove a nightmare.

VW T5 gearboxes

The 1.9 has the tried and tested five-speed ‘box from the T4, while the 2.5 came with VW’s new six-speed unit to handle the extra power and torque. A semi-automatic Tiptronic gearbox was also available. Driveshaft issues are a familiar T5 headache. The output shaft from the gearbox is simply a push fit with no rubber seal, making it prone to water ingress and rust and when they eventually sheer, you’ll end up without drive. It’s not a particularly big job, but the parts itself are dear, so you should reckon on spending £500 for fitting a replacement.


T5 Power steering pumps are gear driven, with the end of the pump sitting in engine oil, so if the seal goes, engine oil can find its way into the power steering fluid causing it to overflow. Having replaced the worn seal, flushing the system and adding fresh power steering fluid may be all that’s needed, otherwise, it will be a case of buying a replacement pump.

T5 suspension - what to look out for

As for the suspension, top strut mounts and bearings seize and wear and when they do they will begin to knock. If it’s not that – then suspect worn anti-roll bar bushes or drop links – listen out for any other considerations. If you are buying a modified van it may have been treated to a set of T5 coilovers to lower it. This will affect the ride quality and may mean the tracking is out - so get on your knees and check the state of the tyres from edge to edge.

VW T5 alloy wheels

While we're on the topic of modified vans, if the vehicle you are looking at has a set of aftermarket alloy wheels fitted ask if they are load rated for the van application. For reference, BMW, Range Rover and Bentley wheels share the same 5 x 120 PCD stud pattern as the Volkswagen T5. We offer a range of suitable T5 alloy wheels here.

Body Beautiful

Shorter vans look better in our opinion, but if you’re planning a camper conversion you might be better off with a LWB (Long Wheel Base) to maximise your living space. Don't fret if your budget doesn't stretch to a Caravelle, T5 glass is readily available for both the side and rear and can be fitted to Panel Vans for a few hundred quid by a specialist, should you not fancy the job yourself.

Inside the VW T5

The cabin is much more car-like than the previous Transporters. If creature comforts are high on your priority list search for a T5 with Air-Con, especially if you plan road tripping in the summer months. Amazingly not all models came with this as standard, likewise, manual window winders are still commonplace and early base model buses didn't come fitted with a passenger airbag either. Manual windows can be upgraded to electric retrospectively, but aircon and airbags are a tricker retrofit!

VW T5 seats

In the cab, some higher-end models received swivelling captains seats from the factory, which is an ideal starting place for a day van or Camper conversion, other configurations include 2 single seats, or a single and a bench seat for passengers. We supply a great value range of T5 seat covers for improving the look of worn trim for not a lot of cash. Some buses have anchored seats which tilt forward or can be removed entirely, while others (Multivan) have a more flexible sliding arrangement so you can move them back and forth on runners to suit. Choose the arrangement that you think will work best for you.

Camping Conversion Safety

Just a quick word on safety and something our friends at VWT mentioned when we visited them. There hasn't been any kind of regulation in place as to who can carry out a 'camper conversion' so be extra vigilant when looking over a van that's been built rather than bought. Check in the cupboards for tidy wiring, that things are physically bolted down and be very wary of any water leaks around home-cut windows or pop-tops. If there's a rear seat fitted ask what make it is and if it is 'crash tested' especially if you plan to carry children in the back.

How much for a VW T5?

As always, pick an example with decent service history and unless your budget dictates, try to avoid examples that have had a hard life as a builder’s toolbox. Beware too of buses that have been modified already – original is always best unless you were going to modify it anyway in which case, you might save yourself some money. You could take a risk at £3000 and pick up a high mileage (200k plus) panel van with MOT. You'll probably need to spend a few hours cleaning it before you give anyone you like a lift, but a weekend with a hoover and hose won't cost you much. Alternatively, If you prefer to play it safe £5000 is a much more comfortable budget to work with and eBay offers a range of options around this price point. Add another couple of thousand if you're after a version with the facelift front end and expect to pay into the teens for a campervan with a pop-top. After a few minutes searching classified ads you'll discover prices for these Transporters just keep climbing and climbing depending on what spec you want it, and even more so if you jump up to the T6 version.

There are a plethora of Specialists out there who will complete conversions for you, or cut windows or fit a roof should you require it, so buying a sound base vehicle could prove to be a more sensible choice, than a potentially suspect DIY conversion. Don't jump too soon, there are plenty of T5s to see. You'll know when you've found a good one. Happy Hunting! Andy

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