1990 Volkswagen Vanagon GL 2.1 litre water-cooled flat four from North America


Although low-powered, it is the ultimate family people/cargo-mover


A lot of things go wrong with a car/van over the course of 350,000 miles, but much of it could be expected. Among the surprises were six water pumps over the first 150,000 miles, four A/C overhauls (two major and two minor) and several trips to the body shop (the fiberglass bumpers shatter easily and cost a bundle to replace). The engine was replaced at 204,000 miles, but the mechanic who disassembled the old one said it could have been fixed with just a head job. It has been carefully maintained and between repairs, oil changes, filters, fluids, tires, brakes and everything else, we have spent over $28,000 over the 17 years and 350,000 miles. Despite toting six kids for all those years, the upholstery is still in remarkably good shape.

General Comments:

This is our third Vanagon (and fourth Type II), a perfect combination of space utilization and compact overall dimensions. The seats are all comfortable and large and the knee and head room accommodates even the most long-legged.

The cargo area in the rear over the engine holds an enormous amount and folding down the rear and middle seats enables an entire truck-load to be carried and then convert back to a passenger van in less than 30 seconds. It will carry a load of 12-foot-long lumber or 4'x8' sheets of plywood and weight has never been a problem. Yet it will turn around in any average intersection, is as nimble as a VW Bug and measures only 15-feet long.

Even with a three-speed automatic (our previous Vanagons had manual four-speed transmissions) the low-end torque is incredible: it will beat almost anything except a muscle-car off the line.

This car runs smooth and quiet on the interstate and is a great family vacation car. It is a reliable, hard-working everyday family car as well. Considering how tall it is, it is remarkably stable and good-handling. It gets 18-20MPG regularly and uses basic regular gasoline. It has never used oil and has been a great all-around transporter.

Its one Achille's heel is that being an unusual vehicle, not many know how to work on it or want to learn. The engine sits so low, it is amusing to see the instant oil change guys looking for the engine. A quick check of the rear shows that the cargo floor is too low for the engine to be in back ("it's not back here, it must be in front; no it's not here either- where is it?").

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 9th June, 2007

22nd Dec 2013, 09:22

I know this is an old review, but... there are some inconsistencies, such as "low power" and performance "3 out of 10", but "will beat anything but a muscle car off the line"? That makes no sense whatever. Also, the gas mileage seems a bit higher than reality, and these vehicles are hardly known for their "stability" either. I'm not sure I would trust this review.

1990 Volkswagen Vanagon C 1.6 turbo diesel from Finland


Old faithful


When I bought the bus it consumed a lot of oil. After one year it did not pass the technical inspection -too much unburnt oil in the exhaust gases. Once the engine was opened it was found out that the engine had been overheated.

Piston rings were soft. Re-boring, head job and new pistons needed.

I change the timing belt with the tensioner quite frequently.

The rear heater core leaks easily. I have replaced the core twice -with OEM quality.

Water pump started to leak next year after the engine rebuild. Changed to original VW with cast impeller.

The starter I have rebuilt once and the brushes have been changed one more time.

The alternator slide rings came to end so I changed the bearings and voltage regulator as well.

Three years ago it seemed the cylinder head was cracked. The head was changed to an OEM head with new exhaust valves, the inlet valves still had some life so they were used one more time.

The steering rack I changed to a newer from dismantler. After a year it was worn out again. This time I dismantled the rack and put in new lubricant and adjusted the unadjustable play. Has worked fine ever since.

The light switch started to smoke one day. At first I got a wrong replacement. There are small changes from year to year so be careful at spare parts counter.

The glow plug relay has been changed once.

The glow plugs installed at the rebuild did not last too long. First I repalced only one, but the same winter I changed them all.

Now the biggest problem is the corrosion on the body seams. Sanding and paint does not seem to be enough. Next year I have to get the seams sandblasted and welded.

The injection pump has now started to hunt at idle. Most probably the governor linkage is also worn out.

The ventilation fan has given up recently. It is quite difficult to change.

The outside mirrors were stuck. When I tried to adjust them by force the center bolt broke down. I repaired them by drilling new bolt holes through the whole joint.

General Comments:

The visibility is good. I like the view over the cars.

The lights could be better. I've planned to install relays to help the voltage drop.

The bus is roomy and handles well.

It counts to ask spares prices at the VW dealers. Sometimes they are reasonable.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 22nd November, 2005

13th Apr 2006, 11:07

I did not see how many miles were on the vehicle when replacements were made.