14th Jun 2006, 13:07

I agree with the original poster. My van was terrible, in my case a previous owner had installed a relay directly to the battery (under the seat) which shorted out and caught fire. It was hilarious as I was on a first date - fond memories.

The van was very well set up and great use of space for camping, dates etc.

The problem is if you are not a mechanic this vehicle is not for you. Mine was $500 each time I looked at it. And it needed an engine, transmission, electrical work and more.

Your advice is sound - buy a Toyota much better.

Though if you are mechanically inclined these are great for camping etc. You have to be the patient sort though, as they are slow.

15th Jun 2006, 11:15

You have to remember when these Vans were originally designed.

The battery under the seat wasn't a problem unless wires frayed, seat springs sagged etc. Yes, they were slow, quirky and different! Much like the other VW's of their time.

I still like & drive VW's No they're not all as reliable as a Lexus, but then Toyota probably builds the most reliable vehicles on the planet.


11th Aug 2006, 17:48

I'm considering buying a 1987 VW Westphalia Weekender with 210,000 miles on the original engine and transmission. I plan to do a TDI/5 speed conversion once the engine goes.

My question is, how much longer should I reasonably expect the original engine and drivetrain to remain viable considering its rather dubious reputation in this thread?

All the seals and rings appear sound as evident by its good compression and sparse use of oil through leakage or blow by.

I'm further concerned by the electronics problems noted in the post. These older Westy weekenders doesn't appear to have a very complicated wiring scheme (not compared to a newer SAAB or Jetta). Is this a legitimate issue?

17th Apr 2007, 21:23

I've owned two and I don't know why I bought the second. Having owned a few Beetles over the years, I figured VW had it right. Wrong.

There's a lot to be said about VW's "space designers" and how they got it right with the interior of the Westy. Everything's so well done. Problem is -- the mechanics of the Vanagon are a weak spot. It's a lot of rig to be pushed around by a teeny little motor that was not designed to push anything heavy around. This vehicle was meant to be and is sold in Europe as a short-haul delivery vehicle. Yes, there are some Europeans who use them as campers, but I believe the camper designation and design is an answer to an American market.

Look for the following disasters: Warped heads, electrical failures from turn signals to tailights, fuel delivery system problems, clutch failures (don't even think about the automatic), and most of this before 100,000 miles. A hundred thousand miles is not a lot of miles these days.

VW designed a beautiful, space-efficient vehicle in the Vanagon/Westy, but with mechanicals that are not efficient and reliable, it adds up to a failure. Think British Jaguars. Beautiful to look at, fun to drive, a horror to maintain.

I do love Volkswagens, but my experience with the Vanagon has jaded me. Sorry, VW. Sorry, Westy lovers.

7th Jul 2008, 15:28

Owned a 1987 Vanagon, non-Westy, non-Synchro, with 87,000 miles on it.

Pro's: Unbelievably comfortable, great 360-degree visibility, drove like a dream. I loved this car.

Con's: Coolant system failures, gas line failures (yikes!), weird electrical issues (non-starting, hyperactive blinkers, dash lights workie/no workie, battery failures). My wife hated this car.

Summary: I'm mechanically inclined, but my wife is not. Guess who was always out of town when the Vanagon broke down? You want everyday, worry-free dependability, buy a Toyota. You want cool points and the chance to use your metric sockets on the weekends, buy a Vanagon.

29th Mar 2009, 00:55

If you don't know at least something about car repair and maintenance -- and like doing it -- don't get a Vanagon. Or, probably, any other 20-something year-old car. Presume that you are going to have to work on these. The comments left by others indicate neglected maintenance issues; don't let this happen to you, especially if you're going to take your Westy out in the boonies someplace...

12th May 2009, 00:04

After much thought about engine replacement, I've started rebuilding another 2.1 waterboxer for my replacement engine.

Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance before you get a VW van. Yes you read all kinds of things about Subaru engines and things, but a carefully rebuilt waterboxer has been good to me. Ground the heads to the case and use the right anti freeze. My present van has 360,000 miles on the odometer and what a ride its given us, Zion, Grand Canyon twice, Yellowstone, Leslie Glutch, just on and on. I guess I've been lucky. I'm looking at the case of the one I'm rebuilding right now in the living room.

13th Feb 2012, 23:16

"Yes some people use them as campers in Europe"

There still are - 25 years after 1987 - an enormous amount of Westys in Europe and Dormobiles in England. Plus those that were built up from aftermarket kits.