We were recently contacted by Carl from CampTrend about purchasing a VW Westfalia. We thought his questions were so insightful that we wanted to share the Q&A with all of you!
-What are the main factors I should be looking for? (rebuilt engines, air-cooled vs. watercooled, age of van, etc)
This is something that has been covered by the VW community online since the internet went live. What the internet DOESN'T tell you is to trust your instincts. I read all the "Do NOT buy an aircooled Vanagon" horror stories on a popular VW-only site, but ended up with a treasure of a van. I wouldn't swap my air cooled engine for a Subaru or a Wasserboxer if you offered to install it for free. It's so simple to work on and maintain, it's easy to find parts, and has fewer moving bits and pieces than a more complex engine. Rebuilt is always good, considering the mechanic was knowledgable and did a reasonable job. As far as age, it's a little bit of a see what's available versus what you can afford versus the style you see yourself in.
-Any red flags you can think of when looking at postings? (a lot of vans Ive seen mention rust, minor repairs needed, unknown # of miles, etc)
I would definitely avoid intense rust. Thirty year old (plus) vans are bound to have some rusty spots here and there, but any van that comes from an area where snow (and especially salt) are common, will show it's under-belly rust. Minor repairs are a great way to get to know your van! Get the Bently Manual (touted as the Vanagon bible) and get online in the forums to learn everything you need to know! The unknown mileage is a bit scary, but generally the overall condition of the van, paired with your gut instinct should give you a yay or nay. I've been a victim of "handful of cash and desperate for a van-itis" and ended up with a less-than-sweet '73 Baywindow bus in college. Would I do it all over again? Oh hell yeah!
-Now that youve been through the entire purchasing process, what are the main tips/advice you would give? Is it best to find a van thats in decent shape and fix it up yourself or gamble on a higher priced van thats been updated/repaired more recently?
This is a great "how much ya got?" question. If your budget was say, $10,000 - you would definitely find air-cooled VW campers. At around $10,000, you may be able to afford a water-cooled van ('83 and up) as well, although the condition may be a little less than expected. With good scouting, and a little good karma, you should be able to score a van for around $8000 in decent running and ready to camp shape. That would leave you a nice budget cushion for any immediate repairs/upgrades/necessities. You WILL spend more money than you ever planed or imagined owning a VW van. Worth it? You bet your ass! This one could go either way based on luck..
-Do you know much about what States might be better to register the vehicle in? For example I know California can be pretty expensive compared to South Dakota.
California is one of THE hardest states to pass the rigorous smog-test. Our van just barely passed this year, which scares me for two years down the road.. We shall see! If you have residency in another state, or have family that does - it would be worth finding out how strict that states emission standards are. Any vehicle from 1974 or earlier is smog-exempt in California, which makes old Kombi buses more attractive. Personally, I love the quirky look of the Vanagon over the old buses. South Dakota probably has way more relaxed registration standards - I would recommend that route. I know Nevada has way easier registration requirements, and being next door in California has me looking to family in that state for possible future registration.
Right now Im based in California but would be willing to travel anywhere for a good deal on the right van. Ive set my budget limit at $10k as I know that purchasing a 30-40 year old van will eventually come with problems down the road so Ill need to keep a decent amount of savings available for those unexpected problems.
It sounds like you have a pretty clear picture of the VW van world as it is now in 2015. As recently as last year you could find a full Westy for around $5-6000, but they've shot right up as soon as one article goes around FBook showing how "cool" it is to live in a van. It can be downright shitty at times, but I wouldn't trade it for walls and a stuffy job..
Also, if you happen to know anyone in the market selling a good van then Id be very interested in hearing more about it!
Damn we just sold out other 1980 Riviera Camper for $2300 - although it's more of a running project, and was advertised as such. BUT we still had a list of interested buyers and could have gotten maybe $3-4000! Crazy universe!
Thank YOU Carl for reaching out to us! It's incredible the power you can create by reaching out and asking for help. Glad ya did, we love co-creating with good folk. Especially future van-ownin' folk! Best of luck in your ventures - and you may, at some point, just have to make a crazy decision and pull the trigger on your new ride!
Peace and Luck!
Hawk & Kenz