Buyers Guide: Classic Camper Vans

Get yourself into a Classic Camper just in time for summer.

Sun, sea, surf and the open road – owning classic camper vans can open up a whole new world of fun and adventure!

For many, owning a classic camper van is a dream – the idea of the open road, with your own home on wheels is an enticing one, especially with ‘staycation’ being the 2021 buzz word.

But classic camper vans and motorhomes can be very expensive and can lead you down a road of big bills and wasted holidays. Follow our advice though and you’ll soon be living your very own camper van dream.

What type of classic camper van suits you and your budget?

Classic Camper Vans

The first thing to decide is what sort of ‘van you’re after – many folks like the idea of the iconic VW bus camper, but icons come with big price tags – even a project VW bus can cost £2,000 – £3000 for a barn find, while mint examples can cost anything up to £40,000.

Think of brands other than VW though and you can save yourself a significant sum of money and own something much more unique.

As well as your initial purchase budget, it’s important to think about a budget for maintenance – a lot of people get into a classic camper for the idyllic idea of hitting the beaches of Devon and Cornwall without a thought of how to care for a 40-50 year old van, which is why so many of them can be found on the hard shoulders and laybys of the A303 and M5.

Basic camper checks

So, you’ve found your ideal van, what do you look for when you get there?

Start with all the basic checks – some of these will be vehicle-specific so familiarise yourself with the type of van you’re considering before you go. Ask the seller how many trips they’ve taken, how often they use their van – any vehicle is more reliable when used regularly.

Look for mould or moss on the rubbers and cracks or flat spots in the tyres as signs that perhaps a van hasn’t been used as regularly as it could be.

Classic Camper Vans

Once you get inside the van, have a good sniff – again if it smells damp or musty this is another sign that perhaps your potential purchase isn’t as well cared for as it could be, look for signs of leaks around window seals – especially if your van is a conversion and has had windows added.

Have a good look around – open every door, drawer and cupboard and then get ready to check everything works as it should – ask if you can check the utilities, taps, oven and electrics. If you’re not sure, ask the owner to demonstrate – they should be happy to show you. Check what system it has for water and electric and check that they work, in particular the leisure battery and associated systems. Check the condition of any accessories too – make sure things like an awning (if it has one) are in good order too, and have a look over items such as the hook-up cable to be sure they’re in good order.

Also ask if the van has undergone a habitation test – these are inexpensive and can be undertaken by any camper specialist. They’ll be able to tell you that the gas systems for items such as the cooker, hob and fridge are all safe. Speaking of safety, look to see that the van has an in-date fire extinguisher and a fire blanket. Also check for a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide alarm.

If you’re looking at a pop-top camper, ask the seller to show you how to open the roof, again don’t be afraid to ask. Check the roof for any signs of damage or water leaks – a replacement roof can be expensive and should factor into your budget.

Test driving your camper

Before you go on a test drive, get underneath and have a good look for rust – if it’s a motorhome, check for rust or corrosion on the chassis rails. One of the best-known brands is Hymer, in particular the B500, built from the mid 1980s through to the 1990s – these are highly desirable and command a decent premium. Built on either Peugeot, Fiat or Citroen chassis with accompanying engines, mechanically they’re reliable and capable of high mileage, though most don’t get that sort of usage. With these, look for signs of aluminium corrosion on the body.

For any other van, have a good look underneath for any rust – most stuff from the 60s and 70s will have a great ability to rust, especially given that many vans will be stood for longer periods over the winter, and given their size, are unlikely to be stored in a garage.

On the road test, don’t expect pace or performance – Campers like VW’s LT series may share engines with Porsches of the same era, but that doesn’t make them a sportscar! Many vans will be slow before the added weight of beds, cookers and fridges so don’t be surprised if progress is somewhat leisurely.

That said, still be sure it drives, steers and stops as it should – as well as the service history for items like the gas and electrics, also check that the van has been serviced mechanically too. While on the road check the van doesn’t overheat and check everything works as it should – lights, horn, indicators – it may seem obvious but it’s easy to forget in the heat of the moment.

Above all else, don’t let your heart rule your head – there are 1000s of different campers available and the right one is waiting for you…

What We Say
Make sure you do your research before buying – don’t let your heart rule your head! Sit down and work out exactly what you want from your camper and what type of trips you want to use it for. You won’t need a home away from home with all mod-cons if you are going to use it as a day van. There are hundreds of different classic camper vans available and the right one is waiting for you…

What Mike Brewer Says
I love a camper van, either for the long trips or just as a day van. The good news is that the market is booming for Classic Camper Vans with staycations all the rage. You never know, if you buy now and sell after your holiday then it could have cost you less that a fortnight in Spain. Owning a classic camper is also the least selfish classic car ownership you can make, as it’s a classic that the whole family can enjoy and be a part of. So be a happy camper!

Find more info:
Camping & Caravanning Club

Join the Club:
VW Type 2 Owners Club

Classic Camper Club


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