VWH_T4 BUYING GUIDE

VW T4 Buying Guide

Worktool, camper, surfbus, ultra cool weekend plaything – there’s plenty of reasons why people love the T4, and as T3 prices continue to soar, more and more people are beginning to recognise the benefits of buying a van that’s more affordable and more practical for every day use. So how do you go about sorting the diamonds from the duffers? Read our VW T4 Buying Guide to find out more.

VW T1 Front

Background

The first mutterings about a T3 replacement began back in 1982, at about the same time as the water-cooled T3 replaced the air-cooled version with the first prototype rolling out a year later. Already, shock horror, VW had decided on a totally new front engine, front wheel drive configuration.

Early drawings looked more like a Renault Espace, with huge amounts of rounded glass area – although in-house stylists eventually settled for something which took its cues from the Mk2 Golf.

The final styling solution gained approval by VW’s board and was put before a customer clinic where it achieved an 80% approval rating. The biggest improvement over the T3, it was confirmed, was in terms of practicality. Bizarrely though, considering its British designed cockpit won a Design Council award, those involved in the customer survey saw only a marginal improvement in driver comfort over the older vehicle. Just shows how attached people must have been to the old T3!

T4 frontT4 wheel

T4 backsliding door T4sliding door close up

Production

The first production T4 finally broke cover in January 1990. Sure it was a big departure from the T3, but it soon established itself a reputation for being tough, reliable and user friendly workhorse the world over.

Built at VW’s factory in Hannover, it was available in SWB or LWB and in different roof heights, with the range including a panel van, Eurovan, Kombi, Caravelle, single and double cab pickup and Syncro 4×4. You can obviously buy one that’s been converted into a camper, Westfalia being the name which gains the most kudos in Dub circles.

A facelift in 1996 introduced a longer, re-shaped nose to accommodate the optional VR6 lump; the short nose were known as T4a, the long nose T4b. The bumpers evolved also, going from three-piece affairs to single items part way through the T4’s production lifespan.

The T4 was replaced in 2003 by the T5.

Engine

Petrol engine offerings included a 1.8, 2.0, 2.5 five cylinder and the 2.8 VR6 which was also available in 170bhp 24-valve guise from 2000. The latter are lovely but thirsty, unless you get one that’s had a well executed LPG conversion.

As for the diesels, there was a 1.9D, 1.9TD and the 2.4D along with range toping 2.5 five-cylinder units which initially produced 88bhp (with with blue ‘i’ badge), rising to 102 from 1995 (here with the ‘i’ in silver) and a stonking 151bhp from 1998, but only on German vans with the ‘i’ appearing in red.

TDI engine front

Obviously, it’s the diesels that are more abundant – and of these, the 2.5TDi is the most desirable, providing plenty of performance and up to 42mpg. It’s also relatively easy to convert the 88bhp unit to 102 by fitting a top mounted intercooler and even 150bhp is within reach with tuning. On the downside, it’s more complex and the engine’s controlled by an ECU so it’s more pricey to fix if it has a problem.

The 68bhp 1.9TD is also a good bet – granted, it’s not that quick but tunable and doesn’t command as high prices as the 2.5. The non-turbo diesels feel sluggish and although you would the think the 2.4 five-cylinder would be pretty swift, it’s not.

All units are reliable as long as they have been looked after although the 2.4D is a bit of a reputation for head gasket issues, so watch for oil/water contamination and signs of overheating.

Because the TDi’s timing belt drives the water pump as well, if the pump fails it will take out the belt at the same time. The key then when buying is to make replacing the cambelt and water pump the first job you do to avoid the prospect of bent valves and snapped camshafts if it breaks.

Gearboxes are robust but check for any that jump out of gear or have dodgy synchro which could be a problem on high-milers. Because the T4 has a hydraulic clutch, check for fluid leaks around the pedal box. While you’re down there with the torch, check there’s no cracks in the pedal box itself where the clutch master cylinder mounts as this is another T4 foible.

Bodywork

Thankfully, T4 rust-proofing was a lot more effective than on the T3 so serious corrosion shouldn’t be a major issue and things improved further still after the 1996 facelift. However, it’s worth inspecting the common rust areas which include the area at the base of the screen, the wheel arches, lower sills, the bottom of the sliding door inside and out and the area around the fuel filler. Though not too difficult to repair, taking work such as this to a professional body repairer and having the necessary panels repaired and repainted can quickly add up.

While serious structural rot is unlikely there’s no harm inspecting the inner wings, chassis and floorpan. Rust can also take hold around the rear cross member, just above where the rear springs are.

Check all the door seals are watertight, especially around the bottom of the tailgate.

The sliding mechanism for the side door should be smooth and even; if the top rail is worn, the door can drop out so lift the door up and down to check for any play. It should also sit flush when closed, but there is some adjustment to get it fitting properly.

T4 Body Panels Shop

Electrics

When viewing a van for sale, spend some time making sure everything works as it should because trying to diagnose electrical niggles can be time consuming and really pretty annoying. Westy tank level sensors are prone to failure and expensive to replace while T4 instrument clusters have a voltage regulator that can play up and cause erratic temp/fuel readings, though later models seem to suffer less. Also check the wiring into driver’s door which can chafe and fail, and that the central locking window regulators (if fitted) are all behaving themselves. Watch too for faulty brake light switches and duff ignition switches.

T4 Electics Shop

Suspension/steering

Uneven tyre wear indicates tired suspension bushes or a van that’s had its geometry put out by a smash. Knocks or clunks on rough road surfaces will usually indicate worn bottom balljoints, drop links or anti-roll bar bushes. Meanwhile, noises from the rear is most likely the trailing arm bushes.

Power steering was an option initially, although later vans should have it. In which case, listen for groans or other nasty noises as you turn from lock to lock and check the fluid to ensure there’s been no leaks.

Brakes

There’s no real brake problems to beware of on the T4, so just do all the normal brake checks such as eyeballing the hydraulic pipes/hoses and making sure there’s no judder from warped discs. If a van pulls up to one side on a test drive, it could be that one of the rear calipers has seized. Replacements aren’t expensive. Neither, thankfully, are service items like brake discs and pads.

Make sure the handbrake is effective; the cable can stick in its outer sleeve if a van’s been left standing for a while.

What to pay?

At the bottom end, around £3,000 will get you behind the wheel of an early 2.4D or 1.9TD panel van, while £5,000 will be the starting price for a half decent 2.5TDi. Camper conversions from the likes of Autosleeper will begin at £10,000, while really nice conversions from Reimo or Westfalia with a 2.5TDi under the bonnet could make as much as £12-£15k.

Verdict

In a nutshell, the best T4s are ones that haven’t been fiddled with. So you’re looking for a self-employed plumber or electrician’s vehicle that’s been washed on their drive at weekends and dropped in at a local VW specialist or main dealer for regular servicing, bang on when the service booklet has demanded. Avoid the ratty, rotten ones that have already been lowered and generally tinkered with.

Of course everyone will want the eager 2.5TDi, but there will be a premium to pay and because of its extra complexity, if things go wrong it will be more expensive to fix. With that in mind the 1.9TD is perhaps a better bet, and it can also be run on veg/bio fuel which could be a consideration.

Interior T4Interior Close Up

 

Buy wisely and enjoy the T4 experience to the full. You’ll be joining a huge clan of others that have done just that and haven’t looked back since. Best of all, because VW Heritage now offer a wide range of T4 parts, keeping one in fine fettle won’t be expensive either.

Happy T4 hunting,

Ian

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German) Español (Spanish)

29 responses to: VW T4 Buying Guide


  1. Ive been looking for info on the T4 synchro van with a 2.5 petrol engine…………….can you help?

    1. Hi Rhett

      I think you need to be careful to check the viscous coupling (VC) as it can be horribly expensive to replace on these if it’s locked or failed. A quick check is to get the vehicle on gravel and try to wheelspin. Stick your head out of the window and check to see that the rear wheels spin as well as the fronts – in other words that the VC is engaging. It’s not foolproof, but it might help. Also check the condition of the driveshaft gaiters. Try one before you buy is the answer…
      and good luck.

  2. Ive been looking for info on the T4 synchro van with a 2.5 petrol engine…………….can you help?

    1. Hi Rhett

      I think you need to be careful to check the viscous coupling (VC) as it can be horribly expensive to replace on these if it’s locked or failed. A quick check is to get the vehicle on gravel and try to wheelspin. Stick your head out of the window and check to see that the rear wheels spin as well as the fronts – in other words that the VC is engaging. It’s not foolproof, but it might help. Also check the condition of the driveshaft gaiters. Try one before you buy is the answer…
      and good luck.

  3. Just read this article and its very interesting , i myself has recently possesed a T4 1.9 TD with 205,000 miles on clock and it drives like a dream . I only paid 1 k for it , body is pretty mint chassis etc , has a small oil leek when engine is turned off but otherwise its sound and the boost has been turned up a notch !
    But like everyone else out there i were thinking of going for a 2.5 TDI but after reading this article i’m not sure what to do ????

  4. Just read this article and its very interesting , i myself has recently possesed a T4 1.9 TD with 205,000 miles on clock and it drives like a dream . I only paid 1 k for it , body is pretty mint chassis etc , has a small oil leek when engine is turned off but otherwise its sound and the boost has been turned up a notch !
    But like everyone else out there i were thinking of going for a 2.5 TDI but after reading this article i’m not sure what to do ????

  5. Hi I’ve got a really good condition T4 2001 van in red. Genuine 36k full service history and was wondering what it’s worth?
    Thanks

  6. I have a LHD 1999 T4 multivan which I’ve driven to the south of Spain from the UK. Now that I’m here I want to register it but the Spanish authorities are very particular. I have a certificate of conformity (COC) from Germany but the Spanish insist on checking that the homologation number printed on the COC matches that on the plate in the van. However, I have searched high and low and cannot find the plate. Are you able to help please?

  7. Hi David

    I take it is the VIN/Chassis number you are looking for? If so, it is located in two places on the vehicle.

    The first place is the chassis tag that should be on the lower part of the B-Post as you enter the cab area of the vehicle. On a RHD it is on the right side of the vehicle not sure if this is the same for a LHD? Check left hand side B-Post as well.

    For the second location, the chassis number is stamped into the windscreen scuttle panel just by the wiper arm pivot. Again, this is on the right hand side of the vehicle for a RHD so check left side if not found at this location.

    Hope that helps

    Regards
    Neil

  8. Hi someone local to me is selling a t4 2.5 diesel automatic what’s your opinion on these before I buy it thanks Michael.

  9. Hi

    Bearing in mind the general crackdown on diesels, and impending LEZs, is there a possibility of ‘upgrading’ the 2.5 tdi (ACV?) engine to something less polluting?

    Mine’s still OK at 280k kilometres, but is there something available other than a remanufactured straight replacement?

    Cheers for any advice/wisdom.

    John

    1. Hi Fergil. Yes in principle; switching from petrol to diesel or vice versa will create more work, and going from an early engine to late spec could incur some wiring updates too.
      If you fancy fitting a VR6 engine you’ll need to make sure you have the ‘long nose’ front end to accomodate it.

  10. I have a 2.4 vw camper it just broke down the rngine wont start at all the time belt won’t turn by hand I took alternater belt off and sill won’t turn by hand no sluge in oil or water so don’t think it’s head gasket
    Has anone idea what’s wroung

  11. I have a 2.4 vw camper it just broke down the engine wont start at all the time belt won’t turn by hand I took alternater belt off and sill won’t turn by hand no sluge in oil or water so don’t think it’s head gasket
    Has any one idea what’s wroung

  12. I have a 2.4 camper it just broke down on the road and won’t start I took of altenater belt and timing belt still won’t move by hand there no sluge in oil or water don’t think head gasket gone cam anyone help me

  13. I have T4 2.5 petrol auto which I purchased 3 years ago,
    Given the backlash on diesel engines I think it was a wise decision.
    the 2.5 petrol block seems less complicated than the tdi s and sounds great and will easily zip away from any traffic issues.
    Yes its a bit thirsty but this balances out on cheaper repairs overall.
    I think the T4 is a very relevant everyday classic which embodies the Transporter heritage.
    Much as I would love a T2 ,you have to accept that it will struggle in modern traffic,be cold in the winter and always have inherent reliability issues.
    So look out for a 2.5 petrol manual or auto..its worth considering..

  14. Looking at a 2001 VW T4 Caravelle/Transporter Camper Van Pop Top Mini Bus 2.5TDi tomorrow. Anybody got any experience of these, good points/bad points and things to look out for?

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