Questions About a SPECIFIC Vehicle Purchase


New member
Hi all,

This is my first post on your board, but hope to be a frequenter. I am looking at purchasing an '85 Westfalia Vanagon and was wondering if there is anything i need to be on the look out for. Everything is in wonderful shape as far as the camper ammendities go, the body has a small amount of rust around the hookups. This van is not running and has been sitting for 1 year. The previous owners, an older couple, have owned the van since '88 and used the camping stuff once in that time. Its basically been a dealer maintained daily driver up until it broke down a year ago. The owner came down with lung cancer shortly there after and never had the van fixed. The owners tell me they do not know what is wrong, major or minor, with the engine. My gut tells me its possibly an electrical problem, although i have not heard engine crank over. There did not seem to be any coolant leaks on or around the engine, and the oil looked clean.

I am a very mechanically inclined person and continually work on my '87 Volvo stationwagon with 245K miles, original engine and clutch. I have noticed VW engines seem to be a little less durable than what i am used to, is this true? If you could let me in on any quircks, design problems, etc about the engine and mechanical parts in this van, i would be appreciative.

What would be a reasonable offer to make for this van, i'm located in the midwest. Thank you guys for the information and help,


---85 Westy -"the white beast"-
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Capt. Mike

Owning a Volvo shows a severe mental imbalance so you may qualify to own a Westy!

There are numerous things posted on this site that might help YOU make a decision. Nobody can make it for you. Pricing is out of the realm of the site but there are recommendations elsewhere about good pricing guides.

Please read the Message Forum Guidelines linked at the bottom of each index page. There is considerable discussion on engines and transmissions elsewhere. Read ALL the boards and you'll get a good idea of things to look out for.

The Vanagon Coolant thread has a long discussion on the cooling problems early Vanagons had, causes & cures. This is the one area early Vanagons took a bad reliability rap. Otherwise, they seem about the same as like makes under similar circumstances & conditions.

Read the Engine forum thread on reman vs. rebuilt engines. A VW reman is a very viable option for a used vehicle with running problems.

See the forums on fridge and stove. Both could be very expensive to repair if not functioning.

There is a pre-purchase checklist thread on this forum.
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Gary B. Dixner

New member
We have an 85 and it's a great vehicle. Only thing is, VW increased the engine displacenent the following year from 1.9 to 2.1 Litres. These are heavy, underpowered vehicles that need all the help they can get, so larger engine of 86 on is a factor worth considering. Conversion to 2.1 is difficult. As one who fought a losing battle with rust on a Triumph Spitfire, even a little rust is too much. Carefully inspect the undercarriage and areas around windows to make sure rust hasn't taken hold elsewhere.

Capt. Mike

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What would you do? 82 Westy!

jackal50 Junior Member # 802 posted 05-12-2001 06:42 PM

HELP!!! I need a sounding board. I have been shopping around for a Westy camper and have finally found one. Problem is that it is a 82 (automatic) possibly needing a engine and trans. I can get the van for around $100.00. The interior is OK, needing carpeting and not much else. The exterior has NO rust but two large dents at the rear corners ($1000/$1500). I feel it is well worth it. If I put a new engine, what are my alternatives, knowing how underpowered the 82's are? Should I go with a straight engine or replace with same and have the usual problems associated with that year.
What would you do?

Thanks, Alex

Capt. Mike Moderator Member # 11 posted 05-12-2001 09:33 PM

The original 2.0l air-cooled FI engine for that model & year was as good as any air-cooled. Reliable, smooth, good mileage and adequate performance. The higher power of the later water-cooleds were partially offset by the heavier weights.

Read the forums completely. There are long threads about which engine, remans vs. rebuilds, transmissions and even some about body damage. This is not a question someone can answer for you. You have to know your abilities and shop equipment, price all of the things required, and set a realistic cost vs. value to you over the lifespan of the car. There is a forum for engine conversions but I won't recommend that route.

ben Member # 671 posted 05-13-2001 01:20 AM

First I have to say that I agree with Capt. Mike (Mr. fountain of knowledge) on keeping a Westy original (as much as possible), a Wwesty is not a Wwesty without a flat-4 VW engine, BUT, I did a test drive on a 83' with a Subaru 1.8 engine conversion, it run's nice (almost no vibration, doesn't feel right!!!). The total price for an engine (installation included, without transmission) was $2500 (Canadien, about $1650 USD), The Subaru 1.8 engine have a caburator. Power is a bit less than my 87' 2.1L.

One thing i don't understand is why the 80-83 Air cooled have less weight than the later model, do they have the same shape, chassie and almost the same equipment???
Regards, Ben

Top speed of a Vanagon?

zadar Member # 490 posted 11-19-2000 12:11 AM

An 83 specifically w/ a watercooled motor and automatic, what is the top speed? What is the safe speed? What speed do westies like to run at?

Capt. Mike Moderator Member # 11 posted 11-19-2000 06:20 AM

The early water-cooled's put out 80HP @ 4800 RPM. Since 3,000 RPM usually translates out to about 53 MPH, you're probably looking at 75 tops. Being as aerodynamic as a bread box, you won't be red-lining top gear.
Now, as to practical speed? I've long advocated shifting at 3,500 RPM & cruising at 3,000 for maximum mileage and engine longevity.

You can run 60-65 but handling and stability start to deteriorate, especially in any winds or with truck traffic around. I've got well over quarter million miles on my Westies and I'll venture running beyond that 65 has the potential to be unsafe. I say this because the typically loaded and slightly top-heavy bus gets pretty twitchy above that. Watching others on the highway, I see them doing a lot of steering correction and lane drift. Sometimes rather abruptly. Those that don't have the right tires (see the Wheels & Brakes forum) report even more handling woes at speed.

So it takes considerably more concentration to drive at those speeds. I'll do it under certain conditions, and don't have any qualms about kicking it up there for a passing, but hour-after-hour just requires too much attention to enjoy the drive or scenery.

Fuel mileage deteriorates very rapidly above that 3,000-3,500 RPM range, too. Whereas I constantly beat the EPA sticker by 2-3 MPG, it'll drop down well below at speeds above that. Oil temps also jump and that's going to eventually show up on engine life.

A Freeway Ferrari it ain't! Most Westy owners pretty soon develop a mental mindset of slowing down & smelling the roses. Pretend we're driving a big rig! We find we get there just about as fast, often seeing the same hell-bent-for-leather campers passing us 3 or 4 times and ending up in the same campground. And we console ourselves with the fact we're able, and no-doubt will, be going where RVs fear to tread. You won't find the 3 BR - bath & a half crowd exploring an old logging trail or climbing some ridiculous mountain peak.

zadar Member # 490 posted 11-19-2000 08:37 PM

Thanx Captain! You are a the man.
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Capt. Mike

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83 Westy with 2.0 Air Cooled Motor

Gert Junior Member # 1311 posted 07-04-2001 04:24 PM

Would anyone care to comment on the reliability of this engine and drive-train. What should the results of a compression test be on a healthy motor of this type?

Capt. Mike

1983 was the last year of VW's well known Boxer 4 that began life in the Type IV and migrated to the bus in '72 or '73. By the end of the Type II in 1979 it had established an excellent reputation in all regards. The AFC fuel injection was excellent for its era and the engine was quite reliable. It had, by then, accumulated several perks, including hydraulic valves and a breakerless ignition. Although design of the Vanagon required several changes, the basic engine & FI continued until the water-boxer of '83½.

Compression specs per the Bentley page 2a are 6-9 bar (87-131 psi) with a minimum of 5 bar (73 psi) and a macimum difference between all cylinders at 3 bar (44 psi). I'd suggest a leak-down test before purchase per the posting under the TOOLS forum, "Is the Compression Tester Over the Hill?"

Capt. Mike

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A/C controls on '84 Westy

Edoty Junior Member # 2212 posted 09-06-2001 05:08 PM

I am looking into buying an '84 Westy and don't have any reference materials, but I wanted to know where the a/c controls are located. I did not get a chance to check the engine for a compressor. This van was a manual transmission, manual steering, and the brakes felt like manual brakes and I have read that the earlier water boxer's were not as well equipped as the later ones. I want to make sure that the van came with factory air before thinking about a purchase, but when I looked into the owner's manual to figure out the slider controls and possible location of the a/c, the manual showed a clear picture of the control unit and vents directly overhead of the driver's cab. Is this also true for a pop-top camper? If not, where would the controls for the a/c be located? There was no overhead unit in the van I am looking at.

Capt. Mike

The controls are in the dash between the radio and cigarette lighter. You can see a picture of them on the tech drawings link site from the home page.

All Vanagons had power brakes.
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New member
I could not find the air conditioning controls for the Vanagon in the tech links that you mentioned. Could you be more specific about where to find these pictures. I only recall seeing one rotary knob for the front fan speed, a rotary knob for the rear fan speeds, and the standard temp/directional slider controls. Should there be any special rocker switch or maybe temperature & fan speed knobs for Vanagon's equipped with air conditioning?

Capt. Mike

The A/C controls are completely separate from the heat and fresh air controls you describe and on the opposite side of the dash, i.e. in front of the passenger. Two knobs -- 1 4-speed fan, 1 thermostat.

Go to the home page of the site; scroll down about 2/3 and open the link to Capt. Mike's tech drawings. Once there, open Westy Accessories folder.

In Accessories folder, I suggest you change to thumbnail view. You will find one pic of the DIN plug -- the knob to the left of it in that picture is the A/C thermostat (fan speed no visible). Another pic shows the front cabin view. There, the full dash is shown with the A/C controlls to the right of the radio but just before getting to the glove box. Right next to the cigarette lighter.

You can also tell if a Westy is air conditioned because the overhead cabinet above the rear seat is no longer a storage cabinet but contains the A/C evaporator unit. It will have a set of louvers on the front face and often the bottom over the seat. Non-A/C models have a storage cabinet with door there. Only non-Westies have the overhead ductwork you see in your book to a front consol.

The compressor is on the left rear side of the engine and uses a 12.5mm belt -- wider than the other two for alternator & P/S.
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New member
Thanks, Capt. Your explanation and pictures let me conclude that the Westy I am looking at definitely does not have air conditioning. I'll keep looking.

Capt. Mike

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Novice needs help

campin_tony Junior Member # 2550 posted 10-11-2001 03:58 PM

We are about to buy an ’84 Westy – what should we look for?
What mechanical problems are we in store for?

judlandis Member # 800 posted 10-11-2001 04:50 PM

I'll save the Capt. a few keystrokes and reiterate his continual refrain:
Read the message board guidelines, then block out some time to read through the relevent topics. There's an incredible wealth of information here that has built up over time - I probably spent 40 hours rummaging around here before I bought my '82 Diesel last summer.

Capt. Mike

Thanks, judlandis. Yes there is much info within individual posts that can be used to analyze a new purchase.

To name a couple, the topic about deciding between model years and features contains much info applicable to analyzing your '84 purchase. There is also a topic about a pre-purchase checklist that contains useful guidelines.

Guideline #8 contains my personal philosophy.

Capt. Mike

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Question b4 buying

Chip Junior Member # 2733 posted 11-23-2001 12:18 AM

I have been looking at an 84 Westy that is in excellent shape, body, interior, and engine. I have also read the archives and am now a bit hesitant to make the purchase. The engine has 154000 miles. The owner has had the head gaskets replaced around 120000 miles. It does have the correct coolant in it. It also has a new exaust system. It runs so quite and smooth which does not sound like the posts I've seen for loudness and vibrations that seem to be common for this vehicle. Before I found this site, I probably would have made the purchase with no questions asked. But now that I have been informed.....well I'll quit rambling and get to the point. If driven conservatively, not redlining, keeping under 70mph, and regular maintenance, my concern is the "life expectancy" of the engine and or the heads and gaskets. I know you can't give a guarantee on the engine but maybe a conservative informed estimation would be great. I forgot, it also has a rebuilt man. trans. No leaks of any kind. As far as personal decision, the Westy fits my needs perfectly. Thanks

Capt. Mike

Your right; nobody can give you an estimate of engine life. READ the rest of the site and you'll find numerous references to the subjects you raise. Look under the cylinder heads topic, coolant (under TIPS), tires and similar areas of concern to a purchaser. There is a thread on pre-purchase vehicle inspections in this forum and some worthwhile diagnostic items under TOOLS. I'd also suggest your read the threads under ENGINE about reman vs. rebuild and driving tips for new engines. Both have information to consider even though the engine is not new.

Capt. Mike

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What to look for in 1978 Westy

Steve Tapajna Junior Member # 1595 posted 02-05-2002 09:39 PM

Hi there,
first post.

I've been looking for a 74-79 Westy for some time and I've found a '78 weekender(no propane) with a 2.0 FI engine with supposedly 60,000 original Kilometers on it. The body is kinda rough along the bottom, but body panels can be bought and welded on pretty cheap when it's body work and paint time. The interior is really nice with no rips or tears. The seller wants $3500 CDN.

What should I look for specifically to know if it'll make me broke and is this a reasonable price to pay?



'95 Golf
Maybe '78 Westy

ben Member # 671 posted 02-06-2002 02:52 PM

Good day,
Check for the following carefully:

Frame (Especially the cross section = beam)-- lower panel--lower front windshield--lower sliding door (difficult to repair).

--Engine & Electricity:
Watch for the green & red light on dashboard, they should come off after engine as started. (Oil pressure & Charge system)--Exhaust system, some part can be expensive-- Hand brake-transmission (trany), watch for gear slipping out-- axle-beam, one of the biggest problem, it can reach $1000 CAD

This was taken and (poorly) translate by me from a very well know VW (older model only- before 1980) club of Westy here in Quebec, Canada.

If you can read French, here is there web site: (some English but mostly French, very nice people and most of them speak English)

ps.: i forgot, i have many pictures of thos guys at my personal page, look at:

76Heat Wagen Member # 3252 posted 02-07-2002 01:55 PM

Hi Steve:

Aside from the visual spots of rust - you may want to check the following as well. Plus, it can be downright dangerous.

Get a little screwdriver and look under the front-end at the two long tubes that hold the torsion bars. Poke around with the screw-driver, particularly on the bottom of the tubes where the vertical support meets it. These tend to rust out, and putting torsion bars in a new beam (if you can even find one) can be expensive and very time-consuming.

Second, in the center, a housing is welded to the actual beam. This is commonly referred to as the relay lever assembly housing. It holds a set of bushings, and has a relay lever and shaft above it. Check this housing c a r e f u l l y. Particularly, where it is welded on. Make sure that it is completely attached, and has no stress/stretch areas on it. It may also help to have someone move the steering wheel slightly back and forth in order to make sure the bushings aren't flopping around, nor the housing is seperating from the beam.

Well, that's my wrap on the axle beam. Surface rust is one thing, but ability to control the bus is key.

Hopefully, someone will pick up this thread and talk about the steering box...and progressively move towards the rear of the bus!

Good Luck, you'll love it whichever year you get!


Capt. Mike

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simon158 Junior Member posted October 10, 2002 02:21 AM

Hi I have just bought a 1963 sub hatch with so34 camp box interior,I was told this is a good find.
Is this so and can anyone confirm production numbers,numbers left.

Many thanks.

Capt. Mike

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maryjames Junior Member posted November 18, 2002 07:10 PM

I do not currently own a westy. my husband & i have been discussing and casually looking for a few months. just drove by one for sale
'85, white, 120 or so miles, asking $8K.

i'm seeking advice on how to know if this is a good year/deal. what should i be looking for in a westy?

we currently own (no payments) an explorer w/plans to sell, and a saab (no payments), which we may sell as well. would like to pare down to one vehicle that will allow us to travel around the states with 2 dogs, as well as to and fro work in the city.

also, any luck converting these to cng (natural gas)?

Bill Forst Member posted November 19, 2002 11:51 PM

'85 Westy?

Wow, changing from a Saab and an Explorer to a '85 Westy is a big step. They are such totally different vehicles! I have a 2001 Toyota Echo and a '86 Westy... again totally different. I actually prefer driving the Westy, but I am pretty weird that way. It is big, slow, heavy to steer (A '85 won't likely have power steering), and sways with the wind. But is so darn much fun!. The view is great, and the livin' is easy and free.You'd better carefully consider whether or not you want it to be your daily commuter vehicle.

You need to get it thoroughly checked out. They have a reputation for corrosion around the cylinder heads (see elsewhere on this Westy site). The engines tend to average not a lot more than 160000 to 180000 miles, so save for that.
I don't know about the price in Utah, but converting to Canadian dollars, it sounds in the high end of the right range for a decent one of that vintage. Maybe a bit high, but if it is in good shape, may be worth it.
I don't know about the CNG conversion, but no doubt someone else will reply.

Good luck.

pm Junior Member posted November 22, 2002 12:41 PM

My wife has just bought a '91 Westy, diesel, LH drive. I also have an Audi A3 and a Ducati motorbike - wildly different to drive to the Westy!

I thought The LHD (wrong way round for UK) and the size/speed of the westy was going to make it really difficult to drive, but it isn't - it's a hoot! Admittedly, it has power steering which really helps, but it's really adopting the right attitude which is important. I've got to say I like to drive/ride fast, so I needed a serious mind swing to relax into the 'Westy way'. My wife thinks I drive too fast generally (she hasn't been out on the Duke with me!) so she's really happy when we're in 'the bus' because I have to drive slowly. I've read a lot of posts about having to adopt a zen approach to driving a westy and its true - it's the only way! Sure gives me big grin though, every time I turn the key.

So go for it, you'll love it (can't tell you whether the price is OK as I'm in England) - just make sure you leave a little earlier to get to work!


magowanc Member posted November 23, 2002 02:35 PM

85 Westy to NG conversion

I have an '85 Westy, awesome vehicle for travelling around the countryside with. I don't use it as a daily driver either as I like to save the zen experience for special trips.

I would caution against doing a natural gas conversion. As part of your plans are to use the vehicle for travelling and exploring, you will find availability of natural gas a problem, especially if you decide to come to Canada. NG is typically only available in larger centers, and usually only because the city has decided to run NG in thier fleet.

'85 VanagonGL Westy
1.9L Wasserboxer


New member
I'm looking to buy a westie to travel in the US this spring, summer, and fall.

I found one that is an 87 with 130K and 40K on a new engine. The heads were replaced by a factory recall and then the motor was replaced when the owner drove after a warning signal went off--he blew the engine rod or wrist pin?? The owner is the only owner and has done a lot of repair work on the mechanics. I'm most concerned about the interior--the seats are dirty and there's small tears and mold on the tent. He also powerwashed the tent and tore it. These things combined with the engine story make me wonder if there are bigger problems due to what may be a careless owner. Are these real concerns?

Capt. Mike

They reflect on the previous owner's attention and attitude towards vehicle care and, in inference, how he drove it. An ice-berg only shows 1/7th its size. Negligence and abuse, likewise.