Introducing the VW T4 brake upgrade
There are a few common T4 upgrades that owners seek out in order to improve the safety and driveability of their van. The VW T4 brake upgrade is one of the most popular alongside the headlight upgrade and audio upgrade.
The VW T4 is getting on in years but their popularity seems to be ever growing. The VW T4’s are fast becoming a classic for fanatics. With a few low cost upgrades you can drag at least some of the dated safety technology into the 21st century.
Here we will look at your options to improve the standard brake system by way of a VW T4 brake upgrade.
VW T4 brakes pre upgrade
The VW T4 standard brake system actually wasn’t that bad at the time of production. Even the lower specification 1.9TD was factory fitted with disc brakes all round. Most cars and vans of the era had rear drum brakes unless they were high end.
Before you look to consider an upgrade, there are a few safety checks that you should consider first. If your brakes are noticeably poor/suffering bad fade under moderate braking or spongy then chances are you have a more basic problem to deal with first.
- Spongey brakes – Check your brake fluid, it could either be old fluid or you may have a very minor air leak in your system. The clutch and brakes share the same reservoir so if your clutch feels poor also then that is a good indication that you have a fluid problem
- Suffering bad fade – The VW T4 1.9 is renowned for brake fade, just braking heavily up to a roundabout from 70MPH you will most likely feel some fade, especially if you are carrying weight. Some fade is normal but if it is excessive, check the thickness of your discs as they may be thin and heating up too quickly. If you have old brake fluid, this can also be a factor.
Simple/lower cost VW T4 brake upgrades
Before we get into the more complicated upgrades there are a few lower cost options to consider,
- Bleed your brake system as you may have some air or low fluid (yes it could be that simple…). Makes sure you get dot 4 brake fluid you will need 1L to do a full bleed.
- Swap your discs for a higher specification. You can buy drilled / grooved discs that are bolt off/on for less than £100 (Example here) These vent the heat much better and will reduce fade.
- Upgrade to a set of VW T4 Black Diamond Predator pads. These are without doubt the best brake pads for a VW T4 (Example here)
- Upgrade / replace your VW T4 brake hoses to braided lines… Read a bit more about this one below.
Braided hose upgrade vs standard rubber hoses
Another upgrade that you can consider is a swap out of the standard rubber brake hoses for braided lines. Over time rubber hoses swell and under the pressure of braking they can expand and retract.
This expansion absorbs some of your brake performance. The main sign of this is a soft feel to your brake system, the bite will come with a slight delay as more pressure is required to your foot pedal to overcome the swell in the brake lines.
The main benefit of braided lines therefore is that they do not suffer swelling. You can buy complete VW T4 brake line upgrade kits for less than £100 on eBay (Example here)
How much improvement?
Some claim to have experienced huge gains to the response of their brake system by use of braided hoses. Most likely however, their old (20- to 30-year-old!?) lines were shot and similar gains would potentially have come from a new set of rubber hoses.
The braided lines however do add a bit of shiny to your van!
VW T4 1.9TD vs VW T4 2.5TDi brakes
Between the different variants of the VW T4 over the years VW used a few different sizes of brake disc. These were 280mm, 282mm, 300mm and 313mm.
The major difference in terms of brake performance however is that the higher powered VW T4 2.5TDi usually came with bigger, vented discs (and a different calliper to accommodate the thicker disc).
In addition to this, the 16″ chassis 2.5TDi had the larger 313mm discs.
The 2.5TDi vented discs disperse the heat much better and therefore suffer less from fade out. Most 2.5TDi owners are therefore usually fairly satisfied with their brake performance and less commonly seek out upgrades.
The lower powered 1.9TD has solid 280mm (view example set) front discs. Some models that left the VW factory with the larger 16″ wheel as standard came with a 300mm set of discs.
So which VW T4 brakes do you have?
The easiest way to check which version you have is from the information sticker found on the fuse box cover in the drivers side, housed just above your foot pedals.
Amongst other valuable information (such as your paint colour, factory fitted upgrades such as electric windows etc) this will tell you which model brake disc you have.
Below is a picture of mine for reference:
Models with 15″ chassis:
- 1LE means 280mm with disc thickness of 24mm – Brake calliper piston was 54mm
- 1LP means 282mm with disc thickness of 18mm – Brake calliper piston was 54mm
- 1LU means 280mm with disc thickness of 24mm – Brake calliper piston was 57mm (these models also have a slightly larger master cylinder)
These all had an identical rear disc diameter of 280mm.
Models with 16″ chassis:
- 1LB (Saddle FN3) means 300mm with disc thickness of 26mm – Brake calliper piston was 57mm
- 1LB (Saddle FNR) means 313mm with disc thickness of 26mm – Brake calliper piston was 57mm
These had a larger rear disc diameter of 294mm.
More technical VW T4 brake upgrades
Assuming the above simpler upgrades are not satisfying enough. There is a well documented and fairly common VW T4 brake upgrade that owners consider using the brake system from a Mk2 Sharan Vr6 that shares the same fittings as the T4.
I personally have not carried this out however there are some great videos/forum posts online documenting the process if you have a search on Google.
Installing MK2 sharan vr6 callipers to a VW T4
This is a fairly simple upgrade assuming that you are comfortable removing the Discs, Callipers, Carriers, Disc pads. The MK2 VW Sharon VR6 callipers and discs are a significant upgrade for the solid disc variants of the VW T4 and are almost a like for like swap.
If you have the 1LE or 1LP models then you may also want to upgrade the brake master cylinder as you will have the smaller 23.81mm that is designed to serve callipers with smaller pistons.
The only modification that you will need to be aware of to undertake this upgrade is that you will need to increase the hub from 16mm to 18mm (you can buy the drill bits for this for less than a 10er (Examples). So in effect there is no going back once you have carried out this modification.
The hub metal is fairly soft but to make life easier you could buy a 17mm and 18mm drill bit and drill it in stages.
To carry out this upgrade you will need to source the following parts from a Sharan VR6
- Carrier bolts,
- Discs and pads
- At least 16″ alloys or larger
For the price you may as well fit new discs and pads.
Second hand Sharan VR6 brakes come up occasionally on eBay (search) but you may be better phoning around a few breakers yards. They are becoming rarer to find in good condition.
If you can’t find a set of the VR6 callipers then you could consider the standard Sharan mk2 brake system, the installation process is the same however they use the slightly smaller 300mm discs (but still vented and better than the VW t4 solid discs)
I hope that was a useful guide, feel free to add your comments below this article. I would love to hear from you regarding your brake upgrades and projects!