Having owned, maintained and driven several VW T4’s over the years I think I have personally discovered most of the pleasures and pitfalls of ownership! Here we will attempt a detailed VW T4 buyers guide to assist prospective VW T4 owners. I promise by the end of this article you will be a VW T4 buying expert.
Unveiling a unique blend of functionality and allure, the Volkswagen T4 has captured the hearts of enthusiasts worldwide. As the pioneer of front-engine Transporters, it exudes a nostalgic charm that sets it apart from its more contemporary successors like the T5 and T6.
With enhanced refinement compared to the Type 25, the T4 has become a coveted work tool, a dreamy camper van, a surfer’s paradise, or the epitome of an ultra-cool weekend escape. If you’re ready to embark on an exciting journey, join us as we delve into the realm of the VW T4. Let our VW T4 Buying Guide be your compass to navigate the possibilities that lie ahead.
Unveiling the VW T4’s Remarkable Journey
In the early 1980s, whispers of a VW Type 25 replacement began to circulate, coinciding with the shift from air-cooled to water boxer engines. Volkswagen, already pioneering new front-engine, front-wheel-drive configurations, set out to revolutionize their beloved Transporter.
Early design concepts hinted at a resemblance to the Renault Espace, characterized by generous curved windows. However, Volkswagen’s in-house stylists ultimately crafted a design that borrowed inspiration from their contemporary passenger cars.
This final styling solution received a resounding 80% approval rating during customer clinics, earning the confidence of VW’s board. While the T4 boasted significant improvements in practicality over its predecessor, the Type 25.
Evolution of the VW T4: A Journey of Innovation and Global Manufacturing
In a momentous unveiling in January 1990, the first iteration of the Volkswagen T4 emerged, signaling a significant departure from its wedge-shaped predecessor, the T25. Swiftly gaining acclaim as a resilient, reliable, and user-centric workhorse, the T4 captured the hearts of professionals worldwide.
While American shoppers may recognize it as the Volkswagen EuroVan, the T4 was predominantly manufactured at Volkswagen’s renowned Hannover factory. However, production also took place in diverse locations such as Poland, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Malaysia, ensuring its availability on a global scale.
Embracing versatility, the T4 came in both short-wheelbase (SWB) and long-wheelbase (LWB) variants, offering a range of roof heights to suit individual preferences. The expansive model lineup catered to various needs, encompassing a panel van, Eurovan, Kombi, Caravelle, single and double cab pickups, and the coveted Syncro 4×4 edition.
A facelift was introduced in 1996 to accommodate the optional VR6 engine, resulting in a lengthened nose and a refined aesthetic. Yet, the earlier style persisted alongside the updated version until the T4’s production ceased in 2003, cementing its place in automotive history. For those seeking long nose T4-specific parts, we invite you to explore our comprehensive selection.
The buyers choice – VW T4 engines
Within the VW T4 lineup, there was an array of petrol engine choices. Ranging from the spirited 1.8 and 2.0 options to the robust 2.5 five-cylinder and the commanding 2.8 12v VR6, the petrol engines offer a blend of power and performance.
It is worth noting that in the UK at least, the petrol variants were especially rare as most drivers opted for the diesel models. If you are over in Austrailia however, you will find petrol VW T4’s are common place.
From 2000 onwards, the VR6 engine variant even boasts a 170bhp 24-valve configuration, presenting an enticing option for enthusiasts. However, it’s worth noting that the VR6 can be quite thirsty, unless one secures a well-executed LPG conversion, which offers a more economical solution.
As for diesel offerings, the T4 does not disappoint. Embracing efficiency without compromising capability, the diesel range includes the 1.9D, 1.9TD, and the reliable 2.4D. At the pinnacle of diesel power lies the impressive 2.5 five-cylinder unit. Initially delivering 88bhp (distinguished by a blue ‘i’ badge), it later ascended to 102bhp in 1995 (with a silver ‘i’ emblem). However, it’s the remarkable 151bhp variant introduced in 1998 that truly astounds, though regrettably, this option was limited to German vans, adorned with a red ‘i’ emblem.
Among the diesel models, the 2.5TDi stands as the most sought-after (and rightly so in my opinion), providing ample performance coupled with an impressive fuel efficiency of up to 42mpg. Moreover, transforming the 88bhp unit into a formidable 102bhp is easily achievable through the addition of a top-mounted intercooler. Having owned both the 1.9td and 2.5TDI variants I cannot stress the difference in the dirvability.
For those seeking even greater power, with the right tuning, reaching 150bhp is within grasp. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that the diesel engines are slightly more intricate, controlled by an ECU, which can result in higher repair costs should any issues arise.
With such an extensive range of engine options, the VW T4 presents a world of possibilities, catering to diverse driving preferences. If you want more information on the VW engine options take a look at our guide here: What is the best VW Transporter engine
The VW T4 4-Cylinder Diesel Engines
Among the selection of 4-cylinder diesel engines, the 1.9TD with its 68bhp output emerges as a promising contender. While it may not deliver lightning-fast acceleration, it possesses the potential for tuning, allowing enthusiasts to unlock its hidden capabilities. Notably, the 1.9TD presents an attractive alternative as it doesn’t carry the premium price tag associated with the more powerful 2.5 option.
Conversely, the non-turbo diesel variant tends to feel sluggish, lacking the spirited performance desired by many drivers. Although one might assume that the 2.4 five-cylinder engine would provide impressive swiftness, regrettably, it falls short of expectations.
In the realm of 4-cylinder diesel engines, there are intriguing options to consider, each with its own unique characteristics and potential for enhancement.
What are the common VW T4 engine problems?
When it comes to the robustness of VW T4 engines, their reliability remains steadfast given proper care and maintenance. However, it’s worth noting that the 2.4D engine has garnered a reputation for encountering head gasket issues, warranting extra attention. As with any vehicle purchase, it’s crucial to be vigilant for signs of oil and water contamination, as well as indications of overheating while the engine remains idle.
It’s important to highlight that in TDi models, the timing belt serves the dual purpose of driving the water pump. Consequently, if the water pump malfunctions, it can simultaneously damage the belt. To mitigate the risk of bent valves and snapped camshafts, timely replacement of the cambelt and water pump becomes an utmost priority, ensuring the engine’s longevity and preventing potential complications.
If you are looking to buy a 1.9TDI or 2.5TDI make sure you check for the last Cam belt change – they should be carried out every 4 years of 60,000 miles. The cost to change one at a typical garage in the UK is anywhere between £500 and £700.
By staying proactive and addressing these considerations, T4 owners can navigate their journeys with peace of mind, confident in the reliability of their powertrains.
VW T4 Gearbox and clutch
The majority of T4 models were equipped with manual transmissions, offering a reliable driving experience. However, luck may smile upon you if you seek the convenience of an automatic transmission, as there is a possibility of stumbling upon a two-pedal Caravelle, Multivan, or Camper variant to suit your preferences.
The manual gearboxes, known for their durability, deserve a closer look to ensure they do not exhibit any issues such as gear slippage or problematic synchro, particularly in vehicles with high mileage.
It is worth pointng out that the VW T4 does require a gentle hand to select a gear even in the most well kept vans, you cannot rush the gear change so do not try to drive it like a sports car. Reverse gear especially requires patience.
Given the T4’s hydraulic clutch system, it is advisable to inspect the pedal box area for any signs of fluid leaks. While investigating, shine a torch to check for potential cracks in the pedal box itself, particularly around the mounting point of the clutch master cylinder. This is a known issue that T4 models may encounter.
Clutches tend to last anywhere beween 60,000 and 100,000 miles – the 2.5TDI generally on the lower end due to the extra power. I had my clutch replaced in 2021 at a cost of £750 – it is not a quick or easy job.
A buyers guide to the VW T4 Exterior Condition
When evaluating the condition of the VW T4’s exterior, it’s essential to exercise due diligence, even though corrosion concerns are less prevalent compared to its older Transporter counterparts.
While handing over your hard-earned funds, a cautious approach is advisable. Notable areas susceptible to rust include the base of the windscreen, wheel arches, lower sills, both the inner and outer sections of the sliding door, as well as the vicinity surrounding the fuel filler flap.
Although these issues can be addressed by a skilled professional with relative ease, it’s important to bear in mind that the overall costs may surpass initial expectations. This includes the expenses associated with labour, purchasing the necessary T4 repair panels, and arranging for the affected areas to be repainted.
While significant structural decay is improbable, it is prudent to conduct an inspection of the inner wings, chassis, and floor pan to ensure their robustness. Additionally, be vigilant for the emergence of rust around the rear cross member, situated just above the rear springs.
To give you an idea of cost in the UK – I replaced all sills and wings on my VW T4 in 2022 at a cost of £1650 which to be host is quite a good price – I have heard of people spending over £2,000 for similar projects.
A quick check on previous MOT’s is well worth a look to see if any structural rust as been advised.
VW T4 Braking Systems buyers guide
When it comes to the VW T4 brakes, there are no significant issues to be wary of and to be honest are relatively cheap to rectify if needed.
If the vehicle is equipped with alloy wheels, examining the condition of T4 brake discs, brake pads, and brake hoses becomes a simpler task.
However, for vans fitted with steel wheels, the all-covering hub caps need to be removed to provide visual access, unless you’re prepared to lie on your back with a torch! To ensure optimal performance, test the brakes on a quiet road and observe if the vehicle comes to a straight stop.
Should you encounter any pulling to one side, it is often attributed to a sticky rear caliper, a common fault. The good news is that a replacement T4 brake caliper is reasonably priced and can be installed relatively quickly by your chosen technician or yourself. Pairing this replacement with a brake fluid change and a set of hoses as preventive measures is advisable.
To verify the effectiveness of the handbrake, find a hill and assess its functionality. Be aware that the cable may become stuck in its outer sleeve if the van has been stationary for an extended period. The cost of a new front-to-back T4 handbrake cable is approximately £30, with the rearmost part priced at around £10 per side.
By taking these factors into consideration and addressing any necessary maintenance, you can have confidence in the braking capabilities of your T4.
VW T4 Suspension and Steering – buyers guide
Does the vehicle exhibit the expected driving dynamics, considering its overall condition? While the shiny paint, luxurious wheels, and exquisite seats may impress, if the previous owner neglected the running gear, things can get bumpy!
Do not hesitate to thoroughly inspect the vehicle, even if you feel the seller possesses greater automotive knowledge.
Uneven tire wear is an indicator of worn suspension bushes or may suggest that the van’s geometry was compromised due to a collision. Knocking or clunking noises on uneven road surfaces often signify tired bottom ball joints, drop links, or anti-roll bar bushes.
Rear noises are likely attributed to trailing arm bushes. Keep in mind that road noise will be considerably louder in an empty commercial vehicle compared to a fully-equipped campervan.
Initially, power steering was an optional feature, though later models should have it as standard. Listen for groaning or unpleasant sounds as you turn the steering wheel from lock to lock, and check the fluid levels to ensure no leaks have occurred. Do not be deceived by the T4’s front-engine and water-cooled configuration; despite its relatively modern nature, at its core, the T4 remains a van, lacking the steering and suspension refinement found in the T5 and T6 iterations.
VW T4 Interior buyer options
The fourth-generation Transporter, following the footsteps of its predecessors, provided the option of either two single seats or a combination of a single and double seat in the cab. Both options were fairly uncomfortable as standard if I am totally honest! The double seat especially is not very wide and the cushioning is poor.
Should you explore Caravelle or Camper models, you will likely encounter the coveted “Captains Seat” variety, featuring armrests and the potential to swivel, adding a touch of versatility to your experience.
It’s worth noting that front seat replacements are not uncommon in the realm of T4 customization, so don’t be deterred by such modifications. If the new seats offer comfort, aesthetics, and secure mounting, chances are they serve as a huge improvement over the classic Inca-clad commercial seats that were standard in many models.
Depending on the specific VW T4 variant, you may come across a bench-type seat in the middle or two single flip-down seats. However, the most prevalent configuration, particularly in the context of day vans or campers, is the rock ‘n’ roll bed positioned over the rear wheels.
A buyers guide for the VW T4 Electrical System
As with any potential vehicle purchase, it is advisable to allocate some time to ensure the proper functionality of the electrical components while the owner is present.
Diagnosing electrical issues can be both time-consuming and frustrating, especially if you’ve paid full price. Therefore, it is best to conduct thorough checks beforehand. It is worth noting that VW T4 instrument clusters may experience voltage regulator malfunctions, leading to erratic temperature and fuel readings. However, it appears that later models exhibit fewer issues in this regard.
Regarding “climate control”, the majority of VW T4 models are equipped with a fan speed control, temperature adjustment, and directional dial on the dashboard, offering basic temperature regulation for both warm and cold seasons. It is perfectly normal for the outer blowers to always blow warm and the middle blowers to always blow cold by the way! This quirk confuses many new owners.
While air conditioning was available as an optional feature, the additional cost deterred many first-time buyers. If finding a VW T4 with air conditioning is your dream scenario, be prepared to act swiftly and be willing to invest accordingly.
Be mindful that cab door wiring is susceptible to chafing, which commonly leads to failures in speakers, electric windows, T4 mirrors, and central locking mechanisms. Verify that all lights are functioning properly and be aware of a potential appetite for brake light switches.
Pay attention to how the key feels in the ignition. Does the dashboard take time to illuminate or, worse yet, does the van continue running even after the key has been removed? Although T4 ignition switches are inexpensive to replace, a worn one can cause significant headaches. Negotiate a reduction in price if these symptoms arise and promptly order a replacement.
What about modified VW T4s?
The VW T4 Transporter boasts a devoted fan base, and many owners have embarked on modifications to enhance the style and features of their vehicles. It is infact very rare to find a standard VW T4 now as most have been converted or upgraded.
The term “modified” should not automatically dissuade you, but it’s crucial to inquire and proceed with caution if the seller casually dismisses issues such as an uncomfortable ride or an excessively low stance without providing further explanation regarding the modifications.
A properly executed lowered VW T4 should offer improved aesthetics without sacrificing functionality or causing disruptive sounds or tyre interference during turns.
Alloy wheels have been a popular addition among VW T4 owners, but it’s essential to note that not all alloy wheels are created equal. It is particularly crucial to consider the weight disparity between a T4 and the vehicle from which the wheels were sourced.
This becomes even more important when additional weight is carried, whether in the form of tradesperson tools or a fully equipped camping interior. Substandard wheels can crack under such circumstances. Take a look at my Best alloys for a VW Transporter guide as it covers this area in more detail
VW T4 buyers guide – Pricing
The pricing landscape for T4 vans encompasses a wide spectrum. Hopefully this VW T4 buyers guide gives you a good idea of where to start looking to pick up a bargain. There are examples changing hands for a few hundred pounds, but these typically exhibit signs of wear, high mileage, and notable faults. If you possess mechanical aptitude and are seeking a project, you can find options for less than a thousand pounds on eBay.
However, it is crucial to factor in the cost of T4 parts needed to address any suggested issues and account for potential hidden surprises. Mechanical components are relatively straightforward to replace, so it is advisable to prioritize bodywork condition when making your selection. A budget of around £3500-£4000 is recommended to find a VW T4 with a valid MOT and a reasonable chance of safely transporting you home.
At this price range, you’ll have a variety of options to consider, including panel vans, DIY converted day-vans, higher mileage or older Caravelle models, and the possibility of unloved camper conversions as well.
For those in search of a professionally built camper van suitable for family getaways, a budget of at least £7k is recommended, with higher mileage or older models typically falling within this range. However, if you desire the spaciousness and refinement of a T4 Coachbuilt campervan, prices can range from £10k to £17k, depending on factors such as age, engine type, and overall condition.
VW t4 buyers guide – My Final Thoughts
The most desirable VW T4 models often remain in their original state, untouched by modifications. These are typically vehicles owned by tradespeople who diligently maintain them, washing them on weekends and entrusting their care to reputable VW specialists or main dealers for regular servicing, as indicated in the service booklet.
It is advisable to steer clear of worn-out, deteriorating models that have already undergone modifications, unless that specific style aligns with your preferences. While the powerful 2.5TDi engine may seem like an obvious choice, it comes with a premium price tag and higher repair costs in case of issues.
If you require further guidance, rest assured that a vast community of T4 enthusiasts exists, and they continue to revel in the joys of their T4 ownership.
Still not sure on a T4? Have a look at our guide vs the T5! VW T4 vs T5 Transporter