What's your opinion of the Vanagon?


I was recently turned on to the idea of a Vanagon. I do a lot of short-distance traveling, and being the cheapskate I am I sleep in my vehicle a lot.

But my vehicle happens to be an '88 Mazda B2200 pickup with no sliding back window. This makes it quite the hassle to get situation for the night. I won’t mention what a cold hard bed of a truck is like, no matter how many sleeping bags you put under you.

This truck, however, is VERY reliable and has lasted longer than most girlfriends. I bought it 8 years ago for mere $1500 with 80,000 miles on it. It now has 175,000, and all I’ve ever had to do was change the oil, and a faulty battery terminal.

So what’s the Vanagon like? Are they prone to break down? Do they have decent fuel mileage? I’m seeing a few on a local website ranging from $1800 to $6000. Oh, and did I mention that I’d love to christen it by driving it from Kansas City, MO to Oregon?

Thanks in advance for any advice!


Kansas City, MO


As a former VW Bus owner, I’ve often been tempted by the Vanagon. It’s reputation for reliability, however, has been rather dismal from day one.

Vanagons have an incredible amount of room in them, and the camper version would fill your needs perfectly, but you better do your research on reliability and maintenance issues before you plunk down your hard-earned money.


Forget about it. VW’s reliability is the pits. You’d get more room, better fuel mileage and much better reliability with a fullsize Dodge van, especially if it’s an ex-school bus. I used to have one… bought an 88 in 98 for $900, ran fine for 5 years with virtually no repairs.


Great, thanks for the info. I’ll have to look into some other sort of van - I’m really stuck on the idea, as it would really suit my travel needs.


I know there are some camper vans out there using a Ford or Dodge full-size chassis, which would offer the same amenities as a Vanagon, but with much better reliability.

You could also get a cargo minivan and outfit it with whatever you’d want.


Vanagons seem to be entirely hit or miss reliability-wise, more often miss.

If you’re not into high-amenity style camping, there’s a few things you can do with your Mazda. First off, it would be very easy to put in a rear sliding window. The one for my Toyota cost me 20 bucks at the junkyard and another 20 to get it put in.

A pickup can be made sleepable, especially if you mainly only use it for camping. Lay down some insulation and then some carpet in the bed-- this will go a long way. Some toppers are designed for camping and come insulated and with thick windows. Having a nice thick sleeping pad will help a lot too.

I have also occasionally seen slide-in campers designed for compact pickups. They tend to be pretty spartan, but some come with a sink and stove.

If feel you need a camper van, I agree with the other posters to look at other brands. My Dad had a Vanagon a few years back that was constantly breaking down and had all sorts of gremlins that nobody seemed to be able to fix. Also, he was disappointed at the gas mileage, that only ended up in the upper-teens to low 20’s most of the time. He ended up replacing it with a newer Dodge full size van that had more room, lots more power and got better gas mileage!


This may be of interest:

Personally, I don’t know much about liquid cooled VWs (I’ve never owned one). You might want to get on a vanagon forum and talk to some folks with actual experience. I would probably be more tempted by an old air cooled VW camper/van (much cooler IMHO).


Check the RV section of your local newspaper. You might find a few conversion vans there. Go see them and test drive them if they appeal to you. But don’t be ina hurry. Figure out what you want then start the serious shopping.


Let add to what has already been said, there is also very little up front crash protection. In a front end collision the driver and passenger are right there.