VW Heritage Volkswagen T5 Buying Guide

As a bang-up-to-date daily to accompany your vintage Dub, the Volkswagen T5 is the coolest, most practical thing you can buy. Moreover, if they end up holding their value like VW’s other transporters, you’ll be sitting on a bit of an investment if you buy one now. So here’s our guide to picking the best

The T5 is currently one of the coolest, most versatile vehicles available and the market is understandably mad for them at the moment. Bigger and more modern in every way than the T4 it replaced in 2003, there’s a T5 model out there to suit all needs – including panel vans, campers, caravelles and nine-seater minibuses. With a choice of two wheelbases, three roof heights and four weights – the maximum payload being an impressive 3.2 tonnes – along with a variety of options to do with the sliding side doors as well as the tailgate, it’s no wonder it’s become such a firm favourite among those wishing to put their own stamp on things in terms of customising and camper conversions and with a wide range of parts for T5 now available from our website it’s easier than ever.


These aspects, along with the kudos of that classy and familiar VW emblem on the grille, helps explain the explosion of interest in the T5 as a lifestyle vehicle. However, you need to take care when buying because there’s a lot of dross in the classifieds. To help you sort the rough from the smooth, these are the main things to look out for…

There was a choice of two different diesel engines in the T5, producing a total of four different power outputs; the 1.9 PD offered either 85 or 105bhp, while the more torquey five-cylinder 2.5-litre was available in 130bhp or 174bhp guise, the latter getting the option of VW’s 4Motion four-wheel drive technology. There was also a 114bhp 2.0-litre petrol offering, but it’s relatively rare.


While the 2.5 offers a lot more poke than the 1.9, making it better for long, fast motorway jaunts, it also suffers more problems – not least the fact that the incredibly complex timing mechanism means that many specialists wince at the prospect of working on them. The 2.5-litre is also prone premature camshaft wear, the first symptom of which will be a misfire from cylinder number 2 – plus, it’s also more susceptible to the injectors moving around in the head due to the fact that they are bolted down on just one side, which means that when under load they try to lift themselves out of their seats. When this happens, fuel moves into the head and subsequently into the sump, and if the level gets too high, it can find its way into the turbo and cause the engine to over-fuel and run on with dire consequences, bending rods and basically rendering it unmendable. The water pump on the 2.5 can also fail – the seal either leaks coolant into the engine oil or the bearings fail and it pumps water out of the overflow on the rear of the engine. If you find a vehicle with low coolant, this could be why. The 1.9 is arguably a more bulletproof engine – and because it’s used in a variety of VAG cars, they are far easier to get hold of should problems arise post-purchase.

The 1.9 employs a cambelt which should be replaced every 80,000 miles or five years, while the 2.5 is gear driven and is thus virtually maintenance free – although it’s necessary to change the freewheel and elastic drive coupling at around 100,000 miles which can be expensive (£500+).

Post-2010 facelift T5.1s feature a totally different 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit – it was available in 83bhp, 101bhp, 138bhp, 177bhp guise and this is altogether smoother, more efficient and more reliable. There was also a 114bhp petrol unit, but again you’ll struggle to find one. Assuming you bother looking.

Running gear
The 1.9 has the tried and tested five-speed ‘box from the T4, while the 2.5 came with VW’s new six-speed unit to handle the extra power and torque. A semi-automatic tiptronic gearbox was also available. Driveshaft issues are a familiar T5 headache. The output shaft from the gearbox is simply a push fit with no rubber seal, making it prone to water ingress and rust and when they eventually sheer, you’ll end up without drive. It’s not a particularly big job, but the parts itself are dear, so you should reckon on spending £500 for fitting a replacement.

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Power steering pumps are gear driven, with the end of the pump sitting in engine oil, so if the seal goes, engine oil can find its way into the power steering fluid causing it to overflow. Having replaced the worn seal, flushing the system and adding fresh power steering fluid may be all that’s needed, otherwise it will be a case of buying a replacement pump. Something that always causes concern among potential T5 owners is the dual mass flywheel (DMF) and the fear of having to replace it. It has to be said that driving style has a lot to do with DMFs wearing prematurely – dumping the clutch or erratic acceleration or gearchanges being the reason for their early demise. Engines with wildly mapped ECUs can also push the DMF past its limits, so view with suspicion any that judder horribly while accelerating. Potential electrical woes include issues with the EGR valve, various engine sensors and coilpacks. Here, again, a decent test-drive and systematically checking that everything works as it should will highlight any problems. According to specialists, the consumer unit itself is also fragile – and it’s not a cheap item to replace.


What undoubtedly makes matters worse is the fact that a huge chunk of the wiring harness sits in the head where it’s exposed to oil and extremes of heat and soon becomes brittle. Needless to say, when this happens diagnosing electrical problems can prove a nightmare.

As for the suspension, top strut mounts and bearings seize and wear and when they do they will begin to knock. If it’s not that – then suspect worn anti-roll bar bushes or droplinks – listen out for any untoward noises as you drive over potholes or up a lowered kerb.

Other considerations
It goes without saying that shorter vans look better, but if inside space is important (say, if you’re planning a camper conversion) then you will be better off with a LWB. There’s always the option of buying a panel van if you can’t afford a Kombi and get a specialist to convert it which is a cheaper solution. As a guide, rear side windows windows are around £150 a pair to fit.

Spec is also important with air conditioning being a must for most and items such as swivelling front captain’s pews are always a nice option. Bear in mind some really early base spec buses may not have a passenger airbag. Having sliding side doors both sides might also be a minimal requirement if you’re intending to carry lots of people and don’t need a camper conversion.


As for the seating itself, some buses have anchored seats which tilt forward, or can be removed entirely, while others (Multivan) have a more flexible sliding arrangement so you can move them back and forth on runners to suit. Choose the arrangement that you think will work best for you. As always, pick an example with a meticulous service history and avoiding ones that have had a hard life as a builder’s tool. Beware too buses that have been modified already – original is always best, unless you were going to modify it anyway in which case, you might save yourself some money.

How much?
Due to continued high demand, T5s always fetch good money. A basket case ex-builders van might start at £3500 but realistically, for something a bit more usable, you’ll need to start your T5 search with at least £8,000-£10,000 in your back pocket. The bottom end of this range is likely to limit you to a pre-2006 example with quite few miles on the clock. If you want a facelift T5.1, you’ll need around £15,000. A nearly new one without too many miles will be in the late teens, early £20ks, while the same vehicle at a main dealer (there really aren’t many for sale, so it might be your only option) will be closer to £30,000. The best spec nearly news at a main dealer will be nudging £50,000. If that all sounds a bit depressing take heart in the fact that VW has announced a T6, so when that arrives it may have a small impact on prices. Also take solace in the fact that T5s hold their value – so if you spend a potful of cash on a good vehicle in the first place with a good spec, you should be able to get most of it back come resale time.


The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage

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31 responses to: VW Heritage Volkswagen T5 Buying Guide

  1. Hi Ian, Thanks a million for the heads up on buying a T5, it is a very interesting guide & most helpful to someone as myself having never owned any T’s looking for the first time.

    1. Hi Nobby, it’s the thing inside the van that manages the electricity that comes into the van via the electric hook up that you plug into at a campsite.

  2. An interesting read. To an absolute novice, it sounds like the T5 if fraught wth problems or is this just in older models.

    I am looking too buy either a T5 or T6 for the first time and I have a maximum budget of £35k so I would like to think that I can get something that is only 1-2 years old.

    What are the pros and cons of a van conversion??

  3. Hi, do you have an idea what the driving experience of a SPORTLINE T5.1 van is compared with a regular van? Cheers Craig

  4. I`ve blown my engine on my T5 a 2.5 BNZ engine , what`s entailed if I want to downsize to a 2.0 engine. Is it a big or expensive job. Would I have to change everything eg gearbox as well.

  5. I’m in the market to buy a t5/t5.1 having read the buyers guides none of them mention the severe issues with the t5.1 180 biTDI engine.
    Only after hours of rooting around on forums do the problems start to show. I’ve attached a link below. I’ve owned a t4 before and it was faultless and I’m sure not all the 180 engines are terrible but I feel something should be mentioned as VW were no help and the bills were coming in at 7k+ for new engines. I feel lucky to have avoided buying one especially as so many are for sale at low mileage making them very tempting.

  6. I’ve owned a 2.5 AXD T5 6 speed auto box for 3 years and it’s cost me thousands in repairs and the engine has now gone again and beyond repair I’ve had it converted and full respray so in to deep to sell it, can I have a 1.9 engine fitted instead of the 2.5 or is this too much work as I have the auto box to consider too?!!
    If I have to have a new 2.5 engine of Vw do they do a more reliable motor than the AXD??

  7. Do the T5 1.9 tdi from 2006 and before have a strong problem with the gasket and 2007 and after (year built) that problem got fixed. IS this a real problem or a worry to have? Thank you for your info!

  8. Just read all above just got my t5 2.5 bnz back after spending just over 1700 quid done 288 mile come to a stand still engine will not turn did not over heat oil light came on then mini bus stopped had water pump time gears and new turbo many other parts mot related to main engine oil clean no loss off water any ideas

  9. The water pump sits inside the water jacket of the engine. When removing the water pump water can then get into the oil via the casing that covers all the driven gears (no belts or chains). The oil must always be changed when the water pump is replaced.

  10. I’m looking for a T5 campervan, and I’ve found an 83bhp short wheel base one I like the look of. I’ve read various blogs/chats saying that it’s an underpowered vehicle and to avoid it at all costs. What’s a more balanced, better informed view?

    1. The 2.0 TDI engine in 84, 104 and 140hp outputs is 100% the same – except that the former two get 5-speed gearboxes and, of course, a lower power map. This means that you can re-map any of the power units to c.160hp (yes, that is correct!). Care is needed to work around the weaker 5-speed gearbox, but that’s quite possible.

      I’ve done over 15k miles in a camper-converted T5.1 84hp 2.0TDI mapped to c.165hp with no trouble at all.

      That said, I found even the base 84hp engine ok to start with.

  11. none of those engines are worst than any other on the market: as usually all depends on where form the technician’s hands are growing.
    only real issue is the camshaft on 2.5 which is quite easy and inexpencive to solv. (with right mechanic behind you will have nearly the same mikege to go as it was before repair with no issues)
    for the prakticall analysis look at the milages in adverts.
    we also have some good example in our garage when t5 comming for oil service with above 400k milage and there is no even a leaks arround.
    avoid chip-tuned if you like to travel on your privat budget!

  12. Hello,
    Are the post facelift T32 2.0 tdi engines all gear driven rather than cam belt driven and if so is there any parts that should be periodically changed. Looking at being one but all the detailed info I can find is about the pre facelift 1.9 and 2.5 versions.


    1. The ONLY engine that’s gear driven is the 2.5 ltr version.
      These vehicles are incredibly reliable much more so than anything else out there, one of the obvious reasons why these vehicles fetch quite staggering money.
      Listen to the haters and they’ll tell you it’s all down to ‘scene tax’, it isn’t , the main reason why these vans are expensive is because they’re bloody good, beautifully built, galvanised, and have actually gone up in value each year now for the last few years. Try that when buying a dreadful Vivaro etc. Engines are all tough as old boots, but sometimes your going to buy one that’s had its head kicked in, vans are often mistreated obviously.
      I’ve owned four and had very minimal problems, and I drive them with no holds barred.
      Do yourselves a favour and buy one.

  13. Hi I’ve got a T5 1.9tdi 55 plate and and bought it with sized engine code is axc can you fit any other pd engine or does it have to be the axc or axb

  14. Hi I have a t5.1 2liter 230 TDI 140 having issues with it oil light keeps coming on and keeps missing under torque .also starting issues 2011 any ideas please it’s in the garage ATM so I have a shit van to use on hire lol

  15. Great write up but your missing one model, the 3.2 vr6 petrol caravelle. Not trying to tell you your an all but I just wondered why that is. As I’ve got one. I wondered how rare it really is.

  16. I have bought a 2009 2.5 178hp automate-conventional (not DSG) which had 270,000km on the clock. its a harly davidson limited edition with 5 seats and a cargo enough for my motocross/bikes/rockclimbing gears. till now it dosent show any sign of fatigue , but as i read different forums i am getting worried .
    *** my question : i want to go for a europ trip (20,000kilometer) and camping . is it okej with this car !? should i do some maintenance before i go !? changing generator and water pump !?

    *** the day i bought this car , i directly changed the engine / gearbox oils and filters . now i have 290000km on the clock and i will change engine oil filter / diesel filter . is it good to change oil more often !? will it help preventing usual vw problems !?

  17. Hi Ian, read your comments and found them very knowledgable, Ian thinking of buying a VW Multivan T5 SWB 2-5 diesel automatic and wonder if you had any problems with them,as most of your reviews seem to be manual boxes

  18. Hi there, I’m just in the market to buy my first van, I’m looking at a 2015 t32 140 bhp swb, I’m looking modding the outside e.g (bigger wheels, lowing and general styling) and on the inside minimum conversion ( ply lining and rock n roll bed. Is there any problems I should be aware of with the t32 or is this as good as any of the others #novice

  19. Hi there, I have just converted a 05, T5, 2,5 diesel automatic to a campervan, I am not happy with the amount of engine noise, I have been told that they are noisey and really sound clatterey, The Auto gear box changes gear sharply and snatchs at times, Am considering changing both engine and box, I would be extremely grateful for any help and recommendations for which engine to consider fitting, I also would prefere stay with a automatic box,

  20. I am looking at a T28 1.9 tdi 2005 plate 110 mileage as my first camper fully converted
    Anything I should be aware of or know about problems with this engine ?

  21. Get high mechanical efficiency of the double timing belt, as much as 98% when properly maintained at Pix-Germany. By contrast, chain drives are in the 91-98% efficiency range, while V-Belts average in the 93-98% range.

  22. Especially the R5 2.5 TDI it is EXTREMELY important to use the correct oil for the engine. My AXD requires VW 506.01 and i always use that. No problems so far in the mechanicals.

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