As with many ‘sub-cultures’ there are certain rituals that define whether you’re ‘in the club’, so to speak.  The customary “VW wave” is one such ritual, and a highly enjoyable way to reinforce the sense of VW community.  However, delve a little deeper and people quickly learn that it’s not quite as simple as it would seem.  In fact, it can be a bit of a minefield …

So who waves to whom ?

First, it’s important to realise that the custom and practice of waving to other VW drivers grew out of the 1960s and 1970s when air-cooled Splitties, Bays and Beetles were all there were.  At this time, you simply waved to any other VW driver, especially one that had modified their vehicle and who were clearly a fully paid-up member of ‘the club’.  However, things then began to get a bit more complicated when T25s came along, these strange water-cooled imposters.  Would you wave to a T25 ?  Were they in the same club as you ?  And when T4s and T5s came along things got more difficult still.  Would you wave to Bob the Builder in his works van simply because he was driving a T4 ?

It seems that these days, most people take the view that anyone driving a VW bus or camper van deserves a wave or a flash of the headlights.  Vehicles that are most obviously part of the VW scene seem to receive the most enthusiastic waving or flashing.

There are exceptions, of course: works vans, Caravelles ferrying kids to school or passengers to the airport, and cars (except Beetles).  Exceptions also include Californias without an awning, simply because you can’t tell they’re a camper van until you’ve passed them.

Are you sure ?

Well no, it’s not quite as simple as that.  There’s quite a lot of snobbery around you see.

In the VW van/bus pecking order, Splitties are top of the heap because (a) they were the first (b) they’re air-cooled and (c) there’s hardly any of them about these days.  Next in line are original Bays for mostly the same reasons (Brazilian Bays are sometimes looked down upoon since they’re not ‘original’).  Some of the air-cooled lot often don’t acknowledge a T25, T4 or T5 at all unless they’re modified and very clearly part of the VW scene.

In practice I tend to give a big wave to Splitties and Bays, a HUGE wave to Calis and a tentative wave to T25s and T4s, backed up by a proper wave if it looks like they’re waving back !  You see, round our way a Splitty, Bay or Cali is a rare thing indeed – they need all the recognition they can get.  T4s (especially) and T25s are more common but the thing is, they just don’t seem to wave at all.  I don’t know if the wave is a naff thing for them or if they don’t deem a Cali worthy … either way, it just doesn’t seem to happen that often.

So what exactly is “the wave” ?

To most people, the VW wave is simply an exaggerated, normal wave or a flash of the headlights.  And it doesn’t just come from drivers of other VW buses or camper vans but from others too – presumably VW owners (or former VW owners) driving their “other vehicle” – which is sometimes slightly disconcerting.

However, until researching this post, I didn’t realise that the ‘official’ VW wave is called the Shaka sign and officially recognised in Wikipedia.  It effectively means “hang loose” and is a common gesture in Hawaii (associated with surf culture) and Brazil.  It involves extending the thumb and little finger (keeping the middle three fingers closed) and showing the back of the hand while waving.

Gesture raised fist with thumb and pinky lifted

Gesture raised fist with thumb and pinky lifted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d been taught a third version – which can only be practiced while driving with both hands safely clutching the steering wheel.  This wave involves putting both hands together with the thumbs overlapping and sticking upwards from the steering wheel while also extending the second fingers upwards at right angles.  This creates a “VW” with your fingers/thumbs, the other three fingers gripping the steering wheel.  Trouble is, it’s not that visible on a motorway at 70 mph so it should really be reserved for country roads … or traffic jams.

Further reading:  To wave or not to wave ?


And finally … posted on the UK Campsite Forum some years ago … this is very funny and well worth sharing, even if it is written from a motorhome perspective.  This is a tongue-in-cheek statement of the waving etiquette – with apologies for anyone not from a historically class-based society such as the UK:

o   0   o  

Class A: A-class post 1995 Hymer, Pilote, Rapido, Bürstner, Machzone, Auto-Sleeper etc – OK, and Swift. (As good as it gets. All US RVs are in a class of their own and therefore have no class?)

Class B: C-class post ’95 and all pre-’95 A-classes in excellent condition, plus high tops costing £30,000 or more. (Haven’t quite made it, or enjoy doing the Fosbury flop at bedtime.)

Class C: all budget C-classes costing less than £25,000 new and high top panel vans costing less than £30,000 new. (Small working class families and Mirror Group pensioners.)

Class D: Good quality self build, Island Plastics etc. (Generally riff-raff, although some are old money and just slumming it, so it pays to be polite.)

Class E: VW splits and bays, Commer, Bedford, Transit etc. (Real enthusiasts on a budget.) Please note that Class E is welcome anywhere so long as the ‘van is up to scratch.

And so to the rules:
Rule 1. With reference to the class table, waving and/or acknowledgement may take place only with a driver or vehicle within the same class or one class below your own (but with due sympathy for those down the scale). Class E should only wave/acknowledge their own class.

Rule 2. Upon crossing paths with a vehicle in a class above your own, remember to wait for the driver to initiate the wave/acknowledgement. Only then should you wave back.

Rule 3. Under no circumstances should you initiate a wave to a vehicle in a class above your own unless you have been introduced formally to said vehicle and/or driver, and he/she has initiated a wave since that introduction.

Rule 4. Never wave to a vehicle that is two or more classes below your own.

Rule 5. Whatever the circumstance, the wave should consist only of raising the palm from around the steering wheel. Anything more than this will be construed as ostentatious, over-enthusiastic, or just plain common, depending on one’s class.

Rule 6. Under no circumstances allow passengers to wave. They are superfluous and have no right to go waving willy-nilly at motorhome owners.

Rule 7. Never make the mistake of waving/acknowledging a VW T3 with a body kit fitted, no matter how well done. It will be a former Escort XR3 owner – or worse, they may not be married.

Rule 8. In a situation where you are alongside another motorhome, at a junction or traffic lights for instance, always look directly ahead. Avoid furtive glances at the other vehicle, and never ever engage in eye contact with the driver. If you have difficulty in doing this, feign an incoming phone call or pretend to adjust your sound system (wireless) until the lights change.

Rule 9. Never admire another motorhome, or show signs of lust for the vehicle. Showing lust for anybody in the said vehicle is fine as long as it’s legal (unless you are in a controlled environment such as a national motorhome show). If you are on foot, brief glances over the shoulder are permitted, although you should not slow your pace in case you appear overly interested. If you find yourself parked in close proximity to another motorhome, and you see the driver, communication and/or acknowledgement should take place only in strict accordance with rules 1 to 6.

Rule 10. On encountering a motorhome in distress, you should quickly adjust (a) your sun visor, (b) your in-vehicle entertainment, and (c) your heating/air-conditioning controls. By that time you should have passed the said vehicle and will not have to concern yourself. If this is not possible, or if you feel obliged in some way to stop and offer assistance, follow the ‘same class or one below’ rule. (If, for instance, you drive a Swift Bel-Air you should only stop to assist another A-class of similar vintage or a newer C-class – never a converted ambulance or older C-class, heaven forbid a VW T3.) If you ever suffer the misfortune of breaking down, do the decent thing – dive headfirst into a ditch or hedge if you can see that a lower class is about to offer assistance in some way. And finally, you should never offer to assist a vehicle purchased from Brownhills, as the driver, and one passenger, will forego their ‘free’ coffee or/and meal.

I do hope that this has clarified the procedure and we can all get on our way in the confidence that we are doing the right thing.

14 Comments on “VW Waving Etiquette

  1. Heck, I didn’t know there were rules!! I just wave to all VWs when I’m in my bus. Of course, most people give me crazy looks but I’m used to that.

  2. I’m a vw bus owner (1972 T2 bayview not T3) and I would be the first to hold my hand up and agree that people give us crazy looks all the time!

  3. I wave frantically at any VW. I have an old LT31 conversion to camper from ambulance. I even wave from my Mazda MX5 mk1 (same year as camper – 1989). My partner gets so embarassed when I do that though, lol 😉

  4. The hang loose wave actually started in Oahu ; a local beachcomber who sold flower necklaces and souvenirs to cruise ship tourists after WW2 had lost his middle fingers whilst tuna fishing – tourists believed his wave was a traditional Hawaiin sign of welcome . I heard this in Hawaii by locals and old timers and surfers alike .PS my Cal Look bug was the first British feature car in Hot VW magazine and came into the newsstands in Hawaii whilst I was there on holiday – Paulo , Essex .

  5. I don’t own a kombi &probably never will, but, I just love them & beetles. So, I just wave or flash my lights. I can’t do the wave very well because of arthritis in my 3middle fingers.
    Respect & love to all.

  6. T3 or T25, I’m still confused and have had mine for 10 years. I thought it was T3 or Type 25? I wave at both! And T1s and T2s … but not T4s and T5s.

  7. I wave at anybody but as I’m in a T2 I consider that if I wave at a T4 or T5 (I can’t actually tell the difference between them) as part of my charity work. 🙂

  8. When we were driving our 1971 T2 up the Pacific Coast Highway in California the “wave” we got from every other Splittie and early bay was a peace sign. ✌️✌️. We’ve kept it up here in the U.K. since importing her late last year but have yet to get a reciprocal ✌️. Two countries separated by a common language. 😊 🇺🇸🇬🇧

  9. We’re proud 06 caravelle owners and contrary to belief we are not an executive taxi, nor do we ferry tonnes of kids to school)Our ‘velle’ is used to extend our camping season with the versatile rock n roll bed … we happily wave to all v dubbers and admit that yes there is some
    VW snobbery amongst other owners but it is all a bit of fun and all dubbers should respect one another 🤙🏼 😀

  10. The ‘flash’ from an Aircooled to another Aircooled involves a double-pump of the indicator stalk lever. This, is for a reason. In daylight hours, the double-pump flashes the main-beam twice. In the hours of darkness, the double-pump switches the dipped-beam to main-beam and back. The double-pump ensures that when the headlights are switched on, the main-beam doesn’t come on first and require cancellation by an otherwise unnecessary single-pump. No worries.

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