VW California

 

The VW California is a factory-built campervan that incorporates over 60 years of VW’s experience of building the versatile Transporter van.  It rolls off the Hanover production line rather than being converted from a panel van to campervan.

It’s a modern camper with all mod cons.  If you want a reliable camper that’s easy and powerful to drive, that incorporates innovative design features and will hold its value longer than almost any other vehicle on the road, then there’s nothing to beat it.

I’ve owned a T5 California since 2010 and use it as my daily drive.  I know its advantages as well as some of its its weaknesses.

If you’re looking for some initial campervan inspiration, including the history of the VW campervan, then start here.  But if you’ve already started on the journey from “just thinking about” owing a campervan and are wanting to take the next step then read on.

Like many owners, we had an unfortunate encounter with a poorly maintained vintage camper.  Luckily we could hand it back after the week’s hire but it made up our minds that an old van definitely wasn’t for us.  We then looked into camper van conversions but didn’t immediately find anything that appealed.  We then viewed a VW California and were instantly smitten.  My owners’ review of the Cali will hopefully provide a good overview of what to expect.

The T5 California was introduced into the UK in 2005 and following an upgrade in 2010 was then replaced by the T6 in 2015.  Think of the T6 more of a ‘T5.2’ upgrade: the main differences are under the bonnet and while it’s a slightly upgraded driving experience, the appearance and utility of the T6 is very similar to the T5.  I’ve reviewed the T6 Cali and also written about the key differences between the T6 and the T5.

A great way to test out if owning a campervan is really for you is to hire before you buy.  (Better to find out if you’re actually going to use it as intended before you part with £50k+ !)  I’ve written a couple of articles for Cool Camping that explain how to go about choosing a campervan or motorhome to hire and what to expect once you’ve actually picked up your hire van.

It’s well worth going into ownership with your eyes open.  You’ll get a warts-and-all perspective from the California owner’s club forum – remembering of course, that ‘bad news’ spreads much more effectively than ‘happy stories’ from satisfied customers (just pick up any newspaper for confirmation of this).

There are two key issues to be aware of.  First, VW sell the California through its Commercial Vehicles arm; they sell it according to the base vehicle (a van) rather than customer need.  This might make sense to VW’s mechanics but from a customer perspective it’s crazy: Cali customers have completely different needs and aspirations to tradesmen in overalls !

Second, it’s now apparent that there’s a design flaw in the manufacture of the roof, with most vans seemingly afflicted with the roof corrosion issue.  In spite of VW’s assurances that they had fixed the issue in 2014, some new T6 Californias are now showing signs of bubbling paint round the roof.  As a “gesture of goodwill” VW have agreed to fix affected vans which are up to 6 years old but given their inability to diagnose the cause of the issue it’s unlikely that any remedial work undertaken to date will actually be effective.  My Key Facts article is designed to summarise the many thousands of words already written on this topic on the VW California Club Forum and was updated in February 2017.

But please don’t let these issues put you off buying a Cali.  They’re still fantastic campervans – in spite of these various niggles – and will reward you with many years happy camping.

Useful links

The VW California Club – The best place for tips and advice from Cali owners, including second-hand vans

VW Commercial Vehicles


Reviews

VW California T6 Review

Is the new VW California T6 for me ?

The VW California T5 – An owner’s review

VW California options and accessories

VW California bellows bungee

VW California additional shelf

Buyers’ guide – Campervan awnings and canopies

Wanted: The perfect campervan awning

Buying or hiring a campervan or motorhome – Aston Leisure, Edinburgh

Outwell collapsible kettle


Resources

Why is the VW California not available in the USA ?

What do you take in your campervan ?

Wild camping in Scotland – Campervans and motorhomes

Campervans on small Scottish islands – Beyond the pale ?

Time for some stealth camping

How to survive a family campervan holiday

VW waving etiquette

The Volksfling Campervan Cookbook

Cooking a gourmet meal in a campervan

VW California roof corrosion update, February 2017


VW California meets

Scottish VW California meet, May 2016

Scottish VW California meet, November 2015

Scottish VW California meet, March 2015

Scottish VW California meet, March 2014

Scottish VW California meet, November 2012

Eskdale Dubfest 2016