Buyers Guide

The Volkswagen California is undoubtedly a remarkable and robust vehicle that will provide many years of adventure and unparalleled fun. However, despite its renowned reliability there are still things you need to look out for when considering your purchase. The following four part guide will give you some basic advice for what to look for and what to avoid.


While it is always important to check the mechanical workings and history of any vehicle prior to purchase, for this guide we are focusing mostly on the unique fixtures and fittings associated with the live-in aspects of a VW California, especially those pertinent to the UK market.


For the electric roof found on the California, check the buttons and operation of the overhead control panel used to lift the roof, this should operate with the ignition turned on, but there should be no need for the engine to be on. The overhead blind should move back and forth smoothly and stay closed when shut.

For the manual roof found on the Beach, check that all the clasps and closing mechanisms work and that the roof lifts easily. Check that no material has been snagged in the closing clips.

Check that the roof lifts smoothly and evenly on both sides; we would suggest checking this more than once.

Check that the roof is in alignment when raised, and look for any signs of damage on the canvas, especially behind the metal mechanism at the rear sides of the pop top.

There is an area, a type of band that naturally folds inwards when the roof is lowered, and if the canvas has been caught this is usually the place where damage occurs. This is not uncommon, but if there is any damage, assess whether you can live with it or not; the damage is usually minimal in this section and only usually affects the outside.

Please note that there are three layers to this section – the outer canvas, the inner plastic band and the inner canvas and it can be patched successfully. If the canvas is caught in other areas then this might be more of a problem and can be used to negotiate a discount.

Check the front band has not been caught causing a bend low down on the band. If it has it is not a major problem but it may cause the canvas to pop out when closing and this will require the operator to be more vigilant when closing the roof and guiding the canvas inward.

When the roof is open check that the roof has not been damaged by racks or surf boards etc. and there are no signs that is has be driven or erected under low hanging branch or low slung roofs.

Look down the profile of the roof sides to check for any kinks or bends. A small kink can indicate the canvas has been trapped regardless of whether damage has been done to the canvas or not. Most people are happy to live with a small amount of kinking, so it is up to you to decide if this is an issue.

There is a flexible light pole inside the pop top. Check that it is not loose or broken, that the fixtures are sturdy and the housing on the light are complete. This is a minor issue but replacing the stem can prove quite annoying.



Check the electric hook-up point. Check that the flap opens and closes and there is no corrosion or damage to the connection. If you get the chance to connect it up, the overhead control panel (above the cab) will tell you if it is charging the battery.

There are two water tanks. One for fresh water and one for the waste.

Look for signs of leaking around the exterior of the vehicle. There is a red lever located under the shelf in the rear cupboard in the tailgate that you release to drain the fresh water and another located under the sink to drain the waste water .

Allow some water go down the plughole to ensure there is no blockage, the water will run out slowly.

Check the tap for leakage and ensure that it is not loose and works properly.



In this section of our California buyers guide we will be concentrating on the kitchen and food preparation area along with the comfort of the rear heater.


Check that the ignition works on the cooker and there is no smell of gas.

There is a tap under the sink to isolate the gas, and it can also be turned on and off at the gas bottle (securely housed in the rear). If there is no gas bottle ensure all the fittings and governors are there to install a new bottle.

14-lrg-calCheck that the fridge works – it is probably a good idea to turn it on when you arrive to ensure it has cooled down by the time you have looked around everything. The overhead display will indicate that the fridge is working by means of a snowflake icon.

Check all fixtures and fittings including the doors handles and hinges – note that shelf clips can go missing but the cost pennies to replace. Best to just open all doors, drawers and cupboards. The small plastic washing up bowl can get melted whist cooking, so don’t forget to check this too.


Check that this works, operation of this is done from the heads up control panel. Check there are no diesel fumes in the vehicle and that the air blown out is hot. Check that the remote fob to operate the heating is present and works.


If you have been following this guide in order, you should have already used this overhead control to operate the roof, the heating system and the fridge.

Having been show all of the features this should highlight any potential problems with unresponsive controls, dead pixels etc.

If the water tank is full check that it reads full as there maybe a problem with the sender unit in the water tank.


Continuing our guide to buying a Volkswagen California, in this section we will be focusing on the swivelling captain seats and main living area.


Check the swivel seats in the front for any loose trim, this can drop a little and catch on the fixtures as it spins.

The arm rests on the driver and passenger seats should be checked in case someone has stood on them to get into the top bed.vww_clfn-bch_capacitysleeping

The door cards of the front doors can become scuffed in the seats are turned without opening the door – a good tip we find is to locate the optimal position for swivelling the seat, and marking it with a sticker so that you can line it up in future with minimal fuss.


The bench seat is released by pulling up the lever in the base, next to the drawer. Check that it slides freely and the stopper is in place to position it correctly to make the bed.

Drop the headrests back and ensure the strap is not damaged. We would suggest if the vehicle does not have a sleep pack or mattress topper that you invest in one to give a more comfortable night’s sleep.

There is a panel near the kitchen that comes off to allow storage of long items like fishing poles etc.

PLEASE NOTE. For the Beach with a third seat, we suggest that you get a full demonstration of the operation as there is a specific sequence to use this correctly.

For vans with three floor rails there is an option to put a fifth seat on board. You can not have this addition if there are only two rails so if you require a fifth seat then make sure you go for the three rail model.


Pull down all blinds to make sure they all stay down – it’s easy to miss if you don’t know where it is, but there is a small horizontal blind for the window next to the wardrobe.

On UK models, there is also a pack of 3 blinds that covers the windscreen and front side windows, it should have a front blind and drivers and passenger blind. On Euro models the windscreen has a built in blind that lifts from the dashboard.

Operate all windows to ensure they all open and close correctly.


In this, the final section of our VW California buyer’s guide we will spend some time looking at the provided tables, stowaway chairs and optional sun canopy.


There are two tables with the California. The inner table, stowed next to the kitchen units and a larger removable table that fits into the sliding door.


Check this moves freely, the leg is secure, look underneath especially at the rivets to ensure no weight has been applied to the table.

For the inner table there is an included strap that hooks around the head restraint to turn it into a work surface – check that this is included. If it is missing a new table strap can be bought for around £13.

For the outdoor table that is stowed in the sliding door, check that the ledge it sits in is firm and has not been stepped on. Open the table to check that it has a levelling screw for uneven ground on one of the legs, and that the legs clip open and close smoothly.


Stowaway ChairsIn the tailgate there is a zipped compartment for stowing chairs. Check this holder for the chairs; check the zips and rings that hold the seats in place. Take the deck chairs out and open them and check for wear and make sure that all the bolts are in place – these can work loose and so we recommend you tighten every once in a while.


If included, check that the winder and pegs are with the vehicle. Unwind about 45cm and bring the legs down for support. Then wind the canopy out to it full span. Check the legs and the fittings, check the canvas for stretching and tears.

03See that everything winds out and in reasonably smoothly.


Chances are that there will be a degree of wear and tear around the boot area – make sure that this is an acceptable level. Check that the parcel shelf / bed frame can be removed and moved up to or down to the next level as the fixtures for this can suffer a few knocks.

While in the back you should also check the mattress for any signs of damage.

Fitted to the rear bench / bed and accessed from the rear is the toolbox. Check the contents for Jack, Screwdriver, Centre Cap remover, Wheel brace and wheel nut key.


Other items you should have with the vehicle as standard (depending on options).

  • Two sets of Keys
  • Remote Heating Fob
  • Water Cap Key
  • Handbook/Roadside Assistance Book/ Service Book
  • Cutlery Insert
  • Emergency Roof Strap
  • Table strap
  • Plastic sink bowl
  • Sink Plug
  • Fridge Basket
  • EU hook up Lead
  • Sun Canopy Winder
  • Four Pegs
  • Curtain/Blind Pack
  • Mosquito Mesh for Sliding Window
  • Rear Mattress
  • Top Bed Mattress
  • Top Bed Safety Net
  • First Aid Kit
  • Warning Triangle
  • Gas Fittings
  • Toolkit

There maybe other extras sold with the vehicle that are not listed above.

We would recommend going to your main dealer or any big Camping and Caravanning Show to check out a new California to see what the vehicle entails, and to use this demonstration as your guide to inspecting a used vehicle.

One of the best ways to try a campervan is to hire first; a test drive and demo won’t let you get a feel for what it would be like to live in a 5m by 2m vehicle for any extended period.

We would highly recommend that you hire with on a “try before you buy” deal. The friendly staff have a wealth of experience between them and will talk you through every aspect of the Campervan ensuring it is the right vehicle for you.

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