Buying a Volkswagen California

Buying a Volkswagen California

The VW California in its many incarnations is undoubtedly a remarkable vehicle that will provide years of adventure and unparalleled fun. However, regardless of this there will still be things you need to be aware of when considering your purchase. This in-depth six part guide  and printable checklist will give you some basic advice for what to look for and what to avoid. Also, be sure to check out our Classified Ads section as you may find your next adventure on this very website.

  • Part one covers the elevating roof, water tanks and electrical hookup.
  • Part two includes the kitchen area and interior heating
  • Part three contains information on the lower living area and privacy blinds
  • Part four has information on outdoor camping equipment, including the sun canopy
  • Part five tells you about the tailgate storage, toolbox and includes an equipment inventory
  • Part six gives you a very brief overview of the technical side of the van, which is largely the same for buying any vehicle

Don’t forget to download our printable checklist by clicking here.


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 Volkswagen California, especially those pertinent to the UK market.


For the electric roof found on the California SE and Ocean, 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 running. There is an overhead blind that covers the roof bellows for driving; this should slide back and forth smoothly on its runners and stay closed when driving, although from time to time it is not uncommon for this to slide open a few centimetres and require closing again.

For the manual roof found on the Beach (and Coast in the rest of Europe), check that all the clasps and closing mechanisms work and that the roof lifts easily. As with all manual roofs it is possible to snag the bellows with the clips so you may find small holes where where the material has been caught, Also check the spines that stitched in to the bellow fabric as these too can be bent or deformed from poor observation when closing the roof.

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 “scissor” mechanism at the rear sides of the pop top.

There is an area; a type of band or spine 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 the result of user error and failure to observe the roof bellows closing inwards especially in windy conditions. This is not uncommon, so 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, rhus causing a bend low down on the band. If it has this is not a major problem but it may cause the canvas to pop out when closing and require the operator to be more vigilant with guiding the canvas inward.

Check around the join between the canvas and the roof cap to ensure it is not coming away at all, some T6’s have been repaired under warranty for this.

When the roof is open check that the top 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, barrier or similar.

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. It could also be that someone has closed the roof with bedding or objects still in the top. 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 or whether it has been reflected in the purchase price.

There is a flexible light pole inside the pop top of the T5; Check that it is not loose or broken, that the fixtures are sturdy and the housing on the light are complete. If the halogen reading light has been accidentally left on while the roof closed this could have damaged the clear plastic cover, which can fall out as a result. This is a minor issue but replacing the stem requires a some wiring and could mean upgrading  to the new T5 5 LED light (available to buy online). Fortunately the T6 avoids the stalk light completely with the introduction of LED dimmable comfort lighting integrated into the roof.


Check the electric hook-up point. Check that the flap opens and closes and there is no damage to the connection or panel – for example by driving off while connected to the mains (there is a warning alarm should you accidentally do this). If you get the chance to connect it up, the overhead control panel (above the cab) will tell you whether the hook up is charging the batter by displaying a two pronged – continental plug symbol bottom right. Incidentally a ‘G’ symbol means charging when you are driving.

There are two water tanks; one 30 litre tank for fresh water and one 30 litre waste tank for water collected from the sink.  There is a drain handle inside the bottom left of the cupboard — when in a vertical position the tank will hold waste water; when horizontal it will drain the waste tank from a pipe located underneath the bottom sill, near to the rear wheel.

Look for signs of leaking around the exterior of the vehicle. There is another red lever located under the shelf in the rear cupboard of the tailgate (above the gas bottle housing) that you release to drain the fresh water.

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

Check the tap is secure, that there are no leaks and it works properly. Occasionally a micro switch or water pump could fail, especially if the vehicle has been subject to extreme freezing temperatures.


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 just below the hob to isolate the gas, and it should also be turned on and off at the gas bottle when driving (securely housed in the rear). If there is no gas bottle ensure all the fittings and regulators are there to install a new one.

Check 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 an illuminated snowflake icon

Check all fixtures and fittings, doors handles and hinges including those on the pull out table – note that shelf clips can go missing but they also cost pennies to replace. Best to just open all doors, drawers and cupboards. The small plastic washing up bowl can melt while cooking, so don’t forget to check this too.


Operating the independent rear heating is done from the heads up control panel in much the same way as the fridge; there is an icon on the overhead display that illuminates when operational. The warm air is blown from a vent on the door column. There will be a slight smell of diesel on startup, but after this make sure there are no ongoing fumes in the vehicle and that the air 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.

There is an icon on the left of the display to tell you how much water is in the tank – If the the tank is full check that it says so as there maybe a problem with the sender unit.


Continuing our guide to buying a Volkswagen California, in this section we will be focusing on the rotating 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. if the seats have been turned incorrectly there may be scuffing in the door trims and seat columns as we will explain below.

The armrests on the driver and passenger seats should be checked in case someone has stood on them to get into the top bed.

The door cards on the front can become scuffed in the seats are turned without opening the door or badly positioned – a good tip 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 at the rear is released by pulling up the lever to the right of the drawer. Check it slides freely and the stopper is in place to position it correctly.

Drop the headrests back via the button and ensure the pull-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.

There is a panel in the base, near the kitchen, that comes off to allow storage of long items like skis etc.

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

Also, 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.

WINDOWS AND BLINDS The privacy screens are nearly all different depending on the part of the van and the model year. 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 sideways running blind for the window next to the wardrobe. On UK T5 and Beach models, there is a pack of 3 blinds that covers the windscreen and front side windows, it should have a front blind and driver and passenger blind. On the T6 Ocean and older European models the windscreen has a built in blind that extends over the dashboard, and as such the pack will only contain blinds for the front side windows. Pay special attention to the blind above the sliding door as it can become accidentally bent from people climbing in and out and bashing their heads. Operate all windows to ensure they all open and close correctly – the rear windows operate by pinching the middle catch together.


In this, the fourth section of our VW California buyer’s guide we will spend some time looking at the provided tables, stowaway chairs and optional roll-out 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 the kitchen area into an L shaped work surface – check that this is included. If it is missing a new table strap can be replaced relatively simply.

There is an outdoor table that is stowed in the sliding door. Check that the ledge it sits in is firm and has not been stepped on or scuffed. 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.


In the tailgate there is a zipped compartment for stowing chairs. Check this holder that the chairs are there; 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 and tight – these do 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 its full span. Check the legs and the fittings, check the canvas for stretching and tears.

See that everything winds out and in reasonably smoothly and that the legs lock into position. Check that the tent pegs are still in place, but if not they can be replaced relatively cheaply.

When winding out the canopy the handle and legs can knock against the bodywork – be careful when doing this by positioning your arm between the bodywork and the handle – and check for scuffs and dents that you might not otherwise notice.


In this, the fifth section of our VW California buyer’s guide we will focus on the positioning of the toolbox and the shower sometimes found below the rear parcel shelf. We also include a checklist of included and optional camping / comfort equipment.


Chances are that there will be a degree of wear and tear around the boot area – make sure that this is at 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.

One thing to be aware of is that the rear cupboard shutters can sometimes split, and while they may sometimes be repaired under warranty, this may not be available for all vehicles.

Whilst in the back you should also check the mattress for any signs of damage, and also (depending on options) check that the rear shower is present and working.

Fitted to the rear bench / bed and accessed from the bottom rear is the toolbox. Check the contents for Jack, Screwdriver, Centre Cap remover, Wheel brace and locking wheel nut key. Depending on options there is also a shower attachment stored under the shelf above the gas bottle – check that this fits into its bayonet mount correctly, switches on and operates properly.  


Other items you may 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 Tent 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
  • Locking wheel nut

There maybe other extras sold with the vehicle that are not listed above, and you can always download our multi-point checklist that is linked above.

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

One of the best ways to get to know 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 box for any extended period. If you do choose to hire, then we highly recommend you read our article on choosing a hire company.


While it is always important to check the mechanical workings and history of any vehicle prior to purchase, for this guide we have focused mostly on the unique fixtures and fittings associated with the live-in aspects of a Volkswagen California; this final addendum gives a brief overview of what to look for mechanically when buying second hand.


There really is no reason to buy a T5 or T6 California without a full service history. People love these vans and tend to keep them serviced and looked after for many years. If there are missing stamps in the book then this may be evidence of neglect at some point.

The T5 and T6s are very resistant to rot, even around common areas. If it shows signs of rust then do not be scared to walk away, even if the vehicle is relatively new — there will always be other vans to choose from.

There have been some reports of bubbling paint around the perimeter of the elevating roof, and although VW agreed to repair vans up to 6 years old under their warranty, this rare issue is something you should check for on the off chance it was missed.

Listen out for any vibrations when it’s running a T5 as the dual mass flywheel is prone to failing; do not worry so much about vibrations from the camping interior as this typically contains a lot of equipment. The steering column in the T5 has also been reported to knock – this does not affect all T5 vans, but beware when buying an older second hand model.

There have been reports of problems with the older bi-turbo engines – apparently there has been an oil pressure issue with this engine, that is also sometimes evidenced by a loud knocking noise.

As with all vehicles, everything will be subject to wear and tear, and there may be issues we have missed through oversight or changes to spec. As such it is always best to have a suitably qualified professional with you when going to view any potential purchase.


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Campervanning With Kids? What You Need To Know

Campervanning With Kids? What You Need To Know

Originally published on Belle about Town, by Emily Cleary


As a lover of home comforts and my own space, booking a campervan holiday has never even neared the top of my must-do list. Give me a facial over a field anytime. But having recently researched a story of Top Tips for those planning a campervan holiday this summer, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued as to what the whole appeal was.

I’m fine with the great outdoors, it’s the claustrophobic indoors of a tent with two toddlers that has put me off the idea of camping since having kids. One night I can just about deal with, two nights is my max. Seriously, you spend hours loading up a car and trailer/roof box, spend another few hours driving to a muddy field somewhere, then another few hours later you’ve finally battled with canvas to erect your home for the night and you all bed down in a sweaty space where standing up straight feels like a luxury, for about three hours sleep before the sun/birds/tractors/rain wake you up at 4am and the pain all starts again. That’s not my idea of a holiday.

However, campervans clearly take a lot of stress out of the situation. No tent to erect, a proper bed to sleep on, and the freedom to just get up and go if you don’t like the spot you picked. So there we have it – I bit the bullet and called Kate from Campervantastic to see if we could rent a vehicle for the week and see how we got on. This was the result…

Day One and my husband picks up our van from Kate and husband Steve at their HQ in Forest Hill and drives it back to our Buckinghamshire home. By the time he arrives he has fallen in love. As soon as they spy the vehicle our kids run up to it and climb inside, squealing with excitement and shrieking with glee at every new discovery. Our VW California is brand new, with just 900 miles on the clock, and offers more facilities than my first bedsit. There’s two double matressess, one top one bottom, and the front seats swivel round giving a good feel of space inside when stationary. The kitchen comes kitted out with two hobs, a fridge, plenty of storage space and even crockery, cutlery, pots and pans (all decorated with VW campervans, of course). There’s a wardrobe at the back to hang your stuff, there are cubby holes everywhere, there’s even running water at a fully functional sink, and a shower head to attach to the back. There are blackout blinds to pull across at nighttime – a godsend when you’re holidaying with young kids – and tiny lights all around to save you grappling for a torch in the dead of night. There’s heating and aircon, and extra space in the back for car seats etc to be stored nicely out the way. The van comes complete with isofix fittings in the back seats – another essential if planning a trip with kids (although they’re bloody fiddly to fix in).

Having packed up a few clothes, extra bedding, and enough wet wipes to wash a small army, we set off down the M3 in search of some fun. The beauty of campervanning is the sense of freedom. No worrying about what pitch to pick or whether the tent is facing in the right direction, if it’s not right you can just move. Flying down the motorway we were aware of the envious looks of other road users. Caravanners snorted as we overtook their cumbersome slow-lane-hoggers, and everyone from boy racers to friendly grannies gave a toot or a wave as we pulled up beside them at traffic lights. Dennis, as he had been christened by my weird kids, was a star in his own right.

We parked Dennis up at a caravan club campsite near Salisbury for the night, enjoyed several (hic) pints of cider at the local pub while the kids ran around the garden, then retired for a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

My problem with camping is this: kids.

Going to Glasto as a teen I could take the tent because after a skinful I could sleep through a hurricane if I had to (in fact I once did), but you don’t drink to that level when you have small people to look after, and five years of motherhood has bashed out any ability to sleep through anything anymore, so I dread any time when we’re all in the same space because it inevitably means late nights, ridiculously dawn-chorus early mornings, and lots of wriggling on an uncomfy surface in between. Dennis, however, was different.

Dennis was comfy, Dennis was dark, and Dennis, dear reader, gave me the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. Seriously. Maybe it was the five pints of scrumpy (me), maybe it was the exhaustion of over-excitement (them) or maybe it was just sheer happiness at being away from work and school (all of us), but something clicked that night and we all woke up fresh, excited, and raring to go. So that’s what we did. No worrying about drying out groundsheets or meandering checkout queues, we packed up Dennis, swivelled the seats round, and hit the road towards Devon.

I have friends lucky enough not to have to take toddlers on holiday who campervan so much I joke they might as well live in it. I’ve never seen the attraction, until now. But while they can literally

just jump in and go whenever they get a spare second, we had to plan a bit more. I booked us into a holiday park near Paignton. An electric pitch is highly recommended because you can then plug in and feel the freedom of charging phones, running speakers, even watching TVs and DVDs without any worry of draining batteries. We also booked a space with room for an awning. This side tent that attaches to the van is invaluable if the weather isn’t so good. Even the closest of families needs space sometimes, and even Dennis wouldn’t be desirable for two grumpy grown ups and frustrated small people during a thunderstorm. An awning gives you a room on the side of your van, space to bung the bags, set up tables, why you can even create your own skittle alley in there if you feel so inclined. We did.

Keeping the kids entertained wasn’t hard. As well as the holiday park attractions of arcades, playgrounds and even an outdoor swimming pool, there was Dennis. We spent a lot more time just mucking around by the pitch as it really felt like we had brought home with us. My son loved snuggling up on the seat with his Plox box of fun (if you’ve never bought one, you must – there’s hours of fun for the creative and crafty child to take on their travels), and the girl could chill out and watch Hey Duggee on her iPad when she needed an afternoon rest and recharge. I could pluck an ice cold prosecco from the fridge, ditto husband with a beer. It felt like Dennis offered us more facilities than a hotel room at times.

My family and I spent five nights in Dennis and while I was glad to get back to my own bed at the end of it, I didn’t return exhausted, grubby, and in need of another holiday – a sensation all too familiar to most parents after a family camping trip. The site we stayed on had a fab shower block, and you find that as you’re using an electric pitch you’re surrounded by caravans and motorhomes which all have their own facilities, so the queues in the morning aren’t too bad either.

We didn’t just survive, we loved it. So much so that both the kids (and the husband, if I’m honest) even shed a tear when Dennis had to go home. And me? I’m a campervan convert. I’d definitely hire one again. If I had enough money I’d even buy one, and I’ll tell you one thing: I’m never sleeping in a tent again.


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Installing a Bike Rack

Installing a Bike Rack

Our friends at California Camping headed into London to visit our other friends at Campervantastic, where they got to install a brand new VW T6 Bike Rack onto their VW California Ocean. Watch the video to see just how simple it is.



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Top Ten Tips For Campervanning

Top Ten Tips For Campervanning

With half term on its way and Summer holidays already looming, it’s a good time to think about how you’ll handle the loss of home comforts if you’re planning on Camper Vanning this year. Hitting the open road in a camper van is an increasingly popular way to holiday with family, and with so many luxury vehicles on the market it’s the next natural step up from glamping.

Campervanning in the UK can have its drawbacks – the English weather for one. But while we can’t do anything about that, we can offer you expert advice on how to make any campervan trip this summer as smooth and stress-free as possible. We consulted founder and director of Camper Van hire company Campervantastic, Kate Lumley, for her hacks, tips and tricks when campervanning this summer, be you seasoned traveller or first time trier. Here’s what she said…

1. Think quality not quantity when packing.

Plan your storage both for when you’re on the road and when you reach your pitch. The more stuff you bring the harder it is to stow it away, find the things you need and keep the dinky campervan interior clear of debris.

2. It’s all about layers!

The sunniest day can end in a surprisingly chilly evening, and with the English weather notoriously unpredictable you might just end up wearing everything at once! A hat and some big woolly socks are essentials, even in the Summer they keep the evening chill at bay.

3. Pack directly

Put everything into your campervan rather than putting everything in suitcases and boxes. Packing cubes are your friend as everyone can have one or two and they are easily squished into small cupboards or around bigger items in the boot.

4. Lighten Up

Solar powered or battery-operated fairy lights are available in most supermarkets at this time of year. Pick some pretty ones and string them around your pitch – you’ll always know where to come back to when it gets dark.

5. Take a Torch

Head torches are a great accesory as they leave both hands free to take care of the important camping stuff!

6. Plan Ahead

Some quick breakfast options on hand for kids make life much easier when they wake-up with the larks! A porridge pot or cereal bar should keep them going for a couple of hours before you face the day and cook up a leisurely brunch!

7. Pick a perfect pitch.

We love the “Cool Camping” guides for finding the quirkier sites, plus you can search ‘allows campervan’ as an option to ensure the site is suitable. Once you’ve identified your campsite look it up on google maps to find out if it really is that close to the beach or far enough away from the motorway traffic. Also check whether they allow camp fires because nothing beats sitting around a fire toasting marshmallows.

8. Sleep Well

Good sleep is the key to a successful trip so make sure everyone has a comfy, warm bed for the night. I love taking proper bedding including pillows, duvet and a fleecy blanket or throw and always make sure the beds are made before drinking wine and sitting around above-mentioned fire! Also comforts from home like pyjamas are more than just practical, it’s not a fashion show but think about what you might wear when sneaking off to the facilities in the middle of the night, you’ll see some seasoned campers strutting about in dressing gowns!

9. Enjoy The Dark

One of our favourite things about camping is the spectacular view of the stars. You don’t need any special equipment to discover a number of constellations, just get as far away as possible from artificial light and a star book or app can guide you easily around the night sky.

10. Relax

One luxury item you may not have considered to sneak into your packing is a hammock. CamperVanTastic sell these amazing hammocks made from Parachute Silk that are unbelievably relaxing. Perfect for an afternoon doze below a tree canopy.




Adapted from the article on Belle About Town by Emily Cleary


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Hiring a Campervan

Hiring a Campervan

Dreaming of driving a Volkswagen Campervan into the wilds but not sure if you are ready for the responsibility of full time ownership?

If this is the case, then Volkswagen California Hire may be just your ticket to a whole new world of adventure. But, before you race out to rent the first available van, we suggest you take some time to read the following points and consider the important things you may need to be aware of.

Remember that cheapest is not always the best or most suitable option, which means you should find out everything the company offers so you don’t come unstuck should you later discover the comforts you require aren’t included in the deal.

Part 1. Why the Volkswagen California?

Not all vehicles will come with the top of the range engine or vehicle specifications. find out the power of the engine and fuel economy, and on older vehicles look for ABS, airbags, rear seat belts and other safety features.

Some newer vehicles may have privacy glass, double glazing, air conditioning, heated seats, stop/start technology (Bluemotion), parking assistance and other state of the art features not present in older vehicles – such as the integrated satellite navigation system and handsfree calling present only in the top level Californias.

While there is a certain charm about the classic Volkswagens, it’s important to note that this often fades when you discover how slow they can be, how uneconomical they are on fuel, and how “hit and miss” the handling is.

We know that not everyone is concerned with technological features, but a great driving experience makes a massive difference to being refreshed enough to enjoy the sights along your journey. As well as a fantastic time camping at your chosen destinations, for many people it’s just as important to enjoy the ride.

What’s included in your van?

The best companies will include everything you will want for your adventure, such as all the crockery, cookware and cutlery you’ll need. Also, level ups, electric hook up cable, socket adapter, comfort mattress topper, roll out sun canopy, TV/DVD player and satellite navigation – some may even provide tea and coffee for extra comfort.

Many will charge extra for the privilege of a fully stocked up van, so make sure you’re not caught short when wanting that roadside brew.

Some companies also provide a wide selection of other extras, such as drive-away awnings (some easier to use then others), bike carriers, tow bars, roof bars and boxes, barbecues, hammocks, additional chairs, chemical toilets, child seats, snow tyres and chains, hot climate packs, cold weather packs and more. Even if you don’t think you need these items, it’s always good to have them as an option.

Part 3. Insurance, breakdown and security

Along with standard comprehensive insurance, find out whether they offer the option of a collision damage waiver which will save you from paying a hefty excess in the unlikely event of an accident.

Also, be informed that (as with all travel) you may wish to take out additional  insurance for personal items, including anything attached to bike racks and roof bars. A good company will advise you of any potential issues that you may need to cover for beyond the vehicle itself.

All good campervan rental companies will publish their terms and conditions of hire, so we recommend you take time to read these thoroughly to acquaint yourself with both your rights and responsibilities as a hirer and anything that may be excluded from your cover.

Please note that not every hire company will use vans that are still under warranty, and while most vehicles have some kind of breakdown cover, only the Volkswagen California is purpose built by the manufacturer.

This means that, if your hire vehicle is still fairly new, then everything from the engine to the tap washer will be covered and can be dealt with by your nearest Volkswagen dealer. Anything other than a California and you could find your broken equipment on backorder indefinitely.

Some companies will also use tracking devices to protect the vehicle from theft and unauthorised use. This means the vehicle speed has been monitored and you can be assured it has been driven carefully and well looked after. It also means the company can inform you of any incurred charges and tolls that you may otherwise forget and be fined for.

Finally, ask the fleet size so you can avoid missing out should you need a replacement vehicle – while the vans themselves are extremely reliable, it doesn’t mean that things never go wrong.

3. European Cover and equipment

For now, it is still a legal requirement that all UK motor insurance policies have third party cover for the European Union — but it’s very unlikely your hire company will allow overseas travel without comprehensive cover. Therefore it is a good idea to enquire with the company to make sure they offer this, should you decide to leave the UK.

A reputable hire company will provide you with all the necessary equipment you will need abroad, and this also varies from country to country.

Depending on where you plan to visit, the required extras could include warning triangles (two for Spain) alcohol sensors, high visibility vests (one for each occupant), bike rack warning signs, headlight beam converters, EU hookup cables, winter tyres, and of course, the appropriate paperwork to prove you have permission to take the vehicle to the country you are visiting.

Part 4. Are they BVRLA approved?

BVRLA LogoIf the hire company is accredited by The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association then you have the ultimate in protection in the unlikely event that anything goes wrong.

Members of the BVRLA have to follow a stringent set of rules that offer customers total security, including a mediation service should disputes ever arise. For example, they offer guidelines on what constitutes “fair wear and tear” and issues with windscreen cover and insurance excesses; all potentially contentious situations when dealing with the return of security deposits etc.

If the company does not have BRVLA quality assurance you may not receive the level or service you deserve, and as such we strongly advise you to tread exceptionally carefully.

Does their reputation check out?

Look at Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites to see how many followers they have and how easy they are to engage with. Also, search Google for reviews, news articles and any other information you can find.

There is no better way of checking a company than by looking for recommendations from previous users, but there are also news articles, accreditations, affiliations and awards they may have gained through their years in business, and most companies are usually happy to share this information on their website.

Speak to the company themselves; gauge email correspondence, or better still telephone or visit to see how helpful they are.  Are they happy to speak with you about your requirements, are they considering your overall experience, or are they just trying to sell you add-ons you may not need?

The more established companies will advise on extras based on the type of holiday you are looking for, and their staff should have extensive collective experience of everything you should want and expect from your adventure.

A good company will be happy to discuss their favourite campsites, offer travelling tips and explain any part of the vehicle you need help with. They should also explain the hire agreement in a way you can understand and be available to answer other questions or concerns you may have.

Part 4. Hiring privately owned vehicles

Some campervan owners privately hire out their vehicles as a means of generating extra income. Sometimes they do this as individuals, but often they work through an agency or online “booking engine” who arrange hire on their behalf.

No matter how genuine these people may seem, and most of them are incredibly well intended, our advice is to proceed with caution. Always be vigilant when dealing with such vehicles or agencies, and read the previous six points carefully in advance of agreeing to hire.

A privately owned hire is likely to be much a more personal experience, especially if the vehicle is the only one in ownership, and as such it will likely be a part of the family. Your return experience could be much more uncomfortable if there is any damage or if anything goes wrong, or even if it fails to live up to your expectations.

Occasionally we are told of worst-case scenarios of double-bookings and other situations where the van became unavailable at the last minute due to personal circumstance, and also tales of deposits not being returned and suggestions of damage where the handover wasn’t carried out thoroughly.

Worst of all we have seen people part with money, only to later discover there was never a van to begin because the booking agent had listed a bogus advert. Festival goers seem to be most vulnerable to this type of scam – so please be especially careful if this potentially applies to you.

Thankfully nightmare experiences are very rare, and most private hirers are authentic, but it is wise to consider all possibilities when dealing with anyone who isn’t well established and cannot provide shining credentials.

As always, we advise you to do your homework, explore everything and do not be afraid to ask questions.

Part 5. Insist on a professional handover

An experienced hire company specialising in Volkswagen Californias should be able to offer you a thorough handover, usually lasting 45 minutes depending on your previous experience.

During this time they will explain all the fixtures and fittings, how to change gas bottles, operate the roof, turn on the water and adjust the heating and air conditioning. They will also be able to demonstrate any additional extras, like bike racks, roof bars and awnings.

You should then be able to walk around the vehicle with the person handing over the van to inspect the bodywork, tyres, pop-up roof and interior. The vehicle should be clean and tidy, with enough fuel, gas and water to see you on your journey. Only when you are satisfied should you sign and drive away.

In conclusion

A holiday is supposed to be the chance to break away from the stresses and strains of modern living. So, while there are plenty of choices available for hiring a campervan, whether for a short weekend away or a longer adventure into more remote parts, it’s never a bad idea to consider exactly what your requirements are and do some homework before making that investment.

Things are better when we don’t cut corners, and therefore we always recommend using an established, experienced and trustworthy Volkswagen California hire company above anyone else, because a carefully planned adventure will make the world of difference!


A quick note to hire companies…
If you own or manage a reputable hire company, then you may wish to consider being added to our new featured hirers map.


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