1997 VW T4 California worth it?

Hello fellow Vanlifers,

I have been thinking about embarking my vanlife for awhile now, and I am finally doing it! I mean, if not now, when?

As a solo female traveler, my knowledge for vehicle are very minimal, thus I would like to reach out with some questions as I am planning to purchase my first van. I am base in Europe and have been looking into purchasing a VW T4 (transporter or California). So I recently spotted a 1997 VW T4 California with a pop-up roof and everything equipped already (obviously I will re-do the interior). It’s appealing to me as it already has the pop-up roof ready, however, I am not sure if it’s wise to get a 20+ year old van if I no nothing about cars.

So my question is, do you think it’s risky to purchase a 1997 VW T4 with 178,000 km (roughly 110k miles)?

Any thoughts or tips are welcome.

Thanks a million in advance :slight_smile:

Greetings & Welcome!

Start by getting a pre-purchase inspection done by a qualified mechanic. Then you’ll have a clearer picture of it’s mechanical condition. They should be able to advise you on what it needs or is likely to need, and also it’s reliability.

If it’s already a factory camper, the absolute last thing you want to do is to redo it, that greatly devalues it. The value is it being all original.

Forget all the DIY garbage you see online, they’re just after your money whether it’s obvious or not. Without years of experience living in vehicles, DIY is usually the worst choice you can make, because you want something that is fully functional and will meeet your needs, not just be picture perfect. Most of those picture perfect rigs would actually be horrible to actually live or camp in.

There’s actually nothing wrong with purchasing older rigs as long as they’re in good shape. Older ones will often give you the best bang for your bucks. I prefer fully depreciated campers, because if you keep them original, and keep up on maintenance, they hold their value much better than newer rigs.

Most of the California’s I’ve seen are only lacking a few simple things I would add, a toilet, a generator, and a pop-up shower tent for the existing outdoor shower at the back. With these cheap additions, they could be move in ready instantly, and very capable of keeping you very comfortable. You really only need a generator if you’re not driving enough to keep your house battery charged, or you need shore power when none is available, and you don’t need an expensive one. Buy a cheap one locally if you need one. All the Amazon and other online links are designed to make someone else money. I only buy online if I can’t get something locally, and I never buy anything some unknown person has provided a link to. 99% of the time you can buy that identical item cheaper than the one provided in the link. The dollar store is a much better friend than the promoters.

I think renting a camper van and trying out the van life first is a good idea. It isn’t for everybody, and a lot of people lose a lot of money to find that out. I’m against risking more than you can afford to lose.

What about money? A reliable income is essential. This should be well established before you even consider van life. Finding work on the road when you need it can be very difficult if not impossible. A large emergency fund is also highly recommended, large enough to replace everything and live on for at least 6 months to a year. Things beyond our control can and do happen, a lost job, an accident, physical injuries, stolen vehicles, unexpected breakdowns, etc. The time to plan for these things is before they happen, not after.

Nomads don’t typically have the safety & security of most folks, unless we create it ourselves. We spend a lot of time far away from our friends and family, and they may not be able to help anyway, no matter how good their intentions are. The only person we can count on is ourselves, and that takes extra planning and money. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life as a nomad, but proper planning helps prevent premature failure.

Many nomads work online, but that requires a good internet connection. Just something to be aware of. Others work through temp agency’s and stay put long enough to earn more traveling money. Some follow the harvests, and some work jobs that involve traveling, Most actually hold regular jobs while living in vehicles and only travel on weekends or while on vacation. Regardless of what you choose, there are many opportunities available that will work with this lifestyle.

Nomads frequently need to extra resilient and resourceful. We need to be able to solve problems that many others may never be confronted with. While an online community can be very valuable, we need to be prepared for the times when we can only rely upon ourselves, and our own knowledge and skills. Proper planning provides peace of mind.

Good Luck & keep us posted!


"If you prepare for the worst, every thing else is easier." ~ Off Grid