A Volkswagen T3 van to live in: pros and cons

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We have been living full time in our Volkswagen T3 for about two years now. When we bought it, we did not research about living in a van much. We knew we wanted to drive from Berlin to Morocco, that we wanted a van that we could sleep in and also take some extra passengers, and we preferred a diesel engine. When we came across Box, we were sold…love at first sight basically.

After two years we know Box very well. We know what assets of the Volkswagen T3 we like and what we don’t like so much. We know what it’s like to live full time in a VW Westfalia campervan. In this article we want to list all the pro’s and cons of a Volkswagen van to live in. So if you are in the process of finding a liveable van, you know what to expect of the T3.

Pros of the T3 as a van to live in

Luckily we are very happy with Box, so we have a long list of pros! These are the reasons why we love Box so much as our full time house:

The T3 is a compact campervan

For us the biggest advantage of a T3 is that it’s a very compact vehicle compared to other campervans. It’s fairly easy to drive. A T3 can drive into narrow alleys, it can park on small parking spaces, and it even fits under height barriers. Especially in touristy areas we have encountered many nice parking spaces with height barriers of 2 meters. No problem for the T3. We can park almost anywhere a normal car can park.

living in a t3

I mean…what other campervan can park inside of a wall?

Old Volkswagen vans are easy to fix yourself

The T3 is from before the times where cars were equipped with computers. This means that this van consists of only fairly simple mechanics. So when the car breaks down, or even if you just hear a funny sound or a light starts blinking, it’s easy to find the cause and fix it yourself. Many times we had a problem with Box and it was fixed just by replacing one screw. With a newer van this would probably not have been possible.

Volkswagen parts are available everywhere

Volkswagen is a brand that’s being driven all over the world. This makes it easy to get replacement parts wherever you are. We have experienced that the Volkswagen T3 is specifically popular in the Balkan area. Here many people still drive this car for their daily use (and not because of #vanlife…). The parts are so easy to get, and any mechanic there knows how to work this type of car.

parts volkswagen t3

Some parts of Box…they all went back in

The T3 is a durable vehicle

Even though our van breaks down pretty often (see con #2), we would describe the Volkswagen T3 as very durable. Yes, things break or wear down. But as soon as you replace one screw (or ok…sometimes the whole part), the van is back to it’s old strong self. With the right amount of TLC, a Volkswagen T3 can last for many more decennia to come.

You can join the Volkswagen community

This is something we only notices a few months into living in our van. There is a very strong community of Volkswagen lovers. They organise annual meetings, give each other tips and support, admire each others vans and well…they just love Volkswagens and their owners 😉

The first time we noticed this, was when we were stuck in Sofia, Bulgaria. Box was losing a lot of water but we were not sure where the leakage was. We stopped at the parking lot of Kentucky Fried Chicken (of all places) to take a good look. After a while a man came to talk to us. He told us owned a Volkswagen T3 himself and was in the Bulgarian Volkswagen club. He invited us to his home, cooked us dinner and hooked us up with a towing truck and a mechanic. Both the towing truck driver and the mechanic were in the VW-club as well. Of course we had our car fixed in no time and we were back on the road.

Now we know that whenever we need a good mechanic for our van, we just have to ask the local Volkswagen club. A big advantage if you move around in unknown territories like we do.

And then I have not even mentioned the Volkswagen festivals yet! Last autumn we visited Busfest, a 3 day festival with thousands of Volkswagen vans/fans. I don’t think any other car brand has communities and festivals like this.

volkswagen club

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do on the KFC parking lot…

A Volkswagen T3 is pretty slow….

You can see this as a pro or a con. But we love the fact that our van is slooowwwwww. It forces us to take our time to get from A to B. We have to take the small roads, because taking the highway is just pointless. And driving becomes just a part of being at home. We love driving in our slow van so much. Enjoying the views and stopping whenever we see something interesting.

Our Volkswagen T3 has a 1.7 diesel engine, which is the cause of it being slow. Of course you can also get a van with a bigger engine, but this will also make it less economical. Box drives about 13 km on 1 liter of diesel. And although Box is slow, he is very powerful. Steep roads are no problem at all. We just need to take some time to get to the top 😉

Volkswagen Westfalia vans are photogenic

Ok, ok…. we know….it’s the inside that counts. But you have to admit: Box is a cutie. He is so photogenic and that is another reason why we love him so much. Is this a valid reason to pick a van to live in? Probably not, but I wanted to mention it anyway. Ok, call me shallow…

vantolivein

One of the very photogenic images of Box

The cons of the T3 as a van to live in

As much as we love Box, there are also a few things that sometimes make us consider another van to live in. (Box, close your ears now…)

The T3 has a rather small living space

I mentioned before that the T3 is very compact, and this is certainly a pro when driving the van. Unfortunately a Volkswagen van is also compact on the inside. Of course, the space is liveable, but you have to be very minimalistic in order to keep it comfortable. If you are looking for a bigger living area, you might be better of with a vehicle like a Volkswagen LT or a Mercedes.

On the other hand, of all the T-models  the T3 has the biggest inside area. The inside of a T3 is slightly larger than those of a T1, T2 or T4.

Curious about our living space? Here is a video tour of the inside of Box!

living in a westfalia

Cooking in a small space like this is usually a very messy ritual..

You’ll spend a lot of time at the side of the road

I guess this is just a consequence of driving an old car. But Box breaks down….a lot….Luckily the problems are always easy to fix, as I already described in the pro section. But when driving an old Volkswagen van, you just have to count on breaking down every once in a while. Just realise that you are not the boss, your van is. Your van decides whether or not you arrive at your destination, and when that will be.

Engine accessibility

The Volkswagen T3 has a different than average design. The engine is at the back. This has some advantages. (the power is on the back axe, which makes the car more powerful when driving uphill). But it also has one big disadvantage. To access the engine, you have to open the rear door, remove your bed, remove all the stocks from under the bed, and then you can open the hood. If you take con #2 in consideration, this is not very convenient. We have had days where we had to do this ritual several times, because there was a funny light blinking in the front. We got quite good at it by now.

A Volkswagen T3 is pretty slow….

Did I mention this before? I think I did…while for us it’s very nice to have a slow car, it might not be for everyone. If you want to spend more time camping and less time driving, you might want to look for a faster model. Also if you get nervous if there is a looonnngggg line of cars behind you on a single lane road, this van is not for you.

Do you have experience with the Volkswagen T3 as a van to live in? Or are you considering buying a T3 and still having questions? Please comment below! We’d love to have an exchange of information here. 

13 comments

  1. Comment by Shaun

    Shaun Reply 7 February 2017 at 16:22

    Your experiences are similar to ours. We couldn’t live with the Westfalia interior, so designed our own. We tried to modernise the van with a TDi engine, power steering and cruise control. Big mistake…. the engine blows oil out of the dipstick tube and through the turbo, the cruise control doesn’t work, but the power steering is excellent. Ours is Syncro 4×4 which is great and it’s gets us into some great places. Enjoying your blog, keep it up!

    • Comment by Valine

      Valine Reply 10 February 2017 at 11:47

      Wow, to have a 4×4 is our next goal! Too bad your setup with the TDi did not work. I’m very curious about your interior though. Do you have fotos of it?

      • Comment by Shaun

        Shaun Reply 10 February 2017 at 12:05

        I do, I have a few on my website but can’t seem to send them in replies to yours.

  2. Comment by yılmaz

    yılmaz Reply 9 February 2017 at 01:24

    dear Crom and Valine
    we follow up your shared photo where especialy facebook page and likes you photo.Some times ı have looking our photo and smile when you came in istanbul.Fato (my vife)and young girls asking to me that what are doing chrome and valine and where are they.
    Crom With as much as seen in the pictures scotland very cold but better ıssue that the scotland bison(cow ı don’t know nname)so cool…
    Anyway Take care of yourself..
    Sincerly

    • Comment by Valine

      Valine Reply 10 February 2017 at 11:48

      Hey Yilmaz, we also think a lot about our time in Istanbul and smile :) We had a great time with you and your family. Say hi to your wife and kids from us. And hopefully we’ll meet on the road with our T3’s some time!

  3. Comment by Christy

    Christy Reply 10 February 2017 at 11:37

    Hey Valine, wondering how you find life with a rock and roll bed? Is it not annoying having to pull it out and put it away every day?? We’ve been looking at this style but think it would annoy me!! :)

    • Comment by Valine

      Valine Reply 10 February 2017 at 11:51

      Hey Christy, honestly…yes, the rock and roll bed is not ideal. I have to admit: ours is always in bed mode. We have so much stuff stored under it that it is a huge hassle to make it into a seat again. As I wrote, the small living space is a big disadvantage of this kind of van. But then, maybe if you have one with a high roof and you can sleep upstairs if would already make a huge difference.

  4. Comment by Vincent coates

    Vincent coates Reply 25 April 2017 at 22:00

    Just seen you in Hartlepool , hope you enjoy your stay Vin

    • Comment by Valine

      Valine Reply 27 April 2017 at 14:16

      Thanks Vin! We already left Hartlepool. It was a a short stay…

  5. Comment by Christian Naydenov

    Christian Naydenov Reply 28 May 2017 at 17:44

    Hey ! Awesome blog post ! I really want to start living and travelling in a van soon but im thinking if getting the T4 California bus, because i heard it has some extras like air con and a good working fridge, and some other stuff. Id love to hear what you think^_^ Thank you and stay awesome !

    • Comment by Valine

      Valine Reply 14 June 2017 at 06:08

      Hey Christian, I have no experience with a T4 but our friends from Westfaliadigitalnomads have! I think the fridge depends more on the interior build that on the type of van though…We have a great fridge that works on gas and/or electricity. No experience with air con here, except for the little windows in the front that we open while driving 😉

  6. Comment by Shaun

    Shaun Reply 14 June 2017 at 06:18

    Hey Christian, we have had a couple of T4 buses (not Californias) and I’d say the biggest issue for us was the lack of space when the bed is down. With the bed down you have around 40cms from the foot of the bed to the back of the driving seats.

    Regarding a/c, we had it in one bus but it only runs when you are moving so has little advantage really. Opening windows does as much good!

    For fridges, there’s loads of choice. We use a Waeco compressor fridge which is really efficient. Although quite expensive to buy, it’s still cheaper than paying the premium price for the “California” badge.

  7. Comment by The Van Cave Project

    The Van Cave Project Reply 23 August 2017 at 07:59

    You’re totally right! Box is a cutie! We’ve gone for the ‘stealth’ element with ours, but when we see a Westy we do get serious van envy.

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