Running a current-model Volkswagen Transporter as a long-term test van has prompted us to revisit its T5 predecessor and review its virtues as a second-hand buy. Steve Banner reports on what to look out for.
Launched in 2003, the Volkswagen Transporter T5 came with a new engine line-up, a six-speed gearbox on some models, an all-new cab interior with the gear lever mounted on the redesigned dashboard and a revised suspension system. ABS was a standard feature with Electronic Stability Programme among the listed options.
Gross weights ranged from 2.6t to 3.2t, and the van was produced with two wheelbases, three roof heights and a sliding nearside door as standard.
The load cube ranged from 5.8cu/m to 9.3cu/m. Short- and long-wheelbase chassis cabs were produced too, with a double cab available on the long-wheelbase.
TDI unit injection diesel engines were fitted, with four power options: a 1.9-litre at 84hp or 102hp and a five-cylinder 2.5-litre at 130bhp or 174bhp. The two most-powerful diesels were married to six-speed manual gearboxes and were on offer with an optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic box. The others received five-speed manuals only.
Assuming that it has been regularly maintained a T5 Transporter is a potentially sound used buy, with high-specification Sportline versions attracting a strong and enthusiastic following. There are problems to watch out for, however, which can mar T5’s appeal.
Potentially the most serious one is a dual-mass flywheel failure. Made up of two key parts – one bolted to the engine, the other to the clutch – linked by springs and friction pads, the dual-mass flywheel is there to smooth out the flow of power from the engine to the transmission and reduce gearbox wear. If you detect a slight clutch judder when you test-drive your prospective purchase and engage first or reverse, then that is a sign the flywheel may be about to go bang. If that happens, then it will probably cost you around £800 to replace both the flywheel and clutch. Odds are that when it goes bang it will wreck the starter motor too, so you will be looking at a total bill somewhere north of £1000 assuming you go to an independent non-franchised VW specialist. Do not be surprised if an authorised VW Van Centre charges you more.
Early T5s were prone to water-pump failure, usually at around 75,000 miles. If the one you are looking at has clocked up that sort of mileage, or more, check that the pump has been swapped.
You may notice a strange clonking sound from the steering when you manoeuvre the van at low speed. It is a well-known problem with T5s, and there is apparently only one way to fix it – change the steering column.
Try to test-drive your prospective purchase on a rainy day. That way, you will be able to see if it suffers from another problem that can afflict T5s – leaky windows. Later T5s may not be quite so prone to giving their occupants an impromptu shower. Also take a look underneath and around the driver’s seat to see if there is any evidence of dampness and corrosion. If there is then any wiring in the area may be affected. That could lead to the central locking playing up and your T5 manifesting a variety of other interesting electrical faults.
So how much should you pay for your T5? At the time of writing, Volkswagen van dealer Southern Motor Group was advertising a short-wheelbase 102hp example dating back to 2009 with 15,600 miles recorded for £11,995 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT). A 2007 short-wheelbase with an 84hp engine that had clocked up 60,522 miles was on sale for £7995.
Reading-based independent new and used van specialist Anchor Vans was marketing a 102hp long-wheelbase 2008-vintage T5 that had covered 56,841 miles for £9995. Moving north, dealer Volkswagen Van Centre (Manchester) was offering a 130hp 2009 short-wheelbase on 51,445 miles for £12,495.
While some T5 critics claim that it is prone to blowing turbos, in reality it is probably no more and no less vulnerable to this phenomenon than any other light commercial of its size. What it is definitely not prone to is body rot – the level of anti-corrosion protection and the quality of the paint finish help ensure that rust is kept at bay.
As a consequence the only rotten T5 you will see is likely to be one that has been in an accident and poorly repaired, or one that has been severely neglected. Both are best avoided, whatever the price, if you are after a van you intend to use as a workhorse.