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6 months after buying an 2008 Cali....

This week sees 6 months and 10k miles have passed since picking up Sinbad, so I thought I’d post my experience to date as I read many many posts ahead of our purchase so wanted to help share our journey.
I now watch on and see many posts of new Cali’s ordered with excitement of the new purchases along with lots of new/excited questions about what should be spec’ed from new etc. .
We couldn’t stretch our funds too far and joined the Cali family from the T5 Pre face lift end.... here’s how it happened and how we feel now.

We are a family of 4 (13 & 12 year old kids) and have historically enjoyed an active life with many camping trips over the last 20 years or so. We outgrew camping due to getting a bit older and richer which allowed us to buy a T4 N reg Reimo van as a 3rd vehicle. We had Popeye the camper-van for 4 years and loved him and everything he did for us, but time took it's toll and he had to go due to starting to become a money pit, lack of reliability and more importantly no a/c, abs nor airbags.

The pull of the Reimo conversion was that it wasn’t a home made conversion, so I was delighted to find the California’s were factory built by VW.
Once I’d sat in one in a show room I knew nothing else would cut it.
I was then astonished (and still am) by the price of new and nearly new.
Many evenings were spent trying to justify the high residual values, the low cost of borrowing and even could we sell a child to fund it, but alas the money was too much for us. So off the the 2nd hand market we went.

We found ourselves in an awkward price point - £30-35k ish.
For this money we could go for a late T5 or an early T5.1. Since this Cali was going to be my daily driver and coming from ‘quicker’ road cars, the 174/180 bhp was our target.
We discovered the oil burn/egr issue and alas this seemed to knock our confidence in the early T5.1’s with the later models being too expensive.
There was an option of buying 5.1 and crossing fingers, but the thought of buying a lemon and having to fund an engine replacement made me shiver.
After a few months of looking, we stumbled across a mint low mileage 2.5 174 auto T5 which was spec’ed very well, including cream seats not the blue. (For me the blue reminds me of a school bus!)
Sorry for the long pre-amble, but it should help set the scene and may help people identify our choices/experiences.

This was our thought process/choices which got us to this point.

Model T5
I recognise the changes to the under pinnings of the 5.1, 6 and now 6.1 sees improvements to engines, running gear, suspension and in car tech, however when we look at the habitation space, there are only small changes from the B pillar back, such as….
  • Wire rack, not wooden board for bed.​
  • LED lighting with some extra lights.​
  • USB charging point in the roof space.​
  • Better canvas/colours and front opening window.​
The core layout and feature set is pretty much the same in our model as the newly launched T6.1 for day to day camping. A sign that VW got it right.
The T5 does have some features the newer models haven’t, such as the clips on the external table, allowing you to clip it to the kitchen giving a larger indoor table. (Cost cutting measures in later vans?)

Door on the ‘wrong side’ as it’s a Cali
I was a bit concerned by this, but after living with it, I almost think I prefer it.
Our kids are old enough to look before they leap, but should we end up parked on a busy busy road, they can easily exit via the passenger door.
It's handy for me as the driver to stop, get out & take something out of the rear of the van.

SE spec
Coming from our Reimo, the layout is near identical and we knew it just works for us.

We decided upon 2.5 174, as an older but bullet proof engine, rather than 180 bitdi. (See above)

Auto made a lot of sense for us. As an added bonus, when camping and spinning the drivers seat around, there is no requirement to pull the hand break on which can foul the spinning action.
At this age it’s not the DSG version, but lets remember it’s not a sports car!

2wd or 4 motion
I would have preferred a 4 motion to help with wet campsites and a planned trip to the artic circle one year, but we also needed\wanted a 5th seat option, so needed then 3rd rail in the floor. (Not many 4 motions have this feature.) So 2wd for us.

2nd hand, you take what you can find.

3 way climate.
With tweens in the rear, it was a given that we wanted the extra controller in the rear.

Parking sensors
The nose drops away and the rear end is a long way off. Navigating tight spaces in work car parks as a daily driver lead these to being on our need list.
The cost of a repair to bumpers soon adds up, with the 2nd hand market not charging a premium for this.
IIRC the T5 4motions didn’t have front sensors as an option. Not sure why, but we never found any??

Heated seats
Not used in anger yet, but an essential in my book.

Parking heater
Oh wow, this has extended our camping season. The joy of a warm van brings a smile to my face every time I hear it click on.
The ability to set the heater to come on on a schedule is superb too, no more defrosting the windows in the winter, just diesel heating on whilst I drink my coffee.

Double glazed windows
Good for sound insulation and also warmth.
We’ve spotted the rear window has a small amount of condensation in it, which we will just leave. The cost of a replacement doesn’t seem money well spent.
The down side of the double glazing means you don’t get a heated rear window. Not sure if this is an issue yet, as we’ve not had a winter yet. (Watch out for. 12 month review)

Buying 2nd hand and not new/from dealer.
We looked at a few vans and apart from one, they were all clearly loved and well looked after. Many of them were 2nd or 3rd vehicles and were cherished.
Spending £30k plus is a huge thing for me, so it was comforting to think that we would be buying someone’s pride and joy.
For us, we had 2 vehicles to trade in and needed to complete the whole transaction in one go, so we’re lucky enough to find our Cali at a 2nd hand dealer who dealt in cars and campers - perfect for us.
The added benefit of the trade purchase allowed us to secure 6 month warranty for peace of mind, though I suspect you can buy this too if you did bought for a private seller.

Now we’ve had it...

As a Daily driver.

  • Better visibility than a Range Rover.​
  • Smaller than a great white, it fits in most car parks.​
  • Watch out for 2m height restriction.​
  • Drives like a car mostly, need to remember it’s not a sports car.​
  • You get waved at by other Campers.​
  • With 5th seat, it’s practical as a car, but with massive boot if needed.​
  • Loads of leg room in the rear.​
  • Sitting in it whilst waiting for pick up & making a coffee - priceless.​
  • MPG isn't great, with around 30 mpg most of the time.​

The setup works really well inside. Campervan living will always be a bit cramped with 4 of you in a small space, but the Cali nails it.
Simple things like the chairs in the boot and table in the door mean you take less and have more space.
The fridge is awesome, taking on a large volume with easy access via top loader. (Front opening door in t4 was a pain due to rear bench potentially getting in the way when in bed mode)
The twin leisure batteries keep with lights and fridge going for way over a weekend, so electric hook ups are a thing if the last for short stays. The future free camping plans are boosted by this thought.

Things we’ve done.
See other posts by me for more details
  • Swopped interior lights to LED bulbs to lower power draw. Cheap and dead easy to do.
  • Cut spoiler and fitted VW bike rack and spoiler on the rear. Looks great imho.
  • Painted rear of window blind back for cosmetics.
  • Added B pillar wrap, again, cosmetics.
  • Fitted wood effect dash trim to brighten cockpit.
  • Canvas Bungie fitted. For the cost of £10 if it stops one rip it’s worth it.
  • Machine polished

Things I’d like/plan to do.
  • 30mm lowered springs or b14 coil overs to help ride.​
  • Pendle remap, as 174 is nice, but 200+ is nicer.​
  • T5 head unit is FM CD player. Double DIN Airplay head unit is on the list. (Alpine Halo) No urgency.​
  • Nano/ceramic coating- watch this space,​

Things I don’t like or I’d do differently.
I won’t lie, I do miss some of the toys and features I left behind in a modern car, such as adaptive cruise control. I know a lot of these toys are found in the new models, but the cost to get to these is prohibitive at the moment. I look fwd to the upgrade one day in the far future to a well spec’ed newer model.
MPG - it's not great!

We love it, investing in the Cali was a large decision for us, but I feel we made the right decision. Coming from our camping & previous camper van it felt right before we started, now we are here there is no looking back.
I guess this post is really aimed at any potential buyers, new or 2nd hand. There are lots of choices to make, lots of thinking to be done, but at the end of the day, once you’ve made your choice, you won’t regret it.
Wonderful post - makes me feel really good! I actually bought one of those exact models from new in 2008. I fear I might not be able to keep it for many more years, so it's great to hear people still like them. It has changed my life over the last 13 years!
Blimey, it's pretty much our 3rd anniversary of owning Sinbad, so I guess it's time to add a mini update here.

Currently sitting on 82k miles, with a few extra odds & sods spent on the Cali since the last update.

Great to finally pick up an awning on ebay and I'm pleased to see how quick and easy it's been to use.
I was a touch concerned that being >2m tall I'd get fed up with the lower headroom as I stepped out of the van, but the extra space the awning plus awning room provides more than makes up for having to duck a bit.
Storm straps are a must for me when using the awning, along with dipped a leg when rain forecast.
Great accessory to have, it even comes with free rattles for you to enjoy!!

Control Unit display fix

Recent thread updated to show a repair to the control unit - classic missing lines, all repaired in the UK, thanks to EE Repair.
Nice to see the full display working.

Audio (Speaker) Upgrade
Took the Cali along to & had front doors sound proofed along with front speakers (Doors & tweeters) replaced with som Focal units, driven via a new separate amp.
What an amazing difference this has made, with the sound proofed doors providing a noticeable drop in external noise.. though you can still hear the awning rattle!
The bass provided by the newer larger door speakers is very impressive. I was unsure if I needed/wanted an under the seat sub, but to be honest, just the upgraded speakers in the doors is more than enough for my needs. I can't imagine what their signature audio upgrade sounds like, I'm impressed with this option alone. (Shows how poor the OEM speakers were.)

Leisure Batteries & USB power
Direct order from Tayna saw some very old OEM batteries replaced.
The rear cupboard was simple enough, though the front seat required a spline tool to be ordered to allow me to remove the seat. All very DIY'able assuming you're ok with lifting/shifting of the batteries.
Since I was replacing these, I took the opportunity to add some additional USB power sockets to the rear battery, giving 2 x sockets by the fridge for the rear passengers to use, then USB power into the rear cupboard & wardrobe, to power some PIR controlled 12v strip lights, allowing for some illumination. Again, all very simple to wires these in, with inline fuses.

Rear cupboard lights

One of my favourite additions has to be some stick on PIR lights for inside the rear cupboards.
The price has fluctuated widely on these, but I've picked them up for around 7 quid.
So far so good, with a nice look & feel of the rear cupboards when rummaging around in the evenings. The seem to stick well to a provided magnetic strip and hold their charge well.
(So pleased with them, that I've just ordered some more as the price was at a low rate - we've seen the price of these >18 pounds.)

Solar Panels
I nearly pressed the button on some of Roger's panels, but I'm struggling to justify the expense.
We've completed the NC500 last year & been away as much as we could over the last two years & yet to struggle with power, as most of the sites have offered EHU or we've driven to site & arrived with fully charged batteries.
For a weekend trip, we find the on board batteries last us fine, so I'm not 100% convinced we need the panels yet. However, it's still very much on my list of accessories needed - perhaps as the kids leave home & we start venturing off grid more & for longer these will be ordered.
I personally like the idea of keeping the batteries topped up, along with the fridge on 24/7, but I can't justify the outlay at present.

Number Plate
Never been a massive fan of personalised plates, but ended up with BU54NAP as a birthday treat.
Illegally spaced plates made up for when on campsites - BU5 4 NAP - it makes me smile, so why not.


Sinbad's a 2008 van, so it's expected to pay for a few more wear & tear items.
EGR cooler currently leaking a smidge, so this needs to get fixed soonish.

Very much looking forward to Camperjam this year, though not in the club area.
If you pass by & see Sinbad, pop your head in & say 'Hi'

This year's obligatory photo.