VW California

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 GWA 25 Nov 2021

Interested to hear peoples experiences  if anyone has done any long trips in a VW California or T5/6 conversion? 

How did it go with the vehicle? Was their enough space etc? Bouldering pad on a roof rack?

 65 25 Nov 2021
In reply to GWA:

I haven't owned one but a friend has one and I had a T5 conversion until recently, so here's my 5 centimes worth. I wouldn't have a California mainly because of a few design quirks which VW don't appear to have considered addressing for the RHD market.

The sliding side door, and thus the interior layout, is as for a LHD van, which means the sliding door is on the driver's side. This in turn means the swivelling passenger seat is facing the kitchen unit rather than the empty space by the door. The driver's seat also swivels, but you have to do this with the handbrake off as the lever blocks the seat. The other thing is that the van has a rail for an awning attached on the nearside, the side of the van without a door. I have no idea what possessed VW to do this. My friend's van, at c.5 years old and less than c.30k miles on the clock, developed a problem with the roof struts. I can't recall the cost of the repair but it was comparable to a whole new roof from a van converter, (between £3 & 4k).

Otherwise it's a great van, very tidy installations etc, but I think you could do much better for the same or less money with a custom conversion to your own spec.

Re space, the living area is bigger than the boot of any giant SUV/MPV you can think of. Moving stuff around when you pitch for the night can be a pain depending what you are carrying but they're easy to live with. A few mats and rucksacks would be no issue. 

Re long trips, I had a 4-week trip to the Pyrenees and a 7 week trip through Germany, Alps and Pyrenees and can't think of a better way to do it. They're civilised and comfortable on a long trip and good on fuel for what they are, I could get c.1000km from a tank (c.£100 to fill). On the way back both times I carried two bikes, a years supply of wine, multiple big holdalls and camera gear and bags of food with room, if not weight carrying capacity to spare. I'm missing my van, am plotting another.

Post edited at 10:39
 Tim Sparrow 25 Nov 2021
In reply to 65:

VW Cali awning is on the driver’s side, same as sliding door. Well, that’s where it is on mine and all others I have seen.

Otherwise, agree with all you say. I have a big flexible bag (with a removable rigid internal frame I made from old tent poles)that fits on the bike rack for excess kit when space is needed. Bikes then go on towbar rack if needed.

In reply to GWA:

I've got a T6. I defo would be getting something much bigger if we intended to extended trips in it. It's great for a couple of weeks (maybe 3 max) but that's really my max.  A fixed bed would be high on my list if I was gonna be spending months in it. 

 Heike 25 Nov 2021
In reply to GWA:

We  had a great trip for four and a half months in a T4 round Europe, two adults and  a four year old. No problems with space. Yes, a bit of reshuffling required every night, but it's worth it. If you stay somewhere for longer, you can always take a wee tent for storage purpose. Bouldering mat under the van at night. 

Can recommend it.

Post edited at 15:56
 65 25 Nov 2021
In reply to snoop6060:

> I've got a T6. I defo would be getting something much bigger if we intended to extended trips in it. It's great for a couple of weeks (maybe 3 max) but that's really my max.  A fixed bed would be high on my list if I was gonna be spending months in it. 

I should have added that I had a big inflatable tent awning as well as a wind-out awning. If I was basing myself somewhere for a few days, the tent would go up. 

In reply to GWA:

Consider a Vito. What would you rather have in cars VW or Merc. You’re paying way over the odds for a badge.

 henwardian 25 Nov 2021
In reply to GWA:

I have a self-converted T6 panel van that I made from a new van and is now about 5 years oold and a mate has a T5 California that he has had since new and is now.... maybe 15 years old or more.

My 4 cents:

- The T5/6 is the perfect size of van to convert for 2 people to travel long term, assuming you do it well and really make maximum use of the space. Any more than 2 people and it'll definitely start to feel small and cramped, especially if you are hanging out in it during the day in wet weather. A pop-top ameliorates this somewhat if you have small kids. Also at this size you are really looking at not pooing in the van, so that becomes part of the planning equation.

- The California is insanely expensive. It is a lovely vehicle with the level of design and integration you would expect from VWs own conversion but the premium is eye-watering. If you want to make a good job of your own conversion and really maximise your use of space so it is any sort of rival to VWs own effort, it's going to take months of hard work to pull off. So what's your money/time balance?

- The California is a one-size fits all, so for every cool feature (e.g. fridge _and_ freezer compartment), there will be a shortcoming (e.g. my bike barely fits and nothing else will fit in if I have it). If you convert your own, you can custom design to fit all the stuff you normally use. rock'n'roll beds are great for seatbelts in the back BUT, you lose masses of under-seat storage. My conversion has double the water and leisure battery and significantly more storage space than my mate's California but I don't have outside seats and table that just drop out of the back door in 2 seconds and I don't have a pop-top. I have an oven but my mate's california has a really convenient instant table that I never truely managed to immitate (mine lifts out of the wall then slots in, so is a little more awkward). The California only has 2 front seats, mine has 3, all the seats on both vans swivel but getting into the back of mine from the driver seat is a bit gymnastic and swiveling the double seat takes a couple of minutes rather than a couple of seconds. But then I have loads of storage in the base of that double seat.... I'll stop because this list could keep going ad-nauseum.

- Both our vans have the same general layout and this was something I did a huge amount of research into. I've still never seen a T5/6 conversion layout that worked better than the California one, it is just unrivalled. So I copied it when doing my own.

- I strongly suggest you rent out a California for a week(end) to get a feel for whether it works for you before deciding whether to buy one or do your own conversion.

I can't comment on bouldering mats.

 ian caton 25 Nov 2021
In reply to Heike:

T4 cali. The way to go. 🤫

 Ciro 25 Nov 2021
In reply to GWA:

> Interested to hear peoples experiences  if anyone has done any long trips in a VW California or T5/6 conversion? 

Lots of people so it... but I found a SWB Sevel (relay/boxer/ducato) to be too small for a long trip so the thought of something that size would fill me with dread. 

 henwardian 26 Nov 2021
In reply to Ciro:

> Lots of people so it... but I found a SWB Sevel (relay/boxer/ducato) to be too small for a long trip so the thought of something that size would fill me with dread. 

I've lived out of my T6 conversion for many months at a time alone, but with a 2nd person I've probably only done it for a few weeks at a time. It's not a bad way to stress-test a relationship

 jon 26 Nov 2021
In reply to GWA:

We rented a T6 California from Perpignan for a 2 week trip in N Spain. I thought it was superbly laid out (obviously it was LHD and therefore didn't suffer from the RHD problems mentioned above), but very fragile. It was only 4 months old and already all the sliding cupboard doors had broken. The pop up roof leaked in heavy rain but I did think it was a great feature especially for reducing condensation. And in that respect, I thought it would have been better if it didn't have the back side windows as they served no real purpose other to increase the surface for condensation to form.

We've got a Renault Trafic with a pro conversion now, which incorporates all that I learned from the Cali and cost approximately half that of the VW. Not quite as nice to drive though...

 Toby_W 26 Nov 2021
In reply to jon:

I think you're right I have a Caravelle and was recently oogling the pictures on the t6 forum and the conversion companies or doing it yourself is cheaper and you get a bespoke option that fits your needs.



 Wendy Watthews 26 Nov 2021
In reply to GWA:

We have a T5 self conversion, no pop top, ARB awning, rhino roof rack, underslung gas and twin swivel seat. I'd reiterate the need to shuffle things about at night. For long journeys we keep the surfboards or bikes inside then move them on to the roof rack once we have reached our destination and are just pottering around, the same for bordering mats though we haven't done any long bouldering trips and you would need a tarp to rain proof I assume. You can fit both surf boards and bikes in the back, just, but then have to put the bikes on the front seats and surfboards on the roof at night.

We have a sofa most the length of the van that slides into a double bed, this gives much more storage and comfort than the rock and roll style beds. It also allows the surfboards to slide down along the length of the van.

If you are going for a long journey as a couple make sure to put the early riser by the sliding door. That way the early riser isn't trapped and itching to escape. This does not work in poor weather and may stress test things a little. That said last weekend in the NWales rain the T5 was perfectly comfortable harbouring 4 people for dinner.

There are frustrations to a small van but I think these are far outweighed by the ease to drive and park. We use the van on weekends as well as longer trips and it is used as the second car. I can understand why people have a large van if they have a year trip planned but for us a small van works long term and is much more versatile.

In reply to GWA:

We have a pro converted T5. Agree with all previous comments. 
Would reiterate personally don’t find the storage in the bench swivel worth it as it’s a pain to turn and uncomfortable. 
The pop top make a massive difference to space. There are different types so have a look, not sure if the size changes but if you are taller (we are both >6ft) then it’s not long enough to sleep up in the top.

the RnR beds come in different widths, ours is narrowest, obviously means more storage which is helpful but I would sacrifice a lot of that for a wider bed and thus better sleep. 
nice to drive and all pros as other have said. 

 ian caton 08:15 Sat
In reply to GWA:

It might be of interest to you that design details matter a lot. For example if you were to have a fridge and it was front loading that means you need the seat further ry back to allow it to open in comparison to a top loading fridge. That means you can have a lot more storage behind the seat with a top loading fridge. Another e.g. If you have the randr bed that folds into itself with no storage underneath you miss out on a lot of storage in comparison to having a seat that folds out to meet up with the back shelf to form the bed. Etc etc etc.

Really big subject. 

 henwardian 09:24 Sat
In reply to ian caton:

> It might be of interest to you that design details matter a lot.

This times a hundred at least.

In my conversion the height of the bed is defined by the height of the top-loading fridge which slides under it. The width of the bed is defined by the depth of the kitchen which is defined by the depth needed to fit the oven. The height of the worktop is defined by the height of the window, the height of the wine rack is defined by the height of the oven and lockbox combined. In almost any storage space, a drawer is _much_ more convenient than a cupboard/cubbyhole but also more expensive, difficult and time-consuming to make. Anything you can put under the van is space gained (I have an underslung gas tank) but if you might be somewhere cold, an underslung water tank could cause problems. My version of a rock'n'roll bed is levitating with the advantage that I can leave piles of stuff all over the floor and still just slide it out and go to bed. The big sink I have means I can leave piles of unwashed dishes when I'm lazy where standard smev sinks are absolutely tiny, frustrating to use and no good as unwashed dish caches (this is definitely a me idiosyncrasy though!).

In reply to GWA:

I have a T6 Ocean. For short trips, it is always ready and great to use (running, races, weekends away, staying over after a party) with 2 people (± dogs). For longer trips, a week to ten days are about our limits. I am not very in favour of 'stealth' 'camping' and usually use a site for most trips with or without power. We sleep upstairs and have the seats right back (level with the back of the wardrobe which gives a fair living space). Both seats turn - usually just the passenger one for us. 

In the winter and during wet periods some sites leave you in the carpark as the grass is very wet and if we know this before we take the tent (4 man mountain tent) and car, which perhaps shows it is not so fantastically better than a tent experience. 

It was a massive treat for us to get this van and for the price I would agree that it is like a car to drive, but cupboards and the like are quite delicate. The quality of the local authorised VW Van dealer is a big factor in our attitude to our van. One company have much of a monopoly in our area and they are awful. Thankfully, now that the warranty is passed, we have more choice.

 GWA 19:54 Sun

Thanks to all for your contributions to this thread, you have been very helpful. 

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