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Posts : 286
Karma : 79
Join date : 2014-07-13
Location : Over the Rainbow



So you've found an old VW that you are interested in buying,
but you don't know if it's a good deal or not.

First, ask yourself a few questions about what you really want.
Do you want a car that is ready to drive and enjoy?
Do you want a project to keep you busy on the weekends?
Do you want to have a custom car or a restored one?
Do you want to win trophies at car shows, or just have a fun weekend driver?

These are just a few ideas of course...you come up with your own questions...
Also figure out a budget to work with and any other special stuff like where to park it, and insurance and stuff...that way there are no suprises. I know it sounds real basic, but there are many people out there have bought an old VW camper and brought it home only to realize it's too tall for the garage.

And of course make sure that the car you are considering is one you will like. If your dream is to own an Oval Window, maybe the 68 sedan you are looking at is'nt the best choice.

Now on to the real important stuff...
(This is an extreme understatement)

The condition of the car is the most important factor in my opinion.
There are tons of "cheap" VW's out there, but if it's a real "pile", you'll save more money in the long run by buying a nicer car for a few bucks more to begin with.

Now "condition" is a pretty vague word, and covers many parts of the car, not to mention that it is a personal opinion sort of thing as well (one man's trash is another man's treasure). So let's define it a little bit and seperate it out into a few catagories.

Some of these are obvious, while a couple of them are a little strange. So I will take each one and break it down for you. Now remember, these are general tips for all models, the following pages have special things to look for for each model and some other info...

With cars, the body is the main thing...it's the body for crying out loud, and you cant have a car without one The condition of the body is very important. Some things can be easily repaired, while others require acts of God to make right.

Rust is one thing to keep a serious eyeball peeled for.
In most parts of the world, that "demon rust" has it's way with old cars and in many cases has ended the life of a vehicle all together.
Volkswagen's are no exception, so look all around for signs of rust or signs of repaired areas.

What are the "telltale" rust signs ?

~Look for rust holes of course...
~Bubbles in the paint that can range in size from the size of a pencil eraser to several inches.

~Look at the underside of the car and inside the fender wells
for any signs of holes,welding or patches.

~Shake the doors and listen for little bits of stuff moving around (might be rust flakes)


Each model has it's key spots to check for rust...
check out the following pages for the model you are most interested in...


"Surface Rust" is just as the name implies, is rust just on the surface,
and not rusted through the metal.  This is easier to deal with than holes and crusty stuff.


When checking out a car, make notes of what rust repair may need to be done.
There are decent repair panels available for most models, so rust holes are not the end of the world. But properly repairing rusted areas is a bit of an art, and it is best to spend a little extra to have it done correctly. Trust me...cutting corners on rust repair and just spreading
body filler over the holes is asking for trouble. Six months later the bubbles come right back
and your fresh paint job is wasted. Fix it right the first time.


So what do you look for?

~Visible Dents and Dings...of course.

~Cracks in the paint, can be a sign of bodywork coming loose.

~Poor fitting doors or hoods can be signs of a problem.

~Body lines that seem to soften in areas (like the center ridge on a Karmann Ghia nose)
if they are sharp in some spots and smoother in others...a sure sign of repair.

~Look at the inside of everything, like under the hood, for any bumps or rough spots.
(it might be nice and smooth on the outside of the hood,
but bumpy underneath...if it is, there has been repair work done)


Body damage is a pretty obvious thing to look for , but you gotta be on your toes about it. A big dent in the fender of a Beetle is not a big issue (replacement fenders are reasonable), but the same dent in the nose of a Karmann Ghia can be a big problem to repair correctly. Just like rust repair, bodywork is often done incorrectly, and the life span of the repair can be short. Here are a few general things to look at when considering any body damage, and a few telltale signs for bodywork that has been done to the car. (More detailed tips for each model in the next pages).

Paintwork  is another basic thing to look at when considering buying a car.
If you are buying a car that has been restored and has a nice coat of paint, there are a few things to look for to insure that it was done correctly, and that it will last.
There is a huge difference between a £300 paint job and a £3000 paint job from a professional restoration shop (and I ain't talking about the price).

First look at the finish...is it smooth?
Is it really smooth?
Lots of small bumps in the finish is called "orange peel", and while not a criminal offense, is a sign of a lesser quality paint job. On some occasions, this orange peel can be "color sanded" and buffed to a glassy finish (this is how the real pros do it). But this doesn't always work.

Beneath the paint is the real important stuff...
When you sight down the side of the car and look at the reflections in the paint
...is it like a mirror?
"Waves" in the body are usually signs of previous bodywork.
If you are paying top dollar for a restored car (ie: £30,000 for a VW bus) it better be like glass.
If you are paying £3000 for an old 60's Beetle, don't expect perfection.

Other areas to look at when it comes to paint, are the spots you don't normally see.
Take a look at the bottom edges of the fenders and look under the hood and in the door jams.
Is the paint there as shiny as the outside?
A quality restoration will show in these areas...they will be nice and smooth.
Also look at the rubber and trim on the car, and especially around the windows and doors.
Is there paint on them anywhere?
Many painters will cut down the prep time by masking off these items rather than removing them.
Once again, on a quality restoration, these parts will not have "over-spray" on them
and will be clean and new in appearance.


Obviously if you are buying a car to restore,
the condition of the paintwork really doesn't matter...right?
Old paint can tell you an awful lot about a car's history, also paint that is flaking off is a dead on sign that the surface below was not prepared correctly before the top layer was sprayed.
This means that the top layer must be removed (stripped off) to insure that the flaking does not happen again (and it will if you don't strip it!). This can be expensive and time consuming to do.

The dreamy thing to find is a VW with it's original paint, even if it's faded through to the primer.
There is nothing to hide, and you know that the factory paint was applied correctly. In addition, many of these faded original paint cars still have nice shiny original paint inside and under the hood. Then you can just have the outside repainted and still retain some true originality to the car.

The next best thing is a car that has just been repainted once by a decent painter
who has prepped it correctly.

Another good tip when looking at a car is to bring along a magnet. If you see an area that is suspect...hold the magnet over it and see if it sticks. If it will stick on one spot on the car but falls to the ground on another...you've found some body repair.

Now on a couple of models.. (Ghia's and Coachbuilt's)
the factory used a little lead at body seams to smooth things over...
so don't freak out if the magnet wont stick to the windshield post or other similar areas.


Open up the door and crawl inside...what do you see?
First of all...is everything there?
Are all the seats in place?
(this can be a big deal with a bus or a pre 55 Beetle)
Knobs, mirrors, handles etc?

Things to look for that are commonly bad...

Wrong stuff (ie: wrong seats or steering wheel...etc)

Holes where there shouldn't be (gauges,big stereo holes...etc)

Holes in the carpet, seats, headliner, etc

Cracked steering wheels, and dash pads.

Missing parts or incorrect replacements.

Now with some of these things, you kinda need to know your stuff and do a little research.
Many VW enthusiasts don't really know what the proper material for the seats on a 66 Microbus is... so if you are looking for a top dollar car...perhaps you should find out. If the car is a fun driver and the interior looks good to you...that's all that matters. Holes and damage and obvious missing parts are easy to spot.

There are several companies out there that make nice quality interior kits for most all years and models. There are also some real cheesy seat-cover sets and things like that. The old rule "You get what you pay for" holds true to this stuff. If you are trying to restore a VW "properly", stay away from the £30 carpet kits and £30 seat-covers...


The mechanical parts are pretty important too, but fortunately for most models, parts are readily available and there are pretty decent mechanics out there that can do the work. The VW engine is a simple device compared to most cars, and with a little patience and a good shop manual, you can do many repairs yourself with good success. If you are new to old VW's, I highly recommend picking up a copy of "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive" (sold through our website).
It is a wonderful book written with the new mechanic in mind
Simple to understand...fun to read...and full of good info.

Some quick tips on mechanics though...

Fire it up
...how does it run?
Idle smooth? Decent power? Any smoke? Any nasty knocking noises?

Look under the engine...
is it wet with oil?
(VW's do tend to drop a spot now and then...
but if the whole underside of the engine is wet...you have work to do)

Feel the steering wheel when you drive...
Is it loose?
Does the car want to wander around on the road?
Does the front end rattle when you hit a bump?

Hit the brakes
Is the pedal firm?
Does the car pull to one side?
Do you have to pump the brakes and scream in terror?

Shift the gears
Does the transmission make any rumbling or grinding noise?
Does it pop out of gear?
Does the clutch operate smoothly?

Turn on the stuff
Lights work?
Dash lights too?
Horn honk?

Check all of this stuff out and ask the seller questions about what has been serviced and when.
If anything needs to be fixed (and there will be something)
keep it in mind when you pull out your wallet.


With old VW's, originality can play a big part in the value of the car. A nice original car, with all the original stuff, can bring a premium price, but the benefits can be HUGE when it comes to restoration time (or just daily driving).

The dream is to find a low mileage, original owner car, with everything just as it was when it left the factory. These cars are few and far between , but if you are patient, and arent afraid to spend a little extra..they can be found. We search for them on a daily basis and come across a few... and they are a dream to work on. The bolts arent stripped out, the wiring isnt a rat's nest, and everything fits the way it should .

Cars that have been re-painted, re-wired, lowered, customized, hot rodded and otherwise molested, can be a nightmare to work on, not to mention being worth a lot less when you go to sell.

Do some research, look in the VW books to see what the car "should" look like and compare.
A car can be beautifully restored, but if it's not done with the right, original stuff...it's worth significantly less than one done with an eye for authenticity.


Look for owners manuals and ask for service records.
Find out where the car has been, who owned it and what they were like.
A good documented history of a car is an incredible resource, and if someone has kept records and stuff like that...they are probably the type of folks who really take care of their cars. This is a very good thing...

The history of the car, is not only fun to know, but it can add to the value as well.


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"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...it's about learning to dance in the rain."
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