Our Van – a VW T4 Cree Autotrail Motorhome

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We love to read about and see pictures of other motorhomes and older RVs, so we thought you’d like to know a bit about our van.

On this page we’ll tell you how we acquired our van – and got big money off the asking price!

We’ll also tell you about essential fixes we had to have done and upgrades and gear we’ve bought over the last 5 years.

Our van - VW T4 motorhome on the Isle of Skye
Our VW Cree on the Isle of Skye

Our van life story – how we ended up with a VW Cree

The van is a 1992 VW T4 1000 ‘Transporter’, coach-built by Autotrail. She’s just over 20 feet in length, has a 2.4 litre diesel engine and if driven sensibly gets just about 30 mpg. Not bad for an elder of the tribe!

Autotrail went through a phase in the 1990s of naming their coach-builds after native American tribes. It seemed to be a popular subject at the time and they’ve called ours a ‘Cree’.

This is what we call her too – no fancy names like ‘Molly’ or ‘Daisy’ for us. It just doesn’t suit her, though female she most certainly is.

RELATED CONTENT: Find out about the Cree Indians and why Autotrail might have named their motorhomes after Native American Tribes

Gav had already used Cree a few times before we bought her, borrowing the van off his son’s Godmother for boys’ weekends at Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk.

So, he knew the van quite well and when it came up for sale early in 2017 we bought it for £6000 with just 58K on the clock.

We’d been searching for a campervan for several months. When Cree became available the decision to buy was made simple after a rave review of VW Cree’s in Practical Motorhome magazine.

Is it risky to buy an older motorhome?

If we hadn’t borrowed the van a few times – and had we not gotten expert advice before we bought it – we would have paid over the odds for our van.

Unbeknown to us, the van had some serious issues…

The previous owner had lent it to her boyfriend for an extended period. He managed to get the bathroom window ripped off and the roof rack damaged. We can only assume he must have hit an overhanging tree.

Of course, such accidents occur all too easily if you’re new to driving these things.

The result was that the damaged rack had created a hair-line fracture in the roof, almost impossible to see with the naked eye. As time went on, however, evidence began to show inside.

RELATED CONTENT: 13 things you must check if you’re buying an older motorhome

Death to motorhomes – dreaded water ingress

Damp patches could be seen on the shower room/ toilet walls when we bought Cree, so we knew it needed major indoor body work. However, the extent of the repairs were only made apparent through the skilled observation of our good friend, Dom.

His handy little damp-meter made it quite obvious that Cree was suffering from a bad case of water ingress, with over 40% readings in places! With Dom’s help, we got £1500 off the asking price. Without his expertise, we would have paid much nearer the seller’s asking price of £7,500.

After we’d got the van into Dom’s workshop, we found out that the wooden frame in the shower and partly into the kitchen area was completely rotten, the wood itself almost mulched enough to put on your flower beds!

Luckily for us, Dom did a great job fixing everything. He took the entire shower/loo out as well as half the kitchen wall and cupboards on one side.

He removed the rot, including the shower room base-frame. Dom also laid a new floor throughout the whole van as the old one had de-laminated. The original carpet floor that these V-Dubs had back in the 1990s was already long-gone, unfortunately.

Older vans and warning lights!

The thing is that with old vans all manner of things can and will go wrong. You just have to accept it. Numerous times we’ve had to have the temperature and fuel gauges re-soldered on the instrument panel. This is a common fault on early T4s.

With a faulty fuel gauge we simply topped up with diesel every 200 miles, just to be on the safe side. But now, three fixes later, it seems to be okay – touch wood! We always carry a spare can of fuel, just in case that damn gauge plays up again.

Of course, it’s imperative that the temperature gauge also works. When that started playing up on the desolate roads of the North York Moors, we simply had to trust that everything would be okay.

It was another example of a situation where you end up confronting some rather big questions about yourself…

Can I sort this out? Do I trust that this situation will be fixed? Can I deal with it if it can’t be mended?

Older vans will test you in this way.

Then something worse happened…much worse…

breakdown truck collecting a motorhome
Motorhome breakdown at Bawdsey, Suffolk

Major disaster – two weeks before our wedding road trip

An intermittent ‘knocking/thudding’ type noise coming from the left front wheel resulted in us replacing the CV joint. But the noise persisted until we had the driveshaft replaced.

There were a couple of occasions when we had only gears 3 and 4 engaging properly! Not so good if you’re heading up hill from a standing start! So, we had a makeshift repair done on the gear linkage, using cable ties to hold everything in place.

For a while this did the trick.

But then disaster struck!

All the gearbox oil leaked out on an overnight wild camp! In less than two weeks before we were due to head north to get married!

We needed professional help. This was an expensive repair, coming in at close on £1500!

It was at this point that we wondered whether we’d have to hire a motorhome and started our research into that. Luckily Cree got fixed just in time.

But apart from these bigger, one-off repairs, we’ve had ongoing issues with something else…

Our van joining the ‘low collective’

Cree is not designed for off-roading and we broke a spring going down a friend’s potholed drive. Both back end springs were replaced. But with the new springs on, we lost about 3 inches in height on the rear end!

The garage insisted they had fitted the correct ones.

Gav had to raise the mud-flaps to prevent them dragging on the road. And it was all too easy to clip curbs when parking and damage the corner stabilisers. Not good.

Not only that, but the headlights had to be lowered too, to save us blinding everyone.

We looked like we were couriers for a builder’s merchants, with a van full of sand! Talk about ‘hay-burning’, we really felt part of the ‘low-collective’.  

1992 VW T4 Cree motorhome
Cree, part of the ‘low collective’ and ready for some hay-burning (before spring assistors were fitted)

So, in 2019 we added a pair of spring assistors to lift the rear-end back up again. It gained us some height, but not quite as much as we wanted. At least she was level again. But her back end dragged and was prone to hitting speed humps. Which is a joke in itself!

The corner steadies had been clobbered so many times by curbs and random rocks in the Welsh countryside lanes that one was beyond repair.

Custom made springs for older motorhomes

So, 2022, and we have been back to Dom and now have some shiny new springs which have lifted her butt nicely. Three inches higher! Something many a lady would be grateful for!

There was also corrosion and general “old age” issues affecting the wiring to the rear top lights.

And Dom said that in all his years fixing and renovating caravans and motorhomes, he had never seen the issue Cree has had with her on board water system before (which has been repaired several times now!)

Good old Cree!

You think this is slow? Wait till we go uphill…

Apart from the obvious roll going around corners with these older vans, Cree goes pretty darned well and we average 28-30 mpg on a run. This is more than many modern motorhomes we’re told.

She’ll cruise along quite nicely at 60 mph and we had 74 out of her once, admittedly going downhill. But we’re not in this for speed. Motorhoming is about cruising along at a gentle pace and with Cree weighing 2.7 tons we don’t really have much option.

Going uphill though is a different matter entirely! We’ve all seen the window stickers saying something like “You think this is slow? Wait till we go uphill.” We found this out for ourselves on Winnat’s Pass, in a rain-soaked Peak-District…

This hill almost proved too much for her – it’s a 28% incline near the top – but she just pulled us up, wheels spinning and engine screaming in first gear all the way to the top! Phew!

Work in progress

Cree is an on-going project – all old vans are. It is a work in progress. It’s part of the fun of van life, especially if your van is an ‘elder of the tribe’ like ours.

We plan to get new graphics on the sides – the old ones have just about faded – and respray the blue stripes on the cab doors with the right shade to match the rest of her.

In August 2020 we bought a new leisure battery and had a solar panel fitted. The solar panel keeps the new battery topped up nicely and we now wished we’d have bought one earlier.

Dom working on our van - solar panel being fitted to motorhome roof
Our friend, Dom, fitting the solar panel for us

Some of the things we’ve bought for our van

We’ve covered a lot of ground detailing the mechanical fixes on this page. Before we close, we’ll list some of the things we’ve acquired for the living quarters of our van.

Cree was pretty well equipped when we bought her but we have added a few things over the last 5 years.

You’ll be able to find these in our motorhome gifts and accessories shop and on our road trip essentials pages.

As well as adding a solar panel we’ve bought the following…

  • All the safety essentials like a new fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide detector, hi-viz jackets in case of breakdowns etc.
  • A new bike rack (we like to go cycling)
  • Thermal interior blinds that keep the heat out in summer and warmth in during winter
  • A new leisure battery
  • LED strip lighting
  • A secure storage safe
  • Levelling chocks
  • A 12-volt power bank / inverter
  • an action camera to capture our road trip memories
  • And lots more!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our van and if you have any questions about older vans contact us here or read our article: 13 things you must check on older motorhomes.

If you’re like us and love to look at older vans be sure to check out our vintage vans and motorhomes gallery.

And if you’re serious about getting your own van, download our ebook that walks you through 4 essential steps to help you find your perfect motorhome…

How to find your perfect motorhome ebook

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