Our Van – a VW T4 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. Without her, of course, this website wouldn’t exist!

Our 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!

VW T4 motorhome on the Isle of Skye
Cree on the Isle of Skye

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.

As well as the Cree, Autotrail named their coach-builds Apache, Mohawk, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Comanche and Kiowa, built onto Fiat-Talbots, Peugeots, Mercedes, as well as VWs.

You can read about the history of Autotrail here.

But before you go wandering off to have a look, let us tell you about our old van and some of the work we’ve had to do on her…

As we’re honest folks, we like to state up front that this page contains affiliate links. If you buy via the links we’ll get a small commission, at no extra cost to yourself. Our full affiliate product disclosure can be read here.

How we ended up with a VW Cree

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

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

We’d been searching for a campervan for about a year and when Cree became available the decision to buy it was made simple after a rave review of VW Cree’s in Practical Motorhome magazine.

However, urgent repairs were needed!

When the previous owner had lent it to her boyfriend for an extended period, he somehow 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. It’s an important point we raise in our free ebook about stuff we wish we’d have known at the start of this van life journey.

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…

Death to vans – 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.

A handy little damp-meter made it quite obvious that Cree was suffering from water ingress, with over 40% readings in places!

It turned out that the wooden frame in the shower and partly into the kitchen area was completely rotten, the wood almost mulched enough to put on your flower beds!

Luckily for us, a skilled and trusted friend who had valued the vehicle in its then current condition did a great job fixing everything. He took the entire shower room out as well as half the kitchen wall and cupboards on one side.

All rot was removed, which included the shower room base-frame. He also laid a new floor throughout as the old one had de-laminated. The original carpet floor 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
Breakdown at Bawdsey, Suffolk

Major disaster – two weeks before our wedding 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 less than two weeks before we were due to head north to get married!

We had no choice then but to get the job done properly. This was an expensive repair, coming in at close on £1500 – but it had to be done.

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…

Joining the ‘low collective’

Cree is not designed for off-roading and we broke a spring going down a friend’s potholed drive. During the MOT it was decided that both left and right springs should be 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’s now level again but this is something we’re contemplating addressing properly in the future.

Cree’s performance – okay, until you 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 can be a real struggle sometimes. Winnat’s Pass, in a rain-soaked Peak-District almost proved too much for her, but she just pulled us up, wheels spinning and engine screaming in first gear all the way to the top!

Perhaps we’ll get a turbo fitted next?

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.

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 4 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 or would like to leave a comment please do so below or contact us here.

Find out more about our van and why we chose her in our free ebook.

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

VW T4 motorhome at Alton Water, Suffolk
Cree at Alton Water, Suffolk

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4 thoughts on “Our Van – a VW T4 Autotrail Motorhome

  1. Edmond Bourke says:

    Hi I’m Eddie, I bought my Fiat Ducats Montana (Monty) last March. I had a couple of weekends away in England with a couple of my grandchildren to get used to Monty. When we got home after the second trip, there was a hole where the window above the cab was. The kids had slept in that bed and I could only think that they had opened the window and hadn’t closed it properly. One lesson learnt. Check everything when you’ve had children in the van.
    I then went to France in June and Ireland in September with my dog Sausage and loved it. Hoping to do a 3 month tour of the UK and Ireland this summer.

    • motorhomehobos says:

      Top tip thanks Eddie. We left a skylight slightly open in one corner…just a tiny gap. It snowed and the whole space above the fly screen was full of snow. Luckily it was the toilet/shower room so dripping snow wasn’t so much of an issue.

  2. yvonne squirrell and Johnny squirrell says:

    Hello its Johnny and Yvonne Squirrell;; reading about cree, being slow up hills When I first had my Mercedes tabbert, the engine was only 62 bhp, well worn out, the old girl is just on 3 tons empty. On a good day I could climb over a cats in 2nd gear. then it went bang out side the back garden gate. So with a lot of help from fantastic neighbours. I put in a 95 bhp engine in. the donor engine came from goods van that had been runover by a big lorry, All this put in outside the back gate The engine was just £100. This was about 8 years ago since then I have done 42,000 miles

    • motorhomehobos says:

      Hi Johnny and Yvonne. Wow, an extra 30+ horsepower, must have felt like you’d had a turbo put in the old girl!
      Our Cree has 78 hp and could do with some more. Perhaps this is something we’ll look into in the future. She’s fine, until we hit a hill!
      We’re getting used to reading the road well ahead now – no overtaking even going up a slight incline!
      Stay in touch and let’s hope the lockdown is lifted soon. The roads are calling to us! The next adventure awaits!

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