VW Transporter T5 Problems: Buying Guide

VW Transporter T5 03

The Volkswagen Transporter T5 van was in production from 2003 to 2015 so there are plenty of models available out there on the second hand market.

If you are considering buying one of these vans then there are a few things to look out for over and above the usual buying checks.

A lot of these are costly to fix (some not leaving you much change out of £1k) and not all are easy DIY jobs. If you have multiple issues then you could be severely out of pocket.

In this buying guide article we take a look at the most common problems to watch out for when buying a VW Transporter T5.

VW Transporter T5 Common Problems

Dual Mass Flywheel

This is a fairly common issue with T5s and is not particularly cheap to fix. The main purpose of the Dual Mass Flywheel is to reduce vibrations from the engine that could end up damaging the manual gearbox. There is also the added benefit of improved clutch operation and gerashift. However, Dual Mass Flywheels are not without their problems as they are known to fall apart.

The best way to test if you might have a Dual Mass Flywheel issue is to start the van and put in neutral and listen for any metallic sound (rattle) or an unusual vibration or judder. If you raise the clutch slowly in first gear and also feel some juddering through the transmission, then this may also point to a Dual Mass Flywheel issue.

The only real fix is to get a new Dual Mass Flywheel at an average cost of around £300. There will also be the price for fitting as this is not an easy DIY job, so taking it to a decent garage will set you back a total of around £700 as this is a very time consuming job. This price will also include the clutch, release bearing and labour of around 6 hours. This will also be for patent parts such as LUK rather than genuine VW parts. The benefit is the price saving but you won’t get VW’s 2 year parts warranty.

Cam belt / Timing belt

The service interval for a cambelt change is every 60,000 miles or 7 years. During the belt change, the belt tensioners and idler should have also been changed so check if this one was done in the service history. If this is not the case, budget on getting this work done as if the pulleys run low on lubricant, the cam belt can easily go for an unscheduled trip around the engine!

EGR Valve Failure

This is another common failure on T5s. The Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) valve’s job is to recirculate exhaust gases back into the combustion chambers. The problem is that over time these valves become caked in “gunge” and start to stick. If not fixed then they will eventually seize open or closed. 

If the EGR is stuck in the open position then you may find that the engine idles roughly or stalls. If stuck in the closed position then the engine will run hot and likely “knock”. Watch out for this one though as running the engine at increased temperatures could lead to turbo charger failure.

The “good” thing is that if there is a problem with the EGR valve then you will likely get an engine management warning light appear on the dash and be able to read the fault codes with a diagnostic tool.

EGR valves (and DPFs) need to get hot in order to clear themselves out and prevent any clogging. They are not happy if the van is used for stop-stop driving or covering short distances.

One preventive action you can take is to make sure the van has plenty of long distance runs, even if this means taking it out for a long drive once every week or two. Fuel quality can also help, but choosing premium fuels over supermarket brands can be costly in the long run as well.

These parts are prone to failure and there are reports of some needing to be replaced within 2 years or 12,000 miles. A replacement part is likely to set you back around £350.

Heater controls

If you are looking at a pre-2007 T5 then it’s worth checking the heating controls, especially the air direction control knob (the one on the right hand side of the heater unit). The cable attached to this control can become bent and prevent you from being able to direct the air to the correct vents. Definitely worth checking during a test drive as not only is this an inconvenience, it’s also a costly issue to repair.

Fuel tank electric fuel pump

The T5 Transporters have a fuel pump in the tank (like a lot of vans) and it’s not unusual for these to need replacing. The pump should make a short whine or “whurr” when the ignition is switched on but this should then stop. If it continues to make a noise then you could be looking at a fuel pump replacement. Parts cost around £170 to £200 and the replacement could be a job for a competent DIYer. The fuel tank will need removing so you can gain access to the pump. One tip: make sure you have a low fuel tank before starting this job to make your life a bit easier.

Rear doors

This Is more of a generic issue rather than T5 specific but it’s worth checking the “barn” style rear cargo doors on the T5. If the van has had a hard life then the door strap (the metal parts in between the hinges) may be broken. If the doors have glass fitted then it’s also worth checking for any cracks in the windows.

Surprisingly, these are not particularly cheap and a new door check strap can set you back around £100….each. Fitment should be easy enough though. The windows will cost about £100 per pair to replace and is best left to the professional unless you are feeling confident taking out and fitting the new windows.

Water Pump Failure (T5 2.5 TDi models)

The larger engined 2.5 TDi T5 models are known for their water pump failures. This is due to defective seals and can be a big issue as water gets into the engine oil and leads to possible turbo failure or engine damage if not fixed. The bearings can also fail and if this happens the coolant escapes out of the overflow towards the rear of the engine.

A sign that this could be an issue is overheating or excessive (or more than usual) coolant consumption. The coolant warning light on the dash may also illuminate – ignore this at your peril.

Quite often the water pump may have been changed at the 100,000 mile service so worth checking. A replacement patent water pump will cost around £60 and this could be a DIY job although most will trust this job to their local mechanic.

T5 1.9 owners have an easier life as the only major issue with the 1.9 water pump is the plastic impeller which can spin on the shaft. This can be fixed by fitting a replacement water pump that has a metal impeller.

Central locking and the lighting control box

The central locking and lighting module is placed under the drivers seat on the Transporter T5 and it’s prone to failing due to damp or water ingress. Symptoms include central locking not working and lights not coming on. 

This can be fixed relatively easy though if you are handy with a soldering iron. Sometimes the fix is as simple as cleaning the connection with a wire brush and some electrical cleaner.

If this job has already been done then the module itself may well be at fault and it would require a specialist to investigate further. 

Drive shafts and seals

The drive shafts should be checked and re-oiled every 40,000 miles, so it’s worth checking if this has been done as poor lubrication can often result in clunking sounds when driving or pulling away. Not all T5 models are affected as much though, although the later post-2010 2.0 facelift models (T5.1) seem to be the worse affected. 

Again this is another costly repair, as you will be looking at around £500 to get this fixed which should include a couple of hours labour.

Drive shaft seals can also degrade and if this had happened you will likely find oil on the rear brake calipers and tyres, so worth looking out for after an extended test drive.

ABS Warning Light

Another light you might see on the dash is the ABS warning light. This can have a variety of causes, each with its different level of cost and difficulty in fixing.

One cause can be a faulty rear wheel speed sensor – these are very cheap (about £25 a pair) and are a relatively easy DIY fix.

The second issue is water ingress into the wiring loom which causes a poor ABS sensor connection. This can be fixed but needs a bit of diagnostics to identify where the water is getting in, although this is usually on the rear near side of the van.

VW Transporter T5 rust problems

As with most (more) modern vans, the T5 is not especially susceptible to rust. It’s still worth looking at some area of the van though to identify any potential future problems. The arches are a prime spot as the arch liner can end up trapping dirt and water, so it’s worth removing these and cleaning out any debris, while also checking for any rust.

The front arches are also known to rust around the door posts but this should be easier to spot.