Eurovans: Might Be Our Last Camper

Gear case (3)The last series of campers exported to the USA were the Eurovans. Like the Vanagon, the Eurovan has held up well and has a huge resale value. First available in 1993, the Eurovans filled the camper needs after a year of having no vans available, yet they did not sell very well. The customer feedback was bitter in general as to why many refused to buy. “It looks like a monorail.” “It’s too big.” “It’s too slow.” Vanagons had achieved all the panache and cliche status of the 60’s and 70’s Type 2 hippy vans, and the prospective van owner was buying a used Vanagon instead of a new Eurovan. The price of used Vanagons began to sail upward, averaging 4% to 10% increases every year.

The 1993 sales were so dismal that a 1994 was not imported, and thereafter only every other year was available until 1999. Once the original 108 hp 5 cylinder engine was replaced by a 138 hp VR6, the sales began to pick up. When the 24 valve 204 hp VR6 engine arrived in 2000, the sales skyrocketed. The last year manufactured was the 2003 worldwide. After that, the used Eurovan sales prices began to rise as the Vanagon market had in 1993. Eurovan prices seemed to have peaked out in 2010, and have stabilized and maybe dropped. Used Vanagon prices continue to rise.

Eurovan BB 128x128The first Eurovans were all the short wheel base of 115″. The 131″ wheelbase came out in 1995 with the Eurovan Camper, which was outfitted by Winnebago. These were only available on the longer wheelbase platform. Winnebago also offered three motorhomes based on the Eurovan called the Rialta, Vista, and Sunstar. The 5 cylinder versions through 1996 were available with either an automatic transmission or a 5 speed manual. The first 12 valve VR6 could be had with a 5 speed, but were rare as most sold with automatics. All models from 2000 with the 24 valve VR6 engine had automatic transmissions.

All Eurovans are the only vehicles with a transverse mounted engine installed with the cylinder head angled forward, which is for fitment issues, but degrades handling due to the large percentage of swung weight, which is the weight that extends beyond the axle line. Eurovans all came with a large bucket type belly pan. Those vehicles who lost their bellypans due to neglect were more prone to failure of the plastic heater core pipes, as the bellypan is essential for proper air flow. The plastic heater core pipes live in the back of the engine compartment above the exhaust manifold.

Eurovan Automatic Transmissions

All model years have a poor score board for automatic transmission failure. The biggest factor is that the manufacturer does not recommend servicing the fluids, and in fact many dealerships often discourage or refuse to change the ATF and differential fluids. Around 30% of those units failed before 100,000 miles. Pretty much none ever make it to 150,000 miles unless the fluid got changed at least once. As a standard, Karmakanix recommends changing the automatic transmission fluid every 40,000 miles minimum, and the differential fluid with every other ATF change. One should understand that less than half the ATF fluid gets changed during a service, and about a third get changed during a drain and fill. For those which had not gotten fluid changes early on, we often service the unit, and if we find the fluid really tar baby dirty or find more than just slight debris in the pan, then we recommend doing a drain and fill with every other engine oil change until the fluid cleans up.

There is a myth that servicing an old transmission will cause it to fail. It is true only by coincidence, and only in the rare cases that the fluid is completely burned and opaque, and the transmission is already shifting poorly. The real story is that all these transmissions are adaptive, and the shifting speed and force changes according to the driver’s habits and the transmission’s condition. When the old fluid is trashed and has lost most of its friction modifiers, it is therefore too thin and slick. The transmission has adapted to shifting faster and with more pressure to compensate. It will shift more harshly with new fluid, and could contribute to wear and damage until the transmission adapts. The real fix is to disconnect the Transmission Control Unit, which resets the adaptation tables in the TCU. One also needs to manually reset the adaptations for the engine throttle body using a computer with VAG COM or the factory scan tool. The TCU will then quickly “learn” how to operate the clutches with the new fluid.

Early 5 Cylinder Eurovans

The early Eurovans from 1993 to 1996 were sold with the inline 5 cylinder engine of Audi descent. The Eurovan version was sturdy as an engine, but suffered from a few stereotypic mishaps. All have early failure of the coolant flange one the driver’s end of the cylinder head. The Audi version had a steel pipe pushed inside the head, and retained by one 6mm stud and nut. The Eurovan version had a plastic coolant flange failure pressed against the head and retained by one 8mm bolt. Warpage and leaks were rather predictable.

Exhaust manifold cracks were a tradition with the Audi 5 cylinders until the 2.3 model used a two piece version to eliminate the issue. The Eurovan 5’s came with a one piece exhaust manifold, and the tradition of cracks has continued. The VR6 versions occasionally get cracks in the welds of the manifolds, causing exhaust to come in through the climate control (heater).

Late VR6 Engine Eurovans

A consistent topic with VR6 engines is the timing chain system. Eurovan VR6 engines seem to have more timing chain issues than the smaller cars partly due to the higher power requirements and the resultant increased load on the chain system. But mostly wear is commensurate with oil condition. Old acrid and contaminated oil degrades the plastic parts. They wear much faster and sometimes crumble. It is a fact that the metallurgy of the intermediate gear of the first 6 months of the 24 valve engines was poor and the gears have a tendency to wear badly just for that. Given frequent oil changes with high quality oil, plus a conservative driving habit, the timing chain system can easily last 250,000 miles or more.

All VR6 engines have a series of plastic cooling system parts. The thermostat housing and pipe located on the engine generally need replacing at about 150,000 miles. Best to frequently review those parts and replace them as soon as any seepage is found. Ofttimes, we will recommend that those parts be replaced before a very long trip, just because of age and condition. Over time, the black plastic may slowly look more grey due to degradation. The coolant Tee next to the bottle and the plastic fittings on the heater hoses should be tugged on gently with the engine cold to see if they shatter.

As all of these vehicles get older, consistent professional inspection and service is required to keep them in a reliable condition. Most of our customers drive their Eurovans long distances and mostly during the heat of the summer. For a complete list of recommended services, please see our Ultimate Maintenance Guide page.

Gear case (3)