Why You Might Choose a VW T5/T6 Conversion Over a VW California

Does a T5/T6 Transporter conversion hold its own against VW’s in-house designed and built California? One of the questions most often pondered is whether it’s better to go with a California that’s already purpose-built and ready to be used as such, or to buy a panel van such as a VW T5 or T6 and convert it.

Here is a quick rundown of the VW California vs Transporter conversion:

  • A T5/T6 conversion gives you the opportunity to tailor the vehicle exactly to your individual taste
  • A conversion can end up being more expensive than a California if you hire a professional, but it could be fun to convert it yourself if you have the skills
  • A California will have different fixtures and fittings to a T5/T6 you’ve designed yourself
  • Many conversions will be taller than the California, which is an important consideration when entering car parks
  • Conversions can be classed as motorhomes, which affects how much tax you pay
  • Resale values of conversions vary widely, while a California is easier to value

What is the Difference Between the VW California and Transporter?

For people looking to purchase a compact campervan which can be used as an everyday vehicle, there are a lot of options out there, particularly in the VW family. The split-screen VW T2, introduced in the 1950s, certainly has a vintage appeal and is a cult choice for the surfer lifestyle community. Although the T5/T6 does not have the cult appeal of the T2, the modern-day VW mechanics and level of comfort are much improved. The T6 was launched in 2015 and is a facelift of the T5 leaving the vast majority of the van unchanged. The T6 will begin rolling off the production line this month.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why you might want to choose a T5/T6 conversion over a campervan such as the California.


By opting for a T5/T6 you can get your vehicle converted and fitted out exactly to your liking.  A conversion can be tailored to suit your individual needs, providing you with your perfect campervan.  You can choose the equipment you need and a style you love and express your individuality through your camper. Many conversions are very individualistic and express the owners’ tastes by incorporating bespoke fabrics, leather seats, mood lighting and bespoke internal and external colour schemes.


If you are buying a T5/T6 van to convert into a campervan, you will need to think about how much it will cost you to buy the van including VAT and carry out the conversion. Paying a professional could be pricey, but if you are confident in your DIY abilities you could consider doing it yourself – and that could prove to be fun and rewarding.  

Different Fixtures & Fittings

The California is fully equipped with beds for four people, cooker, sink, fridge, night heater, hydraulic popup roof and tables, so if you buy a California you don’t have to worry about kitting it out. However, there is a trend of California owners reporting that the bed (which doubles up as a rear seat) is uncomfortable, and the sliding door being on the driver’s side takes a little getting used to as it opens into the road when driving in the UK. This is not ideal if you have children or pets. Some find the Germanic internal styling a little dull. Purchasing a purpose-built campervan such as a California could mean having to put up with features that don’t suit you. By converting a T5 or T6 you can pick out your own layout, choice of bed and appliances so you know you’ll be happy with the finished result.


Conversions can be classified by DVLA as a van or a motorhome and this will have a bearing on the road tax payable going forward.

Resale Values

Although conversions often appear cheaper than a California, when you come to sell a T5/T6 conversion prospective buyers will undoubtedly ask about the workmanship of the conversion and what guarantees are available. Resale values of T5 conversions vary enormously and this can have a huge impact on whole life cost. A California is easy to value and is a known entity. So far resale values of the California have held up very well.

Type Approval and Roadworthiness

Some of the large long-established converters sell converted vans which have been fully tested and comply with EU Type Approval regulations. The process of testing a van is costly and some might wonder why the big converters have invested huge sums of money the Type Approval process. Some say the Type Approval testing is all about safety and one example of this is seatbelt anchor points and the use of shatterproof glass. Although rock and roll beds are crash tested, when fixed in a van one might ask are the seat belt and bed anchor point also tested? This is where the Type Approval process comes into play.

Comparable Specifications

To the uninformed, a T5/T6 van looks much like a California but there are many subtle differences. Namely air conditioning, noise insulation, ride height, barn rear doors vs. tailgate, gearing, engine power, left side opening sliding door vs right side sliding door, to name but a few.


Although there are a handful of insurance providers who insure T5/T6 conversions, you only know how good the insurance cover is when you make a claim. The bigger the claim the closer the insurance provider will look at the conversion and the extensive list of “modifications”. This is one reason why Type Approval might be important.

Ride Height and Car Parks with a 2 Meter Height Restriction

This is often overlooked. Most T5/T6 conversions which have popup roofs are over 2 meters high whereas the California overall height is less than 2 meters. The discerning converter might lower the suspension on a standard van but this costly and is another modification which your insurance providers might wish to know about. Many car parks in the UK and most underground car parks on continental Europe have a 2-metre height restriction. This makes parking most VW conversions problematic, particularly if you wish to explore foreign cities.

Whichever route you decide to go down, campervans are fun but can be costly and you may need a little help in financing your purchase. Give Arkle Finance a call and see if we can help you make your motoring dreams come true!

If you require more information, you can request a call back or submit a get a quote form.


Why You Might Choose a VW T5/T6 Conversion Over a VW California

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