Initially, the T5 range included a choice of two different diesel engines, producing a total of four different power outputs. The 1.9-litre TDI offered either 85bhp or 105bhp, while the more torquey fivecylinder 2.5 was available in 130bhp or 174bhp guise, the latter getting the option of VW’S 4Motion four-wheel drive technology. There was also a 231bhp 3.2 V6 petrol offering for the Caravelle, but it’s relatively rare.
Given its torque, the 2.5 is ideal for long motorway jaunts, although the complex timing mechanism means that many specialists wince at the prospect of working on them. The 2.5 is also prone to premature camshaft wear – the first symptom of which will be a misfire from cylinder number 2 – plus it’s more susceptible to the injectors moving around in the head due to the fact that they are bolted down on just one side, which means they try to lift themselves out of their seats when under load. When this happens, fuel moves into the head and subsequently the sump, and if the level gets too high, it can find its way into the turbo and cause the engine to over-fuel and run on with dire consequences. In short, if you notice ‘missing’ or experience rough running on a test-drive it’s probably best to continue your search elsewhere. Furthermore, the water pump on the 2.5 can fail – the seal
either leaks coolant into the engine oil or the bearings fail and it pumps water out of the overflow on the rear of the engine. If you find a vehicle with low coolant, this could be why. The post-2006 model with its uprated injection system was altogether better. Otherwise, the 1.9 is more bulletproof, and because it’s used in a variety of other VAG cars, it is far easier to get hold of a replacement should problems arise.
From new, many T5s were exposed to a long-life service regime which meant that some vans had to wait up to 18 months for an oil and filter change. This practice has undoubtedly resulted in problems, notably the vanes in the variable vane turbo fitted to these vehicles clogging after prolonged extended interval regimes. If the turbo fails, you’ll notice flaccid performance and a tendency for the vehicle to go into ‘limp-home’ mode when it overboosts. New turbos cost £900 or £1200 fitted.
As always, go through any receipts to see what oil has been used (it should meet the necessary VW 505 or 506 specification) and how often the oil and filter have been changed, to assess potential wear to the camshafts and associated followers and injectors. For reference, a top end rebuild will cost you at least £1000.
Bear in mind that T5s after 2006 had a diesel particulate filter (DPF) and require oil that meets 507 specifications, so check that this has been used.
The 1.9 employs a cambelt which should be replaced every 80,000 miles or five years. The 2.5 is gear-driven and is thus virtually maintenance-free, although it’s necessary to change the freewheel and elastic drive coupling at around 100,000 miles, which can be expensive at more than £500.
The post-2009 facelift T5.1 featured a totally new 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit – it was available in 83bhp, 101bhp, 138bhp and 177bhp biturbo (BITDI) guises – and this is altogether smoother, more efficient and more reliable.
The early 1.9 PD turbodiesel is strong but a little underpowered, especially when fully laden. The 2.0 TDI in the post-2009 T5.1 is by far the most efficient unit of all.