There are a lot of great internet resources to determine which platform is best for you and help you narrow your search. We often encourage people to be very thoughtful and deliberate in the decision – but also to go for it if it’s something you are passionate about. Some of the best resources can be found at Go Westy or at The Samba. The most fluid marketplaces are still local ones – Kijiji being the most popular.
There is no way to predict this one. Buying and owning one of these vehicles is more of an art than science. Some people spend $15,000 and get a great deal. Some people stretch north of $25,000 and don’t do their due diligence and have to spend a lot. And some people want a custom built rig that can exceed $80,000.
For later model Vanagons (the most popular vehicle), we tend to talk about four price levels. Below $15,000 you’re looking at something that is going to need to some love (read - $). For $15,000-$22,000 you should expect a vehicle that is in decent running condition but definitely has some major work coming up. In the $22,000-$30,000 range, your Vanagon should be good to go with only the normal care and feeding. At over $30,000, the van should be in extremely clean condition and likely have an upgraded engine or similar. In all cases, you should expect to add $10,000-15,000 for a Syncro. (Note: these are very, very broad numbers and should be taken with a grain of salt and mostly local to the Northwest. There are exceptions to all of these.)
Keep in mind you are paying a premium for a VW. If you require something cheap, reliable, and bomb-proof there might be a better platform. But if you want something with a community, a soul, and a certain je ne sais quois, then the VW might be your thing.
YES! Two things we try to steer people away from are fresh paint jobs (unless you have receipts showing a substantial investment) and what we call 'OPC,' or Other People’s Conversions.
Unless you are shown a receipt that exceeds $10,000 for a paint job, you probably should not trust it. A bad paint job (not necessarily done with bad intentions) can hide a lot of rust and other imperfections that will come back to haunt you. It's easy for an untrained eye to not see those things and to be impressed with the shiny paint. Of course, there are a lot of awesome new paint jobs - don't let this dissuade you, but do apply a bit extra due diligence.
If you are buying a vehicle with a motor conversion, make sure it has been done by a reputable shop, the wiring was professionally done, the motor was broken in properly, etc. In most cases, if the conversion was not done by a known shop, it’s simply not going to be worth it. We have seen too many of these and it causes us great pain to be the bearer of bad news. Many times the van will run great when you test drive it or pick it up - and the owner may very well believe it's an impeccable conversion.
Other mistakes we have seen people make include:
- Buying a bus sight unseen on eBay
- Buying a van within 3 months of having a baby
- Not getting a pre-purchase inspection from an independent mechanic
- Buying a vehicle from a "known flipper." While there are certainly honest people restoring these vans and selling them, keep in mind that that business model requires people to do as little work as possible before reselling.
We don’t carry an inventory of vehicles for sale. On rare occasions we will build a vehicle to a customer's specifications. The most we do in a given year are 2 or 3 and it's not unusual for the projects to span a year in length. These aren't vehicles for sale, but a vehicle you own that we restore. We can assist you in the initial acquisition and make sure it's a good candidate for this level of work.
At Chester European Auto, we are not focused on any single transaction – instead we are about a relationship with you and your vehicle. Every single one of our customers loves their vehicle and most have quite a tight bond with them. Everyone in the shop owns and drives one of the vehicles (VW), so we get it, and we treat you like we would like to be treated ourselves. We go out of our way to understand what your short- and long-term goals are and then tailor the work to you. Our customers have a wide variety of budgets and timelines, and we work closely with each person on their needs.
Give us a call or send us an email! We are very active on email and always respond within a day. Most new customers opt for a full vehicle inspection – that gives all of us a baseline of information for your vehicle and lets us collectively plan the path forward.
Honestly, as much as we'd love to work on every VW in our area, if you have a great mechanic you trust - stick with them. We are huge fans of long term relationships and the benefits that accrue from having someone who knows you and your vehicle inside and out. If it has been working for you, go ahead and stick with it. There are certainly things we do that most other shops don't - please feel free to use us for that and stick with your regular mechanic for everything else. Of course, if you have always felt things with your current shop could be a bit different or better - we welcome you to come check us out. Most of our customers love us, but we are the first to admit that we aren't the perfect fit for every single person.
We try to keep our schedule booking to 1-2 weeks. There are times when this stretches out – so if you can schedule ahead, it’s best if you do. Summer can be ridiculously busy – we limit employee vacations and try to keep some extended hours to help, but be prepared for a slightly longer lead time (particularly for major work) in the summer months. We can usually squeeze in oil changes and other very minor items sooner.
YES! We can almost always make room for an emergency like this. The flip side is that there might be a time your van is in the shop for non-emergency work and we call you and delay it a day or two – because we had an emergency to take care of. We love that our customers give us this trust and flexibility. (Side note: you don't need us to tell you that it's best NOT to wait until the night before you leave to make sure your van is mechanically sound.)
The nature of working on older vehicles, for example, is different than the process at a normal repair shop. Parts often aren’t available the same day, we rarely have the ability to use computers to diagnose and therefore have to take a few more steps, and many times the problem is further downstream than the initial symptom. All three of these factors can conspire to do what we call 'take the vehicle out of the workflow.' At that point, we assign the tech another vehicle and your vehicle comes back into the workflow when the parts arrive, the diagnostic is final, or we have a complete picture of what it’s going to take to repair.
Another factor to consider is that projects often creep out of scope for myriad reasons, and this requires your approval to proceed. While waiting for your approval, your van will often come out of the workflow and it can take a bit of time to get back in. We always strive to be transparent when you make your appointment or when you drop off that this will be the case. If it is an emergency or you have a special situation we can often manage same-day turn around but this has to be discussed ahead of time.
Yes and no. We have a pretty strict rule against bringing your own parts. There are myriad reasons for this and it's a very common practice across all service-based businesses - not just auto repair shops. There is no secret that we buy parts at a wholesale/volume discount and then mark those up and make a profit on them. To manage this markup we use an industry standard algorithm called a "parts mark-up matrix" that is built into the software we use to manage the shop. This algorithm has been built over the years to help auto shops operate responsibly and profitably. We can, and do, override the algorithm most often to make sure it just "feels right" from your perspective. The mark-up on parts covers things such as: overhead costs in the shop, the ability to carry inventory (meaning we don't have to wait a week for parts to arrive and can complete your job faster), shipping (except for large items), R&D time, and lots of other costs. However, perhaps the most important cost covered by a parts mark-up is the warranty expense. When a part fails, if you bought it from us we will cover the costs associated with replacing it, processing all the paperwork to deal with the return, and, of course, cover the labor. If we install a part you supplied, and the part fails, it's super annoying to pay us to remove the part, have you deal with the supplier, and then pay us again to install the replaced part.
While the profit component to this is important, the customer satisfaction is equally important. Almost every single time we make exceptions to the policy, something goes awry. Most commonly, the customer mis-diagnoses the problem - under the customer direction we replace the part and the problem is still there... or, worse, the problem comes back shortly after pick up. Almost as common is the customer supplying the wrong part, incomplete parts, or a part with an identical part number but the wrong country of manufacture, or similar. This bogs down our workflow, adds costs to the job, and creates a huge amount of frustration while the van just sits here and we wait for the correct part or the missing parts to arrive. The Internet is rife with mis-information and hearsay about maintaining these vehicles.
A recent great example of this is below. The customer seemed knowledgeable and informed, and mentioned on the phone they had a clearly leaking coolant bottle. Very easy diagnosis and one that's visibly obvious. So, we scheduled it in and mentioned that we could install their replacement bottle, but with the no warranty caveat. The customer waited about a week to get on the schedule. We roll the van into the shop, prep for the work and start. And, voila, the customer had supplied a bottle for a 1.9L motor, not the 2.1L. Fortunately, we stock that item so it wasn't a big deal - but sometimes we don't stock the part and the van needs to be taken out of of the workflow, customer called, part ordered, part returned, etc. etc.
We do make exceptions for what we consider "consumer" items, generally non-mechanical things. But, always check with us first. We know it's fun to shop for your van and we don't want to be a buzzkill, but we do want to be able to service your vehicle properly.
We usually don't sell used parts, but we love to help out when we can.
If you are stuck on a road trip, in an emergency, or otherwise up a creek without a paddle, we will gladly help you out. You will need to pay our retail price for the part, and it will be sold with the manufacturer's warranty.
Yes. We have a secured key drop box on the front door.