Traveling around the UK and Europe in your VW camper sounds dreamy to most, but it’s easy to forget about the actual running costs while doing so. The topic of converted VW campervan MPG comes up all the time online, and it’s one of the first things my friends ask me when I embark on a trip with them.
In this article we’ll be analyising the VW campervan MPG for both an aftermarket build and for the VW California. We’ll do our best to slice and dice by engine power (84BHP, 102BHP, 140BHP, and 180BHP), but since every camper is different, you’ll have to take all our figures with a little pinch of salt.
There are plenty more examples like this to be found at the bottom of this article:
Mines 2012 T28 Kombi mapped to 150bhp. Was on 20 inch alloys and the computer was touching 32mpg. Now I’ve put the original 16’s back on I’m getting 40 combined. 44 long run. £110 to fill. Just over 600 to a tank. Hope that helps.– 2012 Kombi owner
Because of all the variables at play (I outline them in this article), it’s very difficult to create a simple summary here. But if it’s useful, here’s a very broad range of what MPG to expect for your converted VW Transporter campervan:
- Around town: 20-28mpg (heavily dependent on how you drive and weight of the loaded vehicle)
- Motorway: 30-45mpg (only newer models will hit the upper range)
T5.1 remapped to 170bhp (supposedly) on 20’s, mainly town driving and average 34mpg.– T5.1 owner
Data used in this analysis
Where we have the data, we’re including the following in our data:
- Year and mileage
- Engine size and power
- Converted vs California
- Any other notes (e.g. remap)
But please, please, please keep in mind that if you think you’re the next Michael Schumacher when driving your van, then you can throw all of these figures out of the window entirely. Driving conditions and how you personally drive your van are the most significant factors in knowing what MPG to expect from your converted VW Transporter campervan.
How to get better MPG from a VW Campervan
Well, there isn’t all that much you can do, but there definitely are some external factors within your control.
How you drive
Obviously if you’re first off the light every time and taking it to 4000 RPM in every gear, then you won’t be surprised to learn that your MPG will suffer. It’s nice to get places quickly sometimes, but having a camper is all about toning it down and taking in the sights. Plus, driving a VW Transporter recklessly everywhere will before long cost you more in maintenance a you’ll end up needing a new clutch, tyres more often, etc.
The DSG automatic gearbox will give slightly worse consumption than a manual.
Super useful when you need a bit more grip, the 4Motion tech on some Transporters is a bit more fuel-hungry than standard transmissions.
Where you drive
Lugging your big heavy van around town every day will be a killer for your average MPG. You might be halving your consumption round town versus sitting on the motorway at 50mpg!
Even though it’s fun and comfortable taking the van to the shops, if you have access to a smaller car, then it might be worth saving the van for longer trips.
The fuel you use – premium or economy?
They say that better fuel means better economy. This is supposedly more true for petrol than diesel engines. Premium diesel has additives that help remove build up of junk throughout the engine and fuel system, which could be beneficial long-term for the engine irrespective of your MPG.
I try to fill up with premium diesel in my van when I can. If I’m running low and only have supermarket fuel nearby, then I’ll usually put £20 in to get me wherever I need before filling up with premium fuel.
Remaps can go either way depending on who it’s done by and what the objective is. It’s possible to improve your MPG and torque with a remap.
If it’s chucking it down (which it often is in the UK let’s be honest) then I find myself sitting at 50 MPH on the motorway. Great for the old MPG!
If you’re fortunate enough to have air con in your van, then don’t forget that having this on will make your MPG suffer slightly.
On older cars this could impact performance and economy by a much as 25%, but in a newer, torquey engine you shouldn’t see more than a few MPG shaved off your average.
Tyres and wheel size
If you have big swamper BFG Goodrich stye tyres, then don’t expect better consumption. Generally the standard allows with decent tyres will give better consumption than any wheels that are wildly large or tyres that are a weird style.
“Mines a 2012 T28 Kombi mapped to 150bhp. Was on 20-inch alloys and the computer was touching 32mpg. Now I’ve put the original 16’s back on I’m getting 40 combined. 44 long run. £110 to fill. Just over 600 to a tank. Hope that helps.— Campervan owner
Generally using cruise control does reduce your MPG slightly. However, this depends on how you’d otherwise be driving.
If you have a heavy right foot and a very variable speed limit when not using cruise control, then in fact you may be your own worst enemy and decreasing your MPG yourself already.
On long, flat motorway trips, cruise control should have no real impact. However, if you’re up and down hills all the time then cruise simply doesn’t know how to adapt driving style to these conditions like a human would, which typically results in reduced MPG.
Pretty much everything other than a VW California will weigh something different. Obviously the lighter your van, the better MPG you’ll get.
There are some ways you can influence this:
- Is your conversion made out of lightweight ply, or is it made out of solid wood? Solid wood is very heavy.
- How many passengers do you have? 4 adults might weight 250kg more than a single adult. That’s a lot of weight!
- Do you really need to take all of your kit?! Driveaway awnings can weight as much as 30-40kg, and all of the other camper gear can quickly add up to. Only take what you need.
- Water tanks. Taking water for hydration and sanitation on your trip is always useful, but it might be worth filling up your water tank when you arrive at your destination as opposed to taking everything with you – especially if you’re traveling a few hundred miles or more.
How to calculate your MPG
When I picked up Vinnie (my 2010 converted Transporter), I was very confused when I couldn’t find an MPG setting on the clock. It turns out that the basic computer doesn’t show an MPG calculation, and instead only shows distance, time, and a few other basics.
To calculate your MPG you need to make a note when you put fuel in:
- When at a petrol station, mark down your current mileage
- When you’ve put fuel in, mark down how many litres/gallons you put in (there are 4.54609 litres in 1 gallon)
- Do the calculation below (example)
|Miles traveled divided by gallons used
Here’s a handy little tool to help with the calculation.
Real VW Campervan MPG examples
From my research around the web I’ve found lots of people discussing this topic. I’ve collated some responses below, but for obvious reason have omitted any personal details. Remember, much of this is anecdotal.
|Year and mileage
|2008, 184k miles
|“’08 2.5 174 Sportline kombi.184000 miles. Minimum 30+mpg bimbling about locally, best 40mpg on long Euro runs. I calculate after every fill-up.”
|NA, 65k miles
|2.5 180bhp (remapped)
|My T5 2.5 LWB (180 mapped) work van loaded with around 300kgs of equipment with 65k of the clock, I get around town about 22mpg and 28mpg on the motorway at 80mph if I drop to 70mph it’s more around 30mpg. On average I get around 400miles per tank. Not much difference to my old T5.1 2.0l camper which did similar figures.
|The MFD on my T5.1 shows over 40mpg on motorway runs and around 30mpg general driving.
|2 year average:
|’56 2.5, 2 years average is 33, best is 38, worst is 31. mainly gets used longer trips.
|I’ve just filled up 76 litres and done 606 miles which worked out at 35mpg… this is in my 2013 t5.1 2.0TDI 83bhp… it’s my first full tank since I bought it… the drive was mostly A roads.
|Anywhere from 28-33 ish atmo, that’s with big stupid tyres and giving the night heater death for 12/14 hours a night on trips out lol…. Lower end of scale was North Devon and Cornwall lots of low gear hills and narrow track etc, higher end was North Wales mostly, hopefully do a little more on a motorway run if ever I do one lol
|2.0 180bhp BiTDi
|26-34 on our dsg T5 lwb 2.0tdi
|2019 T6 LWB 2.0 TDI 102 BHP with pop top. Around town around 35 mpg, motorway/A roads around 47 mpg. Pretty impressed TBH
|2.0 140bhp 4motion
|I’m average about 28 mpg with my 2015 T5.1 140bhp 4motion with BFG AT tyres
|’08 2.5 174 Sportline kombi. Minimum 30mpg bimbling about locally, best 40 mpg on long European runs. I always calculate my mpg every fill-up, because I’m sad like that.
|T6.1, 6k miles
|My 6.1 has 6k on the clock and is god awful on fuel (DSG). Did a run today 30 miles each way being sensible and averaged 23-24. It went up a bit closer to home to 25.6
|Mines 2012 T28 Kombi mapped to 150bhp. Was on 20 inch alloys and the computer was touching 32mpg. Now I’ve put the original 16’s back on I’m getting 40 combined. 44 long run. £110 to fill. Just over 600 to a tank. Hope that helps.
|2018 caravelle exec…150dsg standard. Roof rails and bike rack on the back. It’s bad on fuel – 33mpg at best. My 6sp manual T5 got close to 40 quite often.
I had the ‘Velle remapped and get 36 on a run driving VERY sedately.
Don’t expect good economy with a T6. That said I wouldn’t have anything else!
|650-950 miles to a tank (£90)
|Mine is a 56 T5 lwb 1.9. Can do about 650 miles on a tank (£90 to fill) just running around … did a trip to Ireland in summer 950 miles on £90 diesel. Very economical. I use mine every day now but only carry a few important tools as am TA in a special needs school where my daughter is a pupil. Have 3 belted seats in front and two on r&r bed/seat in back. Seat incredibly comfy NOT a bench type (they are SO uncomfy) loads of room under bed at back. Bed 3/4 but loads of room and very comfy and easy to pull out and put back… good luck in finding what you want
|I have T6 Kombi 150 mapped to 190. Back is full of tools and gear (sparky) and I’m getting 27/28mpg when really trying for it but most often 23/24 as I’m mainly local start/stop. Motorway and steady could push 32/33.
|T5.1 remapped to 170bhp (supposedly) on 20’s, mainly town driving and average 34mpg.
|I get about 22mpg out of my 204 go California – the Range Rover is more fuel efficient
|t6 140 kombi get 42 avg driving.