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Vanagon Air Conditioning Words of Wisdom

September 24, 2019 1 Comment HVAC Ken Wilford

Of course since it is summer time, I get lots of emails and calls about Vanagon Air conditioning.  I would like to take a moment and talk about it and maybe this will save me some phone calls and time in the future.

1. Early Vanagon AC in Air Cooled Vanagons

They actually had Air conditioning as an option in the late VW Bus and Air Cooled Vanagon.  However this system using a York compressor which pulls lots of power off of the engine, and the pulley set up for to power the compressor is a nightmare.  My advice would be to avoid this system unless you like headaches, blown up engines, and tightening squealing belts every other day.

2. 83-85 1.9 Vanagon Air Conditioning

Here is another system that I have to say, the pretty much stinks on ice.  The compressor and belt design is much better.  However the system has a very small condenser in the front, which really limits it's ability to get rid of heat.  On top of that, no pressure sensors to tell the system to shut off in case of low freon so it is just asking for a locked up compressor, broken belts, and not very cold air.  They were designed with R-12 in mind and just barely work on the newer R134a.  I would give this one a pass as well since the fans in the system are powered by one electrical motor in the center which is not very powerful.  At max setting you get just a hint of cold air tantilizing you that you could have more if the fan design wasn't so terrible.  Don't waste your time on this system.

3. 86-92 2.1l Vanagon Air Conditioning

Actually, I like this sytem quite a bit.  They upgraded the fans, wiring, sensors, condenser, compressor, pretty much everything to make the system actually work pretty well.  Don't expect it to spit ice cubes, but it can make you comfortable, even on a very hot day.  The passenger version is the best because it gets the air right on your face and neck where you need it the most.  The camper version is decent as it also has powerful fans that move a lot of air.  However I would recommend a fan that is on the dash or mounted pointing at your face.  You that cool air on your face and not the back of your neck.

4. Aftermarket Dash AC systems.

These systems are aftermarket, and they aren't as powerful as the late model Vanagon system.  The evaporator doesn't have as much btus as the stock evaporator in the rear.  It does get the cold air on your face which helps quite a bit.  I think if you had a Westy, you coud add the dash AC and incorporate it into the stock system with the rear AC, I think it would be a great addition to that.  If you have a late model Vanagon non-camper with the stock AC, you would be better off, restoring that system as it will push more air.  The Vanagon has a large amount of interior space in cubic feet.  You want as much air flow as you can get.  The aftermarket dash systems have a smaller single fan that just can't move as much air, so the cabin will take longer to fully cool down, etc.  It is just math.  Understand the limitations of the system, and then you can make an informed choice.

5. Counting the Cost

Repairing and refurshing an Air Conditioning system can get expensive really quickly.  If it involves more than just recharging the system, and getting cold air, you could easily spend THOUSANDS of dollars in a very short period of time.  The aftermarket system that we sell would cost around $5000 to have a shop install.  The stock system with new hoses, a new compressor, new drier, new evaporator, new condensor, would be around $2000 in parts alone.  Factor in labor and you are looking at around $4000.  Is Air Conditioing worth this to you?  If you look at my reviews of the early Vanagon Air Conditioning Systems my judgement is that restoring them IS NOT worth the investment.  You would be much better off, either selling your van to get a newer version, or moving to Canada for the summer, or pretty much anything else than wasting time and money on those crappy and half baked systems.  If you are fixing the later model systems or installing an aftermarket system, it could be worth it to you if you need AC.  However it is never going to be CHEAP.  Please email me or call me all the time to tell me how they want to fix their AC system and how much is it going to cost.  It is almost to the point that if you need to ask how much it is going to cost, you really can't afford it.  So if you come at it from the point of view that AC is something I need, the cost isn't really the issue, I have some type of physical issues and I just need it so I can travel and enjoy traveling in the van, then go for it.  If you are trying to get something on a budget, I would say you are on a fools errand.  You will spend thousands of dollars.  Maybe not all at once but over time. 


At the end of the day, will the system actually work properly or be reliable?  If it is an all new system or a later model system, then I would say yes.  You would have something to show for your time, money and effort.  If it is one of the early systems, I would say, no.  You have a money pit that is really never going to live up to your expectations, but it will be glad to eat your money, burp, and then ask for more.

Hope this helps you make a decision on this.


Kim Horton January 6, 2020

Will the 86-92 one system reliably for into an '84 westy? I am having one reconditioned and expect to pick it up before the end of the year. It does not have air currently but at 73 I don't tolerate the best as well as I used to. I think I can get a system installed here after I've got it home but I don't want to put the older system in my '84 after reading your comments. Do you sell oem systems or just the aftermarket that you mentioned?

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