How to Restore a Vanagon Camper Top

The Westfalia Vanagon pop tops are made of fiberglass.  They were originally gel coated to protect the surface and offer a smooth high quality finish. 

Got a Vanagon Top that needs some TLC?

Over the years the gel coating will begin to fade.   In many cases it can actually develop hairline cracks.  Not good!

Gel coat for the most part is an extremely durable surface.  It often times can be brought back to life with just a good cleaning and polish.

UV rays are the biggest enemy when it comes to your pop-top. 

Years of baking in the sun can do a number on any surface.

Like aging, the fading of paint and gel coat often goes unnoticed unless we are able to do a side by side comparison. 

Other elements that attack the gel coat of your Vanagon top are acid rain, tree sap and even bugs. 

The front cargo carrier can sometimes have a sand blasted appearance. This is probably caused by small particles in the air hammering the front side of the carrier.

Over time this slowly sands the gel coat away.

So, how do we restore and protect our precious Vanagon tops?


Redoing the gel coat or repainting the top should be a last resort.  The majority of tops can be brought back to life within a single afternoon. 

The first thing I do when evaluating a top is to determine the extent of the damage.

This is achieved by thoroughly cleaning the top with a pressure washer and mild detergent.

It may be easiest to accomplish this by going to a car wash that is setup for large trucks and RVs.

They often have ladders for getting to the tops of vehicles. Or take a good lightweight ladder or platform with you.

If you have a pressure washer, use a 25 degree pressure washing nozzle and a sturdy aluminum platform, (remember to always wear safety goggles and hearing protection if using a gas powered pressure washer). 

The pressure washer will remove a great deal of the contaminants, but I find myself using a little elbow grease to remove the stuck on items (be sure to use a good set of heavy rubber gloves to protect against the fiberglass). 

A product such as Goo Gone will aid in removing really stubborn items like tree sap.

With the top thoroughly cleaned, I can determine the extent of any damage to the top.

If the top is worn to the point that fiberglass fibers are now showing it might be time to have the top either gel coated or painted.

If there are small chips or scratches in the gel coat then I use Evercoat Fiberglass Match and Patch kit to fill in the holes (follow the product instructions). This kit is good for small repairs, so don’t plan on purchasing if attempting larger repairs.

With repairs made, you can now proceed to the removal of oxidation. There are many good products available, but I prefer the 3M Marine Restorer. 

I have tried using this product with my orbital buffer. Unfortunately because of the textured surface, I have found that I get better results by just doing it by hand (which sucks!).

Follow the instructions and complete this process in a cool shady spot, make sure to protect your eyes and hands.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I am also leaning toward this Fiberglass Restoration System.  If you have tried it, please let me know in the comments.  Did it work for you? Did you like/dislike it?

Remember, if the rubber on your top has seen better days, it is best to replace it now. 

Remove all rubber prior to pressure washing which may require the removal of the luggage rack (see this post Replacing the Pop Top Rubber).



Further protection:

Keeping your vehicle out of the sun is one of the easiest ways to increase the interior and exterior life.

Although campers are nomadic vehicles it is much easier to avoid repairing the tops by preventing the sun damage in the first place whenever possible.

If a garage isn’t available you can look into an inexpensive car cover.  Make sure you are purchasing one that will hold up to all weather conditions.

When out on the road park in shaded areas, this will also keep the paint and interior looking their best.

Other ways of protecting the top are by applying a UV protectant. 

I personally use a marine protectant called Trinova which can be found here

I can attest that it works great in bringing back some of the original color.

Another popular product is 303 Protectant, which I have also used in the past and works well.

These products also do a terrific job protecting the dash, door panels, cabinets and other items throughout the camper.

If you are restoring a Vanagon camper top, let me know in the comments how it went.  

Did I forget to mention something that worked well for you? I would love to hear about it.

If you have any additional recommendations, please comment below.

Until next time, keep it on the road!