What should I look out for when buying a used van?

The good news is that vans are made to last, they have to as they drive the nation’s work force.

There are more than 3 million vans on the UK roads today. Just after the recession, new van sales dipped quite considerably but in the last few years there have been more new vans sold than ever before – a great indicator for an improving economy.

More new vans for sale – means more used vans for sale too.

If you are looking to buy a van the chances are that you need it for your business. The practicalities of choosing the right van for you and your work are far more important than when you are buying a car.

Does the van fit your business?

A van is bought to put things you need for your business in whether that’s delivering things or carrying the tools and materials for your business. So get a van of the right size.

If you choose a van which will carry absolutely everything you have ever needed to load then you might actually be buying the wrong van. You should aim to get a van which fits 95% of all your needs. If you chose a van which is too big then it’s costing too much – both when you buy it and in the running costs like fuel and insurance.

For the odd times when you need a van to carry more than usual, or if the items are bigger, you might be best to rent or borrow a van from a friend.

What is the true cost of a van?

If you break down in your car it is annoying and inconvenient. An unreliable van could mean loss of earnings and even lost business. So the cost of a van must be seen from this angle. A bargain van may cost you much more in the long run. That said, do your homework and you should be ok.

10 Things to look for when buying a van

1. What is the van’s mileage? – everyone knows low mileage should mean better reliability. Remember diesels should be better than petrol so you can buy a higher mileage diesel van than a petrol driven one.

2. What has the van been used for? - Ask the seller what the van has been used for in the past. This gives you clues into how much the van has ‘worked.’ Constant heavy loads will put a strain on the mechanics, the engine of course, and the structure. If the van’s mileage is high but it has been used as a lightweight courier you might find that it has a number of years left in it because it hasn’t worked as hard.

3. How many people have owned the van? - If the van has been through a number of hands, it will be hard to find out what it has been used for. Also, a high number of owners on a young van might mean it has had mechanical problems where there owners have chosen to sell their van rather than face the cost of repair.

4. Does the van look right? - A really clean and sparkly van might not be the one you need to buy. If it looks like someone has tried hard to present it well this could be a clue that someone is trying to divert your eye from mechanical problems. That said, you don’t want a van which might look too old and dented – your customers or employees might not be impressed.

5. Does the van’s dress match its handbag? - Look for signs of a van’s repair where some panels look decidedly different to others. Make sure the wear and tear inside the cab looks like it matches the mileage. The van’s mileage readout might be low but are the seats and the dash old and battered – a great sign of someone messing with the odometer.

6. Does a van need muscle? - Think carefully about the size van of engine you need. Remember that engines have become more powerful over the last few years and fuel economy has improved – even in petrol engines. A 2 litre engine 10 years ago may have the same power output as a 1.6 today. That said, if the van needs to carry heavy loads, look for a strong diesel which can work better at lower revs. A small van used for local deliveries might call for a smaller lightweight petrol engine.

7. Have you driven the van? - Nothing is more important than test driving a used van. Anyone selling a van must expect a thorough test drive so you can test the breaks, the air-conditioning, all the windows and equipment – and don’t forget the radio. Once that’s done, listen carefully. A highly worked van is one which make squeaks and noises as its being driven. Don’t just listen to the engine, listen to every squeak and rattle the body makes. Often a keen salesman will ‘jabba’ on during the test drive. Ask them to be quiet – and listen. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what to listen out for – if you’ve driven other vans, worrying sounds will be evident straight away.

8. Have you looked underneath the van? - Most vans are really just a box on a chassis. It’s the underneath of a van which can show the most wear and tear. Look for dented panels, lose break pipes, rust and also check the tires whilst you’re at it – look for more than a 3 millimetre tread as a minimum.

9. Have you calculated the cost of running the van? - If you use your van every day and it is an essential part of your business then remember to work out how many miles you do and calculate the cost of the fuel, insurance and the new van financing costs if that’s’ how you are buying your van. You may want a new van but doing the sums will tell you if you need to change too.

10. Is this the van for me? - Most people who buy vans will spend a great deal of time in it – or their employees do. In the past most vans were basic. Now a lot of vans come highly spec’d and include a good radio, air-con and the like. So look out for equipment but check things might get broken, damaged or even stolen.

If you are selling a van, don’t automatically think part exchange. In fact, you can often buy a good van from a dealer but often they find it hard to value your van properly because van sales will be far lower than cars for most dealerships. Also, if you sell your van and get the cash you could find that you can drive a much harder bargain with the seller. Vans or cars – they all count towards a salesman bonus and you’d be surprised how much you can negotiate off the price as a ‘cash’ buyer.


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