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Buying a Used Van

Thu, 12/11/2015
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Buying a used van is much like buying any other used vehicle, but there are a few other things to think about while searching for the perfect van and before you actually go to look at it in person. So, here are a few things to consider:

Vans come in a vast array of different shapes, sizes and combinations to cater for different needs and uses, so it is worth taking your time to research and decide what style of van will be best for what you intend to use it for. Let’s look at some examples:

 Panel Vans are the archetypal vehicle of choice for most tradesmen but also provide an excellent method of transporting a wide range of items for anybody, from building materials to motorcycles!  The Ford Transit, Renault Master and VW Transporter are all good examples of a panel van.  They usually have large enclosed cargo bays, good access with double hinged and sliding doors, come in a variety of options of height, wheelbase length, and engine size and are easily adaptable to suit your needs (roof racks, side racks, ply-lining, internal racking, awnings, etc.) as well as having all the ‘mod-cons’ you’d expect in a modern car such as air conditioning, radio/cd player, Bluetooth, etc.

Combi Vans are similar to the panel van in as much as they share all the same qualities and versatility of a standard panel van but with the ability to carry more passengers. A typical panel van will have seating for a driver and 2 front passengers; with a Combi van you are likely to double the people carrying capacity with a second row of seats behind the driver, but this does come at the expense of part of the cargo bay which is given up to safely accommodate your extra passengers.  Some models may offer you the option to remove and replace the extra seats as and when they are not required, creating a true versatile vehicle. Mercedes Vito Dualiner is a good example of this type of van.

Drop-Side Vans are possibly more synonymous with building trades and landscape gardeners but again could be used in a variety of roles. With an enclosed cab and open cargo bay they are instantly recogniseable from the bigger, bulkier panel vans. The exposed load area lends itself to larger, bulkier or awkwardly shaped loads. The sides and rear gate ‘drop’ down and hang from the edges of the bed of the truck, providing excellent access for both manual and fork lift loading.  One thing to bear in mind when buying a ‘dropside’ is that this will normally be a conversion from a standard van (Ford Transit, VW Crafter, M-B Sprinter, etc.) and usually converted by a manufacture approved specialist, but it’s good practice to check the vehicle documents for peace of mind.

Pick-Ups such as the Ford Ranger or the Mitsubishi L200 are car/dropside hybrids. From the front they appear similar to a 4x4 car but from the rear they are an open backed van.  All the comfort and convenience of a modern car but with the biggest boot you have ever seen! While you won’t be able to carry quite as much cargo as you would in a panel van, or carry quite as many passengers as you would in a Combi, you would be able to convey your tools,  materials, equipment or even a couple of bikes in the back using the tailgate.

Once you have chosen the style of van you want to purchase you can start looking at some examples to really narrow down your options. Things such as fuel, transmission or economy might be important to you.  While the majority of vans are still diesel fuelled, petrol is making a comeback in the van market with environmental attitudes turning away from diesel engines in vans. You will also find that some may have been converted to LPG.  Manual gear change is the norm but automatic options are also available. Do some research into the particular make and model that you are  interested in to find out what the typical MPG is likely to be and then compare your findings to similar vehicles on the market- their fuel economy may make you look at an option you may have previously disregarded. Also, get a few insurance quotes for different vehicles you are considering to see how similar the premiums will be when you make your purchase.

When you go to see the van of choice you will obviously be drawn to all the usual things we look for when buying a used vehicle- Tyres, brakes, lights, interior, bodywork, etc. but there a few more things to look for on a van, some examples being:-

  • Carefully run your hand around the sills and wheel arches to check for rust. Also check behind bumpers, door frames and at the corners of the windscreen. Whilst a small amount of rust is not necessarily an immediate problem and may be capable of being rectified, will you want the extra expense of dealing with the issue and the prospect of taking the van off the road before you have even bought it? Pressing gently on the rusted area and hearing a cracking noise may suggest underlying corrosion.
  • Take a torch with you and inspect the suspension, front and rear. Suspension springs should be free of corrosion and check for oil leaks from the cylinder. Leaf springs should also be corrosion free and should show no sign of physical stress or fatigue.  Lean on each corner of the vehicle in turn. It should rebound straight back up. If it sags or comes back slowly then you know there is a problem and this van is best left alone!
  • When taking the van out on a road test, make sure the engine/bonnet is cold before starting so that you get a real impression of the condition of the engine. Any strange sounds or vibrations would need investigation.  Assuming you have already checked the physical appearance of the brakes and tyres, find a quiet, straight stretch of road and test them thoroughly.
  • Take note of the steering too. Is there any free play? Is it soft and spongy or is it responsive? Soft or heavy steering could highlight a problem with the tyre pressures or worse.
  • Have a look at the lights - dull or flickering headlamps, taillights and brake lights could be a sign of other deeper lying electrical problems. Likewise, any unexplained warning lights on the dashboard need to be investigated.
  • Finally, once everything above has been checked and you are happy, check the paperwork. Make sure the mileage at the last MOT matches up with the current mileage on the clock, check the Vehicle Registration Mark (VRM) on the V5 matches the chassis (often found under the bottom edge of the windscreen but also etched or engraved into the chassis) and check the service history. A stack of service invoices and receipts might look like a headache but more often than not is a good sign as it indicates the previous owner(s) have taken good care of the vehicle (No receipts = No servicing!) . Take a few minutes to read through them- any reoccurring repairs or rectifications (other than normal maintenance) should be looked into as that would suggest an intermittent fault that hasn’t yet been resolved. Also, don’t be shy about calling the service centers that have stamped the service book. They will be happy to verify the service records for you.

Barring any issues, you should now be in a position to purchase a van. 

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