Second hand work vans are easy to come by. Good second hand work vans are an entirely rarer breed. Follow these five points to be reasonably sure that you are getting good value for your money.
Don’t buy privately unless you know what you’re doing
Unless you know enough about van mechanics to diagnose potential problems properly, buying from a private seller is an exercise in overblown risk. The problem is legal: if you purchase a van privately and it goes wrong, there’s no recourse for getting your money back. The last thing you want is a £2,000 clunker. Pay more to buy from a proper dealer with a proper forecourt, and you will have the security of the law on your side.
Don’t buy a van from a seaside location
Vehicles that live by the sea die by the sea. The salt in the air corrodes wires, brakes and connections, and can significantly reduce the average value of a van. If a vehicle is worth £3,000 for age and mileage in the middle of the country, its seaside equivalent may easily be worth only half that. It’s a good idea to go inland for all vehicle purchases: try Birmingham, which is well stocked with second hand vehicle auctions and markets.
Don’t buy the first van you see
With any second hand vehicle purchase, you need to know the average condition of vehicles within a specific age range before you can make an informed decision about which one to buy. Target one make and model of van at one price level, and go to look at and drive at least five before you start thinking seriously about parting with your money. By this time, you should have got a much better idea of the general condition of that model van at that age, and therefore a much better idea of what represents a good buy.
Don’t let a clean van fool you
It’s easy to clean up a van for sale. A pressure hose and some polish can make most vehicles look almost brand new. So ignore the looks and concentrate on how they drive. It’s also worth looking underneath the van, at the exhaust system, suspension and brakes. You can’t polish up the working parts of a vehicle so easily, so looking underneath the van will give you a much more accurate picture of its real condition.
Know the tell-tale mechanical signs
There are a few mechanical signs that a van is not far from the end of its life: water coming from the exhaust, the steering pulling to the left or right, and the van losing power when you get into third gear. If water comes out of the exhaust initially, give it a few minutes to evaporate as it may only be condensation. If it continues to expel, the head gasket is likely to be nearing the end of the road. A noticeable pull in the steering can be a sign that the van needs hundreds of pounds’ worth of work doing to it: while a loss of power in third gear may be evidence that the timing belt or timing chain is about to go. See our van newsletter for more hints and tips.
The Author is a motoring journalist, whose articles have been published by some of the most popular motoring web pages in the UK. He has also had work appear in some print publications, two of which are associated with long running television programmes. In the past, he worked as motoring consultant on a consumer rights show.