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Buying a second-hand van - what you should know


Before you buy your second hand van, there are a few things that need considering.

Nissan van

Most vans are notoriously tough, reliable workhorses that are built to withstand a tremendous amount of punishment. 

This is essential when you consider most spend their working lives being hammered up and down motorways and A-roads.

But while this is great news for those buying new that have the comfort of knowing their steed can be relied upon to deliver years of faithful service, it does present a number of challenges for those looking to buy second-hand vehicles.

Be a careful buyer

You may love and cherish your van because it will have been bought from money out of your own pocket, but how about the thousands of such vehicles owned by large corporations that are routinely used and abused on the country’s roads?

The chances are these won’t have been carefully driven. 

Therefore you will need to be very selective about the vehicles, ask questions about its previous uses and carry out your own extensive checks to ensure you’re not buying a heap of trouble.

Prepare for your van search

Before you start searching you need to decide what size of van you need. 

Are you looking to carry loads of large items of furniture or is the most that will be transported is a set of ladders, a bucket and a handful of sponges?

This is important. Getting the most suitable specification will help cap costs as you will be using the least amount of fuel possible as well as potentially spending less on both insurance and vehicle tax. There’s no use paying for something you won’t use.

Then you need to consider engine size. Which one is most suitable will depend on how the van will be used. 

If it’s going to be driven on motorways at relatively high speeds for hour after hour then a larger engine is likely to be more fuel efficient.

This is because they will be less stressed when operating at higher speeds, which means they will need to rev less and burn a lower amount of fuel. 

Conversely, those with smaller engines can be expected to save fuel if you mostly drive in cities.

Getting started

With your ideal van in mind it’s time to start the search. There will be plenty of vans available so take your time. Check the local paper, surf eBay and consider visiting any specialist outlets in your area – particularly if they have a good reputation.

When looking at vehicles take along someone that knows about vans and be careful not to get seduced by price alone. 

Cheap may mean poor quality for which you will pay a hefty price in the years to come with frequent trips to the garage.

And that’s not all. While you are off the road you will have to choose between running the risk incurring the wrath of your loyal customers – or increasing your costs by hiring a van until yours is back in action.

How to make your decision

So what else should you look out for? Firstly – what is your general impression of the van? Does it seem suspiciously clean for a van that’s been used daily? 

Examine the bodywork for signs of any repair work and ensure all the doors fit snugly together. Then look at the mileage. Does it seem fair? 

If there are signs of wear and tear in the cabin itself yet it’s covered relatively few miles then this suggests someone may have tampered with the milometer.

Of course, you can’t form a proper judgment until you’ve given it a run. Test the brakes thoroughly – consider carrying out an emergency stop on an empty stretch of road and see how it reacts. If it swerves then there could be a problem.

Other essentials to examine are the engine so insist on driving it when it is cold – so unscrupulous sellers can’t mask any starting problems – and see if the gears move smoothly. 

Any clonking noises should be taken as a red flag.

Even if the van seems perfect in every way it’s worth trying to knock the owner down. Remember, every penny you can save in the bargaining process can be used to help fill your van with diesel in the years to come.

Getting the right cover

Think also about the running costs of the van you buy: for example, will it be cheap or expensive to insure. It is worth running a check on a price-comparison service to get van insurance quotes for the various models you are considering to see whether there’s a big difference in the cost of premiums.


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