Guide to buying a second-hand van

Vans are expensive, there are no two ways about it. If your business can’t get by without one, then you’ll want to do everything you can to cut costs.


But sometimes the cheapest short term option isn’t the most cost efficient in the long run, and if you buy a second-hand van that turns out to have loads of faults, you could end up paying for it twice over.

Our guide to buying a second-hand van tells you how to make sure you’re not caught out by a dodgy dealer or faulty van, so that you can get the most for your money.

Choose your van

The first step is pretty simple – know what kind of van you’re looking for. Delivery drivers may opt for a Luton box van because of their extra storage space, while a handyman may consider a smaller, more compact car-derived van (CDV), like the Vauxhall Corsavan.

Some factors that you should consider when choosing a van are:

• Size/storage space
• Payload
• Engine size/power
• Additional features (e.g. alarm systems)
• Running costs (incl. insurance, tax, fuel, etc.)
• Appearance

Yes, it may seem strange to worry about what your van looks like but remember that if you’re using it to run your business, your van’s appearance is one of the few things your customers will be able to judge you on.

Just make sure you don’t get carried away by fancy technology and end up spending more than you have to for features that you don’t use.

Know your rights

You have a few options when buying a previously owned vehicle. You can go to a dealer or trader and buy through them or from a private seller.

Buying from a dealer means you may end up paying slightly more, because the dealership will hike up the price in order to make a profit.

The upside of doing it this way, is that if a fault is found with the van within 30 days, then you can return it and get your money back. The 2015 Consumer Rights Act states both this, and that the seller must provide clear and honest information about the van before you buy it.

On the other hand, if you buy from a private seller then you may be able to get a better price but certain parts of the Consumer Rights Act won’t apply, so make sure you do your research first.

Find out about the van’s history

Once you’ve found a van you’re interested in, start asking questions about its history – what’s it been used for, how old it is, how many miles it’s done, any previous issues it may have had, etc.

This will help you understand what kind of wear and tear the van has been through and what problems it’s likely to have down the line.

If you want to be extra cautious, you can pay the DVLA for a vehicle history check, which will tell you everything you need to know about the vehicle’s police and insurance records.


Check the van’s functionality

Don’t ever buy blind – i.e. without test driving, or at least viewing the van – or you’ll have no way of knowing the what you’re getting yourself into.

Before you turn the engine on, check the following for anything amiss:

• Bodywork – look for rust or any scratches or cracking.
Tyres – the tread needs to be at least 1.6mm to be road legal and they should all be inflated to an even size.
• Engine – Check the condition and look at the oil level to get an idea of how well the van’s been looked after by previous owners. If the engine’s warm before the key’s even in the ignition, then there could be a serious problem.
• Interior – As with the exterior, check for any general wear and tear that could be an indication of a bigger issue.
• Mileage – if the mileage is suspiciously low for the state or age of the van, the milometer may have been tampered with.
• Lights – although any damaged bulbs can easily be replaced, flickering or flashing lights can be sign of faulty electrics.

When you’re done, ask to take the van for a spin and check the following:

• Engine – ask to test drive when the engine’s cold so you can check whether it has any problems starting first time. Also listen for any clanking sounds and check for smoke or burning.
• Dashboard – are any warning lights flashing?
• Controls – do the indicators and windscreen wipers work?
• Steering – the steering should respond well and not drag to one side.
• Brakes – listen for any unusual noises or feelings and complete an emergency stop to test their condition.
• Aircon – Check that the heater and air conditioning are functional and don’t give off any strange odours.

Pay attention to any other unusual noises or feelings – e.g. do the gears transition smoothly? Trust your instincts, although every vehicle feels different, you’ll usually be able to tell when something’s not quite right.

Look at the paperwork

Once you’ve completed your checks and are certain that the van you want to buy is in good working order, the last step is to check that all of the necessary paperwork is in place.

• The V5C logbook should match the vehicle’s registration and be watermarked to prove its authenticity.
• Look at the van’s service history and any repair warranties or receipts.
• Make sure the van has a valid MOT certificate.
• If you are driving it away after purchase, make sure you have the correct van insurance in place first.

Take your time

Lastly, don’t let the seller pressure you into buying. It’s a common sales technique to tell the buyer that the vehicle has had lots of interest, and is sure to be snapped up by someone else if you don’t buy immediately, but this is rarely the case.

Take your time and make sure you’re certain that the van’s in good condition – the worst thing you can do is rush into the purchase and end up with a van that either doesn’t fit the bill or falls to pieces after a couple of months.