A Guide To Buying A New Or Used Van

Looking to buy a van? Well keep reading. On this page we give you some information we believe you need to know about buying a van; covering an introduction to buying a new or used van, what specification of van do you want or need, where to buy a new van and buying a used van.

This is meant as a guide only. Please make sure that you are 100% happy with any arrangements that you make with the seller of a vehicle.

Just always remember – if a deal is too good to be true – it usually is. Walk away.Van Buying Guide


1. Introduction to buying a new or used van

Choosing the right van | Van purchase prices | Van residual prices | Van operating costs

2. What specification of van do you want or need?

Get the right van specification | Don’t buy a total pup! | Consider your professional image

3 . Buying a van

List your questions | Part exchange your old van? | Van provenance check | View the van – the test drive |

Final negotiations

4. Where to buy a new van

Franchised dealers | Van brokers

5. Buying a used van

Independent used van dealers | Franchised used van dealers | Van auctions

1. Introduction to buying a new or used van

Many people looking for a van amongst the thousands of vans for sale  are doing so for the first time.  There are so many makes, models, lengths and engine variants available in the market today, the inexperienced buyer may need a few pointers, so we have put together a few guidelines to help you.

Vans for sale on a forecourt

Choosing the right van

Firstly let’s look at the costs involved with buying and, equally importantly, operating a light commercial vehicle. The purchase price is important, although the cost of the van can be spread over a period of time using a hire purchase-type agreement, although we cover van leasing and van finance in a later section in more detail.

Van purchase prices

It is easy enough to compare the absolute prices of new vehicles when there is no finance involved, but beware, some prices are advertised plus first registration fee, number plates and delivery to the dealer. Make sure that you are comparing like with like when looking at two offers from two different dealers. In your comparisons also confirm the specification of the vans – if you are comparing a lower trim level – an ‘E’ grade compared to an ‘SE’ grade then there will be a difference in price. There are also differing power outputs for what otherwise looks like an identical van – also remember that there are as many as four loading lengths and three roof heights for today’s modern panel vans.

Also if you find a van at the other side of the country be realistic about how much it will cost you to collect it – add in your time, train, taxi fares and the fuel and a more local van maybe more appealing after all.

Most importantly, remember that new vans are almost always advertised exclusive of VAT. Not a problem if you are VAT registered, but it will add 20% to the price if you are a small business or a new one that has not yet registered for VAT.

moneyVan residual prices

Remember that it is not just the purchase price of the van you are looking at, but consider what you would get for it after three years. Professional fleet managers spend hours considering vehicle residuals, so why shouldn’t you give it some thought too?

Go through the used van listings on www.vanlocator.co.uk to see what three-year old vans costs across the makes and model. As a rule of thumb, it tends to be the German manufacturers that enjoy the best residual values, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in the large van category, the Volkswagen Transporter in the medium category, and the Volkswagen Caddy in the small van category. That said, no fleet manager has ever been sacked for buying a Ford Transit or Ford Connect!

Van operating costs

The van manufacturers have only recently been made to publish their CO2 and therefore their MPG rating (they are two sides of the same coin). So information is sketchy regarding the economy of one van compared to another if you are looking into the used van market. Even for the new van market the figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, as real world operations for a van are likely to make the real fuel economy different to the published values.

Operating costs aren’t all about the fuel consumption, however. Look at the service intervals for the different types of vans – the longer the intervals then the cheaper it should be. If you have narrowed the choice of vans down to two makes, then call the local dealers to compare servicing and parts costs.

Consider, too, the insurance costs. You might want to phone around a few insurance companies or research the relative costs online for the different van models. Insurance companies prefer safer vans so they don’t get stolen and vans that are cheaper to repair.

2. What specification of van do you want or need?

Get the right van specification

The most important factor is the job that the van has to do.  If you regularly need to carry 8×2 sheets, for example, a Citroen Nemo is unlikely to be your first van of choice. Equally if you need to drive across fields, you may have to consider a 4×4 or consider the XTR+ variants of the Citroen Berlingo and Dispatch that perform well off-road, but maintain excellent on-road characteristics thanks to a trick driveline.

If you are simply after a panel van then this is still no easy choice – most vans come with at least three wheelbases, and therefore load lengths  – some have as many as four. Combine this with up to three roof heights and you will have to think long and hard to go for the optimum combination. There is no point going for the longest and highest, ‘just in case’ as you will be paying in fuel to carry the extra weight and frontal area around the country. Consider the longest loads that you will carry and how frequently the need arises. If you are used to a smaller van with a roof rack, could you manage with a slightly larger van and do away with the roofrack which impacts so negatively on fuel consumption?

For the rare occasions that you need to carry the extra large loads it may make sense to borrow or rent a larger van than buying one and paying all year round to satisfy its thirst for diesel.

If you want to kit the van out as a workshop, think about your own comfort – if you are a six footer, then opt for a high roof, don’t spend all day crouched over a workbench, head bent just because the lower-roofed van was a little cheaper to buy and run. Loadspace areas for typical panel vans range from a petite 7m3 to a whopping 17m3 from the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, Renault Master and Vauxhall Movano. Having all this space could come in handy, but you have to consider the amount of weight you are hoping to carry. The heavier your load, the shorter and lower the van you should opt for.

The van makers understand this problem and have come up with a partial solution – making vans with gross vehicle weight of above 3.5 tonnes. This means that you can almost double the payload with a 4.5 tonne van compared to a 3.5tonner. Seems like the ideal solution for you?  There are significant downsides to operating a van above 3.5 tonnes G.V.W.

Firstly you need to have the correct driving licence. This means either taking a new test or being unlucky enough to be in your thirties or older, therefore claiming ‘Granddads’ rights’ on being able to drive vehicles between 3.51 and 7.49 tonnes GVW. In addition you would need to gain a special licence for the vehicle and the premises that it operates from. This is called an ‘Operator’s Licence’ or ‘O-Licence’. Add to this six-weekly inspections and having to use a tachograph to monitor drivers’ hours and you can understand that you really have to want to carry that extra payload.

Don’t buy a total pup!

If you ever hope to drive inside the M25 after January 2012 then you need to make sure that you buy a van that meets the emissions requirement of London’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ). For the full details, then visit Transport for London’s website, but if you are thinking of buying a van that is older than a 51 reg, then think again. You may even wish to think further afield if you are thinking of keeping your van for some time.

Consider the example of commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes GVW – they had to meet the Euro 3 emissions standard in 2008, but now the goalposts have been moved and they have to reach the Euro 4 standard by 2012. This means that the commercial vehicle cannot be more than seven years old and drive inside the M25 without having had serious and costly modifications to the exhaust system.

You can imagine the impact on the cost of a van that does qualify for future entry to the LEZ compared to one that will not. Given the choice of paying a little extra for a Euro 4 van or a Euro 3 van today – go for the Euro 4 every time.

Consider your professional image

Unless you make a conscious decision to always park around the corner from a job, your prospective and existing customers will see your van. As a visible and important tool of your trade, the appearance of your van says a lot about your business and the quality of work that you can provide.

Your van is also a potential magnet for generating new business. Whatever work you are doing in an area, chances are there will be many more potential customers for the same work. Your van is a mobile advertising board to generate enquiries from these potential customers. Spending a little on making the van look right and keeping it clean should offer you payback in the long run.

Looking after your van will also mean that it is worth more come trade-in time for the next one.

3 . Buying a van

Once you have decided on which van you want to buy then hit the classifieds – whether for a new van or a used van for sale, sites like www.vanlocator.co.uk advertise thousands of vans for sale across the country.

List your questions

Once you have the van you are interested in at roughly the right price contact the dealer to confirm it is still available with a list of questions that the advert hasn’t answered – tyre condition, special extras fitted and the warranty available are three obvious points that are sometimes omitted – confirm the specific model as well – you don’t want an unnecessary journey. Talk to the seller about the price on the phone to see how flexible they are, reassuring them that you are a serious buyer – either with cash or good trading/credit history.

Part exchange your old van?

If you have a van at present, ask the dealer if they are interested in a part exchange. Describe the van carefully and be prepared to take some photos to email to the dealer to have a chance of getting the best price. If the dealer will not offer you what you think it is worth, then you might try a few local dealers or advertise the van for sale online or in the classified magazines, such as Van Finder Weekly. Click here to advertise your van for sale privately.

Van provenance check

If all this seems okay you may wish to carry out a provenance check – to see if the van is on finance still, (and therefore belongs to someone else), if it has been in an accident and to verify the current mileage. These checks are available online to the public these days for just a few pounds and will buy you peace of mind. It also shows the seller that you are serious about buying the van.

View the van – the test drive

Arrange a date to view the vehicle – don’t forget that if you are hoping to drive the van away you need to have arranged your van insurance and make sure that the dealer has taxed it for you. Many dealers now offer 7-day driveaway cover to help overcome this problem.

Make sure that you view the van in daylight where possible – and if you are not sure about mechanical matters then take an expert with you. There are plenty of experts for hire who will give the van a once over for you for a fee.

Before you hand any money over, make sure that you test drive the van – a dealer’s insurance should cover him for test drives, but make sure to take along your driving licence. When test-driving check that everything works including the radio, all the lights – check the aircon, even if it freezing outside in case it needs some maintenance. Make sure the van does not pull to one side and under braking it pulls up in a straight line. There should be no annoying rattles or squeaks inside the cab.

On the outside, check the condition of the tyres – they should have at least half of their life left in them – if not it is a reason to ask the vendor for a discount. Look at the paintwork – does it all match? Has there been some repair work carried out on the van? If it looks like there has been then the repair may not have been 100%. Was the van unduly smokey from starting up?

Final negotiations

Remember, if the van is exactly as described on the phone and a price agreed, restarting negotiations is not likely to be well received. However, if things differ even slightly from your understanding of the description then you have every right to talk about a discount. Especially because at this point the seller thinks that they have made a sale, so will be more likely to ‘help you out’ to get the sale finalised. Remember if you don’t ask, then you don’t get; a remark about the van not having a drop of fuel in it may even get you a few pounds off to fill it up for you! But be realistic – knocking off £500 for one damaged tyre is not going to happen!

If you are not intending to drive the van away immediately then get the dealer to install your extras for you. If you need a roofrack or would like new plylining or a CD player fitting then see if you can get the labour part of the job free. It also means that when you finally get the van it is ready to go to work.

4. Where to buy a new van

As with buying a car, you can buy a van through the ‘trade’ or privately. Unlike cars, there are relatively few ‘private’ sales of vans as the vans are usually owned by businesses. Companies tend to focus their time on doing what they do, rather than spending hours trying to save a couple of pounds in selling their vans themselves.

Going down the dealer route you have two options when buying a new van.

Franchised dealers

The traditional method of buying a van is to roll up to your local franchised van dealers and have a look at what’s on offer. You may be able to borrow the demonstrator for a day or so to see if the van is really right for you. It gives you a good chance to check out how the dealer operates, especially if you are going to buy your parts and servicing there.

The franchised van dealers will all offer the manufacturer’s finance offerings which, in recent times, have been highly competitive as the other financial institutions have pulled up the drawbridge to loans to small businesses. Time the purchase of your van right and you could walk away from a franchised dealer with a bargain, especially if you tie the purchase of the new van into a repair and maintenance agreement.

Van brokers

There are a great many companies that can offer you a selection of new vans from a range of van manufacturers and then usually offer you a choice of finance deals. These companies are not true van dealers – many of them will never see the vans that they sell, but they may be able to get you the van you are looking for at a lower price than a franchised van dealer.

It is certainly worth contacting the van leasing and finance companies – many advertise their cheap van leasing deals on our website. Usually these companies will not sell you a van for outright cash – it will have to be on some kind of finance agreement. There are obviously exceptions to this – search for a new van at Vanlocator and you can sort by the best weekly or monthly equivalent repayment price.

You won’t be able to take a van out on test drive or borrow a demonstrator to see how it fits in with your business. If you want to do this you should head to a franchised dealer.

5. Buying a used van

Independent used van dealers

There are thousands of used van dealers up and down the country – some of them reliable and trustworthy – whilst others are less so. How can you tell a good one from a bad one?

Check how long they have been in business – if you have the facility run a credit check to see if their information is correct – the company may have been operating from a location for a long time, but has it gone into administration ten times in this history?

Ask for contact details for some existing satisfied clients – especially if you are buying the van from far afield. Follow the contacts up and don’t just ask what went right, you have to find out how well the company performed if something went wrong.

What do their facilities look like? If they have workshops on site are they tidy and clean? Have the salespeople worked for the company for a while?

Franchised used van dealers

Many franchised dealers also have a used van offering. Many do it well, offering part exchanges that they have taken in, plus the vehicles that return from the manufacturer’s finance deals. Bargains can be had – look for ex-demonstrator vans and ones that have been pre-registered, (usually registered to hit manufacturer sales targets and therefore still brand new, but the clock is ticking and the vans depreciating, as they are one owner vans already. If they are not sold before they get past December, February or August, then they will devalue, so the dealers are keen to move them on.

Make sure that the dealer does know something about vans – if they have just one or two in stock, then they are more than likely playing at it and may actually know little more than you about buying and selling a van.

Van auctions

BCA_smallIf you think you know exactly what van you want, or you really don’t care, then you can head for the van auctions – there are plenty across the country. Large national companies such as British Car Auctions and Manheim have van sales most weeks at all of their auction sites across the country. There are other sites, such as Protruck, CVA, Fleet Auction Group, Wilsons and Shoreham Auctions that have regular van auctions.

Most of the auction companies now publish their auction stock on their websites, although you will not know how much the vehicle will be until you get there on the day. And don’t forget that there is a buyer’s fee to be paid on top of the hammer price. If you get carried away and spend over your budget, then the situation will get worse if you have to find and extra 5% on top!

You must also make sure that you have the means to pay for the van and take it away. Auction companies like to get the vans in and out, not having them sitting around their sites getting in the way. If you leave it there too long, you may find yourself facing a storage bill.

The best way is to use a debit card – make sure you have the funds in your bank account and contact your bank in advance to clear the transaction. Company cheques are no use unless you have an account with the auction company and cash is not the best, unless your van costs just a few thousand pounds. Credit cards are not the best, as they charge a percentage on the deal. If you are hoping to finance the van then think again, as the finance companies like you to buy from a reputable dealer.

You could be driving away the same day in your new van – but don’t let that over excite you – set your budget and stick to it. If the vans you were after go for too much money or were not as good as you hoped, be prepared to walk away and chalk the day off work up to experience. Don’t buy any old van just because you feel as though you have wasted a day otherwise.

If you know little about vehicles and vans in particular, you may be best controlling the blood pressure and taking a trip to your local dealer.

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