Unlike buying a brand new van with a warranty, buying a more budget-friendly used van is entirely different. The van might have driven thousands of miles, little or no service history, and may have had many multiple owners.
Before you make any purchase decisions, you should consider how you will use the van. For example, would it be used for weekend trips, for a few weeks at a time, or even for full-time vanlife?
Once you know what you need the van for, how many people it would need to carry or sleep, and what essential items you need to have in the van, you can determine what type of van you need.
Next step? Van shopping, but not without reading our list below to make sure you know which things to look at before purchasing a used van.
The van bodywork is the most crucial part of the van, and rust is its biggest enemy. Finding rust can be difficult sometimes, but there are signs to indicate where there is rust. An example of this could be burble under the paintwork, which signifies that rust is underneath the paintwork and most likely very deep into the metal, which may need fixing.
If you can, look under the van to check for signs of rust; if you find that there is fresh paint on the chassis, you should inquire more because it may be a coverup to hide the rust. Ask why it has paint on it and when it was done, as for invoice of the work and photo before and after.
The van's roof is also a commonplace that rust mainly is found. It is also often overlooked when buying a van because the height from ground level makes it hard to see unless a ladder is used.
Rust around the wheel arch
Another good place to look is the wheel arch; because it is mostly in contact with water and salt from the road, rust is more common.
Rust on the floor
Another place to check for rust is on the floor of the van, the plywood flooring would mostly cover this, but you can see if there are signs of rusts by looking under the van. The most significant cause of rust to the van floor is holes caused by screwing the plywood floor panels to the van floor.
The suspension is another essential component in a van. It can be checked by looking under the van and seeing if the suspension system has any signs of damage. Depending on the van's suspension system, you can check how good it is from the following:
Check The Leaf Suspension
With the van is empty, does the leaf suspension look flat or curved? If the leaf suspension is flat, then it is time to have it changed. This happens when the van is overloaded for very long periods; eventually, the leaf suspension will fail. Sometimes it is hard to see if it has failed until removed, but if it looks flat, then it's a good sign it has failed.
Check The Bump stop
When the leaf suspension has failed, the van would be on its bump stop; this is in the form of hard rubber that also helps indicate the van is loaded. It can also be used to see if the suspension has failed; if the van is on the bump stop when empty, it is clear that the suspension has failed.
The shock absorber is also a vital component of the suspension system and needs to be in good working order; if there are any signs of oil on the shock absorber, then that is a clear sign that it has failed and would need to be replaced.
Diagnosing the van for the electrical issue is also a complicated process. It can be daunting, but there is a simple way to see any problem with the electricals.
When the van is running, dimly lit headlights are a clear sign that there is a problem in the van. Either the van's battery is not getting recharged by the alternator, or there could be other underlying problems with the electrical system, from faulty ground terminals to faulty wires. This would be hard to diagnose without going through the whole electrical system of the van so the best thing to do in this situation is to think twice about purchasing this van.
Tires are an essential part of the van because the tire is the only point of contact between the van and the road. Therefore, your tires must be in good condition.
It's good practice to make sure that the tread depth of the tire does not go below 3mm because the lower the tread depth, the longer the stopping distance, which can be the difference between an accident or a near miss.
The tires can also indicate if there are steering, tracking, and suspension issues from uneven wear. The tire's sidewalls should be free from bulge and damage as that is the leading cause of blowouts while driving. This happens when the vehicle is in motion, and the tires get hot, the air inside expands, and the weakened sidewall would be the weakest point on the tire wall.
The brakes are the only thing that will help slow the van down to a stop, so checking the brakes before purchase is highly recommended. However, it's harder to remove each brake on the van to check because a specific set of tools are required and it would take a few hours. An easier way to check the condition of the brakes without removing them, is to find a long straight road to perform the brake test to get the feel of the brakes and if there is any grinding or squealing noise, this will indicate very worn brakes.
The steering wheel should have no play in it and should be responsive. If this is not the case, then there could be an underline problem with the steering wheel.
When buying a used van, it's best to inspect the cab area for signs of wear and tear. If the van has very low mileage but the interior is badly worn, then it's a sign that the mileage has been tampered with. You can also tell if the mileage of the van has been tampered with by how worn the gear knob and the steering wheel are, as it is one of the most used parts inside the van.
It is always a good practice to take a friend who knows about vans, or you can take the van to a local mechanic to have the pre-purchase inspection. Most breakdown companies also offer the pre-purchase inspection also because it is mostly in their interest that you buy a good vehicle which would result in a lower likelihood of calling them out on a breakdown.
Learn more about how to decide which van is for you with our Vanlifer's Guide to Choosing your Van
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