Tips on buying a used van, physical and legal

No transporter is complete without a van. It’s literally one of the two components of “Man in Van”. However purchasing one can be expensive, you can expect to pay between £20,000/£30,000 for a brand new van. Plus their resale value drops off a cliff as soon as you drive them off the dealer’s parking lot.

The solution? Buy used, they’re much cheaper. As you can see here they go for much less. Their prices hover around the £2,000 mark. Yes they’re older but a van is a van at the end of the day right? Well maybe not. A factory-fresh van is a sure bet of quality, they have no miles and all the parts are be in full working order.  A used van however will have travelled thousands of miles and probably have had some stories in their lives that can affect their quality. Follow this checklist to not get caught out by a dodgy van building up your bills.

The Physical Checks

Before putting money down, trying to have a personal look of the van and even a test drive is a sure way to know you’re not buying a broken down jalopy. The things to look out for are:

Volkswagen LT - van delivery vehicle

A van in great condition

  • Bodywork: The most obvious thing to look for is rust on the bodywork. Any troubling amounts can mean weakness in the construction of the van. Give it a press if you see any rust. Any cracking noises can be a sign of the metal corroding.
  • Suspension: The shock absorbers on the van are the only thing keeping the van from buckling to the floor so making sure they’re strong is very important, especially since you’ll be loading it with goods. Push down each corner, lift the weight and if the van bounces back the suspension is fine.
  • Electronics: Testing the lights and air conditioning can show whether or not the battery or wiring is completely sound. Flickering lights and weak air-con can show that there may be a problem under the bonnet
  • Engine: Speaking of under the bonnet check the temperature, if it is warm the engine isn’t cooling properly. Turning the engine on listen out for strange noises and smoke coming out of the bonnet. Either can mean serious problems with potentially pricey fixes.
  • Tyres: Check the tread and sidewalls on all the tires (including the spare). They need to be at least 1.6mm in depth to be road legal. An uneven wear on them can point to other problems with the van as well.

    Broken van

    A van in not so great condition

  • Brakes: During a test-drive find a long, straight, safe road and do a brakes test. Have a feel to see if they’re as strong as you feel comfortable. Also have a listen for squealing or grinding to check their longevity.
  • Steering: This is simple. There should be no vagueness in the steering. Any problems could be the result of multiple problems so pointing it out early will save you a lot of hassle.
  • Interior: Threadbare upholstery and worn away dashboards don’t exactly fill the mind with confidence. Check the seatbelts, all vehicles are required to have them by law and they need to be in good condition.

Van paperwork checksPaperwork

Another thing to do with your vehicle is to do an HPI check. This is a check that’ll run through the vehicles documentation from multiple sources. Certain companies will do the HPI check for you such as the RAC here. What you should check in these are:

  • Outstanding finances: 25% of used vehicles can have debts still to be paid. If you get caught out you can be stuck with the debt yourself and even have the van taken off you before you even own it.
  • Stolen?: HPI checks with the police to see if your registration plate means the van has been stolen. If it has, the police have every right to take it off of you.
  • Written off?: People do try to sell written off vans, either through damage or theft. 4% of used vehicles fall under this. Of course they may have been repaired since. If the buyer claims this search for prove that it’s road legal again.
  • V5C: The V5 logbook is the physical record of the vans ownership and history. If it comes up as stolen/missing or from a stolen batch, the legitimacy of the vehicle should immediately be thrown out.
  • The details: Say you got a Ford Transit, if the registration plate brings up a Vauxhall Vivaro then something is up. It also brings up the number of previous owners. If the current one doesn’t know this information suspicions can be raised.
  • Change of Plates: 20% of all vehicles have changed their registration plates at some points in their life. This is normally fine, but doing a little extra digging won’t hurt.
  • The VIN & VRM: These numbers are a vehicles fingerprint. No two have the same one. You will be alerted if you find one. If this happens you have to consider which one you have, the original or the clone.


An HPI check won’t tell you absolutely everything like the details of older owners or every bang and scrape. But the information you get at the end of it will make buying your van a much safer endeavour. You’ll avoid the con-men and get straight to the business of transporting with no distractions.


You can start using your new van immediately by signing up as a transporter on DQC.


Christopher East 2018

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