The guide to buying a van

Last updated by on March 14th, 2018

Unless you really know what to look for when buying a van, finding the right one can be pretty head scratching. So, here’s the lowdown on the questions you should ask and what you should watch out for if you’re in the market for a used van.

How do I buy a van that’s reliable?

Whether you buy a used van, or a buy a new van, the first step is always the same – research. As basic and uninteresting as it sounds, reading up on different makes and models, will help you come to an informed decision about what vehicle is right for you, as well how reliable it’s likely to be.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacture and Traders (SMMT), the Ford Transit Custom is the best-selling van to-date in the UK. Other popular makes and models include the Ford Transit, the Volkswagen Transporter and the Vauxhall Vivaro.


When you buy a van for work, its carrying capacity is likely to be one of the most important features you’ll need to consider. Overloading your vehicle is taken pretty seriously by the Vehicle and Operator Safety Agency (VOSA) and you could be fined even if your van is just 5 -10 per cent heavier than it should be; and if it’s overweight by more than 30 per cent you could end up in court.

With that in mind, it’s important to think about what cargo you’re carrying – is it just your tools and equipment, do you also carry heavy materials, or do you cram your van with deliveries? Whatever you’re transporting, look at the van’s dimensions and permitted weight carrying allowance so you stay within the law.

What should I look for when I’m on a test drive?

Always take the van for a test drive, even if the price is right and it suits your needs on paper. Remember, you’ve got to drive it, so make sure it’s comfortable and that you like the feel of it; here’s what else you should consider:

• the engine should start first time and there shouldn’t be any rattling or clanking as you accelerate
• the engine also shouldn’t produce any smoke, or burning smells – these are indicators that something could be very wrong
• check tyres are within the legal limit and that wear and tear is evenly spread (if it isn’t the alignment might be off)
• when you brake, there shouldn’t be any noise, if there is, then the brakes might need to be replaced
• make sure all the controls and instruments are in working order, such as lights, indicators and fuel gauge
• look for touch ups on the paintwork – are they hiding something?


Consider running costs

It’s not just about how many miles to the gallon you get, you’ll also need to factor in costs such as servicing and insurance. Also, think about parts and how easy they are to get hold of – you might pick up a bargain van but if it’s an unusual make and model, parts and labour could work out very expensive in the long run.

Another factor worth considering is depreciation, if you’re in the habit of trading up every few years, then buying something a bit more expensive and desirable initially, might reap rewards in the future.

Think about image

It might seem superficial, but the image your van portrays is just as important as its payload and reliability – after all, if you use it for work, then it’s what you’ll be turning up in to meet clients.

One idea you should give serious thought to is getting a professional to sign write your logo on your van. Not only does this give you the benefit of low cost, long term advertising, it looks professional.

Plus, insurers see it as an indication that you’re committed to your business (and therefore less likely to take risks), which could mean you pay less for your van insurance premium., helping you stay protected

If our van buyer’s guide has inspired you, the next step is to work out what sort of insurance you’ll need. Whether you’re interested in a light commercial vehicle (LCV), or a mini-bus – we’ve got advice on what you should consider. We’ll also help you understand the different van insurance terms, as well as explain what different types of commercial van insurance policies there are.

*Article updated November 8th, 2018

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