How to buy a van
Getting yourself, as well as an assortment of tools, machinery
or products from point A to point B without causing too much damage
is essential for most businesses, so choose carefully to ensure you
buy the right commercial vehicle.
Before you buy
- Before you start looking for a van, you need to decide
whether you are going to buy one or hire it on a leasing
agreement. Leasing or contract hire agreements allow you to
make monthly payments to a leasing company based on how much the
van is likely to depreciate during the course of the lease.
Contract hire agreements are usually 24-60 months, and often
dictate based on the number of miles you expect to do over the
- For most businesses, buying a new van is expensive and
unnecessary. Instead, look for good-quality second-hand
- Vans and light commercial vehicles are split into four
- Microvans, such as the distinctive
- Car-derived vans are based on the chasis of an
ordinary car, and come in various shapes and sizes.
- Pick-ups are larger 4x4 vehicles with a small
cabin, an open body and low sides.
- Panel vans, such as the ubiquitous Ford Transit,
are the most commonly used type of van.
- Take the size of the van into consideration: if
you need to be able to manoeuvre it down small driveways or over
difficult terrain, a large van is going to be impractical. Small
vans offer a better fuel economy, but larger ones are often easier
- You will get a better price if you are strategic about
when you buy the van. A month or so before new registrations
are introduced, many dealerships cut prices to move excess stock
and make space for new vehicles. Christmas is also a quiet
Buying a van
- It goes without saying that you need to do your
research so you know exactly what you are looking for before
you go to buy the van. Magazines such as What Van? offer detailed
comparisons of various makes and models, as well as guide prices
for new and second-hand vehicles.
- Know what your budget is and stick to it. The
salesperson may be tempting you with a model which comes complete
with built-in bluetooth and snazzy go-faster stripes, but if it's
outside your budget, don't buy it.
- If you're inexperienced or unsure about buying a vehicle,
take someone who is knowledgeable. This might be a
friend or relative - anyone, as long as they can look and sound
- Find out how much the same model is selling for elsewhere so
you can work out a guide price. It may help to print
off a list of deals you have found elsewhere to help persuade the
salesperson to knock down their prices.
- If you have done your research, you'll know the features the
van should have. Inspect the van thoroughly to make
sure features such as air conditioning, electric windows and so on
are all in working order.
- When you test drive the van, look out for the
- Mileage - check the interior of the van for clues
about mileage. If the interior is more worn than you would expect
it to be, the mileage clock may have been tampered with.
- Brakes - perform an emergency stop on a quiet road
to ensure they are in full working order.
- Engine - the oil and anti-freeze levels will give
you a clue as to how well the van has been maintained to date.
- Gearbox - check how smooth the gear changes
- Tyres - check the tyres are road legal. While
1.6mm across the middle three quarters of the wheel is the legal
minimum, 3mm is a safer level for the tyre tread to be at.
- It's difficult to emphasise how important it is that you
rigorously go through the paperwork. Start by ensuring
the Vehicle Indentification Number (VIN) matches the one on the
logbook, then ask for a service history. The more documentation you
can get hold of, the better.
- If you are dubious about the van's past, it may be worth
getting in touch with the AA, which will have details
of its service history.
- If you're not completely comfortable, don't sign a
contract. Signing for the van 'as is' means you have no
legal right to complain if the vehicle doesn't meet
If I get a van under a leasing agreement, can I still put
liveries on it?
Most vehicle hire companies should allow you to use vinyl
stickers, which are easy to remove - but it's worth checking with
the company before you plaster your name all over the van, just in
Cabin: the area in which the driver and passenger
Contract hire: the same idea as vehicle leasing,
contract hire allows you to lease the van over a set period
Frails: a rack fitted on the side of a van
Liveries: see signwriting
Microvan: small, boxy vans
MPV: multi-purpose vehicle
Panel van: delivery van with rear doors or a
sliding door at the side, for example the Ford Transit
PCP: personal contract purchase - similar to
leasing agreement, but with the option to buy the van once the
lease is up
Ply lining: some vans are lined with plywood to
insulate their contents.
Residual value: the value of the van at the end of the leasing
term after depreciation
Signwriting: vinyl stickers on the side of the van
showing the name, logo and contact details for your business
Tailgate: the board or door of the back at the
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