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 lease period.
  • For most businesses, buying a new van is expensive and unnecessary. Instead, look for good-quality second-hand vehicles.
  • Vans and light commercial vehicles are split into four categories:
    • Microvans, such as the distinctive Mitsubishi Minicab
    • 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 to maintain.
  • 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 period.

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 authoritative.
  • 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 following:
    • 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 are.
    • 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 expectations.


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 case.

Jargon buster

Cabin: the area in which the driver and passenger are seated

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 van


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