There are a few things you should always look for when you buy vans, no matter what your end requirement is, so let’s deal with those first.
Tell-tale signs that your prospective vehicle could be a ticking time bomb of head gasket death: water drops coming out of the exhaust pipe. Be aware that it is natural for some condensation to settle in the exhaust pipe of any vehicle, particularly if you are starting it up first thing in the morning. But no van should continue to expel water, even just little drops, from the exhaust after you have turned it on and put your foot on the accelerator a few times.
In fact, if you depress the accelerator and the amount of water coming from the exhaust pipe increases, you should take this as a sign that the vehicle is potentially nearing the end of its life.
Mileage may not be so important when you buy vans as when you buy a second hand or used car. A good diesel engine should last longer than the body of the vehicle in which it sits – so a relatively high mileage is simply evidence that the van has been used well in the service of its trade. Obviously a full service history is required with every used vehicle purchase – and with vans with higher mileage you can see where the necessary replacements (cam belt for example) have been done.
The 60,000 mile service is key for every used vehicle purchase. It is at this mileage that the manufacturer normally recommends replacing the timing belt kit – if this has not been done and your van is nearing or has passed the 60-65,000 mile mark, you should request that a new timing belt kit is installed prior to purchase.
Most people buy vans with a specific purpose in mind. When you purchase a pre-owned van for work, you will have some idea as to the right size (short wheelbase; medium wheelbase; long wheelbase) vehicle you need. Bear in mind medium and high top variants of most common vans also exist, so you can customise yours to the role it must fulfil.
Carpet fitters have a particular problem in the length of their stock in trade. The ideal van for a carpet fitter compensates for the massive length it needs, by having an almost entirely flat nose in the cab. Unfortunately this cab shape has been made illegal by EU regulations: but it is perfectly legal for anyone to buy vans pre-owned with that silhouette. Most of the still existing vans in this class are made by Mitsubishi and are highly prized as manoeuvrable and extremely roomy in the back.
The manufacturer of the van you buy can have an impact on the ease with which you can find replacement parts or official servicing outlets. The Mitsubishi referred to above, for instance, is very hard to get parts for; while a Ford Transit, on the other hand, is easy. It’s a factor you should not ignore when making a decision.
Learn how to pick the cheapest and most reliable vehicles from the past 30 years of auto production from Lemon-Aid Used Cars and Trucks 2010-2011!