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Buying Advice - Commercial Vehicles: Checking the Van

Checking the van

  • Does the model badge match the specification on the registration document?
  • Are the body panels consistent?
  • Is there any evidence of repaired accident damage?
  • Do the colour and texture of the paintwork match all over?
  • Check under the bonnet and in the boot for signs of haphazard welding, untidy seams or other evidence of a bodged accident repair or, even worse, a cut-and-shut (two stolen or crashed vans being welded together to form a single, extremely dangerous, example)
  • Check the front end for excessive stone chips in the paintwork
  • Check for rust and paint bubbles, particularly on the sills, wheel arches, seams, door bottoms and suspension mountings

The mechanics

Even the non-technically minded can test the overall condition of the mechanical parts of the van. Don't be embarrassed to poke around.

  • Check for oil leaks around the main engine block
  • Look for damaged hoses and frayed drive belts. They may not be expensive to fix, but the condition of the engine can reveal the degree of care and attention the van has had.
  • Before the van is warmed up, look at the colour of the water in the radiator. The greeny tinge of anti-freeze is fine, but oily traces or a low water level could signal leaks or, even worse, a blown cylinder head gasket.
  • Check the amount of oil on the dipstick on a level surface when the engine is warmed up. Is the oil smooth and clean, or has it got bits in it? A foamy look or coloured scum could signal trouble

The body

  • Check all tyres for tread depth and damage. Do all of the tyres, including the spare, have 1.6mm of tread, the legal minimum?
  • Look underneath to see if the exhaust is rusted or contains holes
  • Check that all the locks are working and that all rubber seals are intact
  • Make sure the seat belts show no sign of damage or wear. Badly worn seats, carpets and pedals can suggest high mileages more accurately than a milometer, especially if there is no service history
  • Do the windows work?
  • Wipers, milometer and heater can all be easily assessed, so give them a good testing. When looking at the milometer, look for evidence of tampering: does the speedometer look like it has been removed and replaced and do all the numbers line up correctly?
  • Check lights, dashboard warning lights and other electrical equipment, as electric window and central locking repairs can be expensive
  • If there is a stereo fitted, make sure it works and is included in the sale
  • If the van has a fridge, freezer or chiller compartment, does it work? Has it been regularly serviced and properly maintained?

There's a lot to remember - so why not take a checklist with you? If any of the above are not in order then you have grounds to query the van, consider other options or negotiate for a discount to put things right. These are all bargaining points that could save you money.

Finally, and totally unscientifically, remember the "Dog and its Owner" rule. Just as bad dogs and bad owners tend to go together, so do bad sellers and bad vans. If you don't trust the seller, don't buy the van.

Professional inspection

Do consider having the van professionally examined before you buy, either through a motoring association, private company or garage. They will examine the van and be able to give you more safety with your transaction

next: Van history checks