Used vans can come with hidden problems
Used vans can come with hidden problems
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10 things to check before buying a used van

You’ve compared your options, weighed the pros and cons, and you’ve settled on buying a used van. Whether this is your first business vehicle or an affordable way to expand your fleet, be sure to perform a thorough inspection to avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.

Used vehicles can be purchased from a wide variety of reputable sources, including Renault dealerships , but it never hurts to be thorough; doubly so if you are buying from a private individual or an outlet that isn’t certified. Here is a handy checklist to help you make sure your potential new vehicle is roadworthy and worth the price you are paying.

Documentation: confirm the van’s identity

Start by checking the documentation. If it’s incomplete or doesn't appear to match the used van you're inspecting, this is a red flag. Check the model badge and ensure it's the same as the specification on the van's registration document. You should also check what information is available about this van in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) database, such as MOT expiration date, its year of manufacture, CO2 emissions, and more.

Concealed signs of accident damage and/or tampering

Every van has its own unique history, but all parties involved ought to be transparent about it. Look for evidence of accident damage that's been repaired and covered up. The colour and shape of the body panels should be consistent, with the general colour and the texture of the van's paintwork uniform all over. Look under the bonnet and inside the van itself – are there any signs of careless welding, haphazard seams, or other evidence of hasty or unprofessional work? This could be a warning that the van has been in an accident and subjected to a bodged repair job.

Clues in the paintwork and bodywork

Inspect the paintwork at the front end of the van for an excessive number of stone chips. These can be evidence that the vehicle's been driven carelessly; they can also promote rust if not repaired. Check the van thoroughly for rust spots, as well as paint bubbles, which could indicate rust underneath. Pay particular attention to the van's wheel arches, seams, sills, suspension mountings and the bottoms of the doors. Check underneath the van to make sure that the exhaust isn't rusted and is free from holes.

Radiator and radiator water

With the van's engine still cold, inspect the water in the radiator, paying careful attention to the level and colour. A greenish tinge is fine – it's just the colour of the anti-freeze. Oily traces in the water are more ominous; these, along with a low water level, can indicate the presence of a leak. They may also point to a more serious issue, such as a blown cylinder head gasket.

Oil leaks and oil quality

Inspect the main engine block for any signs of oil leaks; the most obvious are the presence of oil on the concrete below the vehicle, and excessive sludge on the bottom of the van. With the engine warmed up and the van parked on a level surface, use the dipstick to check the oil level. If it is low, this could indicate a leak or other issues. The oil itself should look clear and smooth. Oil that is discoloured, contains debris or particles of material, has scum on top or appears foamy, could indicate a mechanical problem.

Being thorough will spare you many headaches down the road
Being thorough will spare you many headaches down the road

Drive belts and hoses

Look for frayed drive belts and inspect hoses for damage. Even though these are cheap to fix and don't constitute significant problems on their own, obvious fraying and damage can suggest that neither the engine nor the van as a whole has been receiving sufficient care and attention.

Tyre depth and shape

Check all tyres to ensure that their tread depth meets the legal minimum of 1.6 mm across the central ¾ of the tyre and around the entire circumference – and don’t forget the spare tyre. Inspect the walls of the tyres for bulges, and keep an eye open for uneven wear. This can suggest mechanical problems with the suspension or other systems.

Inside the cabin

A vehicle’s cabin can reveal a lot about how it's been maintained and how much use it has seen. If the seat-belts are frayed, the seats and the carpets are threadbare, and the steering wheel and pedals are badly worn, this can be an indication that the van's mileage is unusually high. Check the milometer and speedometer. All the numbers on the milometer should line up, and there should be no sign that it has been tampered with or replaced.

While checking inside the cabin, turn on the wipers and the heater to ensure they work properly. The same goes for any sound system, if one is included.

Windows and locks

Make sure that all the locks work smoothly, both from the driver’s and passenger’s side. Test the windows and check that all the rubber seals are intact.

Electrical systems

Check the van's lights. As well as being important in their own right, flickering or malfunctioning lights can be a sign of problems in the van's electrical systems. Check the warning lights on the dashboard and inspect other electrical equipment. Problems with central locking or electric windows can be expensive to repair. For vans with food storage or preparation equipment (refrigerators and freezers, etc.), check that they work and have been regularly serviced and maintained.

While these checks are by no means exhaustive, a van that passes them all should inspire confidence. If any of the above features are malfunctioning or improperly maintained, the best course of action is likely to search somewhere else. You could offset minor issues by lowering the asking price, but any problems you detect regarding leaks, electrical systems, and accidental damage should be a deal-breaker.