Peter Lee’s exclusive tips for deciding what type of van to buy Peter Lee’s exclusive tips for deciding what type of van to buy

Peter Lee’s exclusive tips on buying a used van

Leading van expert Peter Lee exclusively breaks down whether you should buy a used or new van. And if you go second hand, what to look out for.

DL4B: Firstly, should I buy a new van or an older second hand vehicle?

Peter: If you are after the most economical, fuel-efficient vehicle available, you will be better off buying a new model. If you are looking for a ‘green’ van that is a hybrid or electric vehicle, you will likely need to buy a new, or nearly new model, as they've only relatively recently come onto the market.

New vehicles will inevitably depreciate the second you drive them off the forecourt, but you have the reassurance of a comprehensive warranty. With a new vehicle you also have the choice over the finish and specifications of the vehicle.

There is a huge market for second hand vehicles and you can easily track one down via the likes of the Auto Express’ dedicated vans section.

However, with vans, more so than cars, there are issues that can be harder to identify by a short inspection. As vans are often used to transport heavy payloads, the suspension and axles can be under significant wear and tear and problems may not be easy to identify. If possible, it is always ideal to have a trained mechanic inspect any second hand vehicle you are going to purchase. But, being realistic, this is not always easy to arrange. 

DL4B: If I am buying a second hand van, what should I look for?

Peter: When buying a van the standard checks you should complete are very similar to those when reviewing a car. However, there are additional checks a prospective van purchaser should make: 

  • Test how even the drive is – vans where the payload has not been distributed evenly may be subject to lean or uneven tracking. An unbalanced vehicle can be extremely dangerous so it is important to test drive the vehicle and assess the ride conditions 
  • Engines are subject to greater strain than car, so check there is no black smoke emitted by the exhaust and that there is no rattling sound 
  • Many van buyers fail to inspect the interior sufficiently. If it has been lined with wood, it could be a major plus point as it helps prevent scraps and damage during loading and unloading. However, a newly lined vehicle may be hiding damage behind the wood lining, so if possible check under a section to avoid surprises at a later date 
  • A worrying number of second-hand vans hide a nasty secret. It could be they have been declared an insurance right-off, are subject to outstanding finance, or have been stolen. A simple HPI will expose these issues so it is worth spending the money on one
  • Check the axles – vans are subject to far greater load weights than cars. If you hear knocking or squeaking sounds from the axel you may have an expensive problem to deal with 
  • If you’re buying a van for business, it’s a good idea to future proof by buying something a bit bigger than your current needs. If your business grows this will save you money in the future as you won’t need to upgrade. It’s also always useful to have some extra space

DL4B: Are there any other red flags when purchasing an older vehicle, beyond obviously checking the condition of the van?

Peter: When purchasing an older vehicle, it’s vital you check up regulations around vehicle emissions. If you don’t, you could find yourself facing some hefty costs.

This is especially important if you live or work in and around London. In 2008 a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) was introduced to reduce the number of polluting heavy diesel vehicles driving in the Capital. The LEZ covers most of Greater London.

To drive within it without paying a daily charge vehicles must meet emissions standards, which limit the amount of particulate matter (a type of pollution) coming from their exhausts. If you are purchasing an older vehicle it is worth checking it meets the LEZ standards. More information is available from Transport for London

DL4B: What is a 'green' or eco-friendly van?

The market for eco-vans is very likely to grow rapidly in next ten years as ever tighter emissions regulations are introduced and drivers Look to reduce their fuel costs. It is not just in the area of emissions when manufacturers are making improvements. Companies are streamlining the production process to reduce waste and using increasing quantities of recycled materials.

Find out more about buying an eco friendly van here.

Finally, don’t forget to think about the extra things you associate with buying a van including finance and insurance…

For further tips from Peter when buying a van, read his guide to choosing what type of van to buy and once you've decided, then negotiating. And for when you've bought your van, find out more about van insurance.

Peter Lee is a leading expert on vans and the founder of the Transit Van Club. Visit for more information

Van Insurance Peter Lee
Peter Lee

Peter Lee
Last Updated: 22 Feb 2016