Updated: Aug 18
Stop! Before you hand over that cash to buy the van you've been looking at, there are a few things that you absolutely must do first. In this article we'll look at some of the most important questions to ask about the vehicle you are about to purchase and some of the basic background checks you should do first. This advice could save you a lot of heartache in the long-term. By the end you will be ready to buy your own van and start your conversion! I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for many years, I'm the van conversion instructor at Udemy, author of The Van Conversion Newsletter, and the proud owner of a beautiful self-build campervan called Beans. So let's jump in and have a look at what to do before buying a van for campervan conversion!
Where to buy a van for a campervan conversion
There are three options on where to purchase your van from:
1. Buy your van online
This is the cheapest option, but you tend to have the least security. It's the way I chose to do it, and most van-dwellers choose to do it this way.
2. Buy your van from a used car dealership
Second-hand dealerships offer you a little bit more security than buying online, subsequently, the van will generally be a bit more expensive than buying it online.
3. Buy your van from a van dealership (First hand!)
If you have the cash lying around, it can be nice knowing that you have a brand new van which will last you a while. No inheriting other people's problems. However it goes without saying that this can be expensive business!
What questions should I ask before buying a van?
Assuming you are buying the van online or from a used car dealership, there are a few questions you should ask before taking a trip to see the vehicle.
Do you have the logbook?
This is vital. If the vehicle does not have a logbook, this should raise alarm bells.
Ensure the logbook credentials match the van (registration number, Owner's name, vehicle classification)
Do you have the service history?
A prudent vehicle owner should always keep a service history for the vehicle. A vehicle with a service history is more likely to have been cared for.
If you can obtain the service history you can see when the last service was (if it was a long time ago, you may well be in for a nasty surprise).
What did the previous owner use the van for?
Most used vans will be retired work-horses. ie. construction, carpentry, electrician, etc.
Understanding what the previous owner did can help you know how much love was given to the vehicle - was it a sole trader or larger company?
Ideally you will want a van that drove longer distances (across counties / countries), rather than shorter stop-start distances in cities. The more a van stop-starts, the more wear and tear is put on the vehicle.
What is the mileage and age of the van?
These two things are intrinsically linked. A new van with a heap of mileage will have been put under far more strain than an older van with the same mileage.
As a general rule of thumb, try source a van with <150,000km on the clock.
Why are you selling the van?
Has the van ever been in an accident?
Has the van got it's MOT or equivalent (Mandatory vehicle inspection in Europe)
This is very important. If the van does not have its MOT, you will have to put your hand in your pocket to pay for it yourself. It will also be very likely that repairs will be needed in order to pass the MOT (which you will also have to pay for)
A van with an MOT certificate is a very good thing.
Has the van got an up to date tax disc?
If the van doesn't have a tax disc you will need to put your hand in your pocket to pay for this year's tax (and potentially back tax!)
Is the van registered in a foreign country?
If the van is registered in a foreign country you could be in for a hefty tax bill for importing it when you buy it (Vehicle Registration Tax). Better to buy local.
Can you reduce the price?
'hmm, the van looks really nice - I'd love to buy it, but the price is too high for me unfortunately 😢 The max I could afford is X'.
What background checks should I do before buying a van?
There are a couple mandatory background checks you should do before buying a van for a campervan conversion. Most if not all of these checks you can do on a website like Autocheck. To do a thorough background check on Autocheck you will need the vehicle reg number and the VIN (vehicle identification number). You will need to ask the vehicle owner for the VIN.
If everything checks out (and you're using AutoCheck), you should see a message like this appear:
Has the van got any finance on it?
Take care here! There could be an unpaid loan on the van which you are about to purchase. That loan will become yours to pay if you buy it.
Is the van stolen?
Don't buy a stolen van. Obviously... You will lose the van and all the money you spent when the police come knocking.
How many previous owners has the van had?
Get an auto-mechanic to check out the van
Ideally before you get the mechanic to inspect the van, you will have headed over and looked at the vehicle yourself - but that is not totally necessary.
If everything above checks out okay, you are ready to proceed to the next step: get an auto-mechanic to do a thorough inspection of the van.
Here is the very detailed report I received from my mechanic when they went to inspect a van I was looking at. The inspection cost about €120 - it was well worth it, and I brought up some of the issues with the dealership; they got their mechanic to fix the problems before I bought the van.
I hope you found this list of questions and background checks useful. If you've done everything above and are happy you can go and pick up your van!! 🎉🎉 Seriously, how exciting is that?
Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion.
If you're converting a van but unsure of how to do it, you could also check out the Van Conversion Course on Udemy. In the course, you'll learn directly from me how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!
Until next time,