How To Buy a Cheap Van

To buy a cheap van, you need to research it and have a trusted mechanic. Once you’ve identified the van, find its history. Secondly, get the Buyers Guide from the dealership. If the mechanic approves the van, go for a driving test and if you’re impressed, buy it.   

Buying a cheap van often requires planning and knowledge to get a safe and reliable van that fits your budget. There are many types of vans you’ll get in the market, depending on the type of van, condition, and age.  

Price is typically the starting point for most people. If you’re on a budget, a cheap van could go for anything from $6,000 to $10,000.  

However, the vans that you can get within this price range come with certain risks. For instance, they often have known mechanical problems, high mileage, or have not been maintained for years. Therefore, you will need to invest heavily to bring them back to shape, which can be costly. 

A more realistic price for an excellent second-hand van should range from $15,000 to $30,000 or even more. The vans in this price range should have minimal mechanical risks, and you need to do basic checks. 


Research What Type of Van Is Best for You 

Before you even start looking around for a cheap van from a dealer or independent party, you have to research. The homework you’ll do will eventually save you a substantial amount of money.  

For instance, consider the type of van you want, the size, your budget, and how you’ll use the van. Other additional factors to consider include costs associated with the van, such as registration, gas, insurance, maintenance, among many others.  

Once you have the type of van in your mind, you can inquire from different dealers in writing before you visit them. From their replies, try to find out: 

  • If the advertised discounts, prices, and rebates are applied 
  • If the van is physically on the dealer’s lot 
  • Any other charges and spot add-ons that the auto dealer may want to introduce at the last minute.  

The next step is to find out about the dealer before your visit. The best place to start is your local and state consumer protection agencies. From these agencies, find any complaints and unresolved disputes on the file about the specific dealer.  

Additionally, you can use online searches using the company’s name in combination with terms such as complaint, scam, reviews, and many others.  


What to Consider When Buying a Cheap Van 

Before buying, you have to do thorough research ahead of time. Typically, buying from third parties is riskier than buying from a dealership.  

However, no matter where you buy your van, you can never be 100% certain that it wouldn’t break down a week or even a month after buying. Therefore, you have to perform simple checks to have a little peace of mind. 

  1. Have an Independent Mechanic –  Note that a vehicle history report should not substitute an independent inspection. It’s advisable to have an independent inspection on the van to ensure it doesn’t have other hidden damage. It will be a bonus if the mechanic is your friend or an acquaintance. 

A trusted mechanic can determine some underlying problem or areas that can become a problem in the future. Though this is not a free service, it’s worth everything because it could save you from buying a junk van.  

  1. Check for Paint Damage or Rust – Go round the van and keep a keen eye on any paint chips or rusty spots. Any localized rusty patches should not be a deal-breaker and should not bother you because they can be fixed easily. However, if areas show significant metal rust, you may have to reconsider buying.  
  1. Check the Engine –With the engine switched off, visually inspect the engine. You should be looking for corrosion, fluid leaks, cracked belts, and hoses. 
  1. Check the Oil –  You can ask the seller the last time the oil was changed. Ensure they are on the right level and relatively clear. Low-level oil could indicate leakages or it’s being burned. Black oil coloration could be due to overly dirty engine or sticky engine valves. Engine oil should be light brown and not be smelling; otherwise, it may be leaking to the fuel system.  
  1. Check the Transmission Fluid. Check for any discoloration on transmission fluid dipsticks. The transmission oil should be red or pink. Any leakage is not good, and especially the transmission oil can indicate a much bigger problem that can be expensive. If it’s black, then it means the fluid is burning too hot, indicating a more extensive problem. 
  1. Brakes – Ask when the brakes were last serviced and how long they should last. When test driving, listen for any squealing sound. 
  1. Tires –  Check all the tires and their tread. They should be evenly worn out. Any extra or uneven wear on some tires points to poor alignment, and this could be suspension, frame/chassis, or steering problem. A poorly aligned vehicle often pull to the left or right when you’re driving\ 

If all the tires are evenly worn and low on tread, you can use it as a bargaining tool or have them fix new ones.  

  1. Test Drive – Test driving is always the most critical part of buying a van. Plan the route to put the van through different paces to test acceleration, maneuverability, suspension, and braking.  

If possible, take it on the highway and try parallel parking to have a feel of any blind spots. If you hear any weird sound while test driving, try to find out or ask. 

  1. Lights –Good working lights indicate the van’s overall electrical health. Odd dimming or flickering of lights indicates problems in the electrical system that will cost you some money to fix later. 
  1. Steering – The steering responses must be smooth and predictable without excess play. Too much play is a sign of problems in the suspension of the steering wheel.  
  1. Interior of the Van–  The interior could tell you the life and the overall condition of the van. Check if the seats and seat belts are excessively worn out and lock as expected. The windows and electronics should be working correctly.   

Check the air conditioner if the fan and all settings function correctly when the AC is turned on. Air should go cold when the temperature is turned low.   


Steps to Follow Once You’ve Identified the Van 

If you have identified the van you want to buy, it’s a good idea to know the van’s history, and there are two essential resources. The vehicle history and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). From these websites, you can get the following information: 

  1. The vehicle history report with the title 
  1. Insurance loss 
  1. Salvage information 

NMVTIS websites list all the approved providers of vehicle history reports. You can use one provider by entering the VIN (Vehicle identification number) after paying a small fee to get all the van’s history.  

Some providers like Carfax and AutoCheck provide extra information such as repair history and accidents.  


1. Look Up If It Has Had a Safety Recall

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains a repository of vehicles on its website. It is a free listing of all vehicles subject to open safety recalls.  

Therefore, this means that they are vehicles that the manufacturers have recalled, but repairs have not been done.  

It is not advisable to buy a vehicle that did not follow the recall and have it fixed. You can wait while the issue with the van is fixed before you buy from the dealer. 

For instance, Daimler recently recalled almost 50,000 Mercedes Benz and Freightliner Sprinter vans due to the faulty powertrain programming that affected the transmission of these vans.  

These faulty vans would move while the transmission selector is in the “Park” position, and the company made the recall following the investigation launched by NHTSA. 

To find out if the van you’re interested in buying is subject to open recall, you have to enter the Van’s VIN on VIN check sites like Autocheck, Carfax, CarVertical, and many others.  

They are all free. You can contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by calling their safety hotline number at 1-888-327-4236. 


2. Safe if the Van Been Declared as Salvage

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) website allows the public to enter a VIN and know if the vehicle in question has been damaged by a natural disaster, was stolen and has not been recovered, or was declared salvage.  

Before buying your van, especially if it has a salvage title, you have to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.  

Vehicles with a salvage title are typically vehicles that have been declared a loss by the insurance company and damaged beyond their market value. In most states, a stolen and never recovered vehicle by the police also has a salvage title. 

If your van is involved in an accident, the insurance company declares it a total loss. You can either keep it or have it repaired, and your provider will declare it a salvage van.  

The extent of the accident may not be significant, but it could be damaged beyond its value. Such is the case with older vehicles that have depreciated significantly at the time of the accident.  

Note that even a new van can be declared a salvage vehicle after a severe accident. Although an insurance company thinks repairing the vehicle is not worthwhile, someone else somewhere may be willing to do the repairs.  

Once the insurer says it’s not worthwhile to repair, the vehicle will be issued with salvage title even if you repair. 

After a rigorous inspection, the salvage title can be removed from a repaired vehicle. The inspection will include reviewing all the receipts used to buy all the parts to rebuild the vehicle.  

If the vehicle passes the inspection, it will receive a rebuilt salvage title. Sometimes, salvage title vehicles can be problematic and may not be worth all the trouble. 

Each state has its criteria on what makes a vehicle declared a total loss. Typically, a vehicle that requires repair costing above 75% of the total value to be salvaged is considered a total loss. 

Note that just because a van appears new from the outside, it doesn’t mean everything is functioning well. Therefore, when inspecting a van to buy, you have to know if it’s salvage title or not.  

Each state has a different way of indicating a salvaged vehicle. You will have to look at the actual title for the stamp that says “Salvaged” or a watermark indicating a salvaged vehicle.  

Salvage titles are not necessarily bad. However, you must realize that it can be dangerous if the van was not built correctly or repaired by a qualified mechanic. Vehicles that have gone through inspection and certified as roadworthy are generally good, but you have to be cautious.  


Steps to Following When Buying a Used Van 

If you are preparing to buy a cheap van, which may be a second-hand van, you need to be prepared. You need to follow several steps because acquiring your van can be exciting, though it requires a substantial financial commitment.  

Most dealers have a Buyer’s Guide for every used vehicle they’re selling. As a van buyer, you have the right to get the Buyer’s Guide even if you’re buying your van online.  

Often from the Buyers Guide, you can tell if the van has a warranty or it’s on sale “As Is.” As a buyer, you should know about the van’s history report and have all the information about independent inspections, different payment options, and what happens if you have a problem after buying the van.  


The Buyers Guide From the Dealer 

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), dealers have to display the Buyers Guide for all the cars they are selling, and they have to give it to the buyer after the sale. They have to do such a Buyers Guide when selling trucks, light-duty vans, and cars.  

The Buyers Guide will tell you: 

  • About any significant electrical or mechanical systems on the van and other significant issues you need to look out for 
  • If the van is sold with a warranty or “As-Is.”  
  • Have all promises made in writing 
  • To have the van undergo inspection by an independent and qualified mechanic before buying 
  • The percentage of costs the auto dealer has to pay for any repairs under the warranty 
  • The van’s history report and how to check for recalls 
  • The dealer’s complete contact information and how to get in touch for any complaints 
  • To note that unwritten promises are always not easy to enforce  


Be Cautious About Add-ons 

Add-ons refer to the dealer’s optional services, such as the insurance gap, rustproofing, VIN etching, among others. Add-ons can be costly, running into hundreds of dollars, and the dealer often brings up by the dealer at the end of the day after arduous, time-consuming efforts. 

Some dealers can even include these add-ons and others into your deal without ever mentioning or discussing with you. You might have them without your knowledge or approval.  

Therefore, you need to ask questions and get all the right answers in writing so that you will have a clear picture of what you’re paying for and, ultimately, what you get.  


Independent Inspection 

It is good to have an independent inspection and not rely on the vehicle history report.  

Typically, a vehicle history report lists the vehicle’s damage due to accidents or natural disasters but will not list any mechanical problem. Therefore, it’s essential to have an independent mechanic inspect any used van. 

A mechanical inspection is crucial even if the van has been inspected and certified by the auto dealer, and sold with a service contract or a warranty. Although you’ll need to pay the inspection cost, it will help you avoid buying a van that has a severe mechanical problem.  

Note also that mechanical inspection is not the same as the safety inspection. The two are quite different because safety inspections will focus mainly on issues that could make the van unsafe while driving.  

The dealer may not allow you to take the van off the lot for several reasons, such as the restrictions from insurance. In such a case, you’ll have to get a mobile inspection service provider who will go with you to the auto dealer.   

Alternatively, you can request the dealer bring the van to a facility you’ve chosen for inspection. However, if the dealer does not allow independent inspection, you can look for another dealer.  

You need to ask for a written report from the mechanic with an estimate of the cost for any necessary repairs. The report should include the make of the van, model, and VIN.  

You will use the estimated cost of repairs in the report to negotiate the price if you buy the van from the dealer. 


Payment Options  

When paying for the van, you have two options.  

You either pay in full or opt for financing. Typically, financing will increase the cost of the van because you’ll have to pay the cost of credit in addition to interest.  

You need to consider how much the down payment, the annual percentage rate (APR), financing period, and the monthly payment. Although low monthly payments are tempting, they often have more extended loan repayment periods and relatively higher interest rates, and in the long run, you’ll pay more. 


Return Policy 

Before buying your van from any auto dealer, you need to ask about their return policy, and it should be written down. You have to read it carefully, and there are a few things you have to know. 

  • The federal law does not require auto dealers to offer you a 3-day return policy on the van or to cancel the deal.  
  • Auto dealers in some states are required to give buyers the right to cancel the deal. While in some states, you have the right to return the vehicle within a few days of purchase for a refund only if the auto dealer has given the option. The right to cancel may be referred to as a money-back guarantee, cooling-off period, or no questions asked return policy. You need to confirm with the state attorney general the applicable rules in your state.   


Different Types of Warranties 

The Buyers Guide should indicate all the changes you’ve negotiated in warranty coverage, and it should override any sales contract. Therefore, as you negotiate, the auto dealer is supposed to make changes you’ve agreed on in the Buyers Guide and your contract. For instance, if the warranty says the van comes with a warranty, and the contract says the van is sold “as is,” your dealer must give you the warranty as stated in the Guide. The following are some of the warranties: 

  1. As-Is, No Dealer Warranty– The dealer wouldn’t pay for any repairs with this type of warranty. As a buyer, you’re assuming any risk that could develop after the sale. 
  • The box next to “As Is, No Dealer Warranty” disclosure must be checked if the dealer offers this type of warranty 
  • If the box is checked, any verbal promise, such as repairing the van or canceling the sale if you’re not satisfied, needs to be written in the Buyers Guide. If they are not written, you will have difficulty getting the dealer to follow through.  
  1. Implied Warranties –  These refer to the unwritten or unspoken promises the dealer makes to the buyer. A used vehicle without a written warranty is covered with implied warranties. Unless it comes with an “As Is” warranty, some of the standard implied warranties include the following: 
  • Warranty of fitness – When you buy a van following the dealer’s advice. It assumed the vehicle was fit for the intended purpose. For instance, if the dealer suggests that you buy the van because it’s good for cargo hauling, the dealer gives an implied warranty that the van can do the job. 
  •  Warranty of Merchantability implies that the van will do what it is supposed to do. It is a promise that applies to the essential functions of the van. However, it does not cover everything that could go wrong  
  1. Full or Limited WarrantySome dealers may offer a full or limited warranty on all or some of the van’s components. The majority of warranties on used vehicles are limited. If you have a full warranty comes with terms and conditions such as: 
  • During the warranty, you’ll; get warranty service 
  • Warranty service is free 
  • The buyer has to tell the dealer that they need it to get the service under warranty. 
  • If the dealer cannot fix the vehicle after reasonable attempts, the buyer can choose a replacement or a refund. 
  • There is no time limit. 

If these terms do not apply to your warranty, you have a limited warranty. Note that a full warranty does not have to cover the entire van, but the dealer may specify the parts covered or may not be covered.  

You need to have a copy of the warranty when you buy your van, and you need to review the parts covered, type of warranty offered, how to get repairs of the components covered, and who is responsible for fulfilling the warranty terms. 


The Sizes and Types of Vans 

Vans often come in different sizes, and definitely, a larger van would cost more than a small van. 

  1. Minivans – Small vans, also known as minivans, are suitable for hauling minimal cargo. They’re also suitable for transporting kids and are more like cars than vans. 
  1. Medium Vans – These are medium-sized vans such as Chevy Astro Van. They are often one step bigger than the small vans. 
  1. Large Vans –  Large vans are typically the standard cargo vans commonly used in mobile businesses or construction companies. You can modify the interior to suit the type of business you’re doing.  
  1. Extra Large Vans – These are much larger vans, and the manufacturers designate them as “extra-long” or “extra-wide.” Extra-large vans are suitable for hauling more oversized cargo. 


Other Features to Consider When Buying a Cheap Van  

As you shop around for a cheap van, the following are some features you’ll have to consider and may affect the buying price. 

  1. Engine Size – Different van types come with different engine sizes, and each has its pros and cons. Generally, small engines have a better fuel economy. However, if you intend to use the van on mountainous terrain with heavy cargo, your ideal choice should be something bigger with a turbo to safely navigate the mountain passes.  
  1. Drive Train – The majority of affordable vans are 2-wheel drive. However, depending on the use and the purpose of the van, you may require a 4-wheel drive. Typically, four-wheels are more expensive. 
  1. Fuel Type – Gas vans, compared to diesel vans, cost more to buy and are more expensive to fix when it develops a mechanical problem. However, they are better in fuel economy. Additionally, diesel vans have more power, higher torque, and last longer. 

Vans were restricted only to gas or diesel in the past, but now we have electric vans and plug-in hybrid vans. Different fuel types have different benefits, and you have to consider what is ideal for your case.