How to Know if You Should Buy a New or Used Van

Buying a brand new van comes with several specific pros and cons that you need to know about first:

  • Pros – Lower running costs, manufacturer warranty, modern conveniences including the latest safety features; plus choice of roof height, wheelbase, length, and color options
  • Cons – Very high initial purchase price, more expensive to insure, new vans depreciate much quicker than used models

Note that the flexible modern leasing offers have made owning a new van much more sensible than before.

However, don’t forget that used models still have their own unique appeal, mainly due to not tying you to monthly payments.

So you have all the important details on the “should you buy a new van or not” subject, in this article I’ll cover the following topics:

  • A detailed look at the pros and cons of buying a brand new van
  • The pros and cons of going for a used van
  • Practical tips for purchasing a new van
  • What to look for when buying a used van


The Pros and Cons of Buying a New or Used Van

This is a more in-depth look at all the primary advantages and disadvantages of buying a brand new van.


Pros of Buying a New Van:

1. The Associated Running Costs are Lower

Opting to buy a brand new vehicle comes with the added benefit of spending less on running costs.

On one hand, the fuel consumption will be as close to the original manufacturer’s quoted figures as possible because the engine, exhaust, and fuel systems are all in optimal condition.

But you also benefit from cheaper environmental tax compared to older vehicles that generate more harmful emissions.

This stems from the stricter standards for generating lower emissions that affect new vehicles, including vans.


2. There Are No Lingering Maintenance Problems

Brand new vehicles come with an official manufacturer warranty that covers unexpected repairs bills in case your van breaks down or a particular part malfunctions.

The typical new vehicle warranty has you covered for up to 3 years or around 36,000 miles, whichever comes first.

You’ll have the peace of mind knowing that if anything happens even to the most complex systems in your van (e.g. the engine), the dealer or manufacturer will have your back.


3. The Vehicle Comes with the Latest Tech

New van models come with various modern creature comforts and high-tech gadgets that are rare or completely absent in older models.

These modern features can include satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, and even rear park assist with a rear-view camera.

While the latest safety tech includes lane departure assistance, blind-spot monitoring and forward collision alert.

Although this can help to minimize the chance of damaging your van, thus hurting your insurance, these technologies aren’t a substitute for careful and sensible driving.


4. You Get Choose the Technical Characteristics

Another perk of getting a brand new van is that you get to choose all the details of your vehicle, such as:

  • Engine (petrol or diesel)
  • Drivetrain (RWD, FWD or AWD)
  • Transmission
  • Roof height
  • Wheelbase type
  • Overall length
  • Exterior color
  • Additional features (if available)

Some manufacturers offer several different roof height, wheelbase, and vehicle length combinations that you can customize.

This can be a real deal-breaker for some potential buyers as you don’t have this level of customization when looking at the used market.


5. There’s a Superior Business Image Appeal

If you need a van for business purposes, then a brand new model will inevitably give your business image appeal a boost.

A modern dent and scratch-free vehicle with a shiny exterior and interior can definitely signal status and trustworthiness in the eyes of your clients and partners.

But even an older vehicle can look respectable if it’s adequately maintained and properly looked after, although not as much as a brand new model.


6. Additional Financing Options are Available

Buying a brand new vehicle usually comes with numerous financing options meant to entice potential buyers.

Auto manufacturers have plenty of incentives nowadays that can include rather appealing loan rates.

This means that you can potentially end up paying several thousand dollars less than the official sticker price of the van, after finalizing all negotiations and applying the incentives.


7. No Need to Inspect & Evaluate the Van’s Condition

Since the van will be considered to be in perfect condition, you won’t need to perform any specific vehicle inspections and evaluations.

The price of a new vehicle will already be set, although there’s probably still room for negotiation.

This is in contrast to buying a used vehicle, as then you’ll have to thoroughly inspect it to evaluate the condition and estimate how much the van costs.


Cons of Buying a New Van:

1. Very Steep Initial Purchase Price

It’s worth mentioning that the initial purchase price of a new van will always be higher than buying a similarly equipped used model.

You need to have the financial stability to back those initial expenses because you’ll also be bound to monthly loan payments unless you outright pay for the van in full.

While a similarly equipped used van will have a much lower initial purchase price as it has already depreciated in value.


2. Higher Debt and Insurance Rates

Simply put, you’ll have to pay higher insurance costs on a brand new van based on several factors such as :

  • Age of the van
  • Age of the driver
  • Replacement values

The factor that has the most impact on insurance premiums is the age of the vehicle, meaning that the newer your van, the higher the insurance premium will be.

Also, every finance institution and auto dealership will require you to go for full coverage on your new van for the duration of the loan or until it’s paid in full.


3. Much Worse Depreciation Than Used Models

One of the main drawbacks to owning a brand new vehicle is that you’re hit by rather quick depreciation.

As a general rule of thumb, your brand new van will lose 20% of its value the moment you receive the keys.

This translates to a $7,000 loss if your vehicle costs roughly $35,000 and even more if you opt for a better equipped and more luxurious van.


4. It Won’t Stay Brand New Forever

No matter how much you look after your van, it will inevitably get a little nick or scratch here and there as time goes by.

Especially since vans are typically used for moving or deliveries, which involves loading and unloading awkwardly shaped objects that can be rather heavy.

Depending on how much abuse your van sees, after just a couple of months, you can start noticing signs of wear and tear, such as a stained interior floor or dinged rear doors..

Besides, your van model will sooner or later be replaced by a facelifted or brand new version, which will put your vehicle in the “older model” category.


5. Servicing Options are Severely Limited

One issue of owning a brand new van is that you’ll have to service your vehicle only at authorized repair shops, otherwise your warranty goes out the window.

It’s worth noting that the network of authorized auto repair shops for your particular van can consist of auto repair shops that are few and far between.

The fact that you can’t service your van at any repair shop is not only very limiting, but it can cause you a real headache if your vehicle breaks down and you’re hundreds of miles away from a certified auto repair shop.


Pros of Buying a Used Van:

1. Cheaper Initial Purchase Cost

Buying a used model will have a much lower initial purchase cost than an equivalently equipped brand new van.

For example, you can get a used van for only $5,000, which is significantly less than what you’d pay upfront for a new van that costs $35k.

Moreover, used vehicle sellers are typically more open to bargaining for a particular vehicle to move it on faster.


2. Insurance Rates are Lower

Although there are many factors that affect insurance rates, a used van is usually cheaper to insure than a new model.

This can result in a big difference in how much you pay for insurance costs each year.

Additionally, a used vehicle lets choose not to get full coverage insurance, which is not the case when you buy a new van.


3. Superior Resale Value and Slower Depreciation

Older vehicles are subject to slower depreciation rates compared to newer vehicles, which lose 20% of their value once they leave the dealership.

This means that you’ll benefit from a superior resale value when it’s time to move on from your used van.

Also, you can get decent financing options via banks or credit unions when selling your vehicle.


4. It Can Be Repaired at Auto Repair Shop

The fact that you’re not tied to specific auto repair shops due to the warranty, means that you can literally fix your used van at any place you like.

Regular mechanics will also be more familiar with an older van, including how to adequately maintain and repair it.

Besides, you can find used parts for your used van at junkyards or pick-n-pulls.


5. There are Lots of Used Vans to Choose From

The used van market offers plenty of models in very good condition that you can bargain for.

Used vans are also literally everywhere across the continent, so you should be able to find your ideal vehicle regardless of which state you live in.

Basically, the vast used van market will be your best bet if you’re on a tight budget but still want to own a van


Cons of Buying a Used Van:

1. Buying a Used Van is a Bit of a Gamble

You don’t really know what you’re getting when you buy a used van, even if a qualified mechanic thoroughly inspects it prior to the purchase.

There’s no way to be certain about all the issues that the previous owner or owners might have faced.

You might end up with lemon without being able to hold anyone responsible unless you bought a used vehicle with a statutory warranty.

I’ve suffered from this personally with a vehicle that appeared just fine during pre-purchase inspections, but less than 2 months later, a leaky head gasket meant spending several thousand on repairs.


2. Outdated Technology and Safety Features

Buying an old van means that you won’t have access to fancy modern technology such as a reversing camera, USB ports, and crosswind assist.

Your older vehicle will also most likely lack modern safety features such as active brake assist, blind-spot assist, and attention assist.

All of this can make your ownership experience rather miserable, especially if you compare your old rig to one of the shiny new models.


3. Inability to Specify the Van to Your Needs

Although there are many offers in the used van market, you still have to choose a vehicle from what’s on offer.

You won’t be able to specify the list of added features, choose your favorite color or pick a specific equipment level.

You’ll most likely have to compromise on one of these factors to get a van that fits your budget and has a proven history or milage.


4. Limited or No Financing Options

Unless you have enough savings to pay for the used vehicle outright, you’ll most likely need to finance the van.

However, finding a reliable financing plan for a used van might be an issue, or you might find that the interest rate is too high.


Practical Tips for Purchasing a New Van

Below you’ll find 4 super practical tips for buying a brand new van:


1. Consider the Van Size and Capabilities

You have to consider what type of van you need as there are two primary categories:

  • Compact vans (e.g. Ford Transit)
  • Full-size vans (e.g. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter)

A compact van would suit your needs if you need to transport lighter and smaller objects, but if you need to haul heavy and bulky items, then a full-size will be your only reasonable option.

Consider the following important specifications of a particular van to determine if it’s the right fit for your needs:

  • Cargo capacity
  • Maximum payload
  • Towing capacity


2. Check What Others Say About a Particular Model

As well as looking at reviews and ratings, , look for specific user-generated complaints about the van you want, to try to see if there’s a common problem that owners complain about.

Even if the particular van that you desire doesn’t have any user-generated feedback or complaints because it just came out, search for what people say about the previous model.

The chances are that the new model might have inherited certain parts from the older one, such as the transmission, engine, and parts of the electronics.


3. Take the Van for a Test Drive

The vehicle might appear great on paper, but you have to actually drive it to find if its the right one for you.

Make sure that you feel comfortable behind the wheel, and don’t hesitate to try all the features that the vehicle offers to see how convenient they are.

If possible, see how the van behaves in worse weather conditions, especially when it comes to on-road grip and handling.


4. Engage in Negotiations the Smart Way

Even if you have the budget for the particular van, you still want to negotiate with the dealer to get the best deal possible.

Remember not to make the first offer and don’t attempt to self-negotiate (i.e. negotiate with yourself).

Instead, let the salesperson make a counter-offer first.

You need to appear as if you’re not that interested and not in a hurry to seal the deal out of excitement.

Also, negotiate in a light-hearted way and ensure that your deposit is refundable.


What to Look for When Buying a Used Van

Buying a used van can be a great idea, but you have to be aware of the main things to look for prior to the purchase:


1. Check the Dealer’s Buyers Guide Window Sticker

Used car dealers are required to display a window sticker (a.k.a. the buyers guide) on their cars as per The Used Car Rule courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission that’s been active since 1985.

This window sticker provides valuable information regarding any potential warranty of the van, and here’s what it means if a vehicle is sold as:

  • “As is” – Means that there’s no guarantee about the condition of the vehicle i.e. any post-purchase problems are your responsibility.
  • Warranty – The vehicle comes with a specified warranty, including what percentage of any repairs the dealer covers.

Also, don’t forget that the Buyers Guide terms need to be changed prior to buying the vehicle if the coverage is negotiatied.

2. Carefully Inspect the Van’s Exterior and Interior

No matter what the dealer says, always perform a throughout inspection of the vehicle’s interior and exterior.


How to Inspect the Exterior:

  • Paint and structure – Look for any rust, scratches, and dents. Variations in paint color across different body panels and misaligned panels typically indicate previous structural damage and/or sloppy repair.
  • Lights – Check all exterior lights and makes sure that they’re working. Pay close attention to the reflectors and lenses inside the headlights for any moisture or cracks that indicate problems.
  • Windows – Look for cracks and stone chips, especially on the windshield. Even if it’s something tiny, you can still use it to bring the price down.
  • Tires and wheels – See if all four tires are equally worn out. Also, check the wheels to makes sure that they’re not bent.
  • Suspension – Look if the van sits level and push down each corner of the vehicle. If the van bounces up and down several times, the shock absorbers probably need to be replaced.


How to Inspect the Interior:

  • Seats – Ripped or badly worn seats indicate either high mileage or a lot of abuse, which you can use to negotiate a lower price. Also, test all seat adjustments to see if they work as intended.
  • Roof – Closely inspect the roof trim and headliner for any sags or stains that might indicate water leaking inside.
  • Smell – Another indication of water leaks is an interior that smells moldy or misty. Look under the floor mats for any wet spots. Also, check the condition of the ashtray and lighter for signs of people having smoked inside. Note that eliminating odors like smoke and mold is quite the challenge.
  • Pedals – Check the rubber material on all pedals for signs of wear. A van that’s been driven a lot will most likely have rather beat-up pedals unless the rubber’s been replaced.
  • Test all electronics – Lift and lower all windows, turn on the stereo, turn on the ignition to see if any warning lights stay for more than a few seconds etc. Basically, test every single button, lever, and switch inside.


3. Check the Engine and the Main Related Parts

The engine and engine-related parts can lead to very expensive repairs, so be very careful when inspecting the following components:

  • Engine bay – Look for any splattered oil on or around the engine, and don’t be shocked if the engine looks dusty and dirty, as that’s perfectly normal.
  • Fluids – Check the level of all important engine-related fluids such as the oil, brake, power-steering, and transmission. All fluids should be within the correct ranges (usually between the Min and Max lines), although it’s better to have a trustworthy mechanic check these for you.
  • Battery – Look for any signs of corrosion on the battery that may indicate that it’s dying. But you can get a qualified mechanic to inspect the battery and perform a load test to be certain.
  • Belts and hoses – While the engine is turned off, squeeze and feel the different rubber hoses of the air conditioning, radiator, and other engine-related components. The hoses should feel firm, yet supple and definitely not mushy, rock-solid, or cracked. Also, feel the drive belts to check if they’re frayed.
  • Radiator – Check the color of the coolant inside the plastic radiator reservoir. Green-to-orange coolant fluid is okay, while a rusty or milky color indicates a problem. And if you spot any green-ish stains on the outside of the radiator reservoir, you can be almost certain that there’s a leak, unless someone recently topped the fluid and accidentally spilled some outside the fill cap.


4. Check the Condition Underneath the Van

You’ll have to either lift the vehicle with the necessary equipment or just spread an old blanket or jacket on the ground and perform the following inspections:

  • Fluid leaks – Grab a flashlight and look beneath the engine for any signs of oil, fuel, coolant, or other fluid leaks. The only leak that’s normal is when clear water drips beneath the van, which is usually condensed water from the air-con that appears during hot days.
  • Frame and structure – Check for any dents in the fuel tank or floor pan and if the frame has been welded. All of this suggests past damage, while a fresh undercoating may indicate a way to hide any signs of past accidents.
  • Tailpipe – Check the tailpipe for any signs of black and greasy residue that indicate burnt oil. Although some rust is considered normal, too much of it means you’ll need to replace the exhaust system.
  • Constant-velocity-joint boots – Look for any leaking grease, which points to worn CV joints. The constant-velocity-joint boots are located at the ends of the axle shafts, and they look like black, round rubber bellows.


5. Go for a Test Drive

You can’t possibly buy a used van without trying it first to make sure that the vehicle is actually driveable.

Try to listen for any clicking and tapping sounds when you start the engine, as this may indicate engine issues.

Also, applying the brakes shouldn’t produce any weird noises or pull the van to one side.

And don’t forget to listen for any squeaky or unusual sounds when fully turning the wheel from one side to the other.


6. Take it to a Competent Mechanic

Before you finalize the deal, make sure to take the van to a qualified mechanic or an auto repair shop.

Most salespersons or private sellers shouldn’t have a problem with this, but it’d be a huge red flag if they refuse to let a competent person inspect the car.

Generally, you should expect to shell out around $100-$150 for a proper mechanic to perform a thorough inspection and diagnosis of the vehicle’s condition.

Make sure to get a written report of the inspection that includes any parts that need to be replaced with the corresponding prices.

The report will be helpful to persuade the seller to bring the price down.



Buying a brand new van definitely has many positives to it, but it still has some drawbacks as well.

On one hand, you have a shiny new van that’s in stellar condition, has a manufacturer warranty, and all the latest bells and whistles.

But on the other, you’ll be facing a very steep initial purchase cost accompanied by expensive insurance and super fast depreciation.

That’s why some people still prefer going to the used van market where you can still find a real bargain, although any used vehicle comes with some unknowns.

Eventually, choosing between a brand new or used van boils down to your budget and personal needs.