10 Things to Check Before Buying a Used Van

So you're ready to buy a van. But how do you know if your getting a good deal or buying a junker? What should you check?

In this guide we are going to talk about the 10 most important things to check before buying a van.

1. Vehicle History Report

One of the very first things to check before even looking at the vehicle itself is the vehicle history report also known as the Carfax report. All you need in the VIN number and you can use websites like Carfax, AutoCheck, or Vehicle History to get the inside scoop or find out information that may be kept from you by the seller. This can include past damage or salvage titles, number of previous owners, last reported mileage, and more helpful information.


2. Odometer

I'm sure you've heard the phrase "It's not the age, it's the mileage." Well when it comes to vehicles that couldn't be more true. Over time and extended use parts begin to wear and break down. The higher the mileage the more wear and tear you can expect. Now, high mileage doesn't always indicate vehicle condition. If a vehicle is regularly maintained and repaired early and often some models can reach 200,000 or even 300,000 miles. Often times though, vans that have accumulated 170,000 to 200,000 miles will have issues that need to be addressed before being reliable enough for long distance travel.


3. Fluid Levels

The first thing to check when you pop the hood is the engine oil, transmission fluid, and coolant levels. If any of these are low it could indicate further issues or a neglectful owner. While checking these take a look at the fluid itself. Engine oil that is very dark and runny hasn't been changed in awhile. Transmission fluid should look light colored with a pinkish hue. If its dark, has shiny metal flakes in it, or smells burnt that is a good indicator that the transmission has a problem.


4. Tires

It's good practice to check the tires. If the treads are quite worn and you know they will need to be replaced it may help you talk down the price. As far as safety is concerned a tire that has a bulge or very low tread may be unsafe to drive until the tires are replaced. In the United States, tire tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch. New tires typically come with 10/32‚ or 11/32‚ tread depths, and some truck, SUV and winter tires may have deeper tread depths than other models. The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends replacing tires when they reach 2/32, and many states legally require tires to be replaced at this depth. An easy way to test tread height is the penny method. It's simple, if you place a penny with Lincolns head downward between the tread and you can see his entire head then the tire needs to be replaced.

5. Leaks

If the vehicle hasn't moved in awhile check underneath for any pools or damp areas on the ground. This may indicate a leak. To verify, look directly above that area and look for a drip or drop hanging underneath anywhere. Feel the area for good measure. If your hand comes back wet you can look at the color and smell it to determine what it is. Another consideration is door and window seals. Over time these can degrade and allow water to leak in. During a rainy season this can wreak havoc on your interior and cause water damage to the floor, cabinetry, and other woodwork. If you can, take the van through a car wash or test with a water hose to find leaks.

6. Rust

While your underneath check for rust. This is especially important if you live in an area with heavy snowfall. This is because the DOT puts down salt on the road after snowfall to help melt the ice for safer travel. The downside is that the salt also acts as a catalyst for rust and corrosion. Areas to check include wheel wells, leaf springs, tie rods, frame, and under body of the floor. Often times carpeting or flooring covers rust spots and holes so you wont see it on the inside.

7. Startup

Make sure to start the vehicle yourself. If the owner meets you in a public lot it may already be running so turn it off and start it up. How it starts up can tell a lot about it's condition. Multiple attempts to start, uneven idle at first, and sputtering are a few things to listen for.

8. Brakes

Obviously brakes are super important! When driving the vehicle pay attention to pedal pressure. If the brakes feel "soft" or you can push the pedal all the way to the floor then the brake fluid may be low or there could be air in the line. You should also check the brake pads if you can. You will have to remove a tire to do this but pads that wear too thin can be dangerous.

9. Steering & Controls

Though not usually an issue it's a good idea to check. Check this by driving and fully letting go of the steering wheel for just a quick moment. If the vehicle veers aggressively right or left it may need an alignment. Next, test all the internal controls. These include heat and A/C, fan speed control, windows, windshield wipers, headlights, blinkers, hazard lights, and radio. Also pay close attention the the instrument cluster both before you drive and during. You should be checking for anything in the red or anything that looks out of the norm. These include oil pressure, engine temperature, voltage, and others.

10. Look for Clues

While your checking out the vehicle pay attention to the little details. Look to see if extra bottles of oil, coolant, or transmission fluid are kept in the vehicle. This could mean the owner is just prepared but more likely is that if they keep it on hand then the vehicle uses it often. For example, if the engine burns through oil then the seller probably keeps an extra bottle in the vehicle to top it off regularly. Other things to look for include extra fuses, light bulbs, or other miscellaneous items. Again this could mean that the vehicle periodically needs these parts replaced. These may or not be major concern but it's something to keep in mind.

Mechanics Inspection

If you aren't familiar with cars or don't feel confident in checking these things it's a good idea to have a good mechanic check it over for you. The seller will normally allow this but if they don't there may be something they don't want you to know about. Having a professional inspection will give you peace of mind knowing exactly what kind of vehicle your getting. Hopefully this guide has helped you have a better understanding of what to look for as you check out different vehicles. For more helpful guides like this one check out our Guides Page!

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