First off, congratulations! You've taken the first step in your journey. Finding a potential van, one your willing to enjoy both the highs and lows in, is the most important step. This guide will enable you to have a head start in your search. Giving you the tools and knowledge to better decide between any vehicle you plan on purchasing. Good luck on your adventures!
1. Key Google Searches and Kelly Blue Book
Any vehicle ever built has common faults, all of which can be conveniently found with a quick google search of common issues. This will bring up issues, fixes, and recalls ones you can use to negotiate on the price with. All vehicles have a 16-digit alphanumeric code unique to every car that you can insert into the linked website below giving you a history of any vehicle you search. A mini-background check of your potential home, there are paid options as well that provide more detail. Also familiarize yourself with forums of the vehicle you buy, they hold critical information about general remarks from owners around the world. The second convenient google search is using the Kelly Blue Book website, allowing you to approximate the value of a vehicle. Using the year, make, mileage and options allow the website to give you a range of the value of the vehicle. Most sellers use this as a gauge of their vehicles worth, and it gives a good base to judge how great of a deal a buy is.
2. Ask The Seller Questions
Helpful questions to ask are:
"What are normal noises does the car make? How have they gotten worse over time?" This lets your seller know you understand no car is perfect, let them know it! This understanding is crucial in any sale, otherwise, sellers may feel they have to lie in order to not scare off a potential buyer. If the response is slow, or they claim none exist, most likely they are hiding information or they just don't know. Either way it's a warning sign that the seller isn't knowledgeable about the car he is selling you, for whatever reason. "What needs to be repaired? Can you show me where it is located?" Assuming a problem gives the opportunity for the seller to show his knowledge of his own car. With your newfound common ground, the seller will more willingly point out places of errors. Plus you'll be more familiar with the layout of the vehicle as you get a tour of its problem areas. "How long have you owned the vehicle?" - Asking this question after time has passed since you asked about noises is really important. The response of the seller will be easy to gauge for truth. If he answered with hesitation or insufficiently to the first question you can catch him off-guard with this question. If all goes well you can use the question as an excellent segway into asking about the memories he has made in the vehicle. Learning more about the history of the van, the seller, and becoming more trusting of the seller you are interacting with. "What did you use the car for?" - You'll see how trusting the seller was of the vehicle, especially if it was a daily driver. And if it is you can inquire about what he is replacing it with and why. <LINK TO MORE COMMON QUESTIONS TO ASK
3. The Infamous Test Drive
There is only so much you can get from indirect communication, eventually, you need to get yourself behind the driver's seat. Once you are situated behind the driver seat there are common checks that you can do to determine the health of the vehicle. Turn in a figure-8 in order to check the power steering from lock to lock. Accelerate from 0-60mph, sustain above 60mph speeds in order to check temperatures, and decelerate from 60-0mph, both mildly aggressively since in an emergency situation you will need to push the limits. Other techniques you can use when test driving can be found on our test drive guide, the link is below.
After you have test drove the vehicle, or before, make sure you test the interior buttons. AC, heat, windows, power locks, doors, seat adjustment knobs, anything, and everything! Now is the first and last time you'll be able to use it to your advantage. After today it will only be a nuisance, so be vigilant. Even if it annoys your seller, if you think your going "too far" do it anyways. <LINK TO YOUTUBE USED CAR INSPECTION GUIDE
4. Seek Expert Advice
I HIGHLY recommend seeking a mobile mechanic or meeting at a local shop for them to check the vehicle on a lift. Once completed they can provide you with an estimate of all repairs the vehicle will need, and you can use these to negotiate to your advantage. Calling around you can find the best price for a check, this small investment in a check now will save you from major headaches down the line.
If you like to save money on mechanic bills that charge $100/hr in labor. I recommend using YouTube to find any step by step repair guides. ChrisFixIt, EricTheCarGuy, and ScottKilmer are great YouTubers who have channels dedicated to saving you money on repairs, showing you what tools you need, and how to complete the repair yourself. As you travel you'll need some level of mechanical ability as it'll help with blow-outs and roadside fixes.
5. Time Is On Your Side
The longer a vehicle is posted online, the more willing the seller is to negotiate on the price. With that said, no price is ever firm. I recommend looking at vehicles that are up to a thousand dollars out of your price range, you may get lucky and find someone who needs the cash more than you need their vehicle. As the buyer the power is all in your hands, you make the final choice of yes or no. Cash is King, and it gives you incredible leverage in any negotiation.
6. Knowledge Is Power
The more you learn about your specific vehicle, or any part of the buying process will make deciding easier. I recommend finding what type of vehicle you want to purchase, find vehicles that are similar to your preferred, and look at the cost of maintenance for each. The Vanual provides a guide to choosing what van is right for you, and can be a great resource for the pros/cons of all rig types. No matter what vehicle you decide on, familiarize yourself with what others have written about it. Look for reviews and complaints your fellow van dwellers have had with it.
7. Let It Be!
Not every van you come upon will end with a purchase. It may seem annoying, but every vehicle you go through the steps will give you better knowledge for the next. Making it easier to spot issues and feel for the one that is just right for you. You never know, the next van on the market may be your new home. :) If you enjoyed ‚ 7 Tips When Buying Your First Van‚ check out more of our stories and helpful guides.