Buying A Used Van For VanLife... A Complete Beginners Guide & Checklist.

Hi everybody, so one thing that all van lifers have in common is that we all have vans however for the majority of people starting out with van life they will have never owned a van before so choosing and buying a decent van to start their journey with can be quite stressful and confusing.

With the prices of vans being so high at the moment the stakes have never been so high either so if you buy the wrong van and it turns out to be a money pit you will be thousands of pounds down and very disappointed.

Don't worry, we have your back as usual and have decided to put together a quick no nonsense beginners guide to buying a van so easy to follow that by then end of it you will be able to spot a Lemon from 1000 yards.

We will also add a downloadable & printable check list that you can take with you to view a van so you don't forget anything important and we will add some questions to it that you should ask the seller. Ok thats enough chit chat

Here it is.... Buying A Van For VanLife... A Complete Beginners Guide & Checklist.

By the way sorry if this post seems all doom and gloom but that's the point of it, it is to help you identify problems easily so you don't get stung by anybody pursuing your dreams haha. I just though I would just point that out. Hopefully by the end of the post you will be able to see past anything anybody can throw at you.



Once you have found a van you like the look of there are a few bits and pieces you can do before you even go to view the van.

Before you get excited and fly out the door it is best to do some online checks on the vehicle and it's history. There are some very untrustworthy people out there and even more so when it comes to selling vehicles.

So first you should do some online checks for...


The first thing you are going to want to check if the van has a current MOT, IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA AT ALL TO BUY A VAN COMING TO THE END OF ITS MOT.

If somebody is selling a van toward the end of its MOT there is a good chance that they know that it will not pass without a lot of money being spent on it. A van is worth so much more with an MOT than without one so anybody with any business sense at all would put a decent van through its MOT before selling it to get more money. If it has a short MOT and you don not have any money to spend to get it through walk away.

You should also take a look online at the vans current MOT to see if there was any advisories that weren't serious enough to fail the van at that point but probably will be by the time it comes around again.

Another thing you can check online is the mileage that was recorded at the last MOT test, you are going to want to take a note of this for when you go to view the van. If it is lower than it was at the last MOT test... Walk away

To find out how long the MOT has left, any advisories from the last MOT test and the last recorded mileage all you will need is the van registration number and you can do it by following the PINK link below...


For no other reason than a van without tax is illegal on the road, if it does not have tax or it is sorn then you are at fault even though you are just on a test drive. If it is illegal on the road then you can't test drive it and the NUMBER 1 RULE for buying a used van or car is never buy without test driving it first.

To see if the van has tax and lots of other helpful details like how much your tax will cost, the vans weight, type approval, emissions etc etc please follow the PINK link below...


Although it's not free another check you should do before buying a vehicle is a history check. This will tell you a few very important details that you should never buy a vehicle without knowing however as I just mentioned this check isn't free so you might want to save it until you have seen the van and are interested in buying it.

There are a few companies that will do a full history test for you but i always just use the AA


Checking the value of the van couldn't be easier, just follow the link below and fill in a few simple details and it will give you a value


This is one of the most important things to pay attention to, if you want to skip a few bits that's fine but make sure you don't skip this. Engines/vans will show different cold than they will warm. So it is important that you see the van when the engine is cold and then test drive it until the engine gets up to temp so you can see it cold when you get there and see it warm before you leave. We will cover this more in the test driving section further below.

Make sure the seller knows you want to see it cold before you leave because they might have been driving it etc so you will need to make sure it is a suitable time for you both.

To make sure it is cold when you arrive touch the bonnet and you will soon know. Anybody that tries to stop you viewing and driving the van whilst the engine is cold is most likely trying to hide something.


There are a few questions you should ask the seller before setting off that might save you a wasted trip.

First does it have V5C (log book) if they don't have the full V5C walk away or tell them to get one and you will come back if they do. A little green slip is not good enough it needs to be the FULL A3 piece of paper that folds into A4 size. If it is just the little green slip the could be stolen, written off or under a finance agreement.


Although this is a common thing and police will normally be sympathetic and not arrest you for handling stolen goods.

Next ask when the timing belt was last changed and when it is due, if it is very close to needing to be done then this will cost you quite a lot of money to do. If you are spending all of your money on a van then you don't want expensive repairs to think about straight away. So depending on wether you have taken things like this into account and have a budget for it if it is close to needing to be changed I would walk away.

You can google the van you are looking at and see how often it is meant to be changed and look at the milage of the van to get some idea of this. For example a 2014 Movano needs its timing belt changed every 75,000 miles so if you were looking at one with 70,000 miles on the clock then you are due an expensive timing belt change in less than a year.

Another thing that you really don't want to buy a van without is a service history so ask if it has one and ideally you want a full service history with receipts etc so you can see any work that has been done since it was registered so you know it has been well looked after. If it hasn't got a full service history saying it was serviced once a year or every 12,000 miles then there is a good chance that the van has not been looked after well at all and probably not a good option for a mobile house. If the service history book is missing a few years at the end of it I would walk away again as it hasn't been looked after recently so it is probably on its third owner by now, however...

If you are taking the budget van budget build route there is a good chance that your van will not have a full service history, if this is you please pay extra attention to the checks below as the older the van the more likely they are to have problems, the cheaper the van the more problems it is likely to have problems etc so you need to know what they are and how hard they are to fix.

Find out what the van has been used for... The reason for this is it will make a huge difference to the condition of the van and the engine.

For example a 2016 Ford Transit Custom with 100,000 miles on the clock that has been used solely to transport boxes of crisps by walkers from their factory in Leicester up the M1 to Gary Linekers secret storage facility in Leeds. This van would be in a very good condition and even though 100,000 miles sounds a lot the miles would be pretty much all motorway miles and because of the light cargo there will have been no real strain put on the engine, gearbox or anything else.

Another thing you will know is that it will have been very well looked after as Walkers are a huge company and would (in this example) have service contracts with Ford, so not only will it be a full service history it will be a full manufacturers service history and that is the top trump for used vans. And finally because we know the make and model we can check the timing belt change interval and on a Ford Transit Custom we can see that there is still another 50,000 miles to go before you need to pay to get it done.

Another example would be a 2016 Vauxhall Vivaro with 80,000 miles on the clock that has been used solely to to transport heavy paving slabs and bricks around in London traffic all day every day by Dave the local drive way cowboy would have had to work hard for at east of of the journeys on the way to jobs as Dave is a cowboy who does't like to play by the rules and overloads his van regularly to save an extra trip in London traffic. This will but extra stress and strain on the van and in some circumstance too much extra stress that some parts on your van are not made for and they will fail very quickly. Not only will things fail quicker on this example the condition of the inside of the van front and back will most likely not be quite bad too. Dents, scratches, and rust patches in the cargo area are very likely.

Unlike the example above a full service history for this van will be very unlikely as Dave has some mechanical skills and is more than capable of changing his own oil and filter at home by himself because after all money doesn't grow on trees. And finally the timing belt needs to be changed every 72,000 miles and this van is 80,000 miles. This is good right it has only just been changed 8,000 miles ago... Wrong this is beyond DIY Dave and his skills so it is actually 8,000 miles overdue a timing belt change, he probably got the quote to get it done and decide to get every mile that he could out of it then sell it to get a new one. Because let's face it who would pay that much money for a timing belt change and then sells it pretty much straight away? Only big companies!


Even though you will only be test driving the van for a short amount of time you still need to be insured to drive it on the road. There are some special insurance policies that will allow the driver to drive any vehicle at any time but for the vast majority of you the insurance policy you already have for your car will not cover you.

You could ring up your current insurance company and get them to add temporary cover to drive the van for an hour or a day etc and that might be the easiest solution.

You can also get cheap temporary cover for specific reasons just like this by follow the links below...


Don't worry it will all be on our checklist...



When you arrive to view the van it is time to start checking it out straight away, the first thing you should look for is patches of oil on the floor under the van or near to where it is parked. Lots of things can cause an oil leak including expensive things like a cracked head, worn gaskets, cracked sump etc these will all cost a lot of money so any signs of an oil leak is a bad sign. It could be something simple and cheap too but it will cost you money to find out and fix either way.


Next thing to take a look at is the body work including the roof for any dents, bumps, scrapes, scratches etc. these are just mainly cosmetic really and is personal preference wether you can live with it not not however any bare metal showing on the van from a rust or a scratch will soon turn rusty if not treated and painted ASAP and this can turn into a full new paint job for your van wether you have to take the time to do it yourself or pay a professional to do it for you this might be a deal breaker for you. If it is walk away.


Check for any rust as rust is the beginning of the end for a van and we would never recommend converting a van with any rust on it anywhere. If you can only afford a van that has rust in places then you will need to spend the time sorting the rust out before you start the conversion and this will involve decent welding skills or a large bill from a professional.

Not only is rust not idea but enough rust in the wrong places will make your van fail its MOT as it will not be safe to use on the road. if you do not have the time or money to fix a rusty van it would be best to walk away. Check inside and outside of wheel arches and the sills (under the van along the side) as these are very common places and once they go it will cost a fortune to fix. Rusty sills and wheel arches = walk way


Next thing to check is in our opinion one of the most important things on your van and that is the tyres. Tyres propel you and your family along the roads at up to 70 mph these should be in perfect condition at all times. This means tread, pressure, tyre walls and anything else.

First of all you are about to test drive this vehicle that you have never seen before in your life so you want it to be safe but also tyre pressures over 10 psi below the limit and low tread can get you points on your licence wether you are just test driving the vehicle or not, nobody wants that. Tyre pressures could be sorted on the spot with a pump but tread depth can't. So I would walk away you can not legally test drive it and you never buy a van without test driving it.

This is what a tyre 10psi under pressure looks like...

AA Car Tyre Safety Kit - Tyre Pressure Gauge & Tyre Depth Gauge

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Check the walls of the tyres too, if the outside wall has and cracks or bumps/lumps in it it is pretty much a death trap, if the inside wall is worn and you can see or feel white threads or worse metal wire it is a death trap... walk away do not test drive unless they replace the tyres.

Check the tyres are wearing evenly, by this we mean each tyre has even wear all the way around as sometimes if it is wearing unevenly he wear pattern can tell you what needs fixing. Some of the time it is due to wrong tyre pressures and is easily fixed at home but sometimes can be tracking or suspension and then that costs money. None of these would be a deal breaker for me however if you don't have a budget to fix it it could be a deal breaker for you.


Another thing you should test is the suspension system to see if your shock absorbers and struts are in a good condition, you do this by pushing down on each corner of the van (this requires some strength) if everything is working as it should be the corner should literally bounce once back to its normal position. You will get another chance to check out the suspension on the test drive.

Bad suspension is not a complete deal breaker as it is not a hard job to get done and compared to a lot of other problems it isn't that expensive to fix however it will still cost money.


Don't forget to check that the number plate and VIN number match what you found on your pre viewing vehicle checks...

You can find this on the dashboard somewhere and should be visible from the outside of the van by looking through the windscreen.



Take the lid off and look for any oil in the fluid even any rainbow patterns that happen when a little bit of oil is present. This is a sign that there is something seriously wrong like a cracked head or a failed head gasket. both will cost you quite a lot of money to fix so I would walk away.

Also check the coolant level, if it is low there could be a leak in the coolant system SOMEWHERE but it will cost you money to pin point it and fix it.

This is another reason you should only view a van when the engine is cold, if the engine is hot DO NOT open the lid on the coolant or you will quickly regret it.


First check the level, there should be a maximum and minimum lever and the oil should sit somewhere in between both, if the van has been well looked after it will most likely be spot on the maximum. If the level is low this could mean it is burning or loosing oil somewhere, if it is high it could mean the same and just been topped up incorrectly.