Car Mechanics (UK)
Buying a cheap van
If you’re working on cars, it’s very useful to have a cheap and serviceable van at your disposal. Craig Cheetham explains the advantages of having a van for the weekend.
According to the latest Sustainability Survey from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the average age at which a car is scrapped is just over 13 years old. Most vans, on the other hand, are lucky to last beyond their 10th birthday. It’s no surprise, really. Every new van sold in the UK is bought as a workhorse, whereas many cars are luxury or limited-use purchases that cover a far lower mileage and are usually treated far better.
That doesn’t mean that old or cheap vans don’t exist. Many of them lead long and productive lives with independent businesses, sole traders or private owners who just need something with a bit of useful load space. The challenge is finding one that hasn’t been run into the ground and knowing what to look for. Often, the best choice is not the obvious one.
As someone with a long-term property renovation on my hands, along with a sizeable fleet of vehicles that often need fettling and a garden in the process of being redesigned, there are many times over the past 12 months that I’ve found myself in need of a van. So I went out and bought one. It’s an oddball machine that was never a huge seller in the UK and was always considered average at best, but in
cheap used vehicle terms the rulebook often goes out of the window in favour of overall usefulness and condition.
My Nissan Vanette Cargo is the slowest vehicle I’ve ever owned but, in a year of ownership, it has ferried a Chesterfield sofa, a tree stump, a Rover L-series diesel engine and gearbox, and three mountain bikes, plus several loads of junk to car boot sales, all without missing a beat. Hiring vans to perform the same jobs would have cost me a lot more than the £600 I paid for the Vanette. It’s still worth every penny I paid for it because there comes a point when all vans stop depreciating and sell on condition alone – largely those that have got past their 10th birthday and have fallen into private ownership, where much lower annual mileages and less heavy duty work apply.
My Vanette, for example, started its life as a rental vehicle. By the time of its first MOT in 2005, it had covered 52,000 miles. It has now covered just 90,000 and spent most of its middle years in the hands of an amateur beekeeper, who mostly used it for buzzing around. It then went to a dirt bike enthusiast, who used it for transporting his scramblers at weekends, before I bought it to assist in a major furniture moving project last summer.
Knowing its history is often the key to picking up a decent used van. If you can detect a pattern of light use, which is often easy to establish from the van’s external condition and the cleanliness of its cabin, chances are there’s still plenty of life left in it.
Here, then, is CM’S Top 10 sub-£1500 vans for the weekend, from which the UK’S best-seller, the Ford Transit panel van, is conspicuous by its absence. That’s not to denigrate its ability in any way whatsoever – it’s simply because good secondhand ones are practically unobtainable as they get worked and driven so hard.