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.

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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.

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 ??  ?? Craig’s £600 Vanette scrubs up quite nicely for a 17-year old van – it spent most of its life trans­port­ing bees and scram­bler bikes.
Craig’s £600 Vanette scrubs up quite nicely for a 17-year old van – it spent most of its life trans­port­ing bees and scram­bler bikes.
 ??  ?? This is why a van is use­ful – car parts and tools are its nor­mal cargo!
This is why a van is use­ful – car parts and tools are its nor­mal cargo!
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