What to Look For When Buying a Used Van


When buying a used van it's important to do plenty of research, not only about different van models but about the specific van that you've found to make sure that it suits your needs and is up to the right standard.

Our guide will take you through what to look for when buying a used van and some useful tools that are available to make it easier for you to check a van over.

Vehicle History Check

Checking the van's history is one of the most important parts of purchasing a used van as you can see in plain writing all aspects of a vehicle, including the parts that a potential seller may not want to focus on.

The Government DVLA website offers a free checking service as long as you have the registration plate for the van you're considering. From here, it will tell you a plethora information including: the current tax rate and when it expires, SORN status, it's MOT date, the date it was first registered, last V5C issue date, type approval category, weight, engine size, fuel type, and emissions.

All of these are incredibly useful to know but will also aid you when you look at insurance quotes as you'll know the exact details of the vehicle.

Service History

Service history is important to know as it will let you know if the van has been regularly maintained by previous owners.

If the service book is available when you view the van in person it's the easiest way to check if it has a full service history and by which garage. If it isn't there, make sure to ask the seller or the dealer to see it as they may have it stored safely with other paperwork for the vehicle.

If there's no history available for you to see on the vehicle (unless it hasn't reached it's first service interval) then it should raise red flags and you should question this fully.

A van's service history is essentially it's health record and a 4 year old second hand van with no service record could secretly be hiding several issues.

MOT History

The MOT history is the other part of a vehicle's history that's important. Unlike a service history this can be checked online through the DVLA website as long as you have the registration number.

This will highlight all previous MOT tests and show you the date, the mileage, and any faults that were picked up by the tester. The website will also let you check if there are any outstanding vehicle recalls on the model which comes directly from the manufacturer.

The mileage is important to note here and check against the current mileage shown when you view the van in person as you can check to see if it's been tampered with or if there are any irregularities. For example if it shows 20,000 miles at it's last MOT test but you see it and it shows that it only has 10,000.

The other important thing you can take from it's MOT history is any issues that the car has. This will include where it has previously failed an MOT test and what for, as well as any advisory work that should be undertaken. This will allow you to decide if you're likely to need to spend additional money in its first year to keep it healthy or to get it through its next test.

Inspect the Van

When you actually see the van in person there will be several things for you to check over to make sure that it's as advertised but also suitable for your business.

There are several things that you should include in your vehicle inspection:


When you're checking the exterior of the van you'll want to make note of any considerable damage to the bodywork as it could then be indicative of damage to other parts of the vehicle. You'll also want to check for rust, particularly on the wings, sills, below the bumpers, wheel arches, and around the door frame.

This can be harmless but if it sounds like it's cracking when you gently press on it, it may indicate that there is corrosion and rust in certain places can also be an MOT failure.

Check that all doors open and close and lock correctly, particularly in a panel van that has a sliding side door. You want to make sure that your belongings are going to be secure when you're not around and that you don't need to do acrobatics to get all the doors closed properly.

Take time to check the fuel cap too to make sure it's secure, there's no damage, and that it's the type of fuel that you've been led to believe. If you've been told it's a petrol van make sure it definitely is!


Have the seller test all of the lights whilst you walk around the car to make sure that they are all in working order. This will also give you an overall idea of the condition of the van's electrics as if any of the lights don't appear to be working correctly it could translate to other functions not working too.

Aside from this it'll also highlight any bulbs that may need replaced and you can save yourself the cost of having to do replace them.


As the tyres are the only part of the vehicle that have direct contact with the road, it's important to check that these are safe for you to drive on. The legal limit for tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm, anything less is unsuitable to be driven.

As well as the depth you'll want to check the sidewalls and the overall wear of the tyre itself. The sidewalls should be free from bulges and damage and if the wear is uneven it suggest issues with the steering, tracking, or suspension.


An easy way to check the condition of the van's suspension is to push down hard on each corner of the vehicle so that you can see how it bounces back. If it bounces once and then returns to normal then there's no cause for concern for the suspension itself or the shock absorbers. If it continues to bounce further then it could show that there's an underlying issue.

Air Conditioning

If the van has a heater and air conditioning system then you must test it to check that it's all in working order. You should be able to operate the van on all speeds and in all configurations and it shouldn't be too noisy.

Test Drive

Before you come to view the van you should make it clear that you'd like to test drive the van with the engine running from cold. This is because an engine that is already warm may hide potential issues. This also gives you a chance to hear if there are any strange noises when it's started up and also how it responds to acceleration.

Once you've started the engine take a step back out and check the exhaust to make sure there's iffy looking smoke coming from it. White smoke is usually steam that disappears once the engine is warm and some black smoke will be this too as its usually excess fuel being burned to get you going.

Anything other than this, i.e. blue smoke or black smoke that doesn't stop, is an issue that you should raise with the seller and ask about how its going to be repaired.

Test driving lets you see the van in action. It will highlight any warning lights and noises such as knocking or squeaking that you can query when you return. The steering wheel should feel responsive and not like you're having to correct it from steering one way or the other.

Don't forget to check that you're getting the correct van insurance, especially if you're planning to drive away the same day, and ask for any additional details that you would need to tell the insurance provider.

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Used vans are a great way to save money thanks to their reduced price but they carry the danger of there being issues with their overall health due to having already run thousands of miles. Knowing what to look for and researching the vehicle before agreeing the final purchase is crucial to make sure that you're not purchasing a money pit.

Our knowledgeable and friendly team at Clark Commercials are always on hand to help you with any further questions and to show you our latest stock.

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