Buying a van – How difficult is this? (#vanlife FAIL!)

20th Jun 2023 by

You’ve all seen the creamy Instagram #vanlife photos – I was hoping to join this way of life – and indeed had been preparing for it for some time. All I had to do now was buy a vehicle… How hard could it be?

Car camping, Van life, taking a vehicle on the open road to travel freely – sounds amazing doesn’t it? Just gotta buy a motor – turns out that’s a bit harder than you’d think…

This is the story of my search for a vehicle that I wanted to use for travel, accommodation and to take me to several festivals this summer…

I’ve been thinking about doing this for years. Right at the start of my travels, I lived out of the back of a saloon car for two weeks in Alaska, I’ve driven converted vans around New Zealand and Portugal and I’ve been on more road trips than you can shake a stick at.

I love being on the road!

I started out thinking I wanted a big car, like an estate car or a People Carrier. I looked for weeks on end at Ford Galaxys, Subaru Outbacks and even Skoda Superbs – but they weren’t superb and I decided that I wanted to have more room.

My two-week trip in this car-camper in NZ was amazing, but not being able to sit up in bed every morning became a real drag.

So, cars were out, vans were in!

Right, what vans are there? This should be simple enough… Wrong! SWB, MWB, LWB, how many seats? FWD RWD 4WD? H1 H2 H3? Windows in the back or not? What manufacturer? Ford, VW, Mercedes, Vauxhall – Oooh the Vivaro looks nice – what’s that? It’s basically exactly the same van as the Renault Traffic and the Nissan Primastar!???

This is getting complicated!

Did I want it completely converted, a basic conversion, just clean and tidy or looking like a workman had just finished their last shift and tossed the keys my way – because all of these were options?

I’m not ashamed to say that I was seriously overwhelmed.

I had to start making some decisions to narrow down the field. What was important to me?

Reflecting on my previous adventures, I realised that some of the best times were the ones when I was travelling with others. So, with that in mind, and the notion that more is better, I wanted at least three seats – Team road trips are mega and I didn’t want to limit myself to just one passenger.

So, I started to view some vans, just to get an idea of what was out there, what it felt like to sit in them, what the sellers were like, could I do a wall-sit in the back (this was a test to see if I could sit up in bed…) And I found out SO MUCH!

Prices can vary – A LOT! People testing the market during the HOT season.

The same van for the same mileage in the same year and in the same condition could be different in price for as much as a thousand pounds!  – and when my budget was 3 to 5 grand, that’s a big difference.

I was using Autotrader for my search which led me to a lot of ‘dealerships’ – Now let me tell you, van dealerships are very different to Car dealerships – certainly at my price point. There are no signs out front, no comfy sales office, no prices in the windscreens and the vans are often unwashed and the sales techniques can be a little…. questionable –

I visited one yard where I disliked and distrusted the person immediately and my opinion of him got steadily worse whilst I was there… I wouldn’t have taken a van from this guy if he was giving them away.

Feeling a little disheartened and having seen a few YouTubers raving about Overlanding I had a brief dalliance with getting a 4×4 – like a Discovery or a Land Cruiser – but that soon ended as it was likely the vast majority of my driving would be on tarmac.

So, back to the vans, as mentioned before I was really liking the look of the Vauxhall Vivaro or Renault Traffic or Nissan Primastar so started to look at some of those. They look magic from the outside – gorgeous even – but the cabin is just bleurgh, and the dashboard looks at the same time futuristic but incredibly basic – ugly.

I pretended I could live with it for a little while, but in truth I couldn’t – I’d be spending a lot of time in the cab and I wanted to, well, I didn’t need to love it, but I certainly didn’t want to hate it either…

So, I knew roughly what I wanted, plenty of things that I didn’t, I just needed to watch the market closely and make the jump. I tried Ebay for a while, but the UI and search capabilities of Facebook Marketplace won me over.

You can save listings, see them all together, compare, check when they were first listed and if the price has gone down – it was just a really good way to follow a fast-moving market.

I watched for a week or so, earmarking many vans – and sadly, watching some of my favourites get snapped up very quickly.

It was time. I had the money. I knew what I wanted. I’d done all the prep, so I booked in to view a load of vans that I had a genuine interest in buying.

I looked at a couple of Transits and another Vivaro (just to check that I couldn’t live with the cabin – I couldn’t) before finding another Transit which had a simple conversion completed and had been used to travel ad-hoc around Europe for the last three years alternating between ski resorts and surf beaches…

This sounded like the one for me. It was a little high on mileage but it had a good service record and many of those miles were done on motorways. I liked the people and I liked that the van already had a story for me to add to…

Following a test-drive, a last look around and a short negotiation, I’d bought my new van. My new wheels. My new life.

Have you bought a van? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below – and while you’re down there – give this video a thumbs up and y’know, maybe subscribe if you haven’t already.

And come and join me in the next episode where I’ll show you the new van and my first day in her!

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