Buying a van

I’ve bought 3 cars in the last two years. All of them became our vans somehow. I’ve made several mistakes and making them again. The reason is quite simple. Buying a car is a quite an emotional deal which precedes quite a lot frustration, searching on the web, calling and not really knowing what is going to pop up between ads. If you go to buy a new car then it’s probably different but I’m not there yet.

I have a quite Czech perspective in this article but I believe that the general tips could apply anywhere.

Car guys

Trust me or not but these guys are tricky. The car market is full of traffickers that polish a car just for sale and you don’t really know anything about history. My experience is not to trust anyone because they cheat you somehow and you have to somehow accept it because it’s how the market work with used cars. It’s pretty similar to car repair shops. The Top Servis was repairing our Webasto heater and the mechanic crashed our red VW. Quite scary experience how do they deal with that. Police were included… However, I still believe that I’m going to find a mechanic which is going to be open, precise and reliable because cheat me seems to be easy.

You don’t buy a car. You buy a ticket for the lottery. Jiri Sekera

How to eliminate failure while buying a car?

Rule no. 1 – Make clear what car you want

This is a tricky one because there are several perspectives on how to approach it. Variables as price, engine, space, manufacturer and others can make a nice mess in your head.

Our first van was VW Caddy where I was looking for a car around 100 – 120k CZK (€4500 | $5200 approx.). I don’t remember how we decided for Caddy but the price selection wasn’t that smart because it limited on looking at the cheapest cars. There is usually something wrong because that person wants to get rid of it.

We knew that we need a bigger car after the first season. VW Caddy was great and we never end up somewhere but when it was a sleeping car not really a van for daily life. So I started looking for something like VW Transporter or Mercedes Vito or anything similar to that. That was a mess. So many manufacturers, so many combinations and I didn’t know anything. I felt strange to pain more for an older car in comparing with VW Caddy but this is how VW California brand works… I’ve bought a car that I first refused because it seemed to be a great deal which could make us travelling and camping straight ahead. This red one was a hard school during the last 10 months. However, it accelerates my knowledge somewhere else.

I was standing between a decision to invest another $5000 or even more into body replacement or selling underprice and moving to something different. I decided to sell and choose something new.

This time I use a designer approach with collecting needs before a choosing one.

Our goal is to have a home on 4 wheels in which we can travel, live and work together with our must-have belongings. It must be an everyday car with a maximal height under 2 meters because I like to stay in parking houses after a few robberies. The car has to give us a certain comfort on a highway, in the steep mountain roads and I don’t want to experience the scary feeling what is going to be fucked up us next week. All wheels in motion are nice but not necessary and I could easily continue…

I’ve decided to divide these needs into must have, nice to have and I can make it to not have just a long list.

Then I just didn’t know which one. Should it be T4 or T5? Yes, I’m VW infected. I needed something more precise in order to set filters on the car markets because no one wants to go through thousands and thousands of ads. So I end up with this.

T4 2.5 TDI 75kw ACV long – 100k

T4 2.5 TDI 75kw ACV long caravelle or multivan with webasto, electric window, abs, airbags, cruise controller – 180k

T5 1.9 TDI 77kw nebo 2.0 TDI 103 kw after facelift long, 2 seats in front 3 and more seats in the back – 200k

I was almost sure to go for T4 because of simplicity, low amount of electric parts and I knew somehow this type of car. Everything changed in the end when I received a call one afternoon and thanks to this quick call I decided to go for T5 with a higher price, different engine, different seating and different back doors that I wanted… True story.

Underline tip
Be sure that you count with € 1000 – 1500 in addition for the initial service to lower a possibility of engine failure.

Rule no. 2 – Do not waste every evening with searching

The market is full of traps that looks nice on pictures. I learned that a good car is sold in a question of days. So next time I’d just check what is an average on the market and set watchdogs. My recommended servers are Mobile.de, Autoscout24.com, Autohus.de or Ebay.de. However, the honest truth is to buy a car from a person you know. So if you have anyone around you then you’re the lucky one.

It’s great to make an initial call with the owner once you have a certain selection of cars.

Shortlisting checklist

  • What is my first feeling from the call with the person?
  • Can I ask the community about the car to get more info?
  • Asking for more pictures of problematic areas and papers together with VIN code
  • Checking the code of a car and checking the official statement about the car
  • What are the things out of the usual equipment or what do I get extra
  • Where the car is?

Underline tip
Priorities you shortlisted cars in a path you would like to see them because everything can be different during the visit.

Rule no. 3 – Take a mechanic or friend with you and trust your inner voice

It happened to me that a previous owner refused to check a car in some repair shop in order to know how undercarriage looks like. It was a signal that something is wrong but I overcame it.

I never saw used car in a perfect condition. There was always something. The biggest learning was to see how they check your car in a big marketplace if you want to sell them yours. Try to sneak even to the workshop. You will see how easily you can recognize if your selected car was crashed or not.

What to check before and after a test ride

  • The weariness of materials – pedals, steering wheel, seats, light switch…
  • Lift a car and check wheelhouses, floor, breaking tubes, wheels, exhaust
  • Try all electronics under load
  • Measure voltage
  • Check fuse box
  • Look under plastic parts, rubber seals and carpets
  • Try all doors and hinges
  • Pull the screwdriver into the joints and the wheelhouse
  • Measure paint and look from different angles and under different lighting conditions
  • Is the same code on all windows
  • Is anything strange about tyres
  • Any oil maps around the engine
  • Any scratches on breaks
  • Check precisely corrosion

Underline tip
Take a strong light and go to see the car during the daylight because the night cars look better.

Papers

  • Is everything written similarly in the service book or in papers with the same handwriting?
  • Is it original or duplicate?
  • Contact previous owners and check millage
  • Check all numbers of engine, body, windows

Underline tip
Measure twice it during the paperwork because while they find your car was stolen you lose it without any chance to get something back.

Test ride

  • Start and stop with the cold and warm engine
  • Ride with the cold and warm engine
  • Go super slow and go super fast
  • Try all shifting speeds
  • Quick movements with steering wheel
  • Going on different surfaces
  • Sharp breaking without having a steering wheel in hands and repeat several times
  • Can you see any emulsion on the cap of the water and oil
  • How looks exhaust smoke blue, black or even white?
  • Turn steering wheel fully right and make several turns and then the same for left

Underline tip
Having a friend with your or someone who helps you to eliminate your emotions is great but the decision is up to you at the end.

Rule no. 4 – The money you invest into the car is a lost investment

People told me that the price of an old VW van should not go down. It should grow. It’s bullshit because you will almost always be lost something because if you use the car then scratches comes and it’s a machine that needs investments from time to time.

What are your tips to not buy a trap? Any experience you would like to share?