Buying a new van? Always test drive it first

It's a work tool, so a van is important to your business and buying one is an exciting time. Asking for a test drive is essential.


Whether you are going brand new or looking for a used example, acquiring a van for work is a critical time for you and your business.

You need something that is comfortable, suits the work you do and gives a good feeling that it’s going to be a reliable and loyal workhorse – and not a whole bunch of trouble that spends too long in the repair shop.

So it’s important that you ask for, and take, a test drive of your intended transport. There are different things to look for if you are buying a new model as opposed to a second hand van, but either way, getting behind the wheel for a half hour trial should be top of your ‘to do’ list when you go van hunting.

How would you know for sure that the van is going to be comfortable? That it suits your particular height and stature? That it has the controls and equipment that you’re looking for? The load area is big enough for your work? And it has the right level of performance and a ‘good’ feel about it on the road?

None of these elements can be covered just by walking around the van and kicking its tyres. So request a test drive.

New van test drive

One reason why people pass up a test drive is because they feel uncomfortable driving an unfamiliar vehicle with someone sat beside them. But there is no need to be shy – van dealers are quite used to customers with different driving styles and, if you ask them to sit quietly while you concentrate on examining the vehicle, they won’t be offended. You can talk about it when you return to the dealership.

Try to test a van that’s the same as the specification you are looking to buy. Sales staff will try to upsell you into a more expensive version but, if you have set yourself a budget, stick to it and trial that form of van, or very similar.

Make sure you have your driving licence with you in case the dealer wants to check it but don’t worry about insurance – main dealers have their own cover for this important part of their sales business.

Ten things to do during a van test drive

  1. Sit in the van and try to adjust the seats and steering wheel to your exact liking. If you can’t get comfortable, it might not suit you.
  2. Can you see the instruments without having to move your head, and are all the controls within easy read?
  3. Make sure the van’s features are to your liking: Is the air conditioning effective? Will the van pair up easily to your CarPlay or Android infotainment?
  4. Make sure the load bay will carry your work equipment. You can’t bring all your tools with you, but you might have to transport something unusual so it would be good to see if that fitted. Take measurements with you of other items you use.
  5. Make sure the van’s ingress – the way you get tools and equipment in and out – is large and easy enough to work with. Check side doors as well as the rears.
  6. Out on the road, test the van’s acceleration to see if it has the power you expected.
  7. When it’s safe to do so, try the brakes firmly as if in an emergency.
  8. Stop and do a reverse park manoeuvre. That way you’ll find out what the all-round vision is like and whether there are any blind spots.
  9. Make sure you try the vehicle on the kind of roads you regularly use in your work: a fast A-road is no good if you normally work on smaller town and village streets.
  10. Imagine yourself at work and using this van: does it ‘feel’ right?

Used van test drive

Buying a used van is a cheaper option and one which a lot of tradesmen and women opt for. But you’re still parting with hard-earned cash so a thorough check of the van and a test drive is just as important.

Used van dealers will usually put their stock through a ‘50-point quality check’ or similar – and be proud to tell you so – but you still have to be highly satisfied with the resulting vehicle. It’s your decision, not the dealer’s, whether you buy or not.

Ten additional things to look for in a used van test drive

  1. Look to see how clean and sanitised the van looks. If the owner or seller can’t be bothered to spend a little time tidying it for your arrival, they probably haven’t looked after it.
  2. Feel the bonnet to see if it’s warm. A van that has been run before you look at it might have problems cold starting.
  3. Check for an acceptable condition of the body and paintwork, making sure you also look under the bonnet and inspect the seat fabrics.
  4. Start the engine and listen for any strange knocks or noises. These might be signs of wear that could be expensive to repair in just a few hundred miles’ time.
  5. Have a look at the exhaust emissions – blue smoke can indicate an oil leak.
  6. Listen to the suspension while driving over bumps in the road. Squeaks, groans and rattles are not good news.
  7. Make sure the van drives in a straight line without you having to wrestle with the steering wheel.
  8. Ensure it stops well, make sure the gearbox is smooth and easy to use, and be wary of any judder in the clutch.
  9. Ensure any fitted electrical equipment – windows, mirrors, central locking – all works.
  10. Listen, feel and smell. Your senses are useful here and if anything seems odd or unusual, question it with the dealer.

Buying new or used, this is your chance to ask the van dealer any questions or bring up any concerns. And having a test drive first will go a long way towards making that process much simpler – before you part with any money.

Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.

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