Buying an ex-rental van: good idea, or bad move?

They are sold with big discounts and appear to tick all the boxes, but is buying a ex-rental van really a good idea?


Whether you’re setting up a new business or have been trading for years, you probably need transport to help you fulfil your responsibilities, deliver your goods or move around your equipment.

In short, you need a van. But just like when you make a big investment in a private car, buying a van can put a serious dent in your business expenses. Buying a used vehicle is a good option if it’s a late example that’s in good condition, but these can still carry big price tags.

But you might have noticed some reasonably priced vans for sale, seemingly almost new but which have clearly been used, and available at a good price too. These could well be ex-rental vans.

The ex-rental market is a good place to find a bargain commercial vehicle (CV). The most significant thing about them is that they are generally sold with a much greater discount than their new or standard used cousins.

So, they appear to be ticking most of your boxes but is buying an ex-rental van a good idea?

The ad-van-tages

A high percentage of new vans are bought by specialist rental companies, run for a short period and then disposed into the used arena. They are then sold as nearly-new vehicles – one of the most important areas of the used van market – all current models, with recent registration plates and often still covered by a manufacturer’s warranty package.

Rental vehicles are typically run for a relatively short period of time, perhaps one to two years, before they are put through the auction houses where most are bought by dealers looking for desirable stock for their forecourts. Some are sold direct by the hire company.

If you’re buying an ex-rental used van with cash, you won’t take the hit most new vehicle buyers suffer as soon as they leave the showroom; the residual value drop has already happened.

Dealers have to declare to you that the van you have in mind is an ex-rental vehicle – indeed many sales centres make a virtue of this and happily declare that they are offering big discounts for that very reason.

The days of saying an ex-rental van has had one previous owner – which technically it has, albeit with multiple drivers – have passed, although cases are still reported.

If in doubt, ask the dealer the name of the previous owner, rather than wait for the V5C ‘log book’ registration document to land on your doormat a couple of weeks after you’ve made your purchase. The dealer should have all the paperwork that goes with the car, so ask to see that V5C (and the service books, while you’re at it).

Tough life

Rental vans can live short and hard lives. But if they’re in service with a reputable rental company, ideally a member of the British Vehicle and Rental Leasing Association (BVRLA), then processes would have been in place to ensure they were fit for purpose.

These vehicles will have been inspected, maintained, cleaned and serviced far more often than a privately-owned vehicle. The last thing a credible operator wants is the embarrassment, or cost, of a van breaking down while it’s on duty. They also have a responsibility to inspect and rectify any reported faults from customers.

Looking after their vans means the rental company will have vehicles in the best possible condition to secure the highest possible return when they come to sell them on.

A good thrashing

A common perception, especially concerning rental cars, is that they have been hammered up and down the motorway. Rental vehicles are certainly subjected to extremes in driving behaviour.

A typical monthly rotation could see a good driver followed by a hard braker, followed by a clutch rider, followed by an out and out speed merchant. That’s a lot of potential wear and tear.

However, rental vans come with hefty insurance excesses, which are designed to ensure the vehicle is driven sensibly and returned in good condition. Unlike cars, CVs are not usually used to ‘show off’ or be raced around. They are there to a job and nothing more. There’s no need to give one a good ‘thrashing’.

One positive way to look at the scenario is that the rental period of any vehicle is it’s ‘running in’ time, during which any rattles, squeaks or minor problems will have been found and sorted out, leaving you with a van that’s fit and raring to go.

Not every van has a hard time in terms of what it has to carry. Often hirers need the vehicle for its space more than its payload – they don’t all spend their life laden with heavy goods and equipment.

Rental stigma

Ex-rentals are still a grey area for many dealers because of the negative connotations around buying a vehicle that it’s assumed has been mistreated.

You’ll find no reference to a van being ex-rental on websites run by car manufacturers, dealers, car supermarkets or the online classifieds; sellers know the term can cause an unwanted barrier to purchase.

Yet many ex-rental vans are sold as part of a manufacturer’s approved used programme and will include attractive bundled extras such as extended warranty and breakdown and recovery; but there is no mention of where they were sourced.

Choosing an ‘ex’

Ignoring ex-rental vans could limit your choice, especially if you’re after a nearly-new van in good condition, which has been well maintained, is in the right colour and has all the bells and whistles you’re after.

If you can look beyond the fact that countless people have been behind the wheel in a relatively short time, you might just find yourself a great bargain. And perhaps, ‘ex’ really will mark the spot.

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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