Inspecting a van or commercial vehicle you intend to flip

No matter who you buy from, always look over the van thoroughly checking everything listed below, if you are unsure of anything take it to a mechanic for an independent inspection. Following this simple system will help you avoid most common mistakes and with practice let you avoid them almost completely.

The Exterior

  • Check the body for scratches, dents, rust and panel gaps. Examine the lines. The paint finish should be the same on every body panel. If you suspect the van has been repainted, the best way to check is by looking for a paint edge in door shut. Small golfball dents and light scratches are no cause for concern, a painless dent removal expert can remove small dents easily. However any rust is going to require a bodyshop and is best avoided. ​
  • When inspecting the bodywork its best to start at the front or rear of the van, and kneel down and look along the sides. This technique allows you to see any panel damage more easily. 
  • Take a good look at the windscreen. A small stone chip is no cause for alarm, but anything more may require a new screen. Pay special attention to the drivers side as some chips are an MOT failure.
  • You can tell a lot about a van from its tyres. If an owner has fitted cheap tyres they have probably not spent the money needed elsewhere. It’s easy to inspect the tread but also look for pavement scuffs cracks and bulges in the sidewalls. You can also check the age of tyres as all modern tyres are now date stamped.

The Interior

  • When you first open the door you need to think about the smell. If it smells of smoke, mould, or anything unpleasant walk away. Smells can be very hard or impossible to get rid of. If you don’t like what you smell the potential new owner won’t either.​
  • ​Next look at the drivers seat bolster, a ripped or badly worn bolster can be easily repaired but factor that in. Check the headliner for stains, sagging and possible water is leaking through a sunroof if the van has one. Then look at the rear seats and the rest of the interior and just make sure everything look right and no trim is missing.
  • It’s at this point that I switch the ignition switch on and check everything electrical is working. Try out every switch, button and window. If the car has satellite navigation the make sure it’s working and that the disc is precent. Then it’s time to check all the books and service history are with the van.
  • Now it’s time to start the engine. Listen for any usual noises on start up that you may want to mention to a mechanic later. It’s alway worth keeping an eye on any smoke from the exhaust if the cars cold. This is the point you need to lookout for warning lights on the dash. Then with the engine still running switch on the air conditioning and make sure it blows cold. Air conditioning  problems can be time consuming and very expensive to fix!
  • Finally look in the boot area lifting the the carpet and checking the spare (if equipped) and tools are all in good condition and present.

The engine bay

  • It’s best to look at the engine when it’s cold. A good layer of dirt and dust is normal and normally a good sign. A spotless recently pressure cleaned engine bay is normally a warning sign.
  • First look for oil leaks and spills or anything that looks out of place. Then check the dipstick for oil, do the same with the gearbox if possible. Then check the engine coolant, power steering and brake fluid levels. Inspect all hoses and belts.
  • ​On most modern vans equipped with alloy wheels it’s easy to inspect the condition of the brakes. Just look through the wheel and make sure the pads have plenty of life left in them and that the discs don’t have a huge lip on the outer edge.​
  • ​Then start the engine again and listen and look for anything unusual. If you are unsure about anything get it independently inspected(see below).

The test drive

This is the easiest bit and it normally telly you the most. Just drive the van listening for any engine noises or suspension bumps and rattles. Feel for any vibrations from the steering and keep an eye on the various gauges. It’s best to let the car come fully up to temperature but a simple five minute run should be enough. After the test drive it’s often best to pop the bonnet again. You can sometimes smell if a van is running hot, losing a bit of coolant or leaking oil. 

Used car buying checklist

No matter wether buying from a dealer or privately, always look over the van thoroughly checking everything listed below. Following this simple system will help you avoid most common mistakes and with practice let you avoid them completely.

  1. Check the V.I.N
  2. Check the M.O.T. certificate
  3. ​Check the service record
  4. Wheels and tyres
  5. ​​Body
  6. ​Interior
  7. ​Engine bay
  8. Engine/
  9. Gearbox
  10. Brakes
  11. C.V joints

Initial checks 

Check the V.I.N
It’s stamped on the metal plate in the engine bay. On modern van you can find it displayed in the lower corner of the windscreen on the passenger side. If the numbers don’t match or show signs of tampering walk away.

Check the M.O.T. certificate
All cars over three years old must have an M.O.T. Check the mileage against millimetre.

Check the service record
Is it fully stamped?

Basic checks

Wheels and tyres

  • Are the front and rear wheels in a straight line? Do the tyres have uneven ware, splits or bulges.

Body

  • Look for poorly matched paintwork, ripples and dents.
  • Check for corrosion on the door bottoms, sills, and wheel arches.
  • Do the doors, bonnet and tailgate open and close properly.
  • Look for signs of paintwork and overspray.

Interior 

  • Is the interior condition consistent with the age and mileage.

Engine bay

  • Check the Coolant, engine oil and brake fluid levels.

Road test

Engine

  • Does it start easily and idle evenly.

Gearbox

  • Does the clutch slip.
  • Is the clutch peddle high/low or heavy.
  • Is the auto gearbox smooth does it kick down.

Brakes

  • Does the pedal judder when brake.
  • Does the handbrake hold or need adjustment. 

C.V joints

  • Making a tree point turn do the constant-velocity joints crack or click.

​Other checks

  • Do the sunroof and all windows work.
  • Does the air condoning blow cold.
  • Do all the gauges work.
  • Does the central locking work on all doors.
  • Do all lights and indicators work.
  • Are any of the engine lights on.

Independent inspection

If you are worried about anything engine related or just aren’t sure about a funny sound or have any suspicions, then its best to have it independently inspected. This isn’t normally costly and can give you peace of mind. Most garages will offer this service for a nominal fee or if you already have a good relationship with them they often do it for free. You might want a thorough diagnosis. But you probably won’t need a specific written report detailing the vans condition, so just ask about the specific problem and get advice on repair costs.

Top tip: Always use an independent garage that isn’t involved with van sales, as you want to avoid conflicts of interest.

Conclusion

Learning how to inspect a van is an essential skill if you are going to be a successful van flipper. So always follow this system and if you are unsure of anything get the van independently inspected. Even highly experienced dealers make mistakes, so don’t worry if you don’t get it right 100% of the time, just don’t make a habit of getting it wrong. Lean more about which vans you should buy to flip here – Which vans should you buy to flip.