How do I go about buying a used cargo van without burning my money?
April 28, 2010 7:05 PM   Subscribe

What should I look out for while buying a used cargo van for my business? Or is there an alternative?

My business is expanding a bit and we've outgrown our personal vehicles for picking up and dropping off goods. Basically, we have inventory that we need to shuttle around a few times a week, and having a cargo van instead of a hatchback will save us hours of time and gallons of gas every week. We've tried renting a cargo van as needed, but it winds up costing us close to $100 for the day and if we were to rent as frequently as we'd want to, we'd be spending around $700 a month in rental charges.

I know nothing about cargo vans, or even used cars, and the only car I've purchased was a new one. I plan on finding a local mechanic I can trust to bring in any potential purchase for him to look over to make sure I'm not buying a rustwagon, but beyond that I don't know where to start my search. It's very possible we'd be upgrading in a few months to a box truck or larger, or outsourcing to a short-haul company, so the idea is to buy something pretty well used that doesn't need to last for another ten years.

The typical van I'm looking at right now is from 1999-2002, has anywhere between 74,000 miles to 140,000 miles, and costs around $1300-$3000. I'm assuming that if I can keep this running for even three months with minimal (~$400) repairs, it'll pay for itself and be worth something for every day after that, plus its potential resale value.

So, is there a specific year I should look for? Should I watch out for Dodges, or specifically look for a Ford? I really know nothing about this, but figure that it's quite possible others do! Thanks!
posted by christopherbdnk to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
Have you considered a Japanese pickup with a camper shell? That option has been super cheap for us.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:27 PM on April 28, 2010

Response by poster: That's a wonderful idea, but I think it would wind up being a bit too small for us. We'll need most of the space available in a cargo van, but that's all I'm comfortable investing in/driving right now. If we already had access to a pickup, that would probably be the easiest and cheapest temporary upgrade.
posted by christopherbdnk at 7:31 PM on April 28, 2010

A cargo van is way more convenient than a pickup with shell. It's got more doors, there is more head room and it is more secure.

The Freightliner/MB/Dodge Sprinter would be my choice. Small fuel efficient diesel (some with turbos), excellent space, good headroom.
posted by Mitheral at 7:50 PM on April 28, 2010

Response by poster: The Sprinter looks like it would be perfect, but it looks like it's a bit out of the budget. The least expensive I could find was ~$6000, and I'd imagine the parts wouldn't be as readily available as for a mass produced Ford E250, or something like that.
posted by christopherbdnk at 8:06 PM on April 28, 2010

You don't hear this often, but I've had good luck with dodge vans. I think you should just buy a cheap one and don't count on much of a resale value. Since it is a beater, when something breaks, DON"T FIX IT! Unless it's critical, like brakes.

In my experience, a $3000 vehicle isn't much more reliable than a $1000 vehicle. I still miss my $800 chevy van.

Conserve your capital. Buy a decent box truck when the time comes.

The only other thing about vans is the security v driving safety difference between the van with the windows in the back or solid doors. I prefer visibility to security and live in the country. If you are transporting diamonds in Kabul, you might opt for the solid doors.
posted by mearls at 11:54 AM on April 29, 2010

Watch for a blown suspension from previous overloading.
posted by dhartung at 12:01 PM on April 29, 2010

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