What kind of vehicle should we buy for our vintage clothing business?
August 27, 2013 1:35 PM   Subscribe

A friend and I run a small-but-growing online vintage clothing business. We've recently branched out into showing at vintage truck shows in the Chicago area. As of now, we've been using a friend's Saab hatchback. Unfortunately, this isn't a really a sustainable option for us; it's also a bit of a tight fit for our 200ish garments, 2 - 3 clothing racks, bust, and table. We're interesting in purchasing a used vehicle so that we can continue to travel with our merchandise. Ideally, we'd like something that is reliable, safe, and has some extra space to grow alongside our business. Unfortunately, our budget is on the low side: we'd like to spend less than $5000... the cheaper the better. Thoughts? Recommendations? Should we rent instead of buy? Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

We need an affordable, reliable vehicle to transport our merchandise to vintage trunk shows. HALP!
posted by moxie_milquetoast to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Best answer: Cargo van?

The other thing is that you can rent a Cargo Van by the hour through Hertz/Lowes, it's $15 per hour and includes gas and insurance. They have a Mercedes Cargo van that's pretty commodious, as in roll your racks on, roll them right back off again. Or you can rent one through Enterprise.

Owning a vehicle is expensive, it's not just the actual vehicle, it's the insurance, gas and maintenance.

So let's say you rent a van for 10 hours at a stretch, or $150. You'd have to rent it 33 times to reach $5,000. That's doesn't include any of the variables. Gas, breakdowns, insurance.

I'd do the rental thing for a bit, see how it works for you.

I think a $5,000 used vehicle is just asking for hassles and aggrivation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:44 PM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Reliable, safe, cheaper than $5,000? That's tough.

I would recommend a used panel van of some sort, perhaps an older model Dodge Caravan or a Ford Econoline. A panel van gives you the added benefit of having a more secure storage area, and panels on the side for you to advertise your business. Both should be available by the dozen in Chicagoland.
posted by lstanley at 2:14 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

...showing at vintage truck shows...

posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: tylerkaraszewski: Alas, that was a typo. I meant "trunk shows." But golly, if that isn't a fine looking car! You might be onto somethin'...
posted by moxie_milquetoast at 2:29 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Diesel econoline. You can probably get an *awesome* one for that much. Like well kept by a small business or popped out of a fleet. I've seen respectable condition ones for around 2 grand(and almost bought a pretty nice one for a bit less once) that were mechanically great but had some cosmetic scrapes or the inside was a bit rough from hauling tons of tools/gear around.

I did a lot of research looking in to having a vehicle i could use for hauling stuff like this, music gear, serious car camping, sleeping in the back of at festivals, and hauling lots of my dumbass friends to shows out of town/on road trips. One of the primary reasons i wanted one was the ability to run on biodiesel/waste vegetable oil... but the main one that would apply to you is Reliability.

Diesels are built worlds better than the equivalent gas engines(which are admittedly, pretty hardy in an econoline) and just have a ton less points of failure. High mileage on a regular "commercial vehicle" like that seems to be in the mid 100s, i've seen diesels with 300+k on them. In addition to that the transmission and just general drivetrain is upgraded to heavier spec stuff on the models of van that come with the diesel. Diesels are also fairly efficient, and their power expands the option of getting a small, almost second van sized cargo trailer to pull behind you if you suddenly start having a HUGE booth at swap meets/truck shows/flea markets/etc.

Every time i see one of those drive by on the street i wish i had gotten one.

Oh, and resist the urge to get a minivan on the cheap. The people-hauler mom-mobile front wheel drive vans are built like crap. You'll just blow up a transmission or something constantly hauling shit around in them.

Oh yea, and resist the urge to get some cool vintage panel van. It'll be like a boat, a pit in the ground you throw money in to(or lots of your own time, which is basically the same thing) and you'll constantly be battling rust and weird little mechanical gremlins. I.E. "oh great its really hot out, now it flooded and it wont start when we're trying to move over 5 feet because someone needs to get out"
posted by emptythought at 2:36 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

i would base this on how many trunk shows you go to a year. if you're going every weekend during the spring summer and fall, it makes sense to buy a van. if you're going 4 times a year, maybe investigate zipcar/zipvan. frankly, i'd go that way anyway, because then you don't have to worry about insurance, gas, etc. much better than having to worry about all that, plus find a place to park a van in chicago for the week while you're not using it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 3:13 PM on August 27, 2013

If your usage is enough to justify having a van permanently available to the business, have you considered leasing? If your business is growing and you could use some or all of that $5k elsewhere in the next few months, it's a good way to conserve cash while generally getting you a higher quality vehicle. With the right lease you also push maintenance cost onto someone else. There are different types of leases and you should check with your accountant, but there are tax advantages to leasing too - monthly payments for a vehicle used only for the business are 100% deductible, a purchase would be depreciated over a number of years.
posted by IanMorr at 3:16 PM on August 27, 2013

Resist the urge to get a fancy retro/restored van/truck vehicle...

I would get a Chevrolet Astro minivan. They are inexpensive, can be found with the reliable 4.3l engine. Are avail in 2WD or (true) 4WD, with mutliple rear door layouts and it is based on a truck chasis so you can tow with it if you get a trailer (for extra merchandise) later.

Spending more? Get a Sprinter van from Dodge/Freightliner/Mercedes.
posted by Leenie at 3:24 PM on August 27, 2013

I agree with the enterprise van suggestion but I would look into what make and model it is and an older version of one of those vans would do you well. It would probably be in your price range. The cargo area is tall and would fit some mid sized racks. I was able to move out to Western Pennsylvania from Massachusetts without much difficulty. I had clothes, a couple pieces of furniture, and a good number of boxes. Something with the shape of a FedEx truck would work for you also. I just realized that those FedEx trucks are Mercedes Benz, which makes sense if you know how much you pay for shipping with them. Tires, all wheel or four wheel drive is important depending on how much you think your pay load will be. Good luck!
posted by Jewel98 at 5:21 PM on August 27, 2013

Mike Watt would say Econoline. And he'd be right.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:06 PM on August 27, 2013

On that note ironmouth, All the ZipVans are econolines as well. It's sort of a "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" kind of thing.
posted by emptythought at 6:20 PM on August 27, 2013

I think at this point, a suitably weathered Econoline counts as a retro, vintage cargo van. And that'd probably be my vote too.

Here's a 2006 w/~170k mi for $4200. Here's CL's search results for "cargo van" in the Chicago Cars+Trucks.

Also, previous AskMe, but not much there.

I have some personal affection for old Dodge Ram vans, but the ones I've known were all pretty decrepit and quirky, which sort of added to their charm in auxiliary use but would make me hesitate for this purpose.

Note also that the Chevy Astro has its counterpart in the GM Safari.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:39 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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