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Buying a new van from a van dealership or dealer

March 4, 2024

For private car buyers the level of dealer support is important, but it is usually a secondary consideration. The same can be true when buying a new van.

But for commercial vehicle operators, however, dealer backup is vital, and some buyers base their purchase decisions as much on the dealer as on the product itself.

The key measure of a dealer network’s effectiveness is uptime – how much useful operation operators can expect out of their vehicles. This is where specialist maintenance, out-of-hours servicing and fast emergency response all become significant.

Top Tips for buying new vans

And these are valid for any van buyer:

  • Be realistic about how the vehicle will be used – and get the users (drivers and technicians, for instance) involved in the buying process.
  • Know how long you will be operating your vehicles for.
  • Understand what van finance options are available to you.
  • Get the specifications right – both for your intended use and to optimise residual values.
  • Use the resources of the manufacturer and dealer to get the information you want.
  • Plan for your maintenance and support needs before you make the purchase – and make these part of the negotiation process.

The dealer network

The headline figure given by most manufacturers for their dealer network is the number of service points on offer. However, it is important to compare like with like: are the service points truly capable of dealing with commercial vehicles, or are they simply car-based workshops? Something as mundane as the size of each workshop service bay can be significant – a conventional service bay of standard height and width cannot cope with the size of a Luton-bodied van, for example.

Some of the car-based van manufacturers have opened specialist ‘Van Centres’, with longer opening hours than their typical car dealerships.

It is also important to distinguish between dealer groups and service points. Dealer networks has consist of dealer groups, with sometimes 100s of locations, but there can also be other sites forming an ‘authorised repairer network’. These independent workshops are nominated by the dealer network, and have technicians trained to the same level as main dealer technicians.

Specialist van dealers for buying a new van

Car dealerships have improved their service levels in recent years, but they have yet to catch up with the best commercial vehicle dealers. Van and truck dealers are set up to keep vehicles in operation and generating income.

Some dealers can help to minimise downtime by offering routine out-of-hours servicing, as well as a pick-up and drop-off service for commercial vehicles. Dealers have to meet stringent standards for service levels. For example, they have to be open for service for at least 95 hours a week, to include the core hours of 8am-8pm from Monday to Friday and 8am-1pm on Saturday. In practice, many dealers are open 24 hours a day for six days of the week.

Third-Party Maintenance - The Issues

While it is no longer obligatory to have a vehicle maintained at an official manufacturer’s representative when buying a new van. Independent repairers now have better access to technical information under the European Commission’s block exemption rules. But there are good reasons to remain with the original dealer. These include access to the latest updates and recalls for you van.

Factory-supported dealers also get the latest diagnostic tools, and are able to reprogram systems as necessary. Only the dealer network is authorised to reprogram your van.

Maintenance contracts when buying a new van

Repair and maintenance (R&M) contracts are primarily a way to take control of operating costs when buying a new van. But there’s definitely the potential for saving money. The resale value of a vehicle may also be improved if it has a proven service record.

An R&M contract is typically based around a ‘home’ workshop – one nominated as convenient for your operation – but it may be negotiated to include repairs at remote workshops within the dealer network where necessary.

The contract can include repairs due to wear and tear as well as planned maintenance, and it may just cover the basic chassis of the vehicle, or include the bodywork and any auxiliary equipment.

The contract may also cover tyre management, as well as MoT tests and the periodic roadworthiness inspections required by VOSA for O-licence holders.

All these elements of maintenance and repair may be included in a contract hire package, which can make it easy to budget for almost every cost relating to a vehicle’s operation.

Specialist commercial vehicle assistance

Breakdown assistance is a major aspect of the support that a good dealer network can give. Commercial vehicle operators need specialist assistance – not simply a service to get the driver home, but rapid repair in order to get the load to its destination on time. It is vital that the dealer and manufacturer work together to give the best possible assistance.

Clearly, the success of a good assistance network depends on the number of dealers involved and their hours of opening, but it also relies on an efficient communications system. Several manufacturers have call centres based on mainland Europe; while this may at first seem undesirable, in practice this is not an issue. In fact, it ensures that service standards are consistent throughout the Continent (vital for international operators), it can help in ordering vital spares and it allows the manufacturer to collate performance statistics over a wider area.

The manufacturer should set standards – and should be able to give actual performance figures – for terms such as maximum estimated time of arrival (ETA), ETA versus actual time of arrival, time taken between arrival and successful repair and so on.

How to assess a manufacturer’s dealer network and ensure that you have sufficient support for your operation

When buying a new van, the retail buyer demands the best of both these worlds; they want the B2C ‘polish’ that the private car buyer enjoys - the comfortable and smart reception areas comprising of refreshment and audio visual stimulation, they want service at short notice and yet courtesy vehicles for pre-booked appointments, they want to engage with staff who are not just technically clinical and not just meters and greeters. But they also demand the same respect that the B2B heavy commercial world receives in the unspoken acknowledgement that time is money and the clock is ticking.

The key measure of a dealer network’s effectiveness is uptime – how much useful operation operators can expect out of their vehicles. This is where specialist maintenance, out-of-hours servicing and fast emergency response all become significant.

It is a challenging juxtaposition that in reality requires the approach of a full range commercial vehicle manufacturer in order to meet these exacting needs. A manufacturer who lives and breathes the heavy commercial scene yet has substantial investment in van design and engineering, where these two worlds collide and each sale enforces that.

Written by: thevanreviewer 

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