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Buying a cheap used van at auction can be exciting, but it's also a pretty stressful environment for those that are unfamiliar. Used van auctions take place in sale rooms but are increasingly moving online, so choose the format that suits you best. Read our useful tips for purchasing a van at auction.

Do your van buying research

Before attending the auction, do your research on the type of van you want to buy. This includes the make, model, age, and condition of the van. You should also research the typical selling price for similar vans in your local area and across the country. That way you can set a realistic budget. If possible, attend a few auctions before buying to get a feel for how they work.

It's also important to pick the right auction. Most van auctions sell hundreds of vehicles at a time. They will range from small vans and car-derived vans, to sized medium vans and large vans. There will also be chassis cabs and bodied vehicles as well. Larger auctions are where you're most likely to find a good selection of more specialist light commercial vehicles like a cheap Luton van or cheap dropside tipper.

Sometimes there will be sales for specific models too. These usually happen when a big fleet is de-fleeting a batch of vehicles. BT or Tesco or Royal Mail might have a load of vans they need to get rid of. Rather than sell 1000 in one go and risk damaging the residual value by flooding the market, they might send 25 or even 50 to a specific sale. This greatly increases your chances making winning a winning bid and snapping one up.

Check auctions houses big and small. There might be a sale just around the corner from you that you never knew existed.

Set a budget

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of bidding on a van, but it's important to remember your budget and stick to it. What starts out as a bargain price can quickly escalate, and before you know it, you've overspent.

This is where the research is key. If you know what similar vans are selling for at local dealerships you'll know if you're getting a cheap used van or not.

Remember you're in a room, or an online sale, where there will be professional buyers. These people know the market and know what is a good price. You'll have to outbid them to get the van, but don't be tempted to dig deeper than you can afford. Dealers know the trade and retails prices of each model so grabbing a mega bargain is unlikely. What you might do is save a few hundred compared to the dealer prices you've seen. Remember though, that you're buying blind and there's no warranty. So think long and hard.

Don't be afraid to walk away from a deal if the price isn't right. There are plenty of vans out there, and you're sure to find one that fits your budget and needs.

Inspect the van - bring a mechanic if you can

This is where being in the saleroom has its benefits. Online auctions are really convenient, but a real life auction allows you to look over the vehicles in the yard before hand.

Before bidding, inspect the van thoroughly. Check for any signs of damage, rust, or wear and tear. It's not likely you'll be able to take the van for a test drive to ensure that it is in good working order, but the van will have to be started up to drive it into the sale room. If you can, watch it when it first starts up and listen and look carefully as it is driven in. Look out for blue smoke and listen for any clunks, rattles or hissing. It's also a good idea to look at the ground from where the vehicle has just come from. You don't want to be bidding on anything that's leaking oil or other fluids.

Keep in mind that at an auction, you won’t have the same opportunity to inspect the van as you would if you were buying from a dealership, so it’s important to be as thorough as possible. Take someone who is knowledgeable.

When the bidding begins, set your limit and stick to it

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to set a budget and stick to it.

Auctions are a fast paced environment. The auction lot you are considering will come up sooner than you think. The bidding will also go quickly. The auctioneer will know what sort of money the vehicle is going to attract, so it will start at a decent price. There may be some bids already on his book - made by buyers who can't make the sale.

Decide on the maximum amount you are willing to pay for the van and don’t exceed it. Remember that there will always be other auctions and other vans available, so don’t get caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Pay attention to the bidding

During the auction, pay close attention to the bidding. Make note of who is bidding and how much they are willing to pay. This is true for all the lots in the auction. You'll quickly spot the dealers if you keep your eyes open for 15 minutes and pay close attention to who is winning. It might be that one particular dealer is buying everything that day. You may well come up against them during bidding for your van. If they've got deep pockets that day, it might be that you will just have to resign yourself to going home empty handed.

Watching the other bidding activity will also give you an idea of what the van and others are worth. It will help you decide on whether or not you should continue bidding. Don’t be afraid to drop out of the bidding if the price goes higher than your budget.

Got a smartphone? Use it!

Smartphones are great at auctions for two reasons. The first one being that it often means you don't even have to be in the room - although if you've read the rest of the article you'll see some of the benefits of being there in person.

Most of the large van auction centres have an online bidding platform, similar to eBay. You simply register your details and you can watch the auction unfold, usually with a main camera view of the auction lane. This will allow you to see the van being driven into the auction. There will also be several pictures along with other details like servicing or MoT information.

If you're in the room, keeping your smartphone handy during the auction can also let you quickly identify other vans that might be of interest.

Just like bidding from the comfort of your own home you'll have the fact at your fingertips. You can compare prices for similar vans and make an informed decision.

It's not just about the hammer price

Another thing to be aware of at auction is that it's not just about the number you end on when the hammer falls. There are a lot of other additional costs to consider. These include paying the auction house, any transport costs and the insurance. All of which will have to be sorted pretty quickly after the sale ends.

That means that when you're buying a van at auction, it's important to consider the total cost of ownership. This includes the purchase price, as well as any additional fees, such as:

It's also important to factor in the cost of running the van, such as:

Congratulations, you're a winner!

Assuming it all went to plan, you are now the owner of a brand new, used van!

But, you'll have to act quickly once you win the auction. You will typically have to pay a deposit immediately. You will also have have to arrange transportation for the van if you've come in your own vehicle.

Auction houses have differing policies on how long you can keep your new purchase on site. Typically there might be a 48 hour window, but after that you'll have to start paying storage fees and these can be very expensive.

Make sure you insure your vehicle as soon as possible and you'll also need to arrange road tax. If the vehicle is without an MoT you'll have to book one if you plan to drive the van on public roads and take it straight to the test centre.

If in doubt, get the van collected or hire a trailer - both costs you should consider before heading down the auction route.

With these tips in mind, you can successfully buy a van at auction and potentially save money on your purchase. Good luck.

Can I buy a van at auction?

Yes, and buying a van at auction is quick and easy. Simply register witht the auction house - either in person or online - and place a bid. If you win an auction you will pay the agreed price plus fees. Vans bought at auction can usually be driven away on the same day.

There are many different ways to pay for a van but the common question you'll be asking yourself is should I hire or lease or buy the van outright?

The answer to that question will depend on two things, your circumstances and how much money want to spend.

There will of course be other things to consider too, such as how long you plan to use van for. The business you are in might also impact the decision. That's because if you lease a van and you know its likely to get damaged - say from being on a building site - then you'll be paying through the nose to repair that damage at the end of the contract.

If you think your needs might change (ie. you'll need a large van (or a smaller van) at some point for a job then buying one outright isn't the correct decision.

Take a look at the options you have in our advice guide to buying, renting and leasing vans.

Buying a van

This is the easy part. If you buy a van you own it. Of course these days it's not that simple because it's not often that someone buys a van outright for cash. We'll do another advice article on financing vans and the finance products available.

For now lets look at the pros and cons of buying a van.

Buying a vehicle outright with your own money is usually the cheapest way of running a van. However, there are sometimes some incentives with finance deals that could make the cost comparable or even cheaper, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

But, we realise that not everyone can afford to buy a van for a great big lump of cash. That means you'll probably still need to arrange finance. Even with a finance deal, it is usually the best and cheapest purchasing method for most van drivers.

The reason for this is that you'll own the van for its entire life. Its yours to keep, use and sell.

Another benefit with a "cash" purchase is that you can negotiate the price to get a better deal. When it comes to buying a new van you a already own a van to trade-in.

If you own the van yourself, there won't be any restrictions on mileage or where you can drive it - for example taking it overseas. There are also fewer tax implications - which is always nice.

The negatives are that you have to pay for maintenance, tax and insurance yourself. You should do your very best to keep on top of them so that your van remains in the best condition. It's your van after all, and like if you don't brush your teeth you're going to have problems later on.

Another benefit of owning the van is that if you damage it you can choose how you repair it. You can shop around for the best price, do the work yourself or just leave it and save yourself the money.

Ultimately, it's your van and you decide what happens to it. You own the asset for its lifetime. You can potentially make great savings on not having to pay interest on any loans.

The only other thing to consider is depreciation. Your van will be losing value month to month. Keep an eye on the used market and you might be able to off-load it at a time that could be beneficial.

Leasing a van

Leasing a van is a fixed weekly or monthly cost. For this reason, businesses really like to lease their vans.

If you lease a van, you will be tied in to a fixed term contract. This is pretty similar to the way you probably pay for your mobile phone every month. The only difference is that rather than 12 or 24 months, the lease on your van will probalby be for three to five years.

There's also a big difference in that unlike most phone contracts you won’t own the van at the end of the agreement.

If you've fallen head over heels in love with your van, and there's a chance you might, you may want to buy it after the contract ends. Some agreements allow this (lease purchase) but be warned, they will make you pay a substantial amount as a balloon payment.

There are actually a huge amount of different lease options. It's a really complicated finance method but in a nutshell, you don’t own the van so most arrangements come with fixed maintenance and breakdown packages. That doesn't mean you can treat it badly though. You're still responsible for it. Think of it like an airport hire car. You're going to get one hell of a shock if you hand it back in with some big dents or scratches.

If you choose an all-in service from the leasing provider, you will be paying the same every month. This is great for budgeting.

The benefits of having a lease van is that it will save you money on maintenance costs. The new van will be in warranty, and most providers will ensure it is fully covered by the arrangement - after all, they own it and want to see the vehicle come back in one piece so that they can either hire it out again or sell it on.

When the contract finishes it's dead easy. You just return the van and can get a new one. This way you any surprise repair bills when the warranty runs out.

One thing to be aware of is that you need to service the van on time and to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Because of all the tracking and telematics in vans, many decent leasing companies will be able to see when the van needs a service and will probably contact you about it.

There is a downside to leases. They tend to have mileage restrictions. If your work requires you to travel around a lot they might not be for you. The limitations can be quite severe. If you're doing even 40 miles per day, that's 200 per week or 800 per month and 9,600 per year. Therefore an 8000 mile per year mileage cap won't cut it. Fortunately, those sorts of numbers are usually reserved for cars. Commercial vehicle lease agreements are usually a bit more generous.

Make sure you are aware of any penalty clauses. These could be in relation to returning the van before the contract ends, any repairs for damage, mileage limits or even speeding tickets.

When it comes to damange, you might have to go through an approved supplier. This can add to the cost. There could also be admin fees for arranging repairs from the leasing company's side.

Penalty charges on excessive mileage can also be really costly, amounting to several pence per mile.

Our advice is to read the terms and conditions carefully. Don't get lured in by a too good to be true, attractive headline figure. Check the small print.

If you need to terminate the contract early there will be high penalty clauses. These may reduce over time. For example if you are in your third year of a five year deal, and if you are looking to renew the agreement with a new vehicle from the same supplier. Leasing companies can be very generous if you are looking to become a repeat customer. So keep that in mind if you are approaching your mileage limit and want a new van.

One finaly thing to remember is that while your new van won't need an MoT for a few years, you will have to tax it and most arrangements don’t include insurance. Some providers will offer insurance, which isn't compulsory, but it can be one less headache of van ownership to consider.

Hiring and renting a van

There are so many options when it comes to hiring a van. Rentals can be from a single day rental to months or even years.

The main thing to consider though is that although hiring a van is very similar to leasing one, you will have no rights to buy it at the end and you don't own it during the rental period either.

In many ways you take less responsibility for the vehicle because everything from insurance, servicing and even damage repairs will be taken care of. But, you are also have to be more responsible because of this. It's back to the airport car hire scenario again. The company may look for any excuse to send you a bill.

The positives are that you pay a fixed price for simply driving away with the van. The only thing you need to think about is the fuel bill.

Because of this, the costs involved are higher than a lease.

Short term rental can be done by the day or the week, which is expensive. If you are looking for something more long term they might give you a discount, or you should consider leasing.

The good thing is though, that because they are very short rentals, the return clauses are short too. So you can hand the van back and stop paying if a job falls through.

Conclusion

As with everything in life, the choice comes down to money. But the length of time you need a van is also important.

You should also factor in what level of involvement you want to have. If you want to do your own maintenance, or you have a friendly garage you trust to do the work then owning your own van could save your thousands. But leases are straightforward, provide a fixed cost and have many benefits thrown in.

If, like most van owners, you want to keep a van for a long time and run it in to the ground then buying is the far better value option.

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