Lots of people who hire a campervan from Manchester Camper Hire do so because they're thinking of buying their own camper, and are keen to try it out before investing a lot of money on something that might not be for them after all! I often get asked for advice, so thought it might be helpful to write it all down. Here goes!
Whether you're buying a van to get converted, or getting one that's already done, There are a lot of decisions to make...here are some of the main ones!
READY TO ROLL, OR D.I.Y?
The first question is...should you get a standard van and have it converted yourself, or buy one that's converted and ready to go? As with pretty much everything I'm about to tell you, there are pros and cons to both.
If buying ready converted then make sure you love it, as not everything can be changed easily without affecting everything else. If you change the bed, it might not line up with the cupboards. or if you remove something like a TV or cupboard it might leave a gap in the lining. That being said...
...Don't pay over the odds for something that's 'all fur coat and no knickers'. It might be better to go for a van that doesn't look quite as smart - yet - as you can easily change wheels for £400, or add trim/styling/spoilers if you want them.
Things like tow bars, bike racks, roof bars, single/double seats can all be changed quite easily, so don't be put off an otherwise perfect van because it doesn't have them.
Which BHP ? All the T6 vans have a 2.0L engine, but there's a range of engines from 90bhp through to 204! That's quite a big difference. However, whilst it might be nice to have a bit of extra power when you're driving, more power will also affect the fuel consumption, emissions and engine wear. Remember, the vans are designed to carry a couple of pallets or a load of builder's kit, so they'll easily cope with some lightweight furniture and a couple of sleeping bags. Most of the vans I've owned have been the 102bhp model.
t28, t30 or t32
As well as looking for a T5 or T6 camper, you might also see vans advertised as a t26, t28, t30 or t32. This refers to the 'Gross Vehicle Weight', which is the maximum weight the vehicle can carry. A T32 can safely transport enough load to make its total weight 3.2 tons, the T26 2.6 tons, and so on. As the van itself weighs around 1.9tons, that means you've got between 700kg and 1300kg for your fit out, passengers and luggage, which should be enough!
Tailgate or 'barn doors'?
There are a few advantages to having one large tailgate rear door instead of two doors that open to the sides. it's easier to see out of the back (if it's glazed!), there are more options for bike racks, they look a bit nicer as they're symmetrical, and when it rains you can stand underneath it while it's up! However, it's generally easier to find a van with barn doors, you can still open them when you're parked close to something (a tailgate needs more space), and although you can't shelter under them, you will have a campervan, so you can just get inside instead!
As I always get a pop top roof fitted I've only ever bought standard height vans which are 1.99m high before the pop top is fitted. However, they do also come in medium (2.17m) and high (2.47m). The high roof is popular as it means you've always got standing room, and it gives you more storage too. However, you won't be able to get into some car parks, and a higher vehicle will usually cost more on ferries and toll roads too.
SWB or LWB
The difference in length between the short wheelbase (SWB) T6 and the long wheelbase (LWB) version is just 40cm, but that can provide a bit of vital extra space in your camper. However, the same issues then apply regarding ferries, and the LWB is a bit more awkward to manoeuvre. Ultimately it's down to personal preference - all the vans I have available for rent are SWB. If I ever buy my own 'dream van' I have a feeling I might go for the LWB though!
Double or Single Passenger seat?
It's much easier to find a van with a double passenger seat in, and it's quite expensive to replace it with a single 'captain's' seat, so annoyingly it's more expensive to have fewer seats! The double passenger seat does give you a bit more extra storage hidden under the seat, and of course means you can carry another passenger. However, the single seat is much easier to turn around when you're getting set up on the campsite, and there's also a big gap between the two front seats for nipping into the back of the van when you need to.
Practical wheels v sporty wheels
One of the first things people like to do when they get a new van is put big 20inch wheels and low profile tyres on it, and that's because they do look great! However, if you're going to be using your van a lot, you might find that low profile tyres on 3 tons of van don't last very long, and the ride won't be that comfy either. I just stick with the original VW Highline 16 inch alloy wheels, but I'm sure there's a compromise between the two somewhere!
VW or something else
Consider a non-VW! Unless you plan to rent it or sell it again quickly, the other makes of van can be just as good, so you could save quite a bit of money. However the VWs do hold their value well, and there aren't as many parts/conversions available for other makes.
Make a list of 'must haves' eg tailgate, pop top roof, colour, and know what it would cost to change the things you'd want to add so that you can stay within budget.
Go to as many shows and conversion companies as possible to check out the different options/layouts/converters.
Usual car buying advice applies. Get the AA/RAC to check it mechanically and legally
Using a simple online checker like My Car Check - can be as cheap as £10, but could save you a lot of future expenses.
Make sure it comes with two keys - they're expensive to replace! Also make sure it still has the spare wheel, the jack, the service history/handbook and the locking wheel nut.
Mileage v age
Mileage is more important than age as that’s whats causing the engine/parts to wear
Try to find out what the van was used as before too. A former taxi might have done a lot of short journeys which aren't great for the engine, whereas a builders van might have worn out suspension and a good number of scuffs and scrapes.
When to buy
Try not to buy in the middle of summer if possible...vans are generally a bit more expensive in the summer months because more people are out looking for them.
Bear in mind the ULEZ zones in big cities...EU6 engines should be okay for now (2015 onwards with most vehicles) but the more emissions your van creates, the more you're likely to have to pay to use it in the future.
Where to search
There are plenty of places to find your new van - pistonheads, ebay, autotrader, vw direct (new or used), BCA are all good options.
Appearances can be deceptive!
Please don't buy something without going to see it at least once first.
If it's too good to be true, it probably is
...eg 'i'm stuck on an army base...' or 'i need to sell before leaving the UK tomorrow so really good price'. I got drawn into this when buying my first van. I found one that looked great, and the price was great too...but the seller wanted a deposit and then they'd get the van delivered. Then if I was happy with everything, I could send the balance. Fortunately, the penny dropped, but when you're getting excited about a new van it's easy to get distracted!
Think outside the box
If you're on a budget, look at the vans other people might not want. My first van was a former sandwich-van with a refrigeration unit stuck on the roof, full of fibreglass, and with ‘sushi fresh’ written on the outside!
Avoid the holes
Whatever van you're buying, or if you're getting one converted, make sure there are as few holes in the body work as possible. Some conversions have vents and sockets everywhere (for the fridge, water, gas, hook up...) each of these is a future rust hotspot. I have no idea why they all do it! The most there should be is one, but ideally none!
Use a reputable converter
I've only ever used Vamoose, but I've heard great things about AJC too. Whoever you use, just be wary of buying from someone who hasn't been going for long, or is someone who's done it themselves. If there's an issue with the van, you need to be able to go back to the converters to get it sorted.
Try before you buy
Rent or borrow at least one van before you buy. It's a good way to work out what works in practice, not just what looks good. I'm happy to help with this bit! It's also worth working out how often you'll actually use it. If you're away every other weekend and using it as a daily driver too, then great idea. If it's two trips a year, then maybe you're better off just renting!
Make it work for you!
Consider renting it out when you're not using it. Okay, so from a business perspective I shouldn't be telling you this, but it's a great way to earn some extra cash, or just cover some of the running costs. You can do this as much or as little as suits you, through sites like Yescapa, and Goboony. Who knows, you could end up with a small business out of it!
Dip your toe into VanLife first
Don’t go all out on your first van…you’ll inevitably think of things you want to change, so get a ‘starter van’ for a year or two, then once you’ve tried and tested how it works for you, you can potentially upgrade and change all the things that annoy you.
The one piece of advice that I give to anyone who's thinking of buying a van is this: JFDI!
It might not be a measured, rational thing to say, but if you've read this far, then you're probably quite invested already. If it's something you really want to do, then just do it. If it turns out it's not for you, then the worst that will happen is you sell your van, and as long as you've followed some of the advice above, you won't be too much out of pocket.
Also, make sure you tell your significant other BEFORE you go and buy a van. Some say it's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, but apparently taking all of your cash out of the bank, getting the train to High Wycombe, and then eventually making it home with a surprise sushi van is not the best way to do it! Still, it turned out alright in the end ;)
Very occasionally I do sell one or two of my vans - normally at the end of the summer in preparation for getting a new one ready for the following year. If I have any available they'll be here or on the Facebook page.
Thanks for reading,
Nick 🚌 😄