7 Steps to buying a van for conversion.

Hello all,

First a disclaimer, we are no means car experts or even bought/sold many cars before. This is just a few handy tips that have helped make the process of buying our first van a little less stressful. This tips list is mainly talking about buying an empty van to convert yourself, or possibly get done professionally, I.e. Not buying a pre converted van, also this list could be applied to the purchase of any vehicle be it a car or a truck. Bere in mind that the some companies may not inspect all vehicles.


1. When? Where? How? How long? How much?

The first thing you want to do is figure out a rough plan of about why you want the van and what you plan to do in it. Do you plan to live off the grid close to work so you have a cheap place to live and be able to travel to work. Do you want a weekend warrior command centre, that is your base of operations for hiking, skiing, mountain biking, surfing or spelunking (look it up) with enough room to house all the gear to go with. Or do you want a home away from home to tour your region, country or the world in. Hopefully with all the creature comforts of home but one tenth of the space and half the bills… Hopefully.

Once you have a rough plan you can decide what type of van you need. Be it longest, widest, tallest you can find or short, narrow and zippy. Does it need windows already or are you going to put them in, are you going to be travelling in town or driving the open road. Will you need it to be winter proof or is it going to be a summer shack only. And are you going to buy new or used and are you going to do the work yourself or pay a professional to convert it for you. Once you have all of this it’s time for step 2.

photo by @burkgnar
This is just a sick rig that I found on instagram

2: Where to look

Now you have plan it’s time to start the hunt. I used mainly Facebook marketplace, Gumtree and Auto Trader UK. This was because being in a foreign country I did not know anyone or have any contacts so online was much easier for me. I found that the Facebook marketplace had a handy filter setting to look for vans around a select location, and be able to easily limit the search. It also seemed the Facebook had quite a regular refreshment of new vans. There are many, many other great places to look including your local paper, local Facebook groups, used car dealers or even asking your local garage or van/car group. Bere in mind that you are going to be living in this vehicle at least part time so it needs to be just right, so take your time and look at lots!

3. Things to ask.

So you have spent hours scrolling Facebook and the web looking at what seems like every van that was ever made. You have messaged countless people asking them if it’s available ect ect. Finally you have found a couple that the pics look good and the seller says it still for sale, now what? The things you want to know are…

  • Age of the vehicle. The age is important because the older the vehicle the more maintenance and repairs.
  • How many miles or kms it has traveled? This ties in with age, the more miles or kms the more maintenance and repairs it will require. for example a vehicle that is 15 years old with 200,000 miles will required more maintenance than a vehicle that is less than 5 years old and no more than 50,000. Keep in mind that low mileage but an older vehicle which has been driven in a city predominantly, may have still done a lot of hours. Sitting in traffic will still wear the engine but wont show up in the millage travelled
  • Is it manual or an automatic transmission? Besides you being able to drive it this is important to know because manual transmissions have gear boxes and while autos do not. They both have their pros and cons. But basically a manual does require more maintenance than an auto but can be more reliant in the right hands.
  • Does it have a service history? This is an important one when buying a vehicle, a service history ideally has proper receipts and other maintenance records from a qualified mechanic. This is important because no matter how new or old a vehicle is, if it hasn’t been properly maintained and serviced it will be far more likely to breakdown when you least want it to.
  • Cost. The van can tick all the right boxes but if the price is too high for you budget or the state of the vehicle it can cost you far more than it’s worth.

4 . Proof.

Now armed with all the information you need to make the purchase you are getting ready to pay for your van.

STOP!! NEVER EVER EVER pay for a vehicle without viewing it first. BUT I’m not a car person I hear you say. Don’t worry there are a couple things you can do to make things better.

  • Get a online tax check. THIS IS FREE. I used the online UK government website (link below), this will tell you some basic information associated with this plate. For example make, model, fuel type and date of first registration. Also included is information about its current tax and MOT status.
  • link for government vehicle tax checker
  • Get an online history check. I used the AA UK, it is very in depth and helpful. This does cost you, but you can get 1 for 15 pounds or 5 for 30, so if your looking at multiple vehicles it is well worth buying the value pack. The check includes basic info as seen below

You also get a run down of factory specs and some more advanced details.


So you have done all the online stalking ect. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty and get your hands dirty, or pay some else to do it for you…. Of course if you know your way around cars a bit it is much cheaper to view the vehicle yourself and check all the relevant bits out. There are many companies that offer an inspection service. The cost and service offered can vary greatly and some have more availability than others in some areas. So it is important to shop around and find the best one for you. The reason for doing such and inspection is to make sure that the “careful lady owner” really did as good of looking after it as they say they did. Also it can help prevent expensive unexpected surprises by having a bit of pre warning around any impending obvious work that needs doing to the vehicle.

I chose to use the AA to inspect the vehicle for me as I am am not from England and being unfamiliar with some of the smaller UK details, I was aware I may not pick up on some things specific to UK law. Also the vehicle I was looking at was over and hour away in London. All of the mechanics are certified and qualified and their work is guaranteed. The inspection process itself is very straightforward. First you need the number plate of the vehicle you want inspected, the address of the owner and where the vehicle is kept, (if different). You will also need the sellers permission to inspect the vehicle.

Once you have this info go to the AA website and follow the links for booking an inspection.

How this works is, once you have ordered the inspection and paid the fee the AA will organize the rest with the seller. They will contact them and organise and time for the inspection to take place. A qualified technician will arrive and perform the full inspection on sight, including taking photos of key point of interest for the report. After the inspection has been carried out you will usually receive a call from the inspector and they will run you through the basis of what they saw. A full in depth report will be emailed to after about 5 pm that day. Have a look at some of our report below.

Now that hopefully you have received your report and hopefully it’s full of lots of nice green colour and very little red and yellow. It’s time for you to physically view the vehicle for yourself and hopefully purchase it.

6. Time to buy

PURCHASE, WAHOO! You have bought the vehicle, the van of your dreams, ready to head on home and start your clean and build. STOP! DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING!!!! are you taxed? insured? Do you legally own the van? I know it sucks, but by UK law if you are not taxed or insured your new magic bus can be confiscated, and crushed! Plus you will also get a hefty fine. Also If you don’t legally own it, that opens a whole new barrel of fish. Like being accused of theft…….

  • First is change of ownership, this is best done online is easy and free
  • Next thing you need to do is get taxed, again the government website makes this very easy.
  • Finally you need to be insured for at least third party, but preferably complete cover. Third party only covers the coast of any damage you cause to other people’s property not your own vehicle. There are a vast array of companies that offer car and van insurance from specialist companies to banks.
  • We dealt with a company called Downunder Insurance. DU Insurance specialise in insuring UK, NZ or Aus residents and travelers in vans, motorhomes and campers. Our quoted price for two drivers, 1 female under 25 and 1 male over 25 was well under half the price of the nearest competitor. The staff are friendly and easy to deal with and the process of getting insured was reasonably painless as far as insurance goes.

7 . Now the work begins….

Congratulations, hopefully by this point you have purchased your new van or car and are the proud new owner of a sweet set of wheels. The final tip, is a quick service. If you know how, do it yourself as it’s cheaper not to get a mechanic to do one for you. It’s a good idea to change all the filters, air, oil and fuel. Flush drain and replace the oil, top up the window washer fluid and check your coolant levels. If you are travelling along way home it is a good idea to get it done before the trip just for peace of mind. If not then get it done as soon as possible.

New filter on the right with a slightly less new on the left.

So that’s it, I hope this guide makes buying a new vehicle slightly less stressful and possibly saves you a bit of money and time. If you can think of anything I have missed leave a comment and let me know, also if anyone wants a full walkthrough of a DIY service let me know and I will make a video when it comes time.

Until next time all, be save and have fun.

The Travelling Shepherd.

On the M1 taking her home

4 thoughts on “7 Steps to buying a van for conversion.

  1. Well that was a bit of a mission.!!!! However you should have a great time with you new wheels.!!! Looking forward to the exploring. XXX


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