When I asked people on my Facebook campervan groups what they thought was one of the most important things about converting a panel van to a campervan they often say – FINDING A GOOD BASE VEHICLE. The décor and fittings can all be easily changed but if the van isn’t right you are not going to have a good campervan. So, I asked Barry Winterton who, with his wife Jane, tracks down and sell Vivaro/Trafic vans, what to look out for when choosing a base vehicle.
Q: So How Long Have You Been Selling Panel Vans?
Jane and I have been selling these vans for around 2 years now. I used to be a mechanic but I got fed up with lying under cars so a few years ago we started selling cars but we were working 7 days a week and it was harder to make a living this way. We noticed that vans seem to sell straight away and there is always a demand for good vans so we decide to specialise in these instead. Mainly customers are buying them for work purposes, like plumbers, builders, delivery firms but we have more people coming to us now to help them find a van that they can convert into a camper.
We are also finding that the people who are buying them for their work also want to use them as their family car at weekends so that they don’t have to buy a second car and, as many of these vans now drive as nicely as a car, that makes sense. Many of the people who come to me for a van to convert to a camper also want to use it as their second-vehicle, too.
Q: How Do You Find Your Vans?
Most of the time we go around the country looking at auctions, especially the ex-fleet vans from the big companies as these have usually been well looked after. Jane has a good eye for spotting a van that people will like and I make sure that they are mechanically sound. You do need to know what you are doing at the auctions though as we do see a lot of bad vans too.
Q: Why Have You Specialised in Vivaro/Trafics?
Many people know what type of van they want before they really start looking so when they come to us they are serious about buying this type of van. It also means that we have lots of vans to show them rather than just one or two of each model. We also think that these are the best mid-range vans as they don’t rust (galvanised body) and they are not too expensive to repair now. A few years ago, it would have cost you around £5,000 to put a new engine in one, now it only around £1,200 so, if you have a van with good bodywork that you really like, you can extend its life for not too much cost.
They are also not as expensive to buy as Sprinters or VWs which, in my opinion, are not always worth the price difference. This means that the Vivaro/Trafics are more accessible to people who might not have a big budget. In our experience, Transits are prone to rust and it is my belief that if you don’t have good bodywork you don’t have a good van.
Q: So, What Should We Be Looking Out for When We Are Buying a Van to Convert to a Camper?
Good bodywork is really important. Obviously, an older van is unlikely to have perfect bodywork and a few scratches or marks are inevitable but you want the bodywork to be generally ‘nice-looking’ and not look like it’s been on a bumper-car ride. Engines and gearboxes can be changed but once the bodywork starts to crumble your van is not going to look good as a campervan and will be a struggle to maintain.
The van also wants to look like it has been looked after on the inside too. If it’s an ex-work van it may be a bit dirty in the back which is not a problem as you are going to rip it all out and line it for the camper. However, you want the front cabin to look nice with no ripped seats and generally tidy. You don’t want an abused van.
Also, don’t get hung-up on the mileage. Obviously, it’s nice to have lower mileage but I have seen some vans with 60K on the clock that are a wreck because of the way they have been driven. It is known that Post Office vans are often changed before 60K miles as that type of driving – constant stop-start – just wears them out as engines and gearboxes do not like that kind of usage. If a van has been generally used for steady motorway miles it will be in a lot better condition.
Try and get a van with good service history so that you can see that it has been looked after and ask how it has been used. You can also look at the MOT history on gov.uk.
Get a feel for how it drives. Are there any rattles? Is the van sluggish? Does it wander on the road? Is there smoke coming out of the back? Check the engine oil – how clean is it? You also want to be wary if the engine has been steam-cleaned. This is not a good sign as it is usually hiding a problem. Also, the actual steam-cleaning can cause problems itself by getting water into the electrics.
Before you start the van up, make sure that the engine is cold as it’s important that the van starts first time from cold. I’ve heard of some garages who have vans that don’t start who tow their vans to get them to start in the morning so that they will be warm enough to start when the customer comes!
Don’t buy the first van that you see. Have a look around to make sure that you are getting what you really want and to get a feel for what is a good van and what is not.
Generally, you just want an all-round decent vehicle that hasn’t been abused. Vans tend to have a hard life so you really need to search for one that has had a bit of care and you’ll be OK.
Barry and Jane Winterton are a husband and wife team who run Vantastic Van Sales, a small company based in Buckinghamshire that specialises in selling second-hand Vauxhall Vivaros and Renault Trafics. Jane has a natural instinct for spotting a good van and Barry is an ex-mechanic so he makes sure that all the vans are checked and are sound before they are sold on. Tel: 07513 107533