For what it's worth: I decided to start off buying a used van from a private seller. This comes with loads of pitfalls but at the end of the day IMO unless you can afford a brand new van well worth it. Having said that as I speak today, reading some posts on this forum, I get the feeling I am better off with my re worked old van than a new one. I agree with OC that the best time is off season or near to start of the summer season. In off season dealers and private sellers have less demand consequently you are likely to get a better deal. Most established caravaners that are upgrading like to do so a few months before their summer season starts, which was the case with my seller. Although I had caravan-ed in Africa extensively, I had been out for at least 15 years so in principle I did not fully understand all the things to look out for. In the end however have ended up with a great Swift 2010 van purchase price £7500 and have spent about £3000/4000 on improvements. We are very happy.
Things I would now look out for.
1. IMO the first time you see the van, look at the outside general condition, make a big decision about how much love you think that van has had during its life, then test and reaffirm that opinion the first time you get in the van and look at the general appearance of the van.
2. In my case, both first impressions were good. Only if these are good bother to look deeper.
3. Even though we were happy, we still ended up basically doing a deep clean of the whole van interior including steam cleaning all cushions etc “to make it our own”.
4. The next test I would do is test for moisture. A leaky van is a nightmare. A simple meter costing around £10.00 is good enough for this purpose. Find bad readings, walk away.
6. Now start looking at the electrics, ask and check things that should work on mains and things that should work on van battery.
7. In my case the battery was missing, another extra cost to replace a 110 VA battery. About £100
8. Old vans mostly have halogen light bulbs, so you will need to change most of them to reduce battery load especially for off grid use.
9. While on about it try and check that the battery charger is working.
10. All this is difficult so just do the best you can under the circumstances. Small things, but no battery gives you a “physiological” advantage when haggling price.
11. Then ask the seller to demonstrate and explain every fuse and circuit breaker in the van including the “control panel” if it has one.
12. On this point DO NOT EXPECT TO REMEMBER. Use your smart phone to video every point explained so you can go back and check if in doubt.
13. Ask and if possible check main electrical appliances like Space Heater, Water Heater, Cooker and Fridge etc.
14. Water heater includes Gas and Electrical controls, knobs settings how to fill start the system up, how to drain, how to switch pump on etc. How not to turn the electrical heating element on without a full tank, burning out the element is a big headache.
15. Same applies to Space Heater, both electrical and gas operation including controls for both.
16. While on the matter of GAS check where the isolation valves are located for each appliance, there should be one for each, water heater, space heater, cooker and fridge.
17. Ask about awnings etc that may come with the van. Would be surprised if they do but check all that out.
18. Check out the tyres, ask when they were last changed and then to see the jack and spare if there is one. Does the van have a lifting bracket fitted?
19. Be sure to check that the van is registered with CRIS, the last thing you want is a copper calling saying you are the proud owner of a stolen van.
20. If you can ask a van dealer to check the expected book value of that make and model van to at least have some idea of price range.
21. Remember if a dealer bought it they would expect to make a minimum of 20 % on resale.
22. Check if it has a motor mover, they are almost and essential today, I had to fit a new Powrtouch which cost about £850.00
Anyway I am sure others may have suggestions but all things being equal, go about it this way and you should be fine.
USE THAT PHONE VIDEO RECORDER!