After lots of research you have finally settled on the model of minivan you want, and have found a few possible candidates from your Craigslist and AutoTrader searches, but how do you make sure you are buying the best used minivan you can find, and not a lemon?
Below is our list of 7 things to check when buying a used minivan to make sure you don’t end up with any unexpected problems.
#1 – Run a background check using a tool Like VIN Check Pro. Checks like these are very affordable and cheap. You simply supply the vehicle identification number or VIN and it will run an in depth background check on the vehicle. This can include information like the title status, and if the vehicle has any outstanding finance owing on it as well as if it has been involved in any accidents or insurance claims, or has previously been declared a total loss.
This type of report doesn’t always tell you if a vehicle is good, but is a great way to work out if it could cause future problems without having to spend the time to go and look at it.
#2 – So your background check didn’t turn up anything worrying, so you go and look at the minivan. The first thing to check is all of the switches and controls, if the car has power mirrors, doors or windows check they all work, and if they can be controlled from multiple places check from all of them. Electrical repairs and replacements can be expensive, especially when you are trying to find a problem hidden somewhere in the miles of cables that come in modern vehicles.
Also, don’t forget to test things like the radio operation on all of the bands and things like backup cameras and reversing sensors if they are fitted.
#3 – If the interior checks out, time to check the exterior. Are all of the body panels the same color, open the doors and trunk to check the insides of those too, and even lift the carpet in a few places to make sure the color matches and there are no signs of repairs.
One good indicator of having repair work done is inconsistent shut lines, what this means is that the gap between two body panels should the same along the length of that join, look between the edges of the doors and the fenders, or the hood and the fenders, if the gaps between them are not the same this could be a sign that one or more of them may have been replaced.
One last thing to check the exterior for is dents, I find this easiest to do by standing 3 to 4 feet behind a vehicle and about a foot out from the edge and the look down the length of the car, this seems to make dents stand out more than when I look directly at the car side on.
#4 – It is now time to pop the hood and check under there. Some vehicles have their VIN plate under here (others have it mounted to the side of the drivers door frame) so now is a good time to check that number matches the one you researched in step 1.
You also need to look for signs of anything that may be leaking or has low levels, while a low level may not be a problem it may be an indicator that the van has not been maintained correctly.
Finally, put your hand on top of the engine to see if it is warm. Warm engine starts can hide some engine problems that starting a cold engine would show, if the engine is not cold you may want to see if you can find out why it is warm. Then have someone start the van while you are watching the tailpipe, a small amount of white smoke is normal, especially if it is cold out, but large amounts of dark smoke are normally a warning sign.
#5 – On to the test drive, here you are looking for anything that feels or sounds wrong. Make sure the radio is turned off, and drive a little way with the windows both open and closed as that can help isolate sounds from the inside and the outside. Apply the brakes sharply (after checking nobody is behind you), make sure the van doesn’t sharply pull one way or the other while braking, also does the vehicle feel like it is stopping quickly, if this is your first minivan, remember it is a big, heavy vehicle, so it will not stop as quickly as your Miata.
Also listen for rubbing and scraping noises, especially while turning, and banging coming from suspension if you go over any bumps. If you have a quiet straight stretch of road you can try removing your hands from the steering wheel briefly to see if the minivan continues in a straight line, if it doesn’t it could be as simple as the alignment being slightly off, the camber of the road or a difference in tire pressures, but it could also be a sign of major damage to the vehicle, so would be worth further investigation.
#6 – Do a final check around the minivan to make sure everything looks and feels right, Look for things like lots of wear on the pedals if the car is supposed to be low milage, do the tires look like they are wearing evenly, are there any tears in the seats or carpets possibly indicating a hard life as an Uber or Amazon delivery vehicle?
#7 – If after all of those steps you are still on the fence, or you don’t feel confident enough in your skills to spot some of these problems consider getting the van independently inspected.
This means you take the minivan to someone you trust rather than relying on the seller, or the mechanic that works at the same company. This could be taking it to a local independent service shop, or even taking it to a dealership if it is a newer and more expensive vehicle. Tell them you are thinking of buying it and would like it inspected. They will check the vehicle over, and give you a list of any problems they find, most will not tell you if the van is a good buy or not, but having a list of what is wrong can help you make your mind up, or negotiate a better price knowing you have some issues that will need to be fixed.
Hopefully this list can help you avoid some of the lemons, and find the perfect minivan to keep you and your family safe and mobile for years to come.