A few months ago now, we bought our first campervan (lovely Cecil) in Auckland. We had a great time travelling all over the country, experiencing van life for the first time! We did a lot of research before buying the van and even put together a list of things to look out for and what to avoid. This list also included questions to ask the seller, to learn more about the vehicle and its history. It was extremely useful for us when we were buying Cecil, so I thought I’d share this pre-purchase checklist with you guys!
I’ve summarised everything in this post, but for a more comprehensive & printable PDF guide:
OUTSIDE THE CAR
*Check for obvious signs of damage. Hidden damage is harder to spot, but look for:
- Difference in the colour between panels.
- Bumps or major scratches covered with paint.
- Gently kick the shock absorbers gently to see if they are holding on.
- Look for rust – it may affect the value of the car and can lead to further problems.
- Chips in the windscreen. Small chips are fine and are easily filled in but watch out for chips in the driver’s view as it may not pass a WOF (Warrant of Fitness – a safety check required by law). Larger chips could lead to a bigger crack at the first pot hole if not repaired properly.
- The gaps between the doors and the car should be even all the way around. Check that each door opens and closes properly.
- Check there is a petrol cap and that it fits on OK.
UNDER THE CAR
*Check that the tyres are all the same type.
*Make sure that the tyres are worn evenly, uneven wear can indicate wheel misalignment.
*Check if there is spare tyre and if it’s in good condition.
*Check that the tread (the crack in the tyre) is over 1.5mm – the legal requirement. Over 3mm is better. See my PDF for more information and a photo guide!
*Check the jack and lug nut wrench. Do they have any jack blocks?
*Check there are no leaks: look at the bottom of the car and on the floor where it is parked.
*Check underneath the car for rust.
*Check the exhaust pipe (tailpipe) to see if it is well fixed and not wobbly.
UNDER THE BONNET
*Check the oil level. If it is too low, it may mean there is a leak. Green or orange stains indicate a leak.
*Check all fluid levels where applicable, including brake fluid, power steering, transmission fluid, coolant and windscreen wash. Transmission fluid shouldn’t smell burnt! Make sure all levels are above the low line and under the max line.
*Check for leaks of oil, water or gas inside.
*Look at the radiator for rust damage – this can be an expensive repair!
*Look for any obvious signs that parts have been repaired/replaced.
*Check the battery for corrosion.
*Check all pipes for damage – squeeze them – shouldn’t be too hard or too soft.
INSIDE THE CAR
*Adjust all seats and mirrors to check they move as they should.
*Controls: check indicators, locks, lights (including warning lights) and heater, indicators, full beam boot lock, radio, AC, etc to see if they work.
*Lift up corners of the carpets where possible and check for rust, dampness and mould.
*Check that the seat belts work and are not worn out.
*Check the windows open and close easily and close completely.
*Check charge ports work.
*Check glove box
*Check sun visors
*Check windscreen wipers and all other accessories.
It’s really important you take the car for a test drive and have a go at driving the vehicle yourself. Try and avoid just taking it for 5 minutes down the nearest road – a 20 minute drive over multiple roads is advisable.
*Check how easy is the engine to start – the harder it is, the less you want the car!
*Have someone start the car whilst you wait at the back. If thick white/blue/black smoke comes out when started, there may be a problem. See this guide for more information.
*Check the steering wheel – it should not have too much play (be too loose). Check before starting and during the drive.
*Before taking to the open road, drive around the car park or street to see if:
- The car goes straight when the steering wheel is straight and doesn’t veer off to one side.
- The steering wheel stays straight if you let it go while the car is moving.
- The breaks are not too loose, you shouldn’t have to put your feet down to the floor to stop.
- Check that the car stops straight.
*Route – try and find a highway to be able to increase your speed and see how the car reacts.
- The car shouldn’t be too noisy.
- The steering wheel shouldn’t shake once the speed is increased.
- Check there are no fuel or oil smells.
- The engine should not heat up too much. Heat coming from the engine to the driver or passenger seat is not good.
- Test the gears again – it is always better to test twice.
*Try and find a big hill to see how the vehicle handles it.
- Does it maintain a good speed?
- Switch gears and see if it is smooth enough.
- Listen for unusual/unhappy engine noises.
- Try and stop/park uphill and use the handbrake, it should hold the car even on a hill.
- On the way down, check the suspension a little to see how rough it is and test the brakes again.
*After the test drive check that reverse gear works fine.
*Make sure that when you turn off the engine, it stops running.
*Do they have the owner’s manual?
*Ask if there is any debt attached to the car (you can follow this up with an online pre-purchase check which will highlight any debt).
*Ask to see all repair history and receipts. Every vehicle is required to have a registration document and Warrant of Fitness (WOF). The longer you have on the WOF, the better!
*Check how many keys come with the car.
There are a few questions worth asking the seller to find out more information about the car. I’ve listed all these and more in a full PDF guide!
I spent a lot of time working on the guide, but I wanted to make it free to read so that as many people can benefit from it as possible. If you’d like to thank me for my efforts, you can treat me to a coffee by sticking a few quid in my PayPal account 🙂
Obviously, it won’t always be possible for you to buy and sell a campervan, especially if you are only in New Zealand for a short amount of time. It would be unrealistic to expect to buy and sell a campervan if you are travelling for less than 6 weeks. It would still be cost effective to buy a van if you are travelling for 4 weeks, but you’d need to factor in a couple of weeks before and after your travels to allow yourself time to find a van and then sell it on at the end.
If you would prefer to hire rather than buy, there are plenty of options including generic car hire companies, which sometimes offer great deals on relocation. If they need to get the car from one place to another (e.g. after another traveller has rented from one place, but finished in another) they will usually offer a discounted price. For a more personal experience, you can use a company like My Car Your Rental which is like AirBnB but for cars 🙂 They have a large range of locally owned cars and campervans which you can borrow for an hour or more. They all come with full cover insurance, which is great for piece of mind whilst you are driving around New Zealand!
If you are looking for more general information and advice for buying a campervan, see my last post: