Is this website dead? No it isn’t!

I’m still in the middle of trying to find a good van but have been unsuccessful so far. A while ago, when all the snow was trying to stop life in the UK (it doesn’t take much), there were a couple of good vans available quite a distance away from where I live. The problem was getting there through the snow. Even getting out of my street on summer tyres is nigh on impossible as part of it is on a gradient. To make things even more interesting I had the flu. So when it’s snowed I’m easily stuck at home, unless I remember to park the car at the top, running the risk of it being driven into by someone who thinks It’s fun to drive around in the snow while not having any skills to do so. I know not everyone is like that but during the first spell of snow I walked to the shop, about a mile away and some idiot was doing 360 spins in his/a car in the middle of the road… sheer madness and dangerous for the pedestrians who were out.

Anyway, I digress… so I wasn’t able to go and see any of those vans, let alone buy one. I’ve seen a few since but without finding one I was prepared to buy. I’m not the most confident person when it comes to buying a car so I used my time wisely and went on the web to do some research to increase my ability to distinguish good from bad NV200s. Here’s what I found:

What to look out for specifically when buying an NV200 Combi?

This was the first thing I found:

The list at the bottom of the page is quite a useful list of things to check for this car/van (van derived car? Yes, I’ll coin that expression) especially. It lists:

  • Check the brake lights are working
  • Check the quality of the Bluetooth connection
  • Check for outstanding recalls
  • Check the quality of the gearshift
  • Check for any loose, leaking pipes in the engine bay, especially the turbo pipes
  • Check the tightness of the exhaust mounts underneath
  • Is the cover or waterproofing missing around the ECU?


More general tips on buying a car…

I then went to look for more general stuff and found this gem of a website:

This guy has probably saved me a lot of money (and no I’m not paid to say this!).

By following his list of checks I found one van that clearly had a rear wheel traction problem which I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. The rear axle on an NV200 is a weak point I found out. Apparently it can’t be lined out like the front wheels are and any misalignment because of hitting a pothole or a curb may cost money in tyres in tbe long run.

My neighbour’s boyfriend then taught my how to recognise feathered tyres. Which is a handy trick as well. If the dealer hasn’t changed them, that is…

From the used car guy’s website I also learnt a lot of different tricks the uninitiated and potentially easy to fool people like myself can use to help prevent buying a lemon. (‘fun’ fact: did you know that Citroen means lemon in Dutch? – Not that Citroen cars are lemons of course!). Ask me about a lot of things but not cars… but I’m improving fast!

What does it smell like?

Important for me is that it’s not been smoked in. One of the reasons is that I’m going to sleep in this van, and I personally don’t want to sleep in something that’s been soaked in tar and nicotine. You could argue that you can have it professionally valeted and cleaned but I know that this doesn’t completely make sure the air in the van is as clean as possible. You can clean all you like, the smell will come back, about which more later.

Ah, but you can use products to hide the smell I can hear a lot of people think. Well, yes… but the smell is only part of the problem. The toxins me and my passengers and I will have to sit in and I will have to sleep in are what matters. In addition to this, covering up a smell by using a range of additional toxic chemicals is far from a good idea in my opinion. This is not a tirade against smoking by the way. It’s about choices I choose to make. People do what they want but I don’t want them to foist the effects of their addiction onto me!

Now, to test for cigarette/cigar/pipe smoke (I haven’t seen anyone smoking a pipe in ages!): there are a number of things most dealers will do. From my point of view, as opposed to making the car look good to get a good sale, all these are tantamount to lying because if you cover this up and someone really doesn’t want to (or can’t for a health reasons – asthma for instance) drive around (or sleep in!) the smell of stale cigarettes, you’re conning them into buying a vehicle they would normally have to reject outright and which they deem unfit for purpose. So, after some research, these are things to look out for:

  • Arriving at the site, especially after a booking, which I normally try and avoid at all cost, and all the doors and the boot of the van are open to ‘air it out’.
  • Opening the door and finding a strong chemical smell. This in itself will linger and would make me think twice, but what is it trying to mask?
  • Smell the headrests and other parts of the upholstery of the car that can’t easily be replaced, such as mats, and which aren’t covered up by someone’s body while driving or being a passenger.
  • Even if this all comes up clear, try the air conditioning, if present, and the heater/air circulation system on different settings and smell the vents. Smoke permeates those as well and they are normally not replaced and difficult to valet.
  • Look at the ceiling lining; is it discoloured? How does it smell?
  • Look for burn marks anywhere.
  • Look at the window sills on all windows for signs of ash. Many drivers will get rid of ash through the window.
  • Lift up inside trims and look for signs of ash

Doggy smell, albeit arguably more ‘natural’, is another thing I want to avoid because it’s hard to get rid of – and even harder to sleep in, especially when you start noticing.

Other things to look out for and which I’ve come across:
  • Accident repairs: look at both number plates. Don’t worry if they have been replaced by the dealer selling the van. A lot of places seem to do this. Do worry if it’s the only vehicle this has happened to. However, number plates with different garages/businesses on them indicates there has most likely been some accident damage.
  • An obvious one in retrospect: a cubby hole or something in the car with lots of white grit-like granules in it. These are most likely water absorbing granules so the car has a problem with damp and water ingress somewhere.
  • I always check the radio presets as well. They can tell you a lot about what kind of driver has used the car before.


How I check a car

The short and narrow is: like a pedant! (within reason of course). Because I’m not going to pay a lot of money for something I don’t want, that doesn’t suit me, or that’s not working properly. It’s my money and I want to buy something that lasts for years to come and something I’m 100% happy with.

I use the following steps:

I find vans using the normal list of websites through google. These are the websites I normally check first:

  • Autotrader: almost ‘the to go to’ website for this sort of thing.
  • Nissan used cars: there seem to be two versions for some reason. One of them will mention the van’s previous use in relatively vague terms.
  • Cargurus: you can find out how long it’s been on there, price changes and the number plate, even if it’s not visible elsewhere.
  • The RAC used cars website: sometimes brings up vans that aren’t on other websites
  • Parkers

Checking out the dealer: I then try and find dealer reviews and when I’m not sure, the dealer’s history online. I do look at this with a critical eye as these can easily be used as either a marketing tool by dealers or as a place where some trolls may vent their stuff. Also, I’m critical of the balance of good/bad reviews as people can be more likely to add a review when it’s bad then when it’s good.

Generally, to learn how ‘the other side’ feels, reading a dealer forum is a good investment of time as well in my option. You learn a lot about their practices but also about what they hate about visitors/buyers and how (not) to look stupid when you’re checking a car you’re interested in.

Pre-visit check: I use the list below to check out any van I like the look of and when I’m fairly happy with the dealer. The (for me) critical items are in red, the ones that need verifying and check out further are in amber.

Visiting and checking a car: I use the list from plus some more. Some of the extra things I check for are mentioned above.

My pre-visit check looks something like this:

Licence plate:

  • Website link
  • Colour
  • Number of previous keepers
  • Full service history
  • Origin
  • Number of seats
  • Dealer warranty
  • Comments on dealer
  • Location
  • Price
  • Mileage
  • Where was it registered
  • When was it first registered
  • Car age


DVLA vehicle check

  • Date of first registration:
  • Export marker:
  • Vehicle colour
  • Vehicle type approval: M1 (tax etc)

DVLA MOT check

  • MOT valid until
  • Date tested
  • Mileage (to verify)
  • Pass or Fail
  • Advisory notice item(s)
  • Outstanding recalls

Value check

  • Settings: buy from dealer excellent condition)

HPI Check

  • Alerts
  • Vehicle Registration Mark (VRM) to check
  • Current mileage to check
  • Engine number
  • Colour to check
  • Number of colour changes
  • Last colour change date
  • Year of manufacture (to check)
  • Current owner/keeper acquired on
  • Date of first registration in the UK
  • Number of previous owners/keepers
  • Exported
  • Scrapped
  • Tax Status
  • Tax Expiry Date (could indicate how long it’s been for sale for)
  • Police – stolen
  • Insurance theft
  • Outstanding finance
  • Security watch
  • Plate transfer

Vehicle condition

  • Condition alert (Y/N)
  • Condition inspected (Y/N)

Vehicle documents

  • V5C (Logbook) issue date
  • V5C (Logbook) serial number


Anyway… on with the search for a good van and hopefully soon I’ll be able to let you know about a hopefully (because any car purchase is to some extent a gamble) buy, so I can start documenting how I convert mine.