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Used Camper Vans: Everything You Need to Know Before Buying

Are you beginning your search for used camper vans? Here’s where to find used camper vans and what to do once you’ve found your dream vehicle.

Everything You Need to Know Before You Start Shopping for Used Camper Vans

Shopping for used camper vans.

Perhaps you’ve been following our foray into van camping and are now seriously considering buying a used camper van for your own adventures.

Buying a used camper van is a great way to get started, as you can save a ton of money over buying a new van or camper, plus in many cases, the hard work is already done for you.

However, as with buying anything used, there are many factors to take into consideration.

And that’s where we come in. You can learn from our trials and tribulations and hopefully make an educated decision on the best camper van for you. 

Camper Van Budget

First and foremost, you have to identify a budget for your camper van purchase. And you have to make sure you are accounting for everything in that budget.

Just like buying a fixer-upper house that will need additional investment, the purchase price of your camper van might be only a portion of the amount you end up spending.

Once you have a realistic number that you are willing to spend on your new-to-you camping van, you are ready to start shopping.

Don’t forget to take transportation costs into account, too.

If you are in Ohio and find your dream van in Texas, you’ll have to get yourself to Texas and then drive the van back to Ohio. You’ll have to pay registration fees, taxes and tolls as well. 

NOT SURE IF YOU’RE SOLD ON VAN CAMPING? – Read our post on Van Camping Vs. Tent Camping: Do You Have a Preference?

Camper Van Priorities

a row of used camper vans

Once you have your camper van budget, you are almost ready to start shopping. You still need to identify your priorities when it comes to purchasing a used camper van.

What features are you willing to sacrifice, and what features are non-negotiable?

Are you a DIY fanatic who is just looking for a shell you can build out on your own, or are you looking for a turn-key camper van that is road ready?

Priorities are easier to identify once you have a few van camping trips under your belt, so if you have a chance to rent or borrow a camper van before you buy one, go for it!

Where to Find a Used Camper Van

used camper vans

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of places to start looking for your used camper van.

Although it’s a growing niche, it’s still very much a niche market, so finding the perfect van at your local car dealer is a bit like finding a unicorn. It *might* happen, but it’s best to resign yourself to shopping online and traveling a bit to meet your perfect match. 

Craigslist, and more recently, Facebook Marketplace, are both popular places to buy and sell anything, but since each city/region has its own site, this can easily become overwhelming. 

The best resource for used camper vans is to find like-minded folk. There are many Facebook groups and forums dedicated to van camping and #vanlife and joining these communities often gives you the inside scoop on anything coming up for sale. 

By joining a community, you’ll also get to know other members and have a better sense of security in who you are dealing with. Craigslist is so anonymous, you really have to be careful when making any purchase, especially such a large investment. 

There is a new website called ConversionTrader.com that is also hoping to fill a void in the used camper van market. You can filter based on several attributes and start shopping!

You can also ask friends and family. We once bought a minivan for $1800 from my brother-in-law and we drove it all over the country before we gave it away three years later.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Camper Van

A pale green VW Camper Van

You’ve set your budget, identified your priorities and found what might be your perfect van online. Before you get out your checkbook, there are several questions to ask to ensure that this really is the camper van for you. 

Run a Vehicle History Report

Use Autocheck or Carfax to run the VIN of your potential van and get a vehicle history report. This will tell you if the car has had any serious accidents or if it has been involved in a fire or flood.

Have a Mechanic Look it Over

 A mechanic inspecting a motor.

Unless you are well-versed in cars, it’s worth spending $100 or so to have a professional mechanic take a look at the van. 

You may be more concerned with the living quarters, but if the engine is about to die, you’ll be van camping in your driveway! 

Just like a home inspection, you’ll come away with a list of recommended repairs and estimated costs. 

You can then decide what you can afford and start to negotiate the price of the van. 

Things you can look for before taking it to a mechanic: 

  • Check the tires for plenty of tread- replacing tires is a huge expense, especially on a van.
  • Check tires for unusual wear this could be a sign of a vehicle that is out of alignment or worse. 
  • Take a peek at the engine oil. Pitch black oil is no sign that the vehicle has been well cared for.  
  • Listen for any unusual sounds that could indicate a problem.

My husband and I once purchased a conversion van for a steal only to replace the transmission a month later. Talk about disappointing. That was a huge expense that we hadn’t counted on. This may not have shown up if we had taken it to a mechanic, but it certainly would have stopped us from thinking “What if..”.  

Confirm What is Included

A VW van ready to camp.

If you are buying a camper van that is already fully outfitted, you’ll want to confirm what is actually included in the purchase price. 

Is there already a mattress or furniture in the van, will those come with the van, or will the owner keep them? 

Same for any other accessories, like window shades, sheets or storage units. 

DO YOU NEED SUGGESTIONS ON GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP IN THE VAN? We can help. Here’s our suggestion for the best van camping mattress

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What About Repairs? 

When it comes to purchasing a used camper van you’ll want to take into consideration how costly repairs will be. Let’s face it, a 1969 VW van may be the dream van camping vehicle but what happens if it breaks down or when it needs repairs? Are parts readily available and how much will they cost? 

Will you be able to do any of the repairs yourself or will you need to take your vehicle to the garage? These are all things to consider when purchasing a used camper van. 

Does it Meet Your Needs?

The rear view mirror of a camper van

Using your list of priorities, only you can determine if the camper van will meet your needs. 

  • Do you plan to van camp in shoulder seasons with cold nights? 
  • Does the van you’re looking at have insulation, or can it be added? 
  • Do you want to go off-grid or are you OK with camping at established campgrounds and using their power and water sources? 

These are all things to consider when making that final decision to purchase a used camper van.

What would you add? 

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