Buying a New vs Used Van for Van Life

Learn what to consider when buying a new vs used van for van life, tips for buying a van, and where to search for your perfect van.

Deciding whether or not to buy a new vs used van for van life is a huge decision. A new van is a blank slate and usually comes with a warranty, but buying new comes at a hefty price tag.

On the other hand, a used van can save you a ton of money and time, but it also comes with risks. Unless the van was converted by a professional with a good reputation, it’s hard to know the quality of the conversion and whether it will last for the long haul.

In this blog post, we break down the pros and cons of buying a new vs used van for van life and things you should consider before buying a used van.


Buying a New Van

Buying a new van means an empty slate. The van is your canvas, and you can literally customize it to make it exactly what you want, from the layout to the components to the colors.

Buying new is a fun and exciting process, but whether you hire someone or DIY, you have your work cut out for you. You’ll be making a lot of important decisions, and be prepared for some ups and downs as you work to build out your dream van. Before you decide on whether to buy a new or used van, or whether to hire a conversion company or DIY it, we recommend asking yourself these important questions to help you prioritize your needs for your van build.

Buying a new van and building it out also takes time. If you’re choosing a Sprinter, you might have to wait for the van to be ready from the factory, and then you have to factor in the build process. If you want to hit the road next week or even the next few months, buying a new van will make that almost impossible, especially since there are more people buying vans than ever.

Kristen in her Sprinter // Learn what to consider when buying a new vs used van for van life, tips for buying a van, and where to search for your perfect van.

Pros of Buying a New Van

  • Completely customizable to fit your needs
  • Starting fresh: there are no mechanical or cosmetic issues
  • Typically under warranty
  • Longevity: a new van should outlive a used van

Cons of Buying a New Van

  • Much more expensive
  • Longer timeframe to hit the road
  • Typically higher insurance premiums
Color palette for Bearfoot Theory's custom campervan conversion by Outside Van // Learn the pros and cons of buying a new vs used van for van life, tips for buying a used van, and tips for where to buy a camper van.
These are the materials and colors I chose for my van during the custom design process with Outside Van.

Buying a Used Van

Buying used is a great option for those of you on a tighter budget or those of you who aren’t sure how long you’ll want to do van life (or if you’ll even like it at all!).

Getting a used, already converted van will put you on the fast track to hitting the road and gives you the opportunity to try van life without all of the work. In the process, you’ll learn what you do and don’t like, and if you ever decide to trade it in for something more custom, you’ll have a very clear picture of what you want.

Learn what to consider when buying a new vs used van for van life, tips for buying a van, and where to search for your perfect van.
Former BFT Writer, Mary Kathryn, brought a used van and then converted it herself on a DIY budget

Pros of Buying a Used Van

  • Less expensive than buying new
  • Quicker turnaround to getting on the road (if it’s already converted)
  • Typically cheaper insurance premiums

Cons of Buying a Used Van

  • Uncertainty about the vehicle’s mechanical issues
  • Uncertainy about the quality of the build or issues previous owners might have faced with their conversion
  • Uncertainy about how the van is wired, if the plumbing is solid, or if the batteries are in good condition

Further, if you have any problems, it’s unlikely that the conversion or parts will be under warranty, and fixing the van may require more work and money than you expect. If the vehicle is still under warranty, that’s great. Just be sure to contact the manufacturer to make sure the warranty is transferable.

With used vans, particularly used Sprinter vans, rust is the most commonly talked about issue, but it’s not the only one to pay attention to.

Learn what to consider when buying a new vs used van for van life, tips for buying a van, and where to search for your perfect van.
BFT Content Coordinator Courtney in her used Econoline

Tips for Buying a Used Van

When you find a used van you’re seriously interested in – if it’s a big investment (and you lack mechanical knowledge), I highly recommend having a mechanic inspect the van before you sign the dotted line. You can also get a CARFAX report on the vehicle which will tell you of any accidents the van has been in, confirm odometer mileage, previous owners, and other information. This is a great resource for peace of mind before buying a used van.

Also, make sure you do your homework. Speak to the owner or dealership thoroughly about everything and ask all your questions. If you’ve never owned or shopped for a van before, bring someone knowledgeable with you to look at the van, and get a solid rundown of how everything is set up and works before taking the leap.


Where to Search for a Van

Searching for a van should be a fun process, and while you may be eager to dive into van life, don’t feel pressured to buy the first van you find. The more patient you are, the better you’ll understand the market. You’ll learn what a good deal looks like and things to watch out for.

Even if you’re buying a new van vs a used van, patience and shopping around could save you a few thousand dollars. Depending on what type of vehicle you are purchasing, some dealers may be willing to negotiate, although that’s almost unheard of with the 4×4 Sprinter.

If you’re looking for a Sprinter van specifically, check out this blog post on where to find a Sprinter van for sale.

Other websites to look for used camper vans are Conversion Trader and Van Life Trader.

At the top of this blog post, you’ll find a downloadable PDF with a full list of websites, forums, and Facebook groups where you can search for a van. So download that, bookmark those pages, and make checking those pages part of your daily routine.

Learn what to consider when buying a new vs used van for van life, tips for buying a van, and where to search for your perfect van.

Do you have any questions about buying a new vs used van for van life? Share your comments, questions, and experiences below!

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

9 comments on “Buying a New vs Used Van for Van Life

  1. Just starting out. Your wisdom is very helpful. Will continue to learn with you and hopefully make the right decisions.

  2. This is a 5-year plan. I will be semi-retired and my wife will be retired in 2 years. I love road trips and I believe home on wheels (van) will be economical and we’re free. Your lessons are very insightful and I will definitely use each one of the module lessons learned. Thank you.

    1. We’re so glad you’re finding these lessons helpful! Best of luck with your journey and keep us posted 🙂

  3. Nice blog. Very informative. A Number Plate Check provides you with a report, and it describes the total number of van Number Plate Changes. It would be best for you to choose a vehicle with a ‘zero’ number plate shift background. This means that the van is really safe to purchase. A stolen van check not only guarantees you that you have not purchased stolen goods but also ensures that you do not finally end up losing your money and your van.

  4. I can’t find the pdf with all the resources to go to to look for a used van. Can you point me in the right direction . We are interested in an already converted van but having a hard time finding them.

    Thx
    Lori

    1. Hi Lori – the PDF will be emailed to you. Just fill in your name and email in the sign-up box under resources.

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