Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Ups and Downs of Buying a Used Van

I had been searching for a van for the shiggy's Out There Tour over the last couple of months. Several reasonal vehicles showed up, but few have the combination for size (full size extended cargo), engine (V-8),  condition (few repairs needed), at a price I could handle.

Last week this appeared to meet most of my needs.

Late '90s E350, V-8, good body and chassis, no rust, good tires, semi-finshed interior with lots of room--and lots of miles.

Made the bus trip to Spokane chased by a snow storm for the inspection and test drive. It looked even better in person. A very easy driver with good manners and a strong, smooth drivetrain. No apparent leaks. All fluids in good shape.

Half an hour later the paperwork is finished and I have handed over an amount well within my budget. Funds leftover to make repairs and outfit it for life on the road hauling me and bikes around the country. Happy me!

Homeward bound through the dark snowy, slushy streets of Spokane. A not-so-quick gas stop swallows $60 without filling the tank (YIKES! almost full), though I was expecting that. It does have a 35 gallon tank. A few more miles to I-90 and I am pointed west and homeward bound. Just 3hours to go.

I like this van. Drives well, comfortable, not even very noisy. I stop only to give myself a break after getting through the slushy conditions in the east.

Backlit at the rest area halfway home. Looks a little sinister with the road grime and the dark cracked headlight (still worked).

I am still grinning.

The roads cleared, the sky opened and the moon shone bright. Nice drive home.

Next day I schedule a safety check with my mechanic.

So I drive it around town over the next few days. This thing is big. BIG. BIG! Still learning where the corners are and erring on the side of leaving too much room. Busy parking lots are interesting.

Fix the headlight, replace the wipers, clean out the back, start scraping off the old gutter company decals. And I still have half a tank of gas (215 miles from the gas station). Still happy me!

At the mechanic this morning. They are finding no major issues. Good brakes, shocks (both almost new), solid suspension except for worn ball joints (a bit expensive to fix), clean fluids though it could use an oil change. Sure, do it.

"We have something to show you." Uh Oh. Metal on the drain plug magnet and you can lightly see it in the drained oil. Something is wrong inside. The engine still runs well, but for how much longer? No way to know. Sad me. Even a pre-sale inspection would not have found this. Oh well...

Going to check on replacement engines. Best case would push the cost to the upper end of the budget. The rest of the van is solid. Even if I had found a lower milage, and more expensive, van, there is no guaranty it would be trouble free.

I will see how it goes.

See you Out There.


  1. Welcome to the BIG Ford van owners club! I hope you and the van will enjoy many miles of road trips together.

  2. Thanks, Craig. Hope I can get the engine thing worked out. Going to make some shortish trips in the meantime.

  3. Did you get them to check the removable wear components like the timing chain, oil pump, distributor drive gear. No point in replacing the motor if it is just something relatively easy to replace.

  4. Craig-
    I may see if a buddy would help me do that. The mechanic would have a high labor charge just to get to the engine. I could do much of that myself and I think my friend (a Ford hot rodder) could do the engine work.

    The mechanic does suspect the timing chain/idler but also fears bearing damage as the oil pressure was fluctuating a fair amount. Pressure has been fine since the oil change, though.

  5. You could also pull the oil pan to see what debris has settled out there. Magnetic stuff stuck to the oil plug is not bearing material. Years ago I did the timing chain on a Dodge van, lots of stuff to pull to there but not a difficult job. I've also done the heads on a Dodge van, that is actually quite easy as once you pull the dog house the motor is right there.
    What motor does your van have?

  6. Oh ya, get a compression test and leak down test done. That will tell you if the rings, guides, valve seals and head gasket are okay.

    If you can't hear anything knocking, the bearings should be ok.

    You can change main & rod bearings while the motor is in the van if you pull the oil pan.

  7. Some vans require different pressure between the front and back tires, so make sure pressure is appropriate for the specific vehicle in questionSecond Hand Vans