Buying a van, or other means of transporting a band’s gear is a huge step in growing as a professional musician. It’s a rite of passage in a band’s life, and it truly separates a group of hobbyist from the die-hard, “ham and eggers” (sorry vegan pals.)
There is an inherent responsibility to both other bandmates and fellow highway drivers when selecting a used vehicle to drive all around the country. Safety, fuel economy and even door locks are all of massive importance when choosing a band’s Walmart parking lot oasis. Keeping a few of these in mind when checking out a local Craigslist gem, will save a lot of money and headaches in the long-run.
Don’t be afraid to voice a concern
In a very Tarantino move, skipping right to the negotiation stage of buying a vehicle first. Talk to the seller about what is expected of the vehicle. If a van needs to hold a full lighting rig, PA system and 5 people, mention that. If that example is the case the vehicle will need to support a ton of weight; ask about the suspension, any issues it may have had in the past. Don’t be scared to ask for service history, if the seller doesn’t have any info on that bring it up when submitting an offer.
At the end of the day, there isn’t an obligation to spend any money at all; this can be used to an advantage when buying. If the price isn’t right and the seller knows most of the concerns, walk away. There will alway be another deal in the Classified, or another roadside beauty to drive by. For lack of a better term, being “bullied” into a price is all too common for buyers in unfamiliar situations, and making assertive offers coupled with voicing opinions on the state of the vehicle can sway a buyer to consider a much lower price to sell for that day.
Check out “problem areas.”
A quick Google search can reveal most typical “used car problems to look out for,” but a band’s vehicle has slightly different needs than the normal A to B most are buying for. Many band vehicles get a ton of use over a short time, then sit for extended periods. This makes even the most trivial of imperfections a huge deal over thousands of miles.
Take a look at tire wear. If the passenger side tires are worn well past what the driver side are, there may be a significant suspension problem. If the target is a larger passenger or cargo van, take a look at the leaf springs (usually located under the bed in the rear.) These are almost all that’s holding the gear in the back from riding on the chassis frame itself. Keep an eye out for oil or gas leaks under the vehicle; these can signal minor problems all the way up to major damage so it doesn’t hurt to look and ask.
Start the vehicle
This step gets ignored too often and though it is brief, it can mean the difference between paying too much or even buying a lemon. When arriving at the scene of the sale, if the vehicle is already running this can sometimes signal a red-flag. Hearing how the vehicle starts is a good tell of problems and gives a first impression on what sights, smells and sounds the vehicle makes on ignition; not to mention knowing how long it really takes to start. Smelling gas at start-up could mean a fuel or oxygen sensor issue, these are just a couple of examples with how a simple ignition start can save a ton of time in the long-run.
Know when to wait
It can be hectic to be in a situation where a band or other musical project is in the midst of booking a tour and has no van. This can be elevated further when a previous vehicle situation falls through and a replacement is needed ASAP. In these situations this “rule” can obviously be taken with a grain of salt. But in those cases where no shows are on the horizon or other means of transportation are available, know when to wait it out.
Not only can this be a power negotiation tactic in buying the van; but can also help stifle impulse buying mistakes many fall into when excitement mounts. The best example of this is simply walking away from a sale that needed to be compromised on. Maybe it doesn’t have enough space, or maybe repair bills would be a little too expensive. There will always be another used vehicle out there to check out.
Remember what’s being bought
Wanting the best of the best for a band isn’t a bad thing at all. Finding the safest, most efficient vehicle for a touring band can be the difference between a great national tour and being stuck on the side of the road after the first night. A small amount of rust, off-colored body panels or a door lock that only sometimes works, shouldn’t hold a buyer back from pulling the trigger on an overall great van find. This vehicle will be beaten and abused over the course of many tours and shows; it’s important to know that this isn’t a vehicle that will always be in immaculate condition. Keeping this in mind along with preventing mental anguish towards minor problems is nearly the most important steps in buying a band’s van.