It was time to roll up my sleeves and get down to serious work. Buying an accessible van from a dealer wasn’t going to work for me and my dad, so this meant that I’d have to go elsewhere. It also meant a whole new approach. If I was going to buy from an individual, I needed a lot of information — and some way of screening out potential problems.
First, I considered what I wanted. Age was less important than mileage; I preferred to have mileage under 70,000, the lift had to accommodate 500 pounds, and the lift door had to be at least 56 inches high. Color, make, model and peripherals were all irrelevant, providing the basic equipment worked.
Then I considered the minimum I needed to know before seriously considering a specific van. There were the obvious questions: what’s the model, how old is it, how many miles, what kind of lift, what’s the clearance from the floor to the lowest top edge of the door. I figured out right away that I wanted a van with current registration in my state, and a current state inspection sticker — a minimum screening tool for mechanical safety.
So when I began to respond to ads, these are the questions I asked. I hit Craigslist first and learned, within the first few emails, that I needed one more question on my list: “Do you own this van?” Oddly enough, the first few people I contacted didn’t. One guy was selling a van for his father, who lived in another state, and another guy was quite vague about exactly who owned the van he was selling. Oops. No way did I need to deal with any title messes — nor did I want to deal with anyone except the van’s owner.
After a couple more emails, one more question was added to the preliminaries: “Why are you selling this van?” It’s amazing what you can learn just by asking the question. “It needs a lot of work” meant that I needed to move on.
You’ve probably figured out by now that all of this pre-screening was designed to do just one thing — to eliminate as many vans as possible from the competition. It worked like a charm. I also eliminated any responders who failed to return emails promptly, or whose emails were vague, abrupt or hostile.
Once a van passed these preliminaries, I asked for a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). One woman took a week to get hers to me; by the time she did, I had already made arrangements to buy our van. One man refused to give me the VIN — and was extremely hostile about the refusal. Nix on that one, of course — whatever he was hiding, we didn’t need.
There weren’t a lot of vans to choose from once I’d put the ads through this process. But I assumed that this meant that, at the least, I’d end up with a van my dad would legally own, and one that we could actually use. I was right about that. More in Part 4.