Car buyers' guide: Ex-tourist vans can be a ticking time bomb

By Jack Biddle

Suzuki APV. Photo / Supplied
Suzuki APV. Photo / Supplied

The dilemma

Summer has lured Paul into planning an extended camping holiday around New Zealand - but first he needs some wheels.

"I'm thinking of spending January and February driving around the South Island and maybe exploring the upper North Island if time allows," he explains.

"I don't intend going off-road and would prefer something big enough to sleep in, if need be."

Paul has seen a few old vans that overseas owners have used for similar trips and are selling before heading home.

"I may keep the vehicle for a while, and use it for everyday driving when I've finished my travels," he says.

For the majority of people touring the country in old vans, money is primarily for touristy activities and day-to-day living expenses.

They initially look to buy cheap and live and drive in the hope the vehicle will last the distance with no thought given to even the most basic servicing. At best, the oil and water levels get checked on an infrequent basis.

A quick on-sell once the trip is over can often mean passing the hand grenade on to the next unsuspecting tourist. People sell in good faith but there are never any guarantees buying into this market.

For some unlucky travellers, it is often cheaper to simply walk away from these vehicles when expensive repairs develop during their journey due to poor past servicing. A broken cambelt or cooling system failure can often mean repairs can cost as much as the vehicle.

If your journey includes stops at holiday parks which have cooking, toilet and hot shower facilities, your wheels may not need to be anything too lavish.

Budget: $6000-$8000
The shortlist

Suzuki APV (1.6 litre)

Mechanically the 1.6 litre and 5-speed manual APV is as billy-basic as you can get, which for your needs is not such a bad thing. Most have been used for commercial purposes of some sort, are NZ-new, cheap to run, reliable and have solid past service histories. Interior space with good overall height would easily accommodate a bed. A couple of airbags, anti-locking brakes, air-conditioning and a CD/radio should all come as standard. No rocket ship but what tourist was ever in a hurry?

Mazda E2000 Campervan

If you are seeking more independence and home comforts, the Mazda Campervan may be worth a look. Petrol engine and 5-speed manual transmission will provide reasonable fuel consumption.

Toyota Hiace

Many of these have been converted into campervans and in your price range have travelled the equivalent of "to the moon and back". Both petrol and diesel power units are available and you have the choice of manual or automatic transmission. Toyota has a name for reliability but even they don't last forever without occasional love and attention.

Driven recommends

Suzuki APV: Cheap to run, a good daily runner once the travelling is finished and easier to sell.

- NZ Herald

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