For bakery owners, buying a new vehicle to transport perishable goods can be an expensive business, particularly when looking for specialist vehicles such as refrigerated vans. Many fledgling firms opt for used vehicles when attempting to build up a small business or start-up on a tight budget. Most will be aware of the used commercial van dealerships. But there is an alternative option that offers a wide variety of vehicles and potential to unearth a bargain - the auction.

The main advantage is the fact the vehicles, having been supplied new to bakeries, are fully specified for the task in hand. The cost of specifying a vehicle to these standards can cost a large amount of money so the added value in the used vehicle also plays a part in the savings you make by sourcing second-hand through the auction.

"Those in the bakery trade may be apprehensive about the auction process - thinking it’s just for dealers and expert vehicle buyers," says British Car Auctions (BCA) business development manager Duncan Ward. "But it doesn’t have to be a daunting experience and, with a little knowledge, you can get a great deal. Buying at auction is a simple solution and can save a considerable amount of time, especially when compared with searching for what’s available elsewhere."

He argues that an auction is one of the best places for those in the baking industry to source a commercial vehicle, "which are all competitively priced and fit-for-purpose".

== Beyond the price ==

Of course, price is not the only consideration when it comes to delivering chilled foods. Buying fridge or freezer vans introduces another set of parameters to be concerned about. "You’ve not only got to look at the van itself, but also the fridge or freezer box and the cooling systems," says Ward. "Generally, it’s best to avoid the older, high-mileage examples - while these are likely to be the cheapest, it could be a false economy in the long run."

At BCA, all commercial vehicles are ’sold as seen’, he adds, and the vendor of the vehicle gives no warranty against the condition of the vehicle. So bakers should take every opportunity to examine them prior to entering the auction hall.

But aren’t the vans at auctions likely to be clapped-out old bangers? No, says Matt Brookes, general manager for Commercial Vehicle Auctions, whose main source of vehicles is from Greggs the Bakers. He says: "Greggs’ vehicles are all well-maintained, one-owner vehicles, with full service history. They’re well spec’d for the job in hand, with good fridge units and tail-lifts."

Recent auctions have sold Greggs’ 1998-1999 DAF 7.5-tonne Box Trucks and 2000-2001 Mercedes Atego 7.5-tonne Box Trucks, but smaller vans come up from time to time, from Ford Transit 3.5-tonne vans up to 44-tonne DAF Drawbar rigs. In the main, these vehicles are around five to seven years old, but are claimed to be well maintained.

On the other hand, in buying a vehicle from auctions you never really know what you are getting. Quite often, the fridge will not be working on an auction van and it’s not always possible to check the vehicles before you buy. "You can sometimes get a good deal," says Mark Beaton at dealership CoolVan. "If you do buy at auction, make sure it’s a vehicle that is offloaded at the end of a contract by a lease/finance company; that way there should be a full history with the van, and it should be in good running order."

== Avoid the fish van ==

Other things to check for is what the vehicle has been used for. "Fish vans smell - that’s not good if you then use the vehicle for bakery, as the smell can taint goods," advises Beaton.

If finances permit, a new vehicle is often the best option as you get fridge warranties, as well as breakdown cover. "We always check every used vehicle before it leaves our site," he says. "Obviously, a used vehicle is cheaper and has already done its big depreciation, but it’s like anything: when you’re buying used, you can never guarantee you won’t get issues."


=== Where to go ===

l BCA holds regular, dedicated commercial vehicle auctions in the following locations: Manchester Belle Vue, Glasgow, Bedford, Measham, Newport, Birmingham, Blackbushe, Bridgewater, Bridgehouse, Derby, Enfield, Nottingham, Paddock Wood, Peterborough, Preston and Tewkesbury. A typical BCA auction will offer up to 400 vans for sale on the day, a figure that may surprise some firms expecting a limited choice. For more information visit: []

l CVA Auctions regularly sell refrigerated vans, including the disposal of Greggs’ fleet through auction. This is primarily 7.5t-18t HGVs. However, they do get some vans through from their fleet. They also see a regular number of refrigerated vans from a variety of sources: contract hire fleets and rental fleets. These are normally around three to five-years old. []

l If you’d rather avoid the stress of an auction, these dealerships specialise in refrigerated vans:

Cool Move: []

Petit Forestier: []

CoolVan: []

Jiffy Trucks: []


=== Top auction tips ===

The primary advantage is the cost-saving through auction, compared to a dealer’s forecourt. There are some fantastic savings available, but potential bidders need to be aware of a few rules when buying at the auction

l Older, cheaper, high-mileage vehicles could be a false economy in the long run, especially with fridge or freezer vans, which may have faulty cooling systems

l Check for outstanding finance prior to the auction to be sure the vehicle is clear of any finance or lease agreement

l Arrive in good time for the sale, especially if you’re looking for specialised vehicles, such as refrigerated vans, as this will give you a chance to have a look at what is available and to give the vehicles you are interested in a thorough visual appraisal

l Auctions generally operate on a ’sold as seen’ basis, so be absolutely certain you’ve checked the vehicle out thoroughly before you wink at the auctioneer

l When checking the fridge, run the engine and ensure the fridge control in the cab is set to 0?C or 3?C, then watch it for 10 minutes or so and make sure the temperature drops

l Where the auction has an online preview facility, go prepared, by logging on before the auction. If there is a specific type of vehicle you are after, checking out the web facility can be an invaluable tool to locate what you want and where it is being sold. The BCA network can be viewed at []

l As a buyer at auction, remember that you are there to get a good deal, so setting a limit on what to spend is sensible

l When the auction starts, vehicles are driven in lot order in front of the rostrum to be sold. Stand somewhere the auctioneer can clearly see you and bid by waving your catalogue to catch their eye

l Then, once the auctioneer knows you are bidding, he will return to you if others outbid you, so don’t worry. Generally, bidding increases in £100 increments, although when bidding slows, the auctioneer will usually take a £50 or even a £25 bid

l If bidding doesn’t reach the reserve value set by the seller, the vehicle will be sold provisionally to the top bidder. The auctioneer then contacts the seller to see if they will accept the bid. More often than not, sellers will approve the sale, which means you could be getting a good-value deal

l Don’t forget to budget for VAT, which is added on top following the closing bid