Its compact size and ease of access to the cargo area are reasons for considering buying Piaggio’s microvan, but you should be aware of the type of faults second-hand models can suffer from, writes Steve Banner
Looking a little bit like a steel packing case on wheels, Piaggio’s competitively priced Porter microvan was the mainstay of many a fledgling small business. Now no longer available new in the UK, it was favoured by some fleet operators, too, especially in the public sector.
Able to shift upwards of half a tonne, the Italian-built pocket load-lugger could also be ordered as a pick-up – in two different body sizes – a tipper and in 4x4 guise.
One drawback was the intermittent availability of a diesel engine. The majority of models available second-hand are petrol- powered and employ a 64hp 1.3-litre engine and five-speed gearbox. In some cases the engine was converted to run on LPG, and you may also stumble across an electric Porter.
Aside from its compact dimensions, which make it easy to park, a big advantage of the Porter microvan is that its 3.0m3 cargo box is accessible from three sides. Drawbacks include a spartan cab, mediocre ride and handling, and the uncomfortable feeling there is precious little separating you from anything you might hit head-on. The Porter is forward-control, which means you are sitting on top of the engine rather than behind it.
If you are contemplating buying a second-hand Porter then the first thing to do is to peer underneath from the rear, according to the advice from website UsedVanExpert.co.uk. What you are looking for is corrosion on the fuel pipes towards the centre of the van and where they meet the fuel tank. If present, then sooner or later fuel will start to leak, if it has not done so already. Those pipes will need replacing if they are rusty, says UsedVanExpert, so you should get the van’s price reduced by £200.
Next, lift the seats up and inspect the engine. If there is dampness from oil around the top and sides then that is a sign that the rocker cover gasket needs replacing. That is especially likely to be the case if a Porter is approaching the 80,000-mile mark, says UsedVanExpert, so you should push for a £100 discount from the vendor to cover the cost of getting the necessary work done.
While examining the engine, check out the condition of a metal water hose running across the top. If it is going rusty then it will have to be swapped to prevent damage occurring, and ask for another £60 knocked off the price.
The engine sits on its side, which can pose a potential problem when it comes to lubrication. If it has not been serviced and flushed regularly then the oil can thicken and fail to protect the top end. Therefore, you would be well-advised to insist on seeing proof that the engine has been recently serviced, flushed, and properly inspected before parting with any cash.
Meanwhile, the van is rear-wheel drive, and a clunk when changing gear usually indicates that the prop shaft universal joints need replacing. If the accelerator pedal will not move freely then that means the accelerator cable has become stiff – justification for an £80 price cut to get things sorted out.
You would also be wise to check that the cam belt has been changed on schedule. Typically this should have been done within five years/60,000 miles. Remember, too, that diesel models are especially prone to head gasket problems, says UsedVanExpert, particularly if they are allowed to overheat.
How much can you expect to pay for a second-hand Piaggio Porter? More than you might think, in most cases. Anchor Vans of Stockport was offering a petrol model dating back to 2004 on an 04-plate with 24,895 miles recorded for £2995. Not far away, Cheshire Van Sales in Dukinfield was selling a similar model with 65,000 miles to its name for £1795.
Panda Motors of Swansea was marketing a 2008, 08-registered, petrol pick-up at 37,200 miles for £2995, and M4 Van Centre of Swindon was offering a petrol tipper – 2007 on an 07-plate – that had covered 40,900 miles for £2950.
Just to show diesel examples exist, Anchor Vans of Reading was promoting a pick-up fitted with a 1.4-litre diesel – 2006 on a 56-plate – for £3995 with 21,930 miles.
• Visit www.UsedVanExpert.co.uk for further advice and information.