Buying a used... Nissan Primastar

Date: Monday, December 2, 2013   |  

Nissan’s Primastar, built on the same platform as the Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro, is due to be replaced next year. John Challen looks at what should be paid attention to when considering a used example

Launched in 2001, the Nissan Primastar was overhauled in 2006, with upgrades made to the engine, gearbox and overall kit levels within the vehicle. Sharing much of its underpinnings and componentry with the Vauxhall Vivaro and Renault Trafic, the Primastar continues to boost Nissan light commercial sales, and offer another option in the crowded large panel van segment.

The mid-life facelift saw a new engine option, a 2.0-litre unit with 89hp or 113hp, from the Renault-Nissan alliance replacing the French manufacturer’s 1.9-litre oil-burner with 81hp or 99hp outputs. From 2006, all LCVs in the range were also fitted with a six-speed transmission, while the following year the crew van variant was introduced, offering three additional seats in the rear.

Those looking for a used Primastar are advised to check the paperwork to see if the cam belt has been changed on schedule. In the majority of engines, the cam belt must be changed within five years or 72,000 miles. If it and associated parts (such as rollers) have not been changed, and the mileage is over these boundaries, a cam belt failure is the likely result. In these cases, the engine usually has to be replaced, or at least re-built. Should the vehicle be close to its interval, ensure that the cam belt is changed before the van is driven anywhere. This job will cost in the region of £270, so if it’s not changed then try and recoup this money from the sale price is the advice given by

Also make sure the engine management lights come on with the ignition, and go out a few seconds after you start the engine. If the lights don’t come on they may have burned out, or have been removed to hide a bigger fault. The specific lights to check for here are ABS, engine and stop light. Should lights stay on, the problem will usually be the wiring loom, control unit (ECU) or (camshaft) sensor. The advice from Used Van Expert is to have a diagnostics check carried out by a qualified garage.

Be prepared for the van to cut out during the test drive if it has starting problems. If the engine won’t start just from cold, the problem may be the glow plugs, while if you experience intermittent starting problems, and the engine cuts out, the fuel pump is usually the cause. Otherwise, poor starting at all times is usually worn injectors, which will also cause high fuel consumption and black smoke. In this instance, buyers are advised to have the van inspected. As a guide, glow plugs will cost £500, injectors £1000 and a fuel pump £2000, so be prepared to negotiate reductions with the vendor, or walk away.

For Primastar models powered by turbo engines, let the engine warm up and then use the rear-view mirrors to check for black smoke when accelerating. It is also advised that you listen for a whining noise. Black smoke in this scenario indicates turbo wear, and a £600 discount should be negotiated. Failing that, make sure the repair is completed.

On higher-mileage vans (80,000 miles-plus) buyers are advised to check the paperwork to see if the alternator has ever been changed. There are no early warning signs, but the alternator can break up, damaging the drive belt, which can cause further engine damage. Budgeting £350 to change the alternator at a major service point should be considered in this situation.

Gears should be relatively smooth and easy to use: there should be no crunching when you change up or down. Also, listen for a whining or chattering noise and, when stationary, look under the van for an oil leak (at the back of the engine). Should you experience either of the above scenarios, it’s a sign that the gearbox needs replacing, although sometimes changing the bearings can be sufficient. The advice is to negotiate a £1000 discount or have the repair completed before buying. Turn the steering wheel from lock to lock and check that it is light and easy with no notchiness. If these symptoms are present, or you can see a red oil beneath the van, the power steering pipes are probably leaking, and the pump may also be failing. An inspection is essential in this case to establish the extent of the problem.

How much should you pay?

A Primastar model from 2009 with one registered keeper was recently on the market for £3999 plus VAT
(at Loads of Vans, London), but this was a vehicle with 119,000 miles.
For those looking for a lower-mileage example, we spotted a SWB Primastar with 44,000 miles advertised with UK-wide Anchor Vans for £7650 plus VAT. Elsewhere, a 2009 model with 98,000 miles was up for £4795.

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