Buying A Bongo
This page is sponsored by the Imperial Leisure Vehicles of Poole.
Once you have decided to buy a Bongo, and depending on how much money you have available, you will need to consider the following.
- Do you want a People Carrier or a Campervan? All Bongos arrive in the UK as 8 seaters, in a 2-3-3 configuration.
- Do you want a rising roof? If you do, think of the restrictions it places on access. The rising roof will take you over the 2m metre height limits set by many car parks. And you might not get it in your garage. Note: some UK firms will fit a roof to a tin-top Bongo.
- Automatic or manual? Manual gearboxes are rarer, and therefore more expensive. But the automatic versions are really easy to drive.
- Two wheel drive or 4×4? 4x4s are a bit heavier on the tyres, but will get you out of a muddy field. And they corner better. There’s not much difference in fuel consumption. But there again, in some people’s view, there’s twice as much to go wrong.
- Petrol or diesel? You have a choice between 2.5 litre diesels, 2.5 V6 petrols, or 2 litre petrols. All have their merits.
- If you want to go for the conversion, do you want the kitchen at the rear, along the side, or do you want it to be removable?
- Regardless of whether you want units to side or rear, be clear about the facilities you need. The more you have, the more it costs. Sink, cold water, hot water, fridge, electric coolbox, hob (how many rings?), grill, storage units, porta potti, cassette toilet, fresh water tank, waste water tank, worksurfaces, table, jacuzzi, sauna…..the choice is yours
- Do you want an electric hook-up? How about a Leisure Battery?
- What about heating? You effectively have 4 choices. Underfloor diesel heating (about £900), Propex heating (about £350), electric blow heating (£30) or none at all (£0).
- Do you want a pre-99 or a later model? See this Forum discussion.
- Finally, consider the accessories. You may want a fitted roller blind on the side, or you may want a drive away awning. And what about a CD player? Roof racks, bike racks, ladders and towbars are all available….
Now go and write it all down on a wish list, with MUST HAVES and MIGHT HAVES.
Where Can I Buy A Bongo?
Here at the owners club we always advise prospective Bongo owners to buy from a recognised Bongo dealership. But there are other ways of buying a Bongo. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each method.
Bongo Dealers (see list here)
Peace of mind. Warranties available. They will know all about Bongos. No “fly-by-night” operators. Have extensive contacts in Japan and source the best vehicles. Many (but not all) also do their own conversions.
Can be expensive. Might not be in your neighbourhood.
other Forecourt Sales
Sometimes Bongos appear which are under priced. Part exchange is possible.
Some unscrupulous dealers are good at valeting, but poor at supplying quality vehicles.
Real bargains to be had. If buying from members (see here), then you can be reasonably sure that the description will be an honest one.
Once you part with your money, anything that goes wrong is your responsibility.
Bargains galore! And hard to find models appear here.
Are you sure you want to buy a vehicle without seeing it? Plus there are some sharks about….
Buy In Japan
See here for auction prices.
Unless you are in the trade and speak Japanese, you will need to go through an agent.
MMM (motorhome mag) and Autotrader have dozens of Bongos for sale in all price ranges.
Often unrealistic prices are asked.
Some dealers offer a full list of items that they have checked or serviced before they sell you a Bongo. This ranges from 4 new tyres, to a cam belt change, new filters all round and even roofbeds, silver screens and a complimentary hamper! But always, this is reflected in the price. So if a dealer has spent £750 getting your vehicle in pristine nick then he will pass that cost on to you! No two dealers are alike in this respect.
The following advice has been received from one of our members, Lorna. “Bongos are the current fastest selling ‘grey’ import. Demand is huge, quality is hard to find. The price is rising for the dealer as well as the buyer, but not by thousands, so don’t be fooled. Vehicles are graded at auction in Japan. The grades reflect the condition quality of the vehicle. Hence a high grade 1995 will cost more than a low grade 1997. As a rule of thumb, if you see one on a dealers forecourt thats at the higher end of the price range for the year, it should be very good quality. If its priced lower, the quality will be lower. If it looks great and its knocked out dirt cheap, inspect it even more carefully!
For most people, a vehicle purchase is a major expense. Buying a Bongo is also buying a bit of a life-style. Buying a ‘grey’ import in the early days of its arrival is more of a gamble because not a lot is known by the ‘public’ about them and it would be easy to exploit this and fool a few into buying something they would normally run away from.
My advice to anyone is to take your time. Put on your anorak and read the Bongo Forum regularly, learn all you can about faults that can occur. You will surprise some dealers when you talk more knowledgably about the Bongo than they do. That will make anyone a little more wary of trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
If you don’t trust yourself, take someone with you who is mechanically minded. Start the engine up and leave it ticking over while you check out the interior. Turn the Bongo inside out. I do! Ask what every switch and button does. If they can’t answer, how do they know it works?
Look at any service sticker inside the doorpost, compare the mileage to the speedo reading, see when it was last serviced. Check the temperature gauge after its been ticking over. When you switch it off, does anything run on? If it does, ask why. Test what they know about Bongos. Ask when it was serviced, ask what was changed, ask if they will put it in writing. Ask if it will be SVA’d. Always get a test drive.
Scan the forum, the internet and AutoTrader for prices. Build up the idea of what you want and what constitutes a fair price for what you get. You will either settle for something that needs work but you can hopefully spend the money on it gradually to get it up to spec, or get something thats good but costs an arm and leg, or strike lucky and get one thats damn good and fairly priced. Your choice.
Its all too easy to get caught up in the latest import fever and settle for anything at any price. Don’t.”
(and if you don’t believe Lorna, read this true tale)
Further advice comes from Rob.
1. Check out dealers, private sales and ebay, but absolutely do not bid on a van on ebay unless you have viewed and driven it 1st.
2. When viewing ask the seller to lift both front seats and show you how to check the oil, water, power steering fluid and transmission oil. If he/she doesn’t know then warning bells should ring. Ensure all fluids are filled to required levels. If a seller hasn’t checked this before selling a vehicle he probably won’t have done it at all!
Also check every single electrical device, and that the jack/tools and spare wheel are present….again if the seller can’t tell you where these are, beware.
3. When driving the van turn the radio off and listen for any strange noises…a whistling/screeching/squealing sort of noise, may be put down to belt slip by a seller but is more likely to be a broken manifold stud which is a cheap but difficult and time consuming diy job, or an expensive garage job. Pull away on full right hand and left hand locks….any odd ticking, knocking or grinding noises could mean big money cv joint repairs or perhaps just a simple diff oil change.
4. Consider whether to buy a new import from a dealer, which will come with a warranty and servicing of varying qualities, but bear in mind that absolutely no-one in this country really knows the history of that vehicle, so the warranty needs to be 12 months quible free comprehensive to make it worth the extra 1-3K you will pay for buying this way. Buying a van that has been used for a year or two in this country will probably be much cheaper and it will also be easier to establish history, but check rust situation underneath, unless the van was waxoyled on import this may well be an issue as stated before. Also, in this case ensure the user has documentation which proves that oil and filter changes have been made etc.
5. Budget to change timing belt/tensioner/spring and flush/bleed/renew coolant (£80ish diy or £200-250ish garage)unless the seller can prove that this has been done already.
And are there any common faults on a Bongo that you should look for? Well, these are the top 5 faults as reported to the owners club as at February 2006.
- The front heater motors and relay switches have been known to burn out.
- CV joints may need replacing on four wheel drive vehicles.
- A flashing “hold” light on the dash can be indicative of gearbox problems.
- Glowplugs can fail in sudden cold snaps and may need replacing.
- Perished radiator hoses (caused by sitting around on dockside too long) can lead to cracked cylinder heads. Make sure the temperature gauge doesn’t behave erratically.
But none of these can be described as common. It’s just that these are the top 5 reported issues.
Also, as Bongos get older, rust may start to appear. This is treatable, but you should catch it early. The first places it will appear are on the rear wheel arches and on the cross member below the radiator.
Update January 2015: “BongoBongo123” has added this useful information:
A few things when buying, very basic but might be helpful.. I am not a technical expert but know some basics…. really these things would take about 1-2 hours to do properly.
Remember the Bongo shows kms and not mileage on the odometer (normally)
Visually check rear wheel arches for rust
Check sills for rust (under the side edges of the vehicle)
Check front cross member low down through front grill for rust
Check the wind screen for stone chips
Check central locking works
Check overall straightness of body work and paint job.
Test the air con and heater works properly and all fan speeds work.
Check wipers, intermittent and normal speeds.
Check the temp gauge moves up to about 1/4 – 1/3 of the way up and stays there (i.e. does not move erratically or jump around)
Check all lights and indicators, full beam, hazards etc.
If it is a diesel go round the back and get them to rev it up check for smoke once warmed up. (and petrol for that matter)
Ensure at the very least they take it on a good run local and if possible on M Way for 1 junction at 70mph
Make sure idle is rock steady and solid and it starts immediately upon key turn. (Await amber glow plug lights to appear solid after 2-5 seconds before starting on diesel engine)
Leave the vehicle running for the full duration of looking at it and keep eye on temp gauge and note engine tone and any changes.
Check to see if owner knows where the dipstick, oil filler and expansion tank is it will give you an idea if they know the basics of maintenance.
DOUBLE CHECK FOR ANY MOT advisories
Check the AFT (auto free top opens and closes nicely) check tent for any signs of damage.
Check electric windows are working
Check steering wheel for play (hold top and bottom and either side and gentle rock when steering lock is off) and do a full lock tight turn left and right if possible (or get them to do it and listen) and listen for odd noises or vibration through the wheel.
Try and see how much brake pad is left (not very easy to check on a Bongo unless it has wide spoke alloys)
If it has kitchen conversion check water pump works for sink and that fridge/control works.
Check side door auto assist close motor works and pulls the door in snug after a very gentle slide to close.
Check all the rubbers round the AFT roof, tail gate, side door for wear and corrosion.
Ask for when Cam Belt was last changed and do they have a receipt.
Check for servicing receipts either oil/filters etc receipts or from a garage.
Check tyres out (though of course they can be replaced if necessary)
Take a look under the front bonnet and look for rust on the chassis around the radiator
and lower down down the vertical side sections.
Under the bonnet check to see if the centre drain hole with a little pipe running downwards is free (water channel) under the windscreen (and that there is no water build up) This also gives some indication of what a person knows. It is a bad thing to let that drain hole fill up as water can sit in that drainage runner.
A lot of this is generic good stuff to check for any car not all Bongo specific. I am sure the knowledgeable on here can add more checks.
As has been said before mileage can be a decent indicator but do look at condition as well. Even though some say mileage is not the only indicator which is correct (it comes down to good servicing and sensible/ vehicle sympathetic driving style as much as anything) Remember all the suspension, steering, drive shafts, gear box, differential, axle and bearings has done that mileage as well not just the engine. Balance what you see against mileage vs the level of knowledge the person appears to have about Bongo’s.
Of course they can be 20 years old now and it would be rare to find one without some small niggles that need looking at but these will start you off.
There’s also a published buyers guide from Practical Motorhome which you can read here.
How can I be sure that the vehicle has not been stolen, clocked or has outstanding finance payments due?
The short answer is, you can’t. Although you can perform a check with BIMTA, they can only report on vehicles that happend to be on their database. And most dealers (usually through no fault of their own) can not supply you with the original Japanese registration, auction or de-registration documents.
The only thing you will have to go on is the condition of the vehicle. Just ask yourself; is it worth what they are asking for it? And don’t rush in to an answer.
If you buy your Bongo from a dealer (even from an individual who is buying and selling vehicles for profit), you have rights under the Sale and Supply of Goods Regulations and the Trade Descriptions Act. If you are buying privately, you have lesser rights in case of a complaint, but the vehicle must be “as described”.
So what are the true costs of running a Bongo?
Purchase Costs. Below you will see the average costs of different types of Bongo (as at December 2014). The first figure is for a good condition professional camper Conversion with AFT or after market roof, with relatively low mileage. The second figure is for a good condition 8 seater with elevating roof, approx 100,000 miles. The third figure is for a fair condition lowtop with some rust and/or high mileage. These prices are for private sales. Expect to pay more from a dealer.
95-97 £6,500 £3,000 £1,750
98-99 £8,000 £4,500 £3,250
99-01 £9,500 £5,500 £4,500
02-05 £12,500 £6,500 £5,500
Fuel consumption. A 2.5 diesel will do about 24 mpg around town and 32 mpg at a steady 65 mph. A 2.5 V6 petrol will do about 18mpg/30 mpg. A 2 litre petrol about 26mpg/35 mpg.
Servicing. Most garages can do a basic service, and as long as you have the right tools, it’s fairly straightforward to do it yourself. There is also a fairly comprehensive network of Bongo friendly garages that you can access from the member’s area of this website.
Parts availability. No real problem here, all the major service items (brakes, filters, belts) are readily available from the club shop or elsewhere. From time to time a more obscure part may need to be imported from Japan. This usually takes between 10 and 20 working days and can be done via the club or, in some cases, direct from Mazda.
Insurance – should be no problem – eg £300 – £350 fully comp, maybe less. It depends on your postcode and other circumstances. Try Lifesure or 2Gether first. See the Insurance page.
So what are you waiting for?
If you are still not convinced, see this report by one of the main Bongo dealers.