That price range is not out of the question. A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was in the car business.
The first thing that I would suggest is that you spend the money to have it looked at by a competent individual so that you know what the immediate issues are surrounding the unit. If it is a friend of yours they had better have some knowledge and experience working on these older vehicles so that this person may give you sound advice concerning the prospective vehicle.
Yeah, the mechanical issues begin to crop up when you get a hundred and too many million thousand miles on 'em; but, it sounds like that’s where you are headed. What you are attempting to do with the pre-purchase inspection is to minimize the percentages of problems.
In the beginning of the pandemic, used car prices plunged and then they skyrocketed. People were less inclined to use ride sharing and public transportation. Fewer vehicles were being traded in and people are relocating to rural and suburban areas out of large cities where transportation options are not as plentiful.
My guess is that if the car business gets really cranking because of pent up demand that it will probably still be some time before used car prices settle down because those car guys are pretty crafty. And you want a vehicle now.
It may not be something you want to consider; but, an older motor home will generally have pretty low mileage for the year (>100k), they are generally owned by someone who is older, comfortable financially and the units are usually well maintained. They are not uncommon at all. Motor home prices also spiked higher; however, an individual seller of said unit probably isn’t aware of the market and may be close to your range.
Those vehicles for this lifestyle have their own set of challenges that are well documented on this forum; but, they also have their advantages.
Back to the van. Vehicles in your price range have been pulled up in value by the market; however, not as dramatically. Also, a private individual may not be aware of the prices in the market. To them, it’s just a 20 yr old raggedy ol’ van. So, look everywhere you can for the individual sellers.
With regard to dealers and your van, most -but by no means all - new car dealerships won’t even consider carrying a $2500 van. BUT IF THEY DO these guys will own it for less money than any other place around. Now they will try to rip your head off on the price (as every good car guy will); but, they will own it for less than the used car dealers. It is up to you to negotiate.
Used car dealers may have some of these vans and they may ask the moon and a coupla stars in exchange for the privilege of buying it. Often they will make more money selling it on a “Buy here, pay here” sort of arrangement than they will from a cash deal.
New car dealers view an older unit as having a greater potential for problems with a lower profit potential and that’s why most don’t fool with them. Used car dealers are used to selling vehicles that have problems and finding ways to maximize profit from said units. I ain’t sayin’ you can’t get a good deal on a sound vehicle. I am sayin’ “WATCH OUT!”
In the price range you are looking at, it is best to give yourself leeway on how much so that you don’t pass on the best vehicle cuz it’s $500 more than you want to spend. Spending an extra nickle on the right unit is money well spent.
It is also unimportant which manufacturer’s van you are looking at. At that age it is the individual vehicle that is important. I don’t know when/if they stopped but the 1/2 ton Ford E-150 van used to be heavy enough that it was made into the ambulance package. Chevys and Dodge had to use the 3/4 ton chassis for the ambulance package.
As for cargo van vs passenger van that debate has been well chronicled.
I think you can find a great vehicle in that price range. You can also find a real piece of junk. Get some help before you buy it and look everywhere. Good luck.