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Buying or renting a car in New Zealand

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Driving in New Zealand is a great activity which, not surprisingly, requires a car. This article discusses some ideas for acquiring a car in New Zealand if you don't already have one. It has been adapted edited from the excellent article we already have on Buying or renting a car in Australia

Buy, rent or buy back?[edit]

Car Rental in NZ is not too expensive, but the general guideline is that if your trip is longer than about 8 weeks, it is worth buying instead. Remember that you probably need about a week at either end of your trip for buying and selling. You will also need to pay for insurance (not compulsory but a VERY good idea), AA membership (ditto), registration/warrant of fitness (if applicable) and any fixes. So it can be a gamble to buy.

New Zealand is not very big and the ins and outs of travellers do affect the market. Cars are pricier and scarcer in October/November, and cheaper/more common in March/April, matching when most travellers arrive and leave. That said, I've now owned four New Zealand cars bought and sold at these times, and never lost more than $200 each time. Actually made a profit on one car!

Another option is to buy a car with a buy back car guarantee. This basically means that you buy and own the car but when you have finished your trip you will get a guaranteed price back from the dealer that you bought it form. The percentages vary between companies but it usually is between 40 and 60 per cent depending on the length of time you have the car for. These can work particularly well for people who don't have enough time to sell or don't want to waste their time selling on their holiday.

Tips for renting in New Zealand[edit]

Firstly, you should be aware of the idiosyncrasies of driving in New Zealand.

You can rent a car in New Zealand if:

  • You're over 21 years old and the holder of a valid international drivers' licence or a current local licence. Drivers with a full driving licence can drive for 12 months from the date of arrival, and it is usually accepted by rental companies. Licences in a foreign language must have an approved translation to English with them, and you need to carry your licence at all times.
  • Some vehicle hire companies require the driver to be over the age of 25. Other companies have lower minimum age requirements, such as 18 or 21, and may require a surcharge.
  • You understand and agree to uphold the road rules of New Zealand. It's especially easy for visitors from the UK or South Africa to drive in New Zealand, as traffic drives on the left, BUT remember the local rules and that conditions are different!

Requirements for cars; many backpackers go for a station wagon as they are planning to sleep in it to save money on accommodation. Before you do this, remember: New Zealand has an excellent network of inexpensive hostels and campsites, and also one major crime problem: theft from cars. A 'saloon' with a secure boot which hides all your possessions will be much safer for your kit. Also be aware that hostel owners don't generally like you sleeping in the car outside and expecting to use the hostel showers etc, as this will overload the place.

Tips for buying[edit]

The best tip is to check the car legally, and mechanically before you buy. Checks the history of the car which includes ownership history, police interest and security interests registered against the car. A full history report will tell you whether it has any money owing on it. Debts on vehicles transfer to the new owner so use a service like Checka which costs around $15 to eliminate this risk.

In New Zealand these things can all carry problems to the new owners and can result in you losing the car and therefore your money. The mechanical check should be carried out by a mechanical company it can also be called a pre-purchase inspection. Most reputable mechanics will perform such checks for you, and they normally cost between 100 and 160 dollars depending on the company and the quality of the check, they should take around 2 hours.

Many of these tips are true regardless of where you are looking to buy a car, but there are a few concerns specific to cars in New Zealand that you should be aware of.

  • Because fixing cars is cheap in NZ and it receives lots of Japanese imports, many cars that would be completely uneconomic in Europe are still on the road, sometimes going round and round the country with a succession of backpacker owners. Ideally you want a car that has just come into the backpacker circuit after a long time with one lady owner and a full service history. They do exist but they take some finding.
  • Don't buy a car you have not test driven yourself for at least around the block. If you are not confident to drive it, ask the seller to take you on a short ride and tell him what you would like him to do: brake sharp, accelerate fast, etc. New Zealand insurance system means you are covered for third-party personal injury on any car you drive (very handy for test drives) but that is all, so don't hit anything.
  • Don't buy a car (either from a garage or private person) if you do not have at least some basic knowledge of cars and know what to look for.
  • Don't buy a car from a dealer unless he is specialized in providing for backpackers and has a good reputation (ask him for feedback from his customers and check the Internet).
  • Don't buy a car that is leaking any fluid (black=engine oil/brake fluid, brown=engine oil/brake fluid, red=gearbox, green=radiator or other.), has an oily looking engine head or rust on important parts of the chassis such as the door areas, or near the suspensions.
  • Don't buy a car that has problems with the gearbox (automatic or manual) - this type of repair can be very expensive. Don't buy the argument that you will have to use overdrive or use neutral position when parking.
  • Don't buy a car that doesn't stop (SHARP!) when you want it to stop. Check all the car lights with the help of a friend.
  • New Zealand cars over three years old need a Warrant of Fitness (Wof) inspection every six months. This can cost as little as $30 and like the MoT in England, is not a guarantee of mechanical condition, the only factors that are looked at on a warrant of fitness are for the safety of the car not the engine, gearbox or cooling system, so if you are told "the car has been mechanically inspected, it has a new WoF" these are not the same. Nonetheless, try to buy a car with a new WoF
  • Do buy a car that can easily and cheaply be fixed; this means a Japanese makes and models. There are an abundance of Japanese vehicles in New Zealand and this means they are the cheapest cars to fix, and you can often find second hand replacement parts.
  • Due to NZ's low population, cars are much easier to buy and sell in the main cities. This means Auckland or Christchurch, the two gateways, and to a lesser extent Wellington and Dunedin. Many travellers buy in Auckland and sell in Christchurch, so you could try arranging your travels the other way, but I've found it doesn't make too much different. Remember that Auckland has five times as many people as Christchurch.

'New Zealand New'[edit]

This concept needs some explaining. New Zealand imports many Japanese cars; the Japanese roadworthy requirements are so stringent that it may not be worth fixing a car that is only a few years old, so off it goes to NZ. Cars in Japan can have a hard life, so ideally you want a car that came straight to NZ and didn't drive round Tokyo first. To tell which is which, look at the dates on the registration sticker; it will show the year of the car and a smaller month and year. If these are the same, the car is NZ new; if not (e.g. '1990 Toyota Corona' with a date of 11/95') the car has spent five years in Japan first. Not necessarily a no-go, but be aware. The locals much prefer NZ new.

Other expenses[edit]

  • Transferring the car into your name: take proof of ID to a PostShop or AA office and fill in the appropriate form. For less than $10 the transfer will be registered. The seller should not give you the keys until you have done this. When you sell, make sure your buyer does the same, otherwise you will be liable for any parking offences or traffic violations. This will come up if you return to New Zealand, so do it properly and get the car off your hands. You will need a New Zealand address; it is ok to use your hostel or a service like Private Box[1].
  • Insurance; basic third party personal cover is included in the registration (time remaining on this is shown on the windscreen sticker). However this will only cover you for damage you do to another person, so it is highly recommended that you get property cover too. This will cover any damage you do to another car.
  • Registration: this can be bought in chunks of one month upwards, bigger chunks being cheaper. Runs about $NZ 80 for three months. current fees Go to the Post Shop.
  • AA breakdown cover: again not essential, but a good idea. About $99 for three months overseas visitor cover. Be aware that you will not see a smart yellow van like you do in the UK, the NZ AA is contracted out although help is still there. Also be aware that remoter areas do not have mobile phone cover.

Car markets[edit]

You should do do both a legal and mechanical check before you buy. When it comes to selling, don't give away your flight date; if it is tomorrow they will smell the desperation and you'll be lucky to get $100 for the car. A good answer to 'when are you flying?' is 'when I sell the car'. Check for reviews of the place you want to buy or sell. Know the value of cars in New Zealand - do your research first - and don't be persuaded to go above what you know is the market price by the market proprietor - they may not be acting in your best interest.

Auckland has several car markets, the main one is on Sunday at Ellerslie Racecourse. Sellers $20, free to buyers. Turn up before 09:00 if you can, it will all be finished by 12. On-site registration transfer and mechanical inspections. Christchurch's similar operation is at Christchurch's Addington Raceway on Sunday from 09:00.

The Backpackers Car Market is centrally located in Auckland and Christchurch and open everyday 09.30-17:00. Its the only dedicated backpackers or travellers car market in Auckland.

The Christchurch Car Market is in the city and open everyday 09:00-17:00. They also have a mechanical work shop, which can come in very handy when buying a cheap car as it can be checked on site and repaired if needed. 236 St Asaph Street, city centre.

Other car markets are located in Takanini and Avondale (race course).

Rental companies[edit]

A2B Car Rentals. 10 locations throughout NZ with budget models starting from just $19 per day.

Airport Rentals Christchurch. Late model rental cars, people movers, 4WD station wagons, minibuses and vans for hire at Christchurch airport. Friendly, personal service, competitive rates.

Crazy Car Hire NZ. Compare Car Rental from all the big names like Hertz, Avis, Budget & Jucy.

OnRoadCampervan. Provide campervan rental services in Auckland, Christchurch, Queenstown, Wellington, Hamilton & Nelson.

MyCarYourRental. Peer-to-peer car rental service where local New Zealanders rent out their cars to visitors.

Hertz New Zealand. One of the biggest name is car rental all across the world. Locations at all major places in New Zealand.

New Zealand Rent A Car. They offer cheap car hires from popular locations throughout NZ

New Zealand Rental Cars. Offer car rentals from all the key locations in New Zealand.

USAVE New Zealand. USAVE offer car and truck hire at all popular locations in New Zealand.

Due to earthquakes, many of the Central Christchurch motor vehicle dealers and subsequent backpacker dealers have left the city centre and are now selling vehicles in the Addington and Hornby areas, which is a short bus ride from backpackers around the city.

Used vehicle sales websites[edit]

Bedmobils - Budget backpacker campervans hire + sale + buybacks. Excellent value.

TradeMe is is a New Zealand auction site, like ebay. Its motor section covers all regions of NZ and you can arrange for pre-bidding inspection in all cases.

Turners Car Auctions is another NZ auction site, specializing in used vehicles. A tool is available to look up how much past vehicles have sold for.

See also[edit]