10 Steps to Buy a Car in New Zealand

We knew we wanted to buy a car in New Zealand because having your own vehicle is a great way to see many places. It was nice to not be committed to the schedules and routes of the bus. We also decided to buy a car so that we could go camping instead of staying in hostels. Buying a car is more cost-effective than renting a car if you’re planning on being in the country for a few months or more. We were in New Zealand for about 3 months.
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Many backpackers buy campervans. We didn’t want to buy one for a couple of reasons:

  1. We didn’t want to stick out. Campervans are notorious for getting broken into.
  2. It is easier to drive a car than a campervan.
  3. Campervans use more gas.
  4. We thought it would be easier to sell a car rather than a campervan at the end of our trip. This ended up being true. All the backpackers were trying to get rid of their campervans in Auckland at the end of April.

There are pros to getting a campervan. If you buy a campervan from a traveler you’ll often get everything you need such as pots and pans, stove, camp chairs, etc. Also, if you get a self-contained vehicle you are allowed to camp in more spots.

Where to buy a used car:

  1. Trade Me is like Craigslist. There are a lot of postings for used cars. We found our car here.
  2. Backpackers car market in Christchurch and Auckland: When we went to the Christchurch location there were not a lot of options and many of the cars were old and had many kilometers on them.
  3. Car fairs: There is one in Auckland called the Ellerslie Car Fair. This is where we sold our car.
  4. Turners car auctions
  5. Newspaper classifieds
  6. Postings in hostels
  7. Backpackerboard
  8. Auto Trader

Steps to buying a car:

  1. Know what kind of car you are looking for. We were looking for a Subaru, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan or Honda. We wanted a station wagon so that we could sleep in the back if needed.
  2. Figure out how much you want to spend. We didn’t want to spend more than $5,000 NZD.
  3. Once you find a car you like you should physically see it. Run a thorough car inspection, ideally on a clear, sunny day. Look for signs of damage. Check the tires. Check for rust.
  4. Test drive. Go fast, slow, uphill and downhill. Go on the highway. Listen for noises and smells.
  5. Ask the seller for the service/repair history. Make sure the car has a valid Warrant of Fitness (WoF). For more information about WoF go HERE.
  6. Ask the seller about the registration tax (aka “rego”). This is a road tax. It can be renewed at any post office or online. 12 months is around $280. It can be bought in 3 month increments.
  7. Do a car history check. We used MotorWeb. You can also use Lemoncheck, CarJam or Checka. You will need the plate number or VIN number in order to do this. You want to check to see if the car is stolen or has money owing.
  8. Get a professional inspection. Go to a VTNZ, garage or Automobile Association. This will cost between $80 – $150 NZD.
  9. Complete a change of ownership form. You and the seller need to complete the form. You can get a change of ownership form from The Automobile Association, PostShops, VINZ or VTNZ. We just went to a PostShop. The seller was able to do his online. It costs $9 NZD. On the form you need to write down a physical address in New Zealand. Thankfully we knew someone living in New Zealand.
  10. Car insurance: It is not a legal requirement to have car insurance in New Zealand. However, it is a good idea to get it. We got our insurance through AMI. They have a breakdown service number. You can also go with BBH or Travellers Car Insurance.

Other things to note:

  1. Diesel is significantly cheaper in New Zealand. In addition to a Registration fee, on a diesel you’re required to pay road user charges for each 1,000 kms you drive.
  2. You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver’s licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP). After 12 months you are required to convert to a New Zealand licence.
  3. You drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand.

We got a 2000 Subaru Forester. The seller was asking $5,200. We got him down to $4,500 ($2,945 US). It had 182,000 km (113,089 miles). To pay for the car, we pulled the maximum amount of money from an ATM each day for a couple of days.

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One comment

  1. Susan Skytta

    This will be wonderful information for travelers in NZ; great detail and references!

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