Tips BEFORE buying a car in New Zealand – Backpacking Tips

Rent or buy a car or van in New Zealand

One of the most frequent questions we get. Should I rent or buy a vehicle in New Zealand? There is no one answer to this question, it varies depending on the length of your stay, the level of security you require and also the time of year. However, in the following article we will show you the possibilities and help you to make a good decision for you.


Your own van in New Zealand?

Your own van in New Zealand?


What do I need to drive in New Zealand

To drive a vehicle in New Zealand you need a translation into English in addition to your national driver's license. This can either be in the form of the International Driver's Licence or a certified translation. If your national driving licence is already in English, it can be used without an additional translation. The classic German driving licence in credit card format is unfortunately only in German. In the past, we have therefore always obtained a copy of the International Driving Licence for ourselves in Germany. Please note that if you are staying in New Zealand for a longer period of time, you may drive with your national driving licence for a maximum of 12 months at a time. After that you would have to exchange it for a New Zealand driving licence.


What do I need for a car in New Zealand

General information on the different types of vehicles

First of all, you should think about what you want exactly. Do you just want to get from A to B or do you want to be able to sleep in the car as well? Do you also want to go off-road or do you only drive bigger or good roads anyway? With how many people do you want to travel? Most vans only offer space for two people.

Based on these thoughts, the choice is relatively simple and your decision is made much faster.


Station Wagon (Station Wagon)

For all normal journeys where you want to use the car only for transport, one Station Wagon is probably sufficient. If you have more than 2 passengers, it must be a larger station wagon or similar.

If you also want to sleep in the car, there is an almost endless market of backpacker cars. This starts with station wagons with a mattress in the back, suitable for 1-2 people. More comfortable versions are available with a roof tent and even more comfortable in a van.



Then, of course, the more convenient and common variant, but also a little more expensive. A minivan, preferably equipped with a bed and more storage space under the bed. But of course also a little more fuel consumption. But still comfortable and pleasant for 1-3 persons mostly suitable. Common models for smaller minivans are for example Honda Odyssey and similar sizes. These vans are not Self Contained (with a few exceptions).


Medium vans

The vans in the middle size are altogether more comfortable, here you can usually have your kitchen already built into the van and also have a bigger bed and more space to lie down and sit. These vans are a good deal more expensive than the minivans, but are much more comfortable in the long run. Common models here are for example Toyota Hiace, Mitsubishi L300 or similar models. These vans are often self-contained and therefore offer a wash basin as well as fresh and waste water tanks. A portable toilet must also be on board with Self Contained models.


Camper Vans

Then there are the really big vans. These fully-equipped camper vans are mostly found in the rental fleets, but every now and then one also sees a backpacker with such a comfortable vehicle. Here there are even 2 sleeping cabins per size, so that you can sleep comfortably with up to 4 persons. However, it is very expensive and the choice here is again relatively small. Common models are here for example the Sprinter of Fiat or Mercedes. Including small bathroom with toilet.


Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash


Do I need four wheel drive in New Zealand

In our experience from some New Zealand trips, no, for 99% of the routes you don't need a 4×4. However, there are a few tracks that you can't ride without a 4×4. If you want to ride one of these special and more demanding tracks you should make sure you get something that is suitable for 4×4.

The above mentioned vehicles are usually also available in an all wheel drive or 4 wheel drive version. All Wheel Drive means that normally the all wheel drive cannot be switched on or off, but is permanent.

4 Wheel Drive are mostly equipped in such a way that you can choose between 2 wheel and 4 wheel drive. If off-road capability is really important to you, ask the seller explicitly how it is with the specific car. If in doubt, make sure you take a test. Not all cars in New Zealand that are sold as All Wheel Drive are really equipped with 4 wheel drive…


Self-Contained vs. Non-Self-Contained in New Zealand

What does Self Contained mean for a car or van

The term Self Contained on a vehicle means in New Zealand that the vehicle has independent water tanks for fresh water as well as waste water. In addition, a wash basin and toilet must be on board. From the waste water tank, an exhaust pipe must go to the outside so that the van does not smell bad at some point. The toilet must also be accessible in the sleeping area of the vehicle. In addition, there must be a lockable waste bin on board. If the vehicle fulfils these conditions, you can have your vehicle certified, after which you will receive a certificate as well as a sticker for your vehicle that identifies it as Self Contained.

If your vehicle is so certified, you can camp in many more places in New Zealand without having to pay money. According to Wikicamps, there are currently 957 free overnight accommodations in New Zealand. Of these, 691 places are exclusively for Self Contained vehicles.

As you can see, the choice of places is huge and in almost all regions you have much more freedom to stay overnight with a self contained vehicle.


What does Non Self Contained mean for a car or van

In New Zealand, the term Non Self Contained on a vehicle means that the vehicle has no tanks and sanitary equipment on board, or at least the official certification is missing. In most cases, these are smaller vans or normal cars that are equipped for sleeping, but do not have water tanks, wash basin and toilet on board.

If you have a Non Self Contained vehicle the choice of free berths in New Zealand is much smaller than with a Self Contained certified vehicle. According to Wikicamps there are currently 266 places to stay that you can use without a Self Contained vehicle. If you would like to have more free options, you should switch to a Self Contained vehicle or look for the Self Contained certificate when buying.


When is it worth buying a vehicle in New Zealand

Depending on the length of your stay, it is worth either renting or buying a vehicle.

Of course you could simply present figures now, but we have found other criteria based on two major factors. The first factor is the time it takes to buy and sell the car. Depending on the season this can take 1-2 weeks (or even more) of your time.

Also not to underestimate is the factor safety. When renting a car, the rental company is the contact person for all common problems and will help you with repair or replacement in case of doubt. If you have your own vehicle, you are responsible for these problems yourself and bear the costs yourself. Especially for short stays a visit to the garage would not only be expensive but also very annoying from a time point of view.

Recommended post:  How do you do your laundry when you live in a car?  - Backpacking Tips


From when we would buy a vehicle in New Zealand

In our opinion it is worthwhile to buy your own vehicle from about 8 weeks of stay. During this time you normally have no problems with the purchase if you have a good check. At the same time, the rental amounts are usually quite respectable with 8 weeks rent. Therefore, the larger the vehicle, the more likely it is that the purchase will be worthwhile. Would you like to have an estimation of us so you can give us a comment under this article and we give an idea.


Technical things you should pay attention to when buying a car

Things you should be aware of yourself

In any case, look at the tires, you should see tread, the more the better and the deeper. At least 2mm tread depth on the outer edge of the tyre is required, if this is not the case negotiate if the rest of the car is ok. A new set of tires should be in it then.

Look in the engine compartment, there should be no liquids in the engine compartment. At the same time the engine compartment should not be clinically clean. If this is the case, the seller has cleaned the engine compartment, maybe to hide something. Lie down on the floor and look under the car, there should be no liquids in the engine compartment. If there is no liquid in one of the expansion tanks, this is also not a good sign. Ideally oil, coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid should be in the normal range between full and low.

During a test drive check if the car pulls to one side and test on an empty road how the car reacts when braking hard. Does it pull to one side? Does it make more noise?


Pre Buy Check with a mechanic

If you don't have much experience with cars this is not a problem, make sure to do a pre buy check at a garage or inspection workshop like VTNZ or AA before you buy the car final. If the seller suggests a certain garage I would become suspicious and go to another garage.

A Pre Buy Check costs between 75 – 150 NZD depending on the garage and should give you a realistic assessment of the car at the end. A question we always like to ask the mechanic, what would he think is a fair value for the car. Most of the time the mechanics have a good estimation, after that you can think what it would be worth to you.


Pre Buy Check

We strongly recommend a Pre Buy Check, cost depending on the workshop between 75 – 150 NZD. You can do this at almost every garage and the two major associations, the AA or VTNZ. Here your car will be inspected by a mechanic and checked for damage. In New Zealand many cars are driven up to 300000km or even longer. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as all maintenance and repairs have been done. Unfortunately most backpackers only do the most necessary repairs and maintenance. Therefore, in your own interest, please never buy a car without having done a Pre Buy Check in a garage of your choice (not the seller's). If you do not do a Pre Buy Check and your car dies quickly it is your own fault. Unfortunately this happens more often than you think. Trust is good, but control in this case is much more appropriate.


W.O.F. and Rego

In addition to the technical aspects mentioned above, you should also make sure that the car has a valid REGO and a valid Warrant of Fitness (W.O.F.) when you buy it.

More details about WOF & REGO can be found in the following article here in our blog.


In addition, you should check your car to see if it's stolen

All you need before buying a car is the license plate of the vehicle. Visit one of the following two websites and check your car:

  1. Motor Web
  2. Car Jam


Then the last remaining question is whether to buy from a dealer or privately?

The advantage with private is mostly the rather cheaper price. It is always difficult to assess whether the car is really in a good condition or whether there are things you cannot see superficially. Always inform yourself if all necessary maintenance and inspections have been done in time and ask for proof of this. Here it is important to be tidy and to ask. As soon as something seems strange to you, cancel if in doubt and look around for something else. If in doubt, there are always enough cars on offer. If you're picky, you'll usually end up buying a higher quality car and you won't fall for the best scam.


Always remember, the above mentioned Pre Buy Check should not be an issue and should be done for self protection. If you don't do a Pre Buy Check, there is a high risk of being ripped off.


Good and bad dealer

At the dealer there is the chance of good and bad experiences. The Good Dealers answer all questions and make sure that they sell their cars in a good ready-to-use condition, every customer complaint can eventually deter other backpackers from buying. These also exchange parts if necessary, tyres, battery etc., normally you can buy with a clear conscience. Nevertheless, there is of course also the possibility to do a pre buy check in a different workshop than the one suggested. You should use this possibility in any case to get an independent opinion.

Then there are the bad dealers, unfortunately it is difficult to know beforehand which dealer acts how. But look calmly if you want to buy from a dealer after experiences of others on the net. Facebook or Google are full of reports and reviews from people who tell you if it went well or badly. Never let yourself be pressured, always sleep on it at least one night before you make a down payment or other commitment. The bad dealers like to operate in a grey area, give no warranty or let you sign a contract that you buy a car ready for scrapping at your own risk. All of this is done with pleasure so that you don't have to help with problems afterwards.

We ourselves bought from a backpacker during our working holiday and only found out afterwards that she was hired by a car dealer and sold cars on his behalf on a large scale. You can find many dealers through the wide Facebook groups mentioned below. Other backpackers will also be able to give you tips at the hostel.


Be comfortable and safe when buying a car

Would you like to save yourself all the stress and know before your arrival what kind of vehicle you would like to have?

Together with our partner Kiwi Quest we can offer you something comfortable. You can already reserve a car from Germany. You can check it out upon arrival and then decide if you want to take it or check the market yourself. The prices for this deal are a bit higher than at the backpacker market, but there is help and a minimum of 4 weeks guarantee.

All details and prices can be viewed here on the Kiwi Quest website.



Warranty when buying a car in New Zealand

New Zealand, like many other countries, has the possibility to get a guarantee or warranty when buying a used car. This only applies in conjunction with dealers and only if the dealer has not been actively excluded. Many dealers are happy to give only a very short warranty, or a limited time warranty. Some dealers also steal themselves completely from the responsibility and exclude a warranty completely in their sales contracts. Gladly with the passage in English language that a car would be sold for cannibalization. However, this has not been mentioned in the sales talk before. Therefore, always read all contracts carefully and never sign anything like this at short notice and in a hurry.

Recommended post:  The ideal backpacker backpack for your New Zealand travel - backpacking tips

You can find out more about consumer rights when buying a car in New Zealand under the following link.


Buying a car with a buy-back option or buy-back guarantee

One way to be able to sell your car safely again in the off-season is to buy it from a dealer with a buy-back guarantee. Some dealers offer a voluntary buy-back option, others bind you contractually to return the car to the same dealer when you buy it. Think carefully whether you want to enter into such a fixed contract.

Also look at the percentages that each dealer guarantees you when you return the car. Mostly there are different percentages according to the duration of the journey. Some dealers fix these figures, others only indicate to pay back up to XYZ percent.

All dealers behave in the same way in case of missing maintenance or thick dents, in case of doubt they reduce the amount to be paid back again. So be careful if certain maintenance intervals are specified, keep them and also keep documents about the repairs and maintenance carried out. This way you can easily prove everything if you have questions.

In the following list we will show you some known companies that offer a buy-back option:

  1. Companies with buy-back guarantee:
  2. Companies with a buy-back option:


You know a company in New Zealand that offers something like this and have had good experiences yourself? Then please leave us a comment with company name and further details. This way we can expand the list if necessary.


Facebook Groups

Many cars of backpackers also change owners via Facebook. We have a page here on the blog where we link relevant Facebook groups, have fun browsing. You can find the Facebook groups here.


If you have found a car and you agree on the price, congratulations.

Registering a car in New Zealand is a 5 minute process at the post office and costs about 10 NZD. Bureaucracy is much less here in New Zealand than in Germany.


Do I need car insurance in New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the few countries where you can drive your car on the road without car insurance. Unfortunately this means that you will be personally liable. That's why we think you should definitely take out car insurance.


Where is the easiest place to buy a car in New Zealand

Due to its size and population New Zealand is sparsely populated in many areas. The easiest way to buy a car is in the big cities. The choice itself varies greatly depending on the season and especially in summer from the end of November prices go up sharply, but from mid-February they also slowly fall back again. These cities are best suited for buying a car:

  1. Auckland:
    • The choice in Auckland is the largest all year round. Most car dealers are located here and most backpackers also start here. Many backpackers also sell their car in Auckland again and travel on from here. If you are looking for a certain model or type of car, your chances in Auckland are definitely the best. Auckland also offers several Car Fairs on different days and different places in Auckland. This way you can quickly view a large number of cars in a bundle.
  2. Christchurch:
    • Many backpackers start in Auckland and leave New Zealand from Christchurch. So you can get a bargain especially in Christchurch. The choice is altogether clearly smaller than in Auckland. If you want to sell your car in Christchurch, it will take much longer than if you sell it in Auckland.
  3. Wellington:
    • Wellington is a car market in addition to Auckland and Christchurch. But it is very small and clearly arranged. All year round there is a rather manageable selection of cars, but if you look more closely you can find something here. For Wellington, the fastest way to buy a car is probably via the groups mentioned below or the App Backpario.
  4. Queenstown:
    • I haven't seen Queenstown as a car market in a long time. But especially vacationers or backpackers who have been on the road for a long time like to land here. The market is rather small and manageable, nevertheless there are some people who want to sell their van here. The prices are sometimes very good and sometimes very expensive due to the small offer.
  5. Insider tip:
    • If you have the time and the desire not to buy a vehicle directly in one of the above mentioned places, it is worthwhile to have a look at the smaller places in New Zealand. Many car dealers outside the big cities also offer unfinished vehicles and thus do not submit to the crazy price development of backpacker cars. So you can get a bargain and then upgrade your car yourself. The price is interesting and at the same time it challenges your crafting skills. Have fun with the project vehicle construction, you should decide to do it.


The alternative to buying a car, renting a car in New Zealand

The alternative to a purchase is the rent. Whether it is a car, van or camper van, New Zealand is the perfect country for a vehicle rental. Depending on the length of the rental, you will end up paying more than for buying and then selling the vehicle. But in return you also pass on many risks such as repair costs to the lessor. As the choice is almost infinite and varies greatly according to season, desired vehicle size and other factors, we have been able to win a strong partner for us.

The Camper Oasis advises and arranges the right van for you after individual consultation. Depending on your budget and other wishes you will get the right model recommended for you.


You can make a free request for a rental van by clicking on the following link. Have fun in New Zealand.


Rent a car or van in New Zealand without a credit card

Most landlords offer fully comprehensive insurance without deductible for an additional charge. With this variant, a deposit is usually no longer required, as this is already covered by the payment of the insurance.

Nevertheless we recommend to use a credit card for your stay in New Zealand. You can read more about this in the following article here in our blog.


Travel New Zealand without your own vehicle

Besides buying or renting a vehicle, there are other ways for you to see a lot of New Zealand. There are many companies offering guided tours, or long distance buses that will transport you between all major cities.

Guided tour operators usually work in groups and offer you everything including activities and overnight accommodation.

The long distance bus companies take you from place A to place B and give you the choice of everything else. This allows you to travel on your own and to make your own decisions according to your budget and travel wishes.

Bus operators are for example:


Another option is to search for travelmates. A travel partner you meet in your accommodation and who owns a vehicle in which you travel for a few days or weeks. After that the travel paths separate and often you will meet again later in another part of New Zealand. Because of the many variations and the many backpackers, everybody gets to where he wants to go in New Zealand. Have fun!


Comments, suggestions, remarks

Are there any questions or something you miss in this post? Feel free to write us a comment here under this article.



Links marked with * contain affiliate links. That means we get a share if you buy something after using such a link. This is completely free for you, but helps us running the website free for you.


Ask us anything

We run this blog so you can have a great time in New Zealand. All the articles and videos are free for anyone.

If you want to ask an individual question about Newzealand, your working holiday or anything else around travelling New Zealand, then this is your chance.

Even it always looks like holiday, this website and the project is a fulltime business. So you can support us with any question if you'd like.

Simply click the button and ask us, in exchange for your answer you can give what you value our time.

If every visitor would support us with 1€ per year, our business would be up running for long times. Therefore we count on your support!


A big thank you from the depth of our hearts. Julian & the team of Project-Newzealand

Ask us anything

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *