Renting vs buying a car
One of the most frequently asked questions among backpackers is: Should I buy a car or rather rent a car? The answer to this question depends on how much time you are going to spend in New Zealand, in which area you will be staying (e.g. Auckland is more expensive but on the other hand there is a greater choice of vehicles), and furthermore it depends on the season you arrive in.
Buying a car
It is more difficult to find a well maintained car at a reasonable price during high season (from the end of August to February/March). However, if you want to stay in the country for 12 months and you arrive just before the start of the high season, you might be able to sell your car at the end of your stay for the same price at which you bought it. Many long-term travelers leave the country in February/March and the number of cars for sale at this time is enormous. That’s when you can get a car for a bargain.
A very good place to buy a car is the Ellerslie Car Market which is open on Sundays from 9am to 1pm. You can even have the car you might want to buy checked out by a mobile car mechanic right on site – but often they charge too much. You are better off to go to one of the big car insurance companies like the New Zealand Automobile Association (AA) or one of the biggest car workshops, the Vehicle Testing New Zealand (VTNZ), to have your car checked through.
The price for a Pre-Purchase Vehicle Inspection is currently NZ$ 169 with AA and NZ$ 140 with VTNZ. This expense is worthwhile because the car is thoroughly checked and you receive a detailed report about the history of the car.
The VIR (Vehicle Information Report / Car History Check) tells you whether the car had already been involved in an accident or not, whether there is any outstanding fines or if there are any other issues you might need to consider.
After the inspection, the mechanic can tell you exactly whether it is worthwhile buying the car or whether you should stay clear of it.
You can also do a pre-purchase check yourself using the Carjam Website. Simply put in the number plate and you will get nearly all the available information on the vehicle.
Keeping it legal
In any case, it is important to get the registration and Warrant of Fitness (WoF) for your car. You must get a new WoF every 6 months except for new vehicles. A WoF costs around NZ$ 45. However, the price may vary from workshop to workshop so it is a good idea to compare prices.
You must also renew the registration. You can pay from 3 to 12 months in advance which means you can determine for how long you need to keep up the registration. When buying a car do make sure that registration and WoF have been done by the previous owner and are still valid for at least another three months.
One more important thing when you buy a used car: Make sure that there are no outstanding traffic fines on the car. In New Zealand, tickets are issued for the car and not the owner. This means that unpaid tickets can follow the new owner of the car. To protect yourself we advice you to get a Vehicle Information Report or to do a Lemoncheck.
To be able to drive in New Zealand you need an International Driver Licence together with your EU Driver Licence. They are only valid together so keep both with you at all times. You can get an International Licence from your local driver licence office. It costs around 15 Euros and is issued on the spot. Have your personal ID or passport ready, a passport photo and your driver licence. If you intend to stay in New Zealand for more than one year you will have to get a New Zealand driver licence after 12 months. Any local AA branch will be able to help you out.
Below are some further Internet addresses which you might find useful when looking for a used car:
Renting a car
If you want to stay in New Zealand for less than four weeks, it is worthwhile to rent a car. You don’t need insurance for this short period of time and you won’t waste time and energy searching for a car. There are a great number of car rentals. Below is a list of dealers where you can find the best and most reasonably priced vehicles: