How to buy a car in New Zealand (and some helpful tips for anywhere else)

Early upon my arrival in New Zealand I was made quite aware that one of the best (and definitely coolest) ways to see the country is to drive your own vehicle.

Leave the buses behind. Ditch the tour groups. Get yourself where you want to go as fast as you want, and make any stop you feel like on a whim. This might sound crazy and ubsurd to some people, but if you are bold and adventurous, and most travelers are, then Ive put together a list of everything I have found to be good quality content to check out before you get started.

NOTE: Depending on your time frame, you may also consider rentals. This way there is no hassle with selling, road-side assistance, insurance, and you can often pick up in one city and drop off in another.


Duh. Its awesome. And if you want to be awesome then you have to do awesome things. NUF SED.

But if you need more convincing, just think about why you are traveling in the first place? Dont you want to see whatever it is you want to see whenever you want to see it? Ever had to take a piss on a long bus ride? Not a problem when you are the driver.
On a more serious note, New Zealand is really a hiker’s and camper’s paradise. Most of the greatest things this country has to offer is in the outdoors. Just the country side is amazing. If you drive, you can just plop down anywhere and set up camp. Or, if you have the right vehicle, you can sleep in the comfort of a bed. With these options you will actually save money on travel and accomodations and you will get a front row seat to all the beauty your innocent little brain can take. So now that you’re stoked and ready to go, let’s begin with the beginning because that is my favorite place to begin.


In terms of buying a car for touring, I would only recommend two options for cities; Auckland and Christchurch. Why? Simple. They offer a very convenient pick and dropoff location depending on which direction you are going. That being said, there will be other routes that people will take, but a lot of this logic still applies.

Auckland is probably the cheapest place to buy a car simply because it is so big and there are a lot of people trying to sell them. Also, many people pick up in Christchurch and drop off in Auckland. You can also check out Wellington, but that kind of smack dab in the middle so you will have to back track if you want to see everything.


A good question to ask is “What kind of vehicle do I really need?” Well, it depends on a lot of things. Do you plan to sleep in it or just use it to get around? Will you need things like a fridge and stove? How many people are in your party? How will the weather be when you are visiting or will you need to do any off-roading?

These questions will definitely affect what you choose to take, but for the most part I think there are two good options; an RV or a station wagon. The RV will obviously offer more space and ammenities, but it will also cost more. It’s a good option if you want to live adventurously, but not THAT adventurous. My preference is the station wagon for a few reasons. It’s big enough to take two people and a mattress to sleep on. You can get a lot of the same ammenities, just not built in. It’s more economical and you can find some with 4 wheel drive. And I’m the kind of guy that likes to do things simply because they are kooky.


Now let’s talk about who you will buy your vehicle from once you have arrived at your first destination. Got any idea? I didnt think so. You’re so lucky to have me.

I started in Auckland so I have a much better understanding of how things roll out there, but again this should apply to most places. First off, I came accross 3 resources for buying cars (or anything else) that really stuck out.

  •  (Basically the eBay of New Zealand.)
  • (Obviously this is a backpackers message board. Need I say more?)
  •  (This is an auctioning site. You dont actually auction on it. It tells you when and where the cars will be available as well as some other info.)

The next step I would recommend to look for cars is at your hostel. No, not by going around and asking if anyone has a car they want to sell (although you might), but several hostels have message boards or even binders full of cars that people are trying to sell. These are nice because you usually get them from other backpackers which could mean a better price and possibly even supplies you would need to get anyway.
If all else fails, you can do some research and find out when and where the car fairs are in your city. I know that Auckland has one on Saturdays and one on Sundays. The advantage to this method is that there is often mechanical checks of the vehicles so you wont have to worry about it. However, going this route can cost a bit more because you are dealing with a middle man.


Cool. So now you’ve arrived and found a car and set up a time to check it out and do the test drive. So what are some things that you should know and do?

Firstly, Kiwis drive on the left. This may not mean much to some of you, but you throw a first timer into a manual transmission car (many are manual) and let him loose on the road…hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wives, cuz this white boi don’t know what the f*** he doin’.

Before you get in the car, go around and look for any structural problems. Run your fingers along the brake disks and make sure that they are smooth. Scratches could mean the calipers have rubbed and basically ruined them. Push down on all corners to test the suspension. Open the hood and make sure everything looks good (helps if you know what to look for) then ask the other party to turn the car on and rev the engine a few times. Make sure there arent any sort of ticking, whining, or otherwise concerning sounds. Make check when registraion and WOF expire. If you’re really anal you can ask to see all the service records (actually, this is probably a good idea for non-anals). Finally, ask a lot of questions about where its been, how its been driven, how its been serviced, and anything else you can think of. If you get any answers of feelings that make you uneasy, dont buy. Its not worth it.

Next, the registration process is surprisingly easy. Gotta go to the DMV at 5AM to get a decent spot in line? Nope. Pop on over to the post office. You change the registered name, sometimes free of charge, and you’re on your way.



Go now!

Like, right now!

Ok, for some now might not be the best time depending on time of year or what your situation looks like, but you should seriously consider doing this sooner than later. I dont know who you are, but I do know that you are not getting any younger. I also know that an awesome life is lead by awesome experiences, and this is definitely one of them. Floating through glowworm caves, chillin in hot springs, bungee jumping and skydiving, sailing adventures, scaling giant glaciers, pretending you’re a Hobbit, climbing a volcanoe, relax on completely vacated beaches, constant breathe taking surroundings, and a lot more. This can all be done on one trip.

So what are you waiting for?

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