Ultimate Guide on Buying A Used Car in New Zealand
One of the best ways to travel in New Zealand is no other than doing long road-trip. It’s a vast country rich with scenic grandeur on a magnificent scale. With a car or a campervan, you can reach some of the most exotic places around New Zealand.
Road tripping in New Zealand comes with an extra dose of adventure. The roads are often hilly, narrow and steep, and you will in be awe looking at the scenic landscape almost everywhere you go.
If you are a backpacker or on a gap year thinking of buying a used car in New Zealand, this comprehensive guide will clear all your doubts. It’s a summary of important things you need know and do before buying a used car in New Zealand. I also wrote some good advice about the driving rules, choosing a fuel efficient car and tips on selling it back before you leave.
Before You Buy
For first timers, those on working holiday or a long term traveler – these are three most common FAQ before buying a used car in New Zealand.
a) Do I Need A New Zealand Driving License?
You don’t need a New Zealand driving license to drive a used car in New Zealand. However, it depends on your current driving license as in two situations below;
My Driving License is in English
- If you possess a current driving license in English from your country, you can drive a vehicle equivalent to your license rating.
My Driving License NOT in English
- You will need an accurate translation of your driving license to drive in New Zealand.
How to obtain the translation document :
- Get an English translated form/document from the transport authority from your home-country before leaving to New Zealand (hassle-free, cheapest and cost-saving).
- If you are already in New Zealand, no worries. You can approach the following agent or authority to have your license translated;
– Embassy/Consulate/High Commission (find here)
Other accepted documents:
– Translation document issued by a Notary Public Office in China (for PRC citizen)
– An International Driving Permit (IDP). getting an IDP varies in different countries, the easiest way to get an IDP is through Automobile Association (AA). Every country should have an AA office where you can apply for an IDP. Do a quick check in your area,
*If you are driving for more than 12 months, a conversion to New Zealand license is necessary.
b) What Are The Driving Rules?
In New Zealand, people drive on the left lane. For one-lane bridges in New Zealand, the on-coming traffic is usually allowed to pass (there are different signs).
It is said that there are more sheep than the human population in New Zealand. So watch out for sheep crossing the street out of nowhere while you are driving in suburbs. It happens!
Here are some free online resources to get you started before your road trip in New Zealand. You don’t have to digest everything, just learn those specific to New Zealand’s road safety standard.
c) What Are The Legal Documents I Need?
- Warrant of Fitness (WOF) – This is a certificate that is required by all car owners to prove that they are maintained up to the safety standards. When you are buying a used car, check the first registration year of the car.
– Car is registered on or after 1 January 2000 : WOF is issued for 12 months
– Car is registered before 1 January 2000 : WOF is issued for 6 months
You need to have the WOF label on your car. The label is displayed on the front windscreen on the drivers’ side. It is illegal to drive without a valid WOF.
- Renewing your WOF is easy. You just have to send your vehicle for inspection at an authorized service centre (AA) or any workshop that provides WOF inspection. A WOF label will be issued after the passed inspection.
- The inspection covers mainly on the tyre condition, brake, structure (sign of rust – at the door hinges and locks, under the vehicle, suspension mounting joints), windscreen, wipers, safety belt, airbag system (if any), speedometer, steering and suspension, clean exhaust and no leaks in fuel line.
- If the inspection failed, you will need to get it repaired before you will be issued a new WOF. Ensure the car is in good condition at all-time and free from major damage like rusts or fuel leak. It can be really expensive to get it fixed and probably not worth spending that much on a used car.
- Rego is a regular licensing fee you need to pay to drive the vehicle on the road. You will have to display the rego on your car’s windscreen. It can be paid for the term of 6 months or 12 months. This is applicable for all private passenger vehicle.
- There are additional fees known as ACC levy depends on the type of the car. This levy may change from time to time. For petrol vehicle, it is taxed when you fill the petrol (taxed at source). The current rate is at 6 cents per liter. For diesel, it is only required to pay upfront one time with during the first registration. No other levy for buying diesel. However, all diesel vehicle requires you to pay RUC (Road User Charges) that comes with a license that you need to display while on the road. Renewal is based on 1000km distance.
You may check the rego fees for a particular car before you buy. All you need is the number plate.
iii) Ownership Registration
- After buying a used car from the previous owner, you are required to update the registration details. Failure to inform the NZTA of buying a car from the previous owner can be an offense and violation against the law. The easiest way to do this is through online here
Where Do I Find Used Car in New Zealand?
- Hostel/Backpackers Notice Board
- Car Fair – Auckland Car Fair (Elleslie)
- Supermarkets – Countdown/Pak n’ Save notice boards
Car, Campervan or MotorHome?
Most backpackers on gap year or long term travelers often choose to drive camper van for the road trip in New Zealand. It is the best way to save money on accommodation as they can camp at campground and holiday parks that are available all over New Zealand for a small fee or even free at some designated area. If you have travel mates it is even better that you can share the fuel cost.
Some go for a normal car, especially those traveling independently. A motor-home is not common as used vehicle for a road trip, as they can be really expensive and probably not worth considering you will leave at the end of your trip. But they are good for a short rental from the car rental companies. They are fully equipped with mini kitchen and a self-contained bathroom.
Read also: How to Find Free Rental Car in New Zealand
How much budget should I set?
When you are buying a used car in New Zealand with an intention to use just for a short period, buy within a budget that you are only willing to lose or make at least a fraction of it when you sell it back.
But if you are planning to use it for a long period, set aside more budget and look for a car that in good in condition for your long trip. When you want to sell it back, you can expect to have a better return from what you have spent, as long as the car is in fairly good condition.
- For buying – Check the notice for a used car for sale at backpackers or the hostel, some travelers just want to sell off their car quickly when they are leaving New Zealand. Some might have a car that is in good condition. Use the opportunity to negotiate and crack a good deal.
- For selling – If your car is still in good condition, Rego and WOF are all valid for longer use, selling it back just before the summer can be a smart way to garner more buyers and make a quick buck. The best time is between October – November.
Should I Buy Petrol or Diesel Vehicle?
Though diesel is cheaper than petrol, buying and maintaining a used diesel car or van can be significantly expensive due to the RUC (Road User Charge), especially if it is used for long road trips. The RUC shall be renewed every 1000km distance. It is better for agricultural and off-road usage where the RUC can be exempted.
Hence, buying a used car running on petrol is a better choice for long road trip. You don’t have to worry about RUC that is charged for diesel and other types of vehicles only.
How is the Fuel price in New Zealand?
Though there are many factors when it comes to fuel consumption. There are few things you can do to save on petrol costs and lower the consumption during the long road trip. For the gasoline price, it is still considered cheaper in New Zealand than most other developed countries in the world.
New Zealand gasoline price across the country fluctuates based on the global market price. The typical price for 91 Octane is NZ$ 1.92/L and 95 Octane NZ$ 2.00/L.This is just a rough estimation as prices vary in different part of New Zealand.
You shall be aware of the age of the car, engine capacity and your driving style may also affect the fuel consumption. Note that the road condition in New Zealand is often narrow and hilly. So all this can affect the fuel consumption greatly.
How can I improve the fuel consumption?
Take this is just a general guide. It greatly depends on the type and the age of car you are using, the calculations are only approximate and not to be taken as an exact value ;
Vehicle care for better consumption
- Use your air-conditioning wisely
- Ensure the tires are correctly inflated
- Don’t idle the car for long period
- Drive at a constant speed, avoid fast acceleration
- Avoid fast braking
- Buy vehicle size according to your need
Calculating the car’s fuel efficiency
Before buying any used car, you can calculate the fuel efficiency of a particular model on the New Zealand government’s website. Follow this guide below:
1. Check the car model online for fuel efficiency rating
RightCar NZ – Free government website to check particular models on the safety and fuel efficiency rating. You can check for an existing car by entering the VIN or the car plate number.
2. Calculate the consumption with efficiency rating and distance
Numbeo – Use this free online tool to check gas consumption by entering the fuel efficiency rating and the distance you will be driving in New Zealand
You should do your own due diligence before buying a used car in New Zealand. You would not want to spend a fortune on a car that has major issues and a bad service record. These quick guide below covers the important things to check before you decide to buy. There are two options;
Option 1 (Self-check and deal)
- If you know the car plate number or the VIN, you can browse the basic history online using this site at MotorWeb NZ. For a full report, additional fees apply.
- Check if it’s stolen – check the NZ Police Website
- Then, contact the owner to arrange an inspection and test drive
Things to ask:
- If it’s a diesel vehicle, ask for an RUC record – does it have current RUC license? Any outstanding RUC payable?
- Ask for Rego and WOF document, check validity
- Any money owed?
- Is the odometer working and the reading is true?
Things to check:
- Check the WOF expiry (should be not more than 1 month old)
- Check for valid Rego
- Physically check for hidden rust on the body (use magnet)
- Bring a friend or someone knowledgeable about cars to check in person
- Test-drive the car and see for abnormal condition
The good – You save money on professional inspection cost
The bad – You may not know the full history or the condition of the car without the professional inspection. Examples are like hidden repairs or a tampered odometer.
Option 2 (Paid inspection/background check)
- You may go for this option if the WOF is about expiring and consider for long-term use.
- You can buy full online report on the car history; check on odometer inconsistency, if it’s stolen or any money owing at MotorWeb NZ
- Then, contact the seller to arrange an inspection at workshop/garage or at professional service centre (discuss to split cost or paid fully by yourself)
- If inspection found repair needed to get the car up to warrant standard, you can either request the repair at the seller cost and negotiate a better price.
The good – You know the history of the car and if it requires any major repair before dealing
The bad – The cost of inspection by the professional service center or at the workshop.
After making the purchase from the seller, you shall;
- Inform the NZ Transport Agency for the change of owner. You can do it online here
- Get an insurance. Not compulsory but highly advised in case you got into an accident, it will cover the full cost of the other party’s damage. You can get a low-cost insurance specifically designed for backpackers and travelers. Check below: