Although in many countries it would appear a luxury option, in New Zealand buying a car to travel in is actually a cost effective option. With the mass import of Japanese cars you can pick up a reasonable runner for around NZ$1000. This in conjunction with cheap petrol and insurance means you can get a car between a group of you and get off the beaten track!
We would only recommend buying a car if you are going for longer than two months as if something goes wrong you could spend you whole holiday in a garage or lose lots of money. When you buy a car youve got to take into account that it may die or you may not sell it for much. Dont pay any more than your wiling to lose! I sold my trusty nissan bluebird for $600 when I left nz and I bought it for $1200 although I heard that it was being sold six months later in Queenstown for $1800!! If you're arrriving early summer with the intention of spending the summer and then selling at the end, be aware lots of other folks want to do the same. Basically its a sellers market when you are buying and a buyers market when you are trying to sell along with all the other travellers trying to get rid of their cars!
Where to Buy Your Car
There are a variety of ways to buy a backpacker's car in New Zealand – notice boards (like this site) private ads in papers, roadside sales, car auctions, car fairs and obviously car dealers. Car fairs take place in most of the main cities so ask when and where to go at your local backpacker hostel. How and where you choose to buy your car could be based on your actual practical car knowledge – car auctions are probably the cheapest but you have to know what your doing whereas dealers will help you much more and maybe give a warranty but it will obviously cost you much more. There is also now the option of a buy back company who will sell you the car and then guarantee to buy it back off you for a set price.
The main places to buy a car, having the biggest choice for the Backpacker price range, are Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. However you may find a cheap deal out of town which might not have been round New Zealand twenty times already! On arrival in one of these cities do a quick scout of the local area and visit places such as supermarkets & hostel noticeboards, local car shops and garages, outside hostels and hostel receptions. Then grab the local paper and check the classifieds - ask at your hostel to find which is the right paper and which day has the most cars in it. Other backpackers can also be a great source of info as they may have heard of friends selling etc.
Strangely in New Zealand it is not complusory to have car insurance. However it is best to get at least Third Party Insurance so if you get yourself in an accident you won't be going home with an even bigger debt!! Insurance is quite reasonably priced in New Zealand compared to the UK .
Useful Phone Numbers
Fintel – 0800 801 801
AMI – 0800 100 200
Tower – 0800 808 808
AA – 0800 500 221
These companies may not insure you if you are not staying in New Zealand for long. Consequently you may have to purchase a full year's cover however some do offer refunds if you cancel before the year's contract runs out.
Also check out the BBH Hostel network who have introduced its own backpacker's car insurance policy which may be worth a look- head to http://www.backpack.co.nz/index.html and go to the link called 'suggestions for longer term vistors'
Travellers Car Insurance offer low cost insurance for backpackers who have bought a campervan, car or motorcycle and offer instant online quotes and sales for policies from 3-12 months.
Finding out what you should be paying
Turners auctions are the biggest car auction house in NZ and they have a great free tool which shows you what cars have sold for in the past 12 months. You can then see how much you should be paying - http://www.turners.co.nz/Turners-Valuation/
What to Check for When Buying a Car
- rust is a major reason for cars failing their WOF. Once rust had overrun a car it can be very expensive and difficult to rectify. Check around the door hinges especially, and overall, check that the majority of the car is rust free. Be wary of cars that have been left sat for a long time as rust could have easily have set in.
- Oil leaks into the engine will eventually mean the end of it. To check for them get someone to stand behind the car and give it a good hard rev – the more black smoke that comes out of the exhaust the more leaks you have. Be wary of people putting oil thickener into their engine before selling it – it will keep the black smoke down until you drive it off!! Take it round the block then check the smoke levels again or come back at later time.
- Checked for broken headlights and cracked casings as these will make you fail your WOF and if you can’t find one cheap at a scrappers it can be expensive to get replaced.
- Listen to the engine; does it turn over and tick over smoothly, not spluttering and waling! Check the oil –is it new (looks like treacle) or old (black as coal!)
- Take the car up a hill and check engine strength –there’s some big hills in NZ! Listen for ‘pinking’ a metal tapping noise as the engine strains to get up the hill; this is where the engine isn’t firing properly usually caused by bad timing.
- Make sure the headlights work in dipped and full beam –its illegal to drive without them at night and the bulbs can be expensive to buy.
- Does the car pull to the left or the right as you drive? Do you have to turn the steering wheel to go in a straight line? This can be a sign of a damaged or worn axel and is very expensive to replace! (happened to me!!!)
- Ask about the history of the car such as when the car was last serviced or things recently changed such as the cam belt –if that goes you engine will be up s**t creek! If you’ve got some extra cash it might be worth getting a service to help the car last for the whole trip.
- If the car has just got its WOF ask if the inspectors found any growing problems –if you get an immediate flat no then get suspicious!!
The Warrant of Fitness in New Zealand is similar to the MOT in England in that it checks that your car is fit and safe to drive on the roads. WOF tests have to be conducted on old cars every six months. The date of the next WOF is displayed on a sticker on the windscreen on every car in NZ. Check that this sticker is still valid when you are considering buying the car! If you are only here for a few months then I would recommend getting a car whose WOF runs our after you leave - they can be very costly if something is wrong and you can always dump the car at the end of your trip rather than sell it!
This is road tax and is displayed on the windscreen of the car. Reg can be renewed at post offices just take along your old slip which will be on the window of the car.
Once you arrive in NZ one of the first things you will notice is that diesel is much cheaper than petrol. All diesel cars are subject to road user charges whereas petrol cars are not. This means that in addition to the Registration you must also purchase kilometres per 1000km. Check the cost of this at your local Post Shop. This means that although diesel is far cheaper than petrol to purchase, the extra road user charges means the real benefit of owning a diesel is a little less than it first appears. For details of road charges see http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/factsheets/38/road-user-charges-1-6-tonne-vehicles.html
For piece of mind you can get your car checked out by the AA or a local mechanic. It costs but if you’re going to spend a lot on a car/van its worth knowing you’re not being ripped off. If you get an old banger checked be prepared for some crosses on the check sheet! An alternative is to just get a safety check down at a mechanics –don’t want those brakes disappearing on you! To book a vehicle inspection with the AA check out the AA website or ring 0800 500 333
Car History Checks
We recommend getting a history check done before you buy a vehicle.
A car history check will tell you if the vehicle has:
An inconsistent odometer
Been reported stolen.
It will also enable you to confirm the current legal owner so you can be sure you are dealing with the correct person. Car history checks can be bought instantly online.
NZ Police are particularly vigilant for tourist drivers breaking the law after a spate of fatal and serious injury crashes through 2013 and 2014. We recommend you heed these rules when driving, and check out the resources for a more in-depth understanding of the Road Code.
New Zealanders drive on the left, like Australia and the UK. It's compulsory to wear a seat belt if one is provided, and you must not talk or access services (e.g. SMS, internet) on a hand-held mobile phone if you are driving, or even if you are stationary at traffic lights. You must carry your driver's licence with you at all times when driving and if your licence is not in English you will need an approved translation.
Traffic signals and giving way
You must always use your indicator when turning, and if you are turning at traffic lights then you must give way to pedestrians already crossing the road.
You must not turn at an intersection where the signal is red (unlike in America, which has a free turn) - red always means stop.
Give way (yield) to your right at roundabouts (turning circles) and drive them in a clockwise direction. As you approach a roundabout signal in the direction you want to turn (left for turning left, right for turning right, or no signal for going straight ahead). Once you are on the roundabout, signal left off it - i.e. just after the exit before the one you want to take, signal left and then exit the roundabout.
On roads, give way to all traffic coming towards you that is passing straight through or turning left. At a T-intersection, give way to traffic on the top of the T if you are on the bottom of the T.
The most important speed limits are:
Open road, motorway and freeway default: 100kph
Urban default: 50kph
School zones: 40kph (between certain times)
Roadworks (urban): 30kph
Past a stationary school bus picking up/dropping off children, or the site of an accident: 20kph
Shared pedestrian zones: 10kph.
Alcohol and drugs
There is a zero alcohol limit for drivers under 20 years old. For drivers 20 and over the limit is 250mcg/litre of breath, or 0.05%. It is always illegal to drive under the influence of any kinds of drugs, whether legal or illegal.
Livestock are moved frequently along rural roads. Stop your vehicle and wait for instructions from the farmer.
Many railway level crossings do not have lights or barrier arms and just have a stop sign. Double-check no trains are coming before you cross.
Unsealed gravel roads are common in some areas.
Narrow one-lane bridges are found everywhere outside of the main centres. You have right-of-way if your sign has a white arrow pointing upwards. You must still wait for traffic to clear the bridge before entering it, though.
There are other rules you should be aware of when driving, so check out these resources recommended by the Tourism Industry Association of New Zealand.
Free visitor Road Code quiz - test your knowledge to see if you're ready to drive in NZ. Available in English, German, Spanish and Chinese