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Buying a Car in New Zealand

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$1800-$2300. This in conjunction with petrol and insurance means you can get a car between a group of you and get off the beaten track!

We recommend buying a car especially if you are going to be here for longer than two months. When you buy a car you’ve got to take into account that it may have mechanical problems or you may not sell it for as much as you bought it for.

Don’t pay any more than you’re willing to lose! A member of the BBNZ team sold their trusty Nissan Bluebird for $1000 when they left NZ, but bought it for $1900, 6 months earlier. If you're arriving in early summer with the intention of spending the summer travelling and then selling at the end of the season, be aware lots of other folks want to do the same.

Basically it’s a seller’s market when you are buying and a buyer’s 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 backpackers car in New Zealand. The noticeboard section of this website is a great place to start. There is also a very popular website called Trade Me,that has car listings from both private sellers and car dealers.

You will find private ads in papers, notices up in backpacker hostels, roadside sales, car auctions, car fairs and obviously car dealers.

Car fairs take place in Auckland and Christchurch 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 you’re doing.

Dealers will help you much more and maybe give a warranty but it it will obviously cost you much more. Some places offer the option of a buy back. This means the place that sells you the car will then guarantee to buy it back off you for a set price (conditions will apply).

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 the right paper is 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.

Places to buy

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. Other backpackers can also be a great source of info as they may have heard of friends selling etc.

backpackerboard - Our BBNZ noticeboard is updated almost daily with new listings

Car Buy Backs & Markets such as www.backpackercarschristchurch.co.nz and http://www.backpackercarworld.com/ are also a great place to pick up a decent set of wheels.

Insurance Companies

Strangely in New Zealand it is not compulsory 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.

Travellers Car Insurance offer low cost insurance for backpackers who have bought a campervan, car or motorcycle. You can buy insurance online and be covered to drive almost instantly.

You could also contact the companies below. 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 has introduced its own backpacker's car insurance policy which may be worth a look- head to www.bbh.co.nz and go to the side banner called ‘BBH Vehicle Insurance’.

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/

Alternatively, Trade Me is a great website to go to check out what cars and campervans are selling for. There are thousands of listings all over the country.

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 are 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 –it’s 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!
     
  • 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!!

For a more detailed list of what to check for have a look at http://www.samarins.com/check/simplecheck.html and https://consumer-nz-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/989/Car_buying_Checklist.pdf

The Warrant of Fitness (WOF)

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 ends 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!

Registration Tax

This is road tax and is displayed on the windscreen of the car. Registrations can be renewed at post offices, just take along your old slip which will be on the window of the car.

Diesel Cars

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 seehttp://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/factsheets/38/road-user-charges-1-6-tonne-vehicles.html

Car Inspections

For peace 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!

The AA offer pre-purchase vehicle inspections for approx $170, and can be well worth the money. See the AA website for more details http://www.aa.co.nz/cars/buy-sell/pre-purchase-vehicle-inspections/  or call 0800 907 788.

Car History Checks

We would also recommend getting a history check done before you buy a vehicle. These can be easily done  for around $25, through the AA http://www.aa.co.nz/cars/buy-sell/car-history-checks-and-reports/

A car history check will tell you if the vehicle has:

  • Money owing
  • 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.

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