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How to Rent a Car

Some of New Zealand's finest things are tucked away so having your own transport is an essential aspect for many who adventure here. In some countries of the world car hire rates are such that the thrifty backpacker is unlikely to be able to afford them. However, here in New Zealand, car hire firms are plentiful, fierce industry competition keeps rates reasonable and several are specifically aimed at the backpacker market.

Can I drive in New Zealand?

Visitors from overseas can drive in New Zealand on the driving licence of their home country provided -

  • the licence is current and valid
  • you have been in New Zealand for less than a year (after this you have to get your licence converted to a New Zealand one if you want to drive)
  • the licence you have is in English or you have had it translated into English
  • you must carry your licence with you at all times while driving


What do I need to rent a car?

You will be asked to show the original of either your current and valid driving licence from home or a New Zealand licence. In other words you will need to prove that you are legally allowed to drive in the country. If more than one of you will be driving, each has to show their driving licence.

Be aware that quite a few of the car hire firms in New Zealand don't accept drivers under 21 – there are even some which don't take under 25s - or if they do they will land you with a hefty surcharge for it. Plenty accept drivers of all ages though so you should have no problem finding the right one at the right price for you.

What type of car is available for rent?

It would be quicker to write what you couldn't rent rather than what you could – from tiny hatchbacks to huge 4x4 vehicles and from brand-spanking new models with all the bells and whistles, gadgets and luxury extras down to ageing and basic but well-maintained vehicles which are aimed at the budget conscious (in other words - us backpackers).

What might be included within the daily hire charge and possible extras

You might need to do a bit of maths to get yourself the best deals. Some daily rental rates can seem incredibly high until you know that everything is included including all kinds of perks such as free fuel. Transversely, some rates can seem wonderfully low until you realise that before you can get the car on the road (or when you bring it back) there are all kinds of extras to pay.

What is and isn't included by car hire firms varies hugely. Some of the extras you might have to pay make little difference while others are huge extra chunks of money to fork out. Here is a run-down of the most common things that might be included or you will have to pay extra for:

Unlimited kilometres/miles – more companies than not have unlimited kilometres but if they don't the extra you might have to pay for every 10/50/whatever kms you've gone over can add up quickly into an alarming end bill.

Mechanical assistance and/or recovery – most, if not all, companies offer mechanical support in the event of breakdown but you might want to read the small print here. Not all will cover you should you need towing somewhere and towing costs in New Zealand can be astronomical because you are sometimes a long way from anyone with a tow truck.

Insurance – this is the big one. Insurance for road users is not compulsory in New Zealand as it is in say England for example but of course no car hire company is going to let anyone drive away in one of their vehicles without it. The insurance is typically covered within the daily hire rate. However, how this will affect you is reflected through the excesses and what you agree to pay in the event of an accident. And be very, very careful here. Even if you are the safest driver in the world and very confident of your driving skills, some of the New Zealand roads – especially the gravel ones – really will be nothing like you have ever encountered before. Additionally, because insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand, should an uninsured driver cause damage to your vehicle you are still liable for the excess (which may or may not be recoverable to you through a long legal process). So, by all means go for the zero extra to pay option but should you have a prang – sometimes even a small one – you might find yourself landed with an excess to pay of a whopping NZ$2,500 or more. You can alternatively opt for a zero excess to pay in the event of an accident but you will pay considerably more per day for your hire charge – probably around the $25 mark.Your call.

Toll road payments – some firms include this but it isn't a biggie. New Zealand only has three toll roads (one in Auckland and two in Tauranga) and they cost around the NZ$2 mark each.

Diesel road user charges – the observant will notice that diesel is sold considerably cheaper at garages than petrol. This is because the tax payable on diesel is collected in a different way – through purchase of a distance-specified licence. When the number of kilometres is reached a new licence must be bought – usually from a post office. Many hire cars are diesel fuelled so be clear whether you have any responsibility here (and be aware that the mileage in question here is different to the unlimited - or otherwise - kilometres mentioned at the beginning). Some companies will give you a huge number of kilometres which you will see on the licence which has to be displayed on the vehicle's windscreen. Others will only give you what has been left over from the last customer while some will expect you to buy it all yourself at either the beginning or the end of your trip. Typically calculated in 100km chunks, this latter can add up to a significant total if you're not expecting it.

Free airport pick up – as the majority of visitors to New Zealand come through Auckland, most car hire set ups will either have a permanent office there or have a well-established pick up service. Saves you the $35 - $70 taxi fare and that's at least a night's bed somewhere – it all counts!

One way rental – although many trips in New Zealand begin and end in Auckland this isn't always the case. Some hire companies will want you to return your vehicle back to where you picked it up while others might charge extra if you drop the vehicle off at another branch from where you originally hired it. Others still are totally flexible and allow you to pick-up and drop-off wherever you want at no extra cost. And because all roads end in Auckland (or it can at least appear that way) you might find a one way hire of pick-up in Christchurch/drop-off in Auckland is free whereas the reverse journey wouldn't be. Be clear on the whole issue of one way hires to avoid an extra chunk on your end bill you weren't expecting or avoiding the frantic and impossible race of having to get from Dunedin to Auckland in less than 24 hours.

As a general rule, the larger companies have more branches and therefore more options for pick-up/drop-off while the smaller companies have fewer.

Tyre and windscreen cover – some daily rates cover you for all or some costs of replacing tyres or windscreens, others don't. On the gravel roads of New Zealand chipped and broken windscreens are not uncommon. And just in case you didn't know......some modern vehicle windscreens are VERY expensive should you have to pick up all the cost yourself.

Optional extras – cars these days have all kinds of fancy extras as standard and if you are hiring something modern and towards the higher quality end of things you might find yourself getting all kinds of stuff for free such as Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, music systems, luxury bits and bobs and much more. Sometimes these same non-standard things are also possible for extra charges and also up for grabs are things such as snow-chains and camping kits.

And the other stuff – some car hire companies have totally transparent charges while others sneak things into the small print. There are all kinds of potential extra charges you should be aware of. These include such things as returning the vehicle after standard office hours (night time or at the weekend), handling fees for any fines (parking, speeding etc) you might incur, cleaning charges when the vehicle is returned and so forth.

How to get the best prices

  • Some maths will be required – as already stated what looks like the cheapest deal at first glance might not be once you add all those extras on
  • Many car hire companies run regular special offers, promotions or discount deals – one such is NZ Discount Car Rentals or Ace Tourist Rentals Ltd who, along with NZDCR, repeatedly come up as the cheapest priced car rental in reviews and comparison sites
  • Go for a rental vehicle which is older stock such as with Ace Tourist Rentals Ltd
  • Keep your eye out for those car hire firms specifically aiming themselves at the backpacker market such as James Blond (rentals start from NZ$13 a day)
  • Book as far in advance as your plans allow
  • Car hire costs during the summer will be higher than those in winter typically speaking
  • The more days you rent for the more the daily rental rate decreases. For example, with James Blond, car hire for 2-6 days will cost NZ$40 per day but hire a vehicle for 30-44 days and it will be NZ$17 per day – less than half.
  • There are quite a few comparison sites you can use for car rental rates which include,, and However, be aware that most of these don't include the smaller, and therefore often more competitively priced, companies; only the larger international names.

Where can I rent a car?

In Auckland your choices will be almost limitless while all of the bigger cities – Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin etc - will have plenty of choice too. Outside of this it just depends on what you are looking for.

One last word about car rentals – if you are planning to hire for longer than 8 – 10 weeks it really is worth considering buying a vehicle. There is lots to consider here but in many cases going down the buying route can save you a huge chunk of money. Check out our guide to buying a car in New Zealand.

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