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Buying Your Own Camper Van - What You Need to Know

Thousands upon thousands of New Zealand visitors every year choose to go down the route of buying their own vehicle. Many van buyers have figured out that accommodation won't come cheaper than this and if you are determined to do everything on your own schedule as well as get to some hidden corners, having your own transport is the only way to go.

Hiring is of course an alternative but if you are planning to be in the country for longer than eight weeks it can actually work out heaps cheaper to buy. Cheap used camper vans are ten a penny in New Zealand but before you rush off with your wad of cash to scoop up a deal there are a few things you need to know about owning and running a vehicle.

Legal Requirements

Vehicle Licensing

For the Brits among you, vehicle licensing is what you will think of as road tax. You can buy this tax in chunks of 3, 6 or 12 months or any number of months between 3-12. This means you only buy what you know you are going to use. If you luck in, the vehicle you buy might already have some tax months remaining (this will be displayed on a little sticker on the windscreen). Otherwise, you can buy further months online or in PostShops. Alternatively, AA, Vehicle Inspection New Zealand (VINZ) or Vehicle Testing New Zealand (VTNZ) locations all act as licensing agents. To buy vehicle licensing you will have to show the vehicle has a current WoF (Warrant of Fitness) - a roadworthy inspection much like an MoT in the UK.

Cars and campers attract different rates and the costs for petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles are also different (see the 'Road User Charges' section further down). For current rates check out - 


Warrant of Fitness (WoF)

This is the test which checks vehicles for their safety and road-worthiness. Annual tests are required for vehicles originally registered after January 2000. Vehicles older than this must undergo a WoF every 6 months. You will be issued with a sticker on the windscreen and the punched out circle is the month (and the year for newer vehicles which don't require annual checks) in which it is due for renewal.

There are literally thousands of garages in New Zealand licensed to carry out inspections, all of which will display the distinctive WoF symbol. It is worth noting that one of the most common causes for WoF failure on used vehicles is down to rust and the acceptable levels of this are quite strict. Second-hand vehicles are obviously prone to rust so be sure to check this out when looking at campers to buy. The cost of a WoF (without any work carried out) is around the NZ$54 mark with some variations from tester to tester.

We probably don't need to tell you that buying a vehicle without a current WoF is asking for trouble and additionally in New Zealand you are legally required to have a current WoF less than a month old to sell a vehicle. There is an exception to this under the 'as is where is' clause but then you have to have written agreements.


Road User Charges

The eagle-eyed (or budget-conscious) will quickly notice that fuel prices in garages in New Zealand are much less for diesel than petrol. This is because diesel taxes are collected differently and through a scheme known as 'road user charges'. Quite what you will pay if you have a diesel camper will depend on the size and weight of your vehicle. You can choose how many kilometres you pay in chunks of 1000 km and these can be bought online, at PostShops or at AA, Vehicle Inspection New Zealand (VINZ) or Vehicle Testing New Zealand (VTNZ) agents.

Current costs per 1000km can be viewed at


Name transfer and registration

When you buy any vehicle you will need to transfer ownership into your name. This process is quick and easy and can be done by taking your passport or driving licence as proof of identity along to a PostShop or an NZTA agent (the AA, Vehicle Inspection New Zealand/VINZ or Vehicle Testing New Zealand/VTNZ). Fill in the form 'Notice by person acquiring motor vehicle' (MR13B), pay your NZ$9 fee and you are sorted.

Failure to notify NZTA of the change of name can result in a NZ$1000 fine as well as finding yourself responsible for any licence fees, parking and speeding fines and RUCs outstanding on the vehicle from previous owners. 

Other Considerations 

The following are all other things you may want to consider although none of them are legal obligations.


Insurance for road users is not compulsory in New Zealand so by all means try and save some pennies here. HOWEVER, you do need to be aware if you go down this route that, should you have an accident (even a seemingly small one), you may be liable for bills amounting to thousands upon thousands. 

There are several companies which will offer insurance to non-residents and these include BBH – the hostel network beloved by backpackers for their cheap deals and small, homely hostels. You will typically pay more (and sometimes have a higher excess) if you are aged 18-21, while over 25s get the best priced deals. You can buy your insurance in chunks of 3, 6, 9 or 12 months so you won't pay for any period you don't need.

Breakdown Recovery

Another of those things which it might seem like you can do away with as it isn't compulsory but may well mean you kicking yourself somewhere down the line because you didn't take advantage of it. Remember that outside of the cities you can go for hours without seeing another soul on the road and some places are so isolated you could extend that to days. If you do breakdown help is not always close to hand and even should you be able to get assistance it might cost you a small fortune. Towing fees for example are often extortionate in New Zealand. Your call, but for peace of mind alone this service – which you can buy for under NZ$70 for 3 months cover – is worth it. Roadside Assist offer 6 month and 12 month roadside assistance memberships starting at NZ$35. Coverage includes 24/7 assistance for breakdowns, flat tyres, flat batteries, running out of fuel and losing your keys.


Mechanical Inspection

Not compulsory and easy to say no to but another of those things you would be well advised to fork out a little for in order to avoid spending much more at a later date or, even worse, losing all you have invested in buying your camper. Of course if you know what you're looking for when you stick your head under a bonnet or crawl underneath you're fine, otherwise it really is worth paying for a pre-purchase inspection to avoid getting saddled with a well-disguised heap of junk. 

Most garages will do a pre-purchase vehicle inspection for you. As a guide - expect to pay NZ$129 to $149 through VTNZ agents or NZ$149 members/$169 non-members through the AA.

Vehicle Information Report Check (VIR)

Once upon a time these were rather more important than now and before various other processes related to the second-hand vehicle buying process were implemented to protect the owner. These days a VIR can still check if the vehicle is stolen, has a tampered odometer, has any outstanding RUCs or if there is money outstanding on loan or lease agreements which might mean repossession. You can pay some-one around NZ£30 for a full check or go online at Motorweb and pay NZ$19.95 to check yourself if there are any debts on the vehicle.

So after reading all this you are now armed with all the info you need to go and actually BUY a camper! Read our guide to 'Where to Buy Second Hand Campers' to find out how you can do this. 

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