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5 Tips on Buying a Used Car or Campervan in New Zealand

by budgettravelnotes on September 14, 2010

Believe it or not, buying a used car or campervan in New Zealand is a very popular method of transport. Although it may seem crazy for a lot of countries, many long term budget travellers and backpackers in New Zealand buy their own transport to travel the country in the manner it deserves. Your own transport allows you a great deal of freedom to get off the beaten track more than you could ever do with an organised tour, or hop on, hop off bus. There’s a huge choice of cars and vans imported from Japan, and a good selection between auto and manual, diesel and petrol, and cars and vans. Optional (but recommended) insurance is cheap and it opens up a lot of unique places to stay on route.

Here’s the lowdown to help get the banger of your dreams.

Arrive just before the end of season, or the start of summer

Many travellers are dumping cars in their droves at the end of summer or winter and hostel noticeboards are overflowing with motors. If you arrive at this time you’ve a good chance of grabbing a bargain and relieving a traveller of their temporary home before they fly out the following day.

Buy the Brand : Skoda or Subaru?

You could pick up a car here from a few hundred dollars, and a van from around $1500 up. If you’re lucky it will be well used, but not abused. If you can afford to splash out a bit more then get more picky, avoid shabby conversions consisting of a sheet of plywood and……well, some screws. Consider buying a brand respected locally : for cars that’s Subaru, and vans Toyota or Nissan.  It may cost you slightly more on purchase, but you should make that back when you can resell to the local market as well as travellers when you’re leaving. Do what I did on my first visit : Choose wisely, buy from a backpacker and sell to a local, and you too could be flying around in a Subaru 4×4 for $2000, using it for 10 weeks, and selling for only $300 less like I did on my first trip.  That’s like renting a car for $30 a week!  The second time I went upmarket and bought a fully converted low mileage Toyota HiAce campervan as my trip was longer, but I know I’ll sell it easily t travellers or locals.  Of course if you want to you could buy a banger then end up hanging around Auckland for weeks trying to sell it if that’s what you want.

Buy Wisely : Cart Mart or Online?

 Auckland and Christchurch both have well established backpacker car marts. Although they are well established, there are very mixed reports from them often at the extreme viewpoints in both directions. If you buy from them, buy as though you were buying privately with the same checks and don’t be naive.

There are also loads of car markets aimed at locals such as Ellerslie Car Fair in Auckland, or Turners Car Auctions car auctions nationwide. Online there’s Sella and every Kiwi’s favourite site : Trade Me.  Both these sites will allow you to set up alerts.

WOF, Regos and RUCs

A WOF is a 6 monthly ‘warrant of fitness’ and Rego a 6 or 12 monthly registration fee which varies for petrol and diesel. RUCs are ‘Road User Charges’ applicable to diesel vehicles only. The RUC is around $41 per 1000km over and above the pump prices, almost eliminating the cost saving of diesel (although currently it’s still around 10% cheaper). Buy a vehicle with a long WOF, Rego and RUCs in credit and it’ll save you splashing out over the first few months.  Some sellers will try to sell you a vehicle privately with a short WOF if you’re a traveller but they are legally obliged to have it warranted within a month of selling it.


Many travellers arrive in Auckland and finish their road trip in Christchurch. Travellers tales say that backpacker cars and vans are generally cheaper in Christchurch, although an Auckland garage owner will of course tell you otherwise. If you arrive in Christchurch just before the end of winter you’re increasing your chances of grabbing that bargain banger.  If you can do your trip in reverse then you may save yourself a lot of money.  If you want a selection of travellers cars, these are the big places to be looking in.  You may get a bargain if you stumble on something elsewhere, but if you try and buy in Wellington you’ll be restricting your choice a great deal.

Bonus Van Tip

Ok, I said 5 tips but here’s a bonus one.  If you’ve decided to get a van have a think in advance of what you’d like it for and how you’d like to use it.  A very common mode of transport is something like a converted Toyota Estima which has the seats taken out, and a wooden platform put in the back.  Many travellers love getting around like this but decide whether this is for you or not.  If you’re stuck in the rain in the middle of nowhere, do you really want to be sitting in the back with your legs straight out, scrunched up trying to cook on top of your bed, or would you prefer a larger van where you can have a half decent seat to admire the storms from?  A lovely painted van with flowers and butterflies may be your version of cool, but if you park it up when trekking it will also be so obvious that yours is a tourists van.  Make your checklist and decide what you’ll compromise on.


In summary, if you are on a longer trip buying your own vehicle in New Zealand can prove to be a very cost effective method of transport whether you are travelling solo or in a group.  If you have the time, don’t rush into a decision just to get on the road.  At many of the public car marts you’ll find independent inspections available (at a cost), or you could call up the AA to get one done quickly.  Although you have to weigh up the pros and cons of the purchase price, don’t buy something you wouldn’t buy at home just to get you on the road as you may well be left stranded.  Before you seriously start to buy something make a list and know what you can compromise on – I almost bought a big van without power steering as I was keen to get on the road but it would have been a decision I would have regretted for the rest of my trip.

Have you had any experiences in the land of the long white cloud buying your transport?  Please share them through the comments for others to benefit from.

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