Buying a Used Car in New Zealand

A 1993 Mazda Familia in New Zealand.
Since Daniel and I have a working holiday visa for one year, we made the choice to buy a car. It would be more cost-effective and allow us to see the country at our own speed. (Ha! Get it?) If you’re a backpacker traveling the country for less than two months, it’d probably be better to rent a car. According to  (a helpful travel review site dedicated to all things NZ) at the time of writing, the highest rated rental agency in the north island is and in the south island it’s .

The great thing about buying a used car in New Zealand is that they are cheap and plentiful. The majority of them come from Japan, so you will see many Mazdas, Nissans, and Hondas on the road, which will make replacing parts easy.

Many travelers come to New Zealand during the summer months from December to February. (Remember it’s located in the southern hemisphere.) They will stay for the year, and try to sell their car to the incoming travelers. This can, however, be a problem for the buyers if it’s a seller’s market.

We arrived in Auckland in April, which was a quiet period with a few advantages. One being the weather. Another being it the low season making it the perfect time to buy a car. This was actually to our advantage because it was a buyer’s market, and we could offer the buyer a lower price than what they bought it for. After a bit of consideration, we settled on The Bloody Legend for a whopping $900NZD ($775USD).  

Where to Look

A perfect place to start your car hunting is, of course, the Internet. New Zealand’s version of a craigslist and eBay combination is . There is everything from jobs to cars to rentals on the site. There’s also Gum Tree, which is pretty similar to TradeMe but more people tend to stick with the former.

If you’re looking to buy off another backpacker, head to . One good thing about buying from another backpacker, there’s often other stuff included, like camping equipment. This way you can save a bit on accommodation by sleeping in the car or in a tent. If you do a search on Facebook for groups, there are many dedicated to selling used cars in New Zealand. 

Other places besides the Internet to look include newspapers, or hostels and supermarkets, which tend to have community noticeboards placed inside. 

What to Look For

When you find a potential car, the next likely step is to check it out in person. Since a majority of the cars you’ll be looking at will be nearly 20 years old, there will be some things to look for, especially rust. One thing I do wish we would have considered before purchasing The Bloody Legend is its ability to handle hills. Like roundabouts, hills are everywhere in New Zealand. So if possible, test drive your car going up hills. for other things to look for, which you can print and bring along. 

Each vehicle must be inspected to verify that it meets the required safety standards. For older cars it must be done every six months. This is called the Warrant of Fitness (WOF). The WOF sticker is placed on the windshield/windscreen on the driver’s side. It’s best to look for a vehicle, which has plenty of months left on its WOF. This gives you the reassurance that the car has just been inspected and is in fine working condition (for now).

Camping out of a car in New Zealand.

Registration and Insurance

There’s also the registration and licensing. At first it can be a bit confusing trying to figure out if you need the registration or licensing done, but it’s likely the latter. The registration is when you purchase the car and need to register your name to the car. The licensing (or sometimes referred to as “rego”) can be renewed either every 12 months, 6 months, or 3 months. The pricing depends on your vehicle. We had to recently update our licensing, and it was painless. We went to the post office with the registration card in the front of our car window and renewed for six months for $150. (We aren’t sure how long The Bloody Legend will hold out.) You can also . 

Something quite different to having a car in the States is that car insurance is not mandatory here, but highly recommended. However, a few insurance companies may not accept drivers who either won’t be here long term or don’t have a permanent address in New Zealand. After a bit of researching, we signed up with , which is geared toward backpackers. Policies could cover 3 months to 12 months and no permanent address is needed.

Another thing that’s not necessary, but a good idea is to sign up with , especially if you have a 20-year-old car that could break down at any time. It is more or less like AAA in the States and if you are a part of AAA, you get a special rate with AA. (Geez, that’s a lot of A’s!) When we signed up, they had a special option for travelers, which lasts for 6 months for $99 and you don’t need a permanent address. 

That’s all it takes to find your very own Bloody Legend in New Zealand.

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