New Zealand is a medium sized country. Best ways to explore is with a car, especially if you’re planning on doing some tramping. The country has a decent bus network but it doesn’t go to all of the prettiest sights.You can book a tour and those are lovely but not cheap.
If you’re new to traveling in New Zealand and contemplating if you should buy a van or car, this post is for you. There are some tips and tricks in this post for buying a car in New Zealand and where to look for them.
You can easily buy and resell a car in New Zealand if you’re staying for a long period. Which, unless the car breaks down, is cheaper than renting.
Camp for free with a self contained Van
New Zealand has Freedom Camping, these are designated areas where you can camp for free with a self contained vehicle. Self contained means you have a toilet and you have a sticker on your van that says self contained.
Years ago Kiwis weren’t too bothered about backpacker bogans sleeping in Toyota Corollas next to the highway. But unfortunately they got tired of all the poopie presents tourists left behind when we stayed overnight in their local carpark.
Kiwis still love tourists and generously bestow us with advice and beauty, since tourism drives the New Zealand economy.
But they are less likely to forgive you for leaving your shit in their country for them to find and clean up.
You can get a fine of $200 in New Zealand for pooping in the bush. Same if you camp on a spot where you can’t camp. These rules exist because New Zealand is overrun by tourists, especially during summer. You might think that one poop doesn’t make a difference. But then New Zealand received 3.6 million tourists in 2016/2017 (source: Ministry of Business and & Employment) and if only 0.1% have this nasty habbit, that still is a lot of crap.
If you don’t want to buy a car because you are too lazy to get a drivers license, there are lots of alternatives that will cost you a lot of money. One is renting a car, which is expensive. Second option is renting a van which is even more expensive. Third option is hitchhiking, which is supposedly cheap but not really, since you still have to pay for hostel beds.
If you plan your trip to last only a couple of weeks then it’s not worth the hassle of buying and reselling a car. Finding and buying a car can take days, even more if you have to resell it. You can go to car dealers but they cost you more. They buy cars too so you can spare yourself of spending days printing out for sale signs and hanging them up in hostels.
How to buy a Car in New Zealand
First you have to decide on a budget and the type of car that you want. Do you want to be able to take it snowboarding? Do you want to be able to sleep in it?
A decent 4wd stationwagon will get you to the start of hikes and up the mountain. It can also sleep two people which can save you a lot of money on accommodation. The minimum budget you need is NZ$1800. A van is a bit more comfortable but you need a bigger budget for them. With awesome negotiation skills you can get a van for NZ$5000.
Then you have to put the word out there that you want to buy a car. Every town has certain spots where you can find cars for sale. Locals can point you in the right direction. You can also find cars on Trade Me, New Zealand’s number one trading site for second hand items.
I have bought a car on Trade Me as well as just from the street. I found both ways to be reliable.
How to Negotiate a better price
Trade Me isn’t negotiable with price so the price you see is what you’ll pay. If you buy a car of the street there is room for some negotiation.
The easiest and most aggressive technique is to check the car for defects and then point those out to the seller. If you are pointing out scratches or dents, that’ll get you no discount though, it will get you kicked out faster. Most New Zealand cars have scratches and dents since life here is rough and most cars get attacked by Keas.
A Kea is a mountain parrot, if you were wondering. They cause a lot of trouble wrecking cars in the Southern Alps.
Another way is to have $2000 worth of cash and negotiate while flashing your $100 bills in the seller’s face. Cash money is always very tempting. Taking the car there and now, saves them time having to show it to other people.
Or you can just ask for a better price, that always seems to work for me.
What Brands should you buy?
Try Asian cars, for they are the cheapest to drive and to buy. Subaru, Toyota and Nissan are all good options.
I personally am a big fan of European brands like Citroen and Peugeot but owning one in New Zealand means parts are hard to come buy. Audi and Mercedes are pretty common but they will cost you big bucks. Plus they usually come with the necessary Eastern European wife/husband in the passengers seat. That’s a bonus if you’re okay with driving inside a cloud of cigarette smoke.
Driving in New Zealand
You drive on the left in this country. Which is very confusing at first but I got used to it. What is more complicated than driving on the left, is the distraction you get. You’ll find yourself staring to your left and right more than looking at the road. Tourists are notorious for stopping in the most random places for a picture which can result into accidents.
I stopped once on a country side road looking for a craft shop, the logging truck following me for the last 15 km had to evade me by moving over to the right lane. This is pretty scary because they’re so huge and heavy they can’t and won’t stop if you suddenly need to turn into a driveway.
Kiwi’s are probably the most dangerous drivers I know. Tourists are as well though and together we make the roads absolute death zones.
Driving in winter
If you plan to drive in Otago or any of the passes on the South Island, you will need snow chains. Chances are small that you will get trapped in a blizzard but it does happen. Luckily there are always cars around that do prepare so you won’t die when your car is stuck in the snow. The annoying thing is your car will stay there until the snow gets cleared, which could mean days.
Get some snow chains if you plan to drive your car up the snow resorts. Find them for rent in the local hardware store or petrol stations.
Perhaps you have your own tips and tricks for buying a car in New Zealand, leave them in the comments. Or if your car ever got wrecked by a Kea, tell the tale. I always love a good NZ bird story.