Buying a car in New Zealand

Most backpackers buy there own car, as this option of travelling gives you the highest flexibility. You will find that buying a used car in New Zealand is usually a lot cheaper than in your own country.

Where can backpackers buy used cars?

You can buy a car at many places. Online on TradeMe Motors or at the weekend on the car fairs. There is are car fairs in 6 West St, Auckland City from 8 am to 3 pm on Saturday and one at the Ellerslie race course on Sunday from 9 am to 1 pm. There you can have a test drive and have the car mechanically checked for a small fee. All prices are negotiable and you might want to bring somebody who understands something of cars.

What driver license do backpackers need to drive in New Zealand?

You need a valid driver license to legally drive in New Zealand. It must be in the English language or be an international driver license. If your national driver license is not in English, you need to get an English translation by an approved translator.

After 12 months of being in New Zealand, you’ll need to convert your license to a New Zealand driver one, unless you left the country and returned, which restarts the 12 month period.

What other legal requirement must backpackers meet when owning a car?

When you are owning a car, you need to hold a valid registration and warrant of fitness at any time. Having the car parked on non-private property without these may result in a $200 fine.

The registration of a car can be applied for at the post office. You may choose to register the car for 6 or 12 months.

The warrant of fitness (WOF) must be renewed every  6 month and certifies that the car is technically fit to drive on New Zealand roads.

When buying a car you need to apply for a transfer of ownership at your local post office or AA Center, which both the old and the new owner must sign. The remaining time of an active registration and WOF will carry over to the new owner once the ownership has changed.

Buying a car step-by-step for backpackers

  • Step 1 - Car Inspection


    Outside the Car

    When looking outside the car that you want to buy, look for any signs of damage. If the car has been in an accident, there could be other hidden damages that could cause the car to breakdown. Those signs are:

    • Difference in the colour between panels
    • Bumps or major scratches covered with paint
    • Kick the shock absorbers a little to see if they are holding on

    Once you feel confident that your potential future ride did not have any major accidents, have look for:

    • Rust that may affect the value of the car
    • Chips in the windscreen, as it may not pass the WOF and it could crack at the first pot hole
    • The gaps should be even between the doors and the car, you obviously want the car doors to work properly


    Under the car

    Now that you’ve had a look outside the car, time to get a bit dirty. Get on the floor and look under the car. First you will have to pay close attention to the tires:

    • Make sure that they are worn evenly, uneven wear will show wheel misalignment
    • Check that they are all the same type of tire
    • Check the spare tire is in good condition
    • Check that the tread (the grooves in the tire) is over 1.5 mm, as this is a legal requirement.

    After you have decided the tires look good, check:

    • That there is no leaks: look at the bottom of the car and on the floor where it is parked
    • Check also that the bottom of the car does not show too much rust either
    • Finally, give a gentle kick at the exhaust pipe (tailpipe) to see if it is well fixed. If it flies off, you know the car is not worth buying and it will be hilarious


    Under the hood

    You don’t need to be a mechanic to avoid most scams, simply open the bonnet of the car and look at the following:

    • Check the oil level. If it is too low, it may show a leak
    • In fact, check all fluid levels: brake and power steering too
    • Make sure that there are no leaks of oil, water or gas
    • Look at the radiator for rust
    • Any obvious signs of repair

    Asking to look under the hood of the car in itself shows that you are a conscious buyer. If the seller starts getting stressed about it and pressuring you, it may show that they are trying to sell you a dodgy car.


    Inside the car

    Finally you can sit inside! By the way, make sure that you can sit inside by adjusting the seat and check the leg room. Some things like smelling of cigarette smoke are pretty obvious and may put you or future buyers off. Also, check the following:

    • Controls: indicators, locks, lights (including warning lights) and heater
    • Lift up a corners of the carpets and check for rust again
    • Check that the seat belts work fine and are not worn out
    • Make sure that the windows open and close easily and close completely
  • Step 2 - Test Drive


    Before Driving

    Aside from checking the comfort of the car and placement of the controls, you will want to pay attention to:

    • The steering wheel, it should not have too much play
    • How easy is the engine to start, the harder it is, the less you want the car


    During the test drive

    You will have a bunch of things to check before feeling confident that this will be a decent ride. Before taking to the open road, drive around the car park or street to see if:

    • The car goes straight when the steering wheel is straight
    • The steering wheel stays straight if you let it go while the car is moving
    • The breaks are not too loose, so you don’t have to put your feet down to the floor when you want to stop
    • Check that the car stops straight

    Driving up a hill is your best chance to test the engine and handbrake, so here is what you need to be aware of:

    • Listen for unusual engine noises
    • Check that the car doesn’t have too much of a hard time going uphill
    • Switch gears and see if it is smooth enough
    • Try to stop uphill and use the handbrake, it should hold the car even on a hill
    • On the way down, check the suspension a little to see how rough it is and test the brakes again

    Driving on a highway will allow you to get some speed and test the engine another way. Again, pay attention to the noise that the car makes. Your checklist for the highway test drive should be:

    • There are no fuel or oil smells
    • The engine should not heat up too much. If you feel heat coming from the engine to the driver or passenger seat, this is not good
    • Test the gears again – it is always better to test twice


    After the test drive

    Wow, the car passed our entire checklist! Time to park it. Now you need to check the last couple of things:

    • Make sure that when you turn off the engine, it stops running
    • Check also if the car does not make smoke of any color
  • Step 3 - Paperwork


    Check if the car if the car stolen

    You can check online, if the car you want to buy is rightfully owned by the seller or if it is stolen at the New Zealand Police Website.


    Change of Ownership

    You and the seller will have to complete this form. You can transfer the car’s ownership in any NZ Post office or AA insurance center and you need the following forms:

    • Buyer’s form: MR13B
    • Seller’s form: MR13A

Can a professional check the car I want to buy?

Of course.

Vehicle Testing New Zealand (VTNZ) and Vehicle Inspection New Zealand (VINZ) offer a complete check-up of used cars. This is especially helpful when you invest a bigger amount of money to buy your car.