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How to buy a campervan in New Zealand?

If you’re reading this, you are probably amidst planning a trip to New Zealand, or maybe you’re already here? In both cases you might be interested in a way to explore this beautiful country with a bit more freedom than plain old bus services taking you to all the places everyone you meet has already been to!

Awesome, so first question answered – you need a vehicle to explore all the hidden spots!

That’s where it can get tricky at times; maybe you have heard a bit about the market, and maybe you’re a total newbie when it comes to buying vehicles – especially overseas. Here’s where this little guide can help you a lot: We will help you going through the stages of knowing what you need, finding the right car, purchasing and understanding the paperwork you will have to deal with when buying and driving a vehicle in NZ.

Backpacker vehicle

First of all, you should of course make sure you are legally allowed to drive in New Zealand.

If your driving licence from back home is in English, easy peasy, you are permitted to drive in NZ for 12 months from your arrival, after which you will have to get a New Zealand driving licence.

If the driving licence is not issued in English, you will need to carry an official translation alongside your home country driving licence with you when driving. The most comfortable (and cheapest) way is getting an International Driving Permit (IDP) from the driving licence authority in your home country, so you are settled before you arrive, but it is also possible to translate your driving licence at NZTA (New Zealand Transport Agency) approved translators in New Zealand.

So many choices..!

If that is sorted, the questions don’t stop just yet...

Before you go out there looking at random cars, think about what kind of vehicle you want, and which features are a must-have. This will make it easier for you to navigate the car market and find the right vehicle.

If you only need to get from A to B and don’t need it as a place to sleep and relax, a simple car might be ideal. Consider how many seats and storage you will need, and whether you would mostly be driving in the city or long distance.

If you want to sleep in your car once in a while, but actually need it for driving, a vehicle with enough space in the boot or the possibility to fold the seats to make a bed would make sense. This could be classified as a camper car. It would be suitable for sleeping, but due to the limited size and space, this would not be a solution for longer trips for most people

Road trip in own camper New Zealand

If you want to take it to the next level and really live in your vehicle most of the time, you probably need a fully equipped campervan to store your treasures, enjoy a good nights sleep enough space to stay inside, if it should be raining all day.

Here you can choose to get a self-contained or non-self-contained one. If you want to read more about self-containment, and which option is best for you, we have the perfect guide right here.

Last but not least, consider how much you can and want to spend.

Set a realistic budget for a vehicle of certain quality that fits your needs - and don’t forget the ongoing costs such as service & maintenance, insurance, WoF, etc., and campgrounds or accommodation if you’re buying a non-self-contained vehicle

Tip: Usually, imported Japanese vehicles are cheaper in repairs than European ones, because the parts are more expensive and time consuming to get.

You can compare prices and vehicle specifications on different platforms and look for frequent issues for specific car makes, models and year on google or rightcar.

Take into account that it can be difficult to sell the vehicle at the end of your journey, depending on season and condition of the vehicle, so be prepared to “lose” the purchase money.

The best season to buy a car is in winter, when most people want to sell their vehicles before heading home and the best season to sell is in summer, when many backpackers arrive and there is a higher demand than vehicles on the market.

Used vehicles are for sale a lot of places. Have a look at different places, such as vehicle dealer websites, private sales inserts on platforms like TradeMe or newspaper listings, backpacker board listings in hostels etc. or car fairs, for example Auckland City Car Fair or Ellerslie Car Fair.

Where to buy?

Now you’ve narrowed your search down to a few or maybe even one vehicle, make sure that it is (or they are) in good condition, so you don’t have to spend a fortune on repairs in the long run! I will give you some basic tips on what to look for, both on the outside and inside of the vehicle and what the pros and cons of buying from a dealer or private seller can be.

Regarding the place to buy, both options have advantages, but you should consider for yourself, what you are most comfortable with.

Private sales can be cheaper, there is usually more room for negotiation and sellers are not trying to up-sell, however you might need to research more and visit many different sellers (consider a car fair). Moreover, private sales are without warranties, and sellers are not obliged to comply with the Consumer guarantees Act (CGA) and the Fair Trading Act (FTA).

If you buy privately, and something should go wrong, check the information about consumer protection from the NZ government

What to look for in used cars?

If you buy from a dealer, the legal obligation to follow CGA and FTA (see last sentence) are definitely a plus, and often some kind of warranty is also included. To make it easier for you, the dealer will sort out the paperwork for you and you can usually view different vehicles at the same place. Negative aspects can for example be higher prices or up-selling to options you didn’t consider beforehand.

In general, always listen to your gut when it comes to both private sales and companies.

You should look for trustworthy sellers - for dealerships, check reviews and whether the dealer is registered.

For private sales, try to research about them online, and if possible meet them at their home address instead of on the side of a road or a parking lot, etc. and make sure the seller is listed at the owner. If not, be careful and ask into details, why the vehicle is not sold directly by the owner.

What you need to avoid are dealerships that look dodgy and private sellers that want to persuade you into not getting a pre-purchase inspection - you can risk facing a big amount of money to get the car fixed to meet WoF standards. Check that the vehicle is debt-free, no one has tampered with the odometer or the vehicle is stolen. This information can be gathered from different online and mobile tools such as TXTB4UBUY, CarJam, Motorweb or Checka that offer detailed vehicle reports on these matters.

Found the seemingly perfect car or camper? Check out these guides about mechanically inspecting the car and what you need to know about owning a car in New Zealand.

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