Buying a backpacker car in New Zealand

Buying a used car to travel around New Zealand is a great option, particularly if travelling in a group. Used cars can be picked up reasonably cheap, and enable you to explore the places out of reach of public transport, at your own pace.

Follow our guide to buying a backpacker car in New Zealand

New Zealand imports a lot of used cars from Japan, which enables you to buy a reliable car at a reasonable cost. A good car can be bought for between $1500 – 3000.

It is not uncommon for a car in New Zealand to still be going strong at 20 years of age and 250,000 kilometres, so don’t be put off too much by age.

Where to buy a car?

Often you can find cars parked on the side of the road for sale, aswell as online and in newspapers. Here are some of the best places to start looking:

  • Trademe is NZ’s leading online marketplace and has thousands of vehicles for sale.
  • Facebook groups – Most cities will have a buy and sell group, there are also backpacker groups where members leaving the country will be wanting to sell their car.
  • Turners Car Auctions are located throughout NZ and normally have a range of budget cars for sale.

Inspecting the car

It is always a good idea to check the car out in person and not just take someones word for it. Go in the daytime when possible, and take a torch to check out underneath the car and around the engine.

Check the WOF – The WOF is similar to a German TUV , they are renewed every 6 months for cars made before 2000 , and every year for cars from 2000 onwards. The WOF is displayed normally on the drivers side at the top of the windscreen, and will have a hole punched out for the month it expires. It does pay to check the inside of the sticker also as this will have the date and year written, and it pays to check this corresponds with the punched hole.

It is obviously best to buy a car with a new WOF , but even if it has 3 months this is often still OK. If the WOF is close to expiring it is best to get it rechecked , which maybe the seller will pay for. This normally costs around $50 and can be done at most mechanics workshops with an appointment, or at VTNZ , where you can park and wait.

The check takes around 20 minutes, and you will be given a list of what is required to pass, if it does not pass straight away.

All cars in New Zealand also need to be registered ( licensed ) . You can purchase a license for any period, from 1 month to a year or more. This sticker is normally located on the passenger side of the windscree, and will also have other car information such as make, model and year.

You can register a car at VTNZ , most Post Sjops , or online Here .

Diesel vehicles also need an additional tax known as Road User Charges ( RUC ), where you purchase kilometres in advance. Pricing for this can be found here .

As for the car itself check these main items:

  • Take a good look around the outside and underneath, looking particularly for rust or parts that might be loose.
  • Check the engine oil and water. If these are low perhaps the car has been neglected in other areas also.
  • Check all of the lights work, and look at the condition of the tyres.
  • Stereo, interior light , air conditioning or fan,do the windows wind up, do the doors all lock? – None of these are necessities but can be annoying if you later discover they don’t work.
  • Ask for any service history information the owner might have. Especially with Japanese imported cars, this is often not available, so don’t be turned off if the owner does not have this.
  • Look for any stickers on the windscreen or in the engine bay, as these will suggest previous work done and when work is due. Be paricularly careful to note when the cambelt was changed. These should be done every 100,000 kilometres, and can ruin the engine if they break. Not all cars have them though, some have a chain which doesn’t need replacing, so do a quick google if the owner does not know.
  • Turn the car on, check the sound, take for a drive preferably somewhere out of town so you can see how it goes at 100 km/h . Some cars drive fine at slower speeds but once you speed up they wobble or noises appear.

You can get a professional to check the car for you at a cost of course. The AA , VTNZ and most mechanics will do this for you.

After the purchase

Both the buyer and seller need to register the sale and change the ownership of the car. This can be done at a postshop or VTNZ , but is good to do it online the same time you pick up the car so you know the other party has done their side.

buying a backpacker car in New Zealand


Insurance is not mandatory in New Zealand, but is definitely recommended. If you do not want the full cost you can get third party insurance, which covers you for damaging other cars, and normally for fire and theft.

So go out and start looking. The options are plenty, so perhaps write down a list of requirements for your trip. Do you want to sleep in the car? How man people are you travelling with? Do you need space for surfboards etc. It is often much cheaper to buy a car that has everything you need instead of adding things on later, so take your time.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Happy Travels!



TravelNZBuying a backpacker car in New Zealand