Your road trip through New Zealand is getting closer and closer and you literally can’t wait to explore this amazing country. There is just one more thing left to do at the moment you arrive. Buying the perfect backpacker car. Buying a backpacker car in New Zealand is not difficult at all. Thank god! You literally just need to know some basic rules when it comes to buying a backpacker car in New Zealand. And I will explain them all to you in this article.
Buying or renting a car in New Zealand
First of all: every person got his own opinion about what the best option is: buying of renting. When we went to New Zealand we didn’t want to buy a car at first. We bought a car in Australia earlier on our world trip and that bloody thing cost us quite some money in the end. But if you want to travel some longer in New Zealand, it can be a much cheaper option in the end. Especially during high season. That said: if you don’t buy a disastrous car obviously and you can sell it again for around the same price you bought it for. That will always be a guess unfortunately.
Why we yet decided to buy a backpacker car in New Zealand after all? Ultimate freedom. We don’t like to plan our whole trip already in advance. When you rent a car, you have to stick with a schedule. And also with a certain place where you need to return the car. That’s not what we wanted and so we decided to buy again. So far so good and we don’t have any problems with it so far.
Self-contained versus non-self-contained
So where do you start when it comes to buying a backpacker car in New Zealand? One of the first things you need to think about is this. Do you want to buy a self-contained vehicle (SC) or a non-self-contained vehicle (NSC). So what’s the difference? Well, in New Zealand you are not allowed to camp anywhere you want. Unless you see a specific sign saying it’s ok to camp there. On both island you can find a lot of free spaces though where you can park your car and sleep for some nights. You can find these freedom campsites with apps like WikiCamps and Spaceships.
But: on a lot of these free campsites you need to be self-contained. A self-contained vehicle needs to have this:
• Portable toilet
• Clean water tank with a minimum capacity of 12 liters fresh water per person
• Wastewater tank with a minimum capacity of 12 liters per person
• Hose to drain wastewater (at least 3 meters)
• A bin you can close
When your backpacker car contains all of the things mentioned above, you can get a ‘self-contained’ certificate. (NOTE: smaller cars are in generally not eligible anymore to get a certificate.) You can recognize a self-contained vehicle easily. It will have a blue sticker on the back of the car and a certificate on the front window. Maybe it sounds like you need to buy at least a big camper to be self-contained, but that’s not true. There are a lot of vans and multi purpose vehicle around that are also self-contained.
So which option is the best to buy?
What is better: a self-contained vehicle or a non-self-contained? Well, I tend to say self-contained. Throughout our road trip in New Zealand we slept on so many places where NSC was not allowed, especially on the North Island.
BUT since the beginning of 2018 they changed some rules and got stricter. One of the new rules is that you should be able to use your own toilet under any circumstances. That is something a lot of vans and cars don’t have at the moment. Some toilets are creatively hidden away somewhere in the corner of the car. This is not allowed anymore and the coming years a lot of certificates will expire (a SC certificate is valid for 4 years). Some cars won’t be eligible to get a new certificate anymore. I am pretty sure you will find less and less self-contained vehicles the coming years. Something to keep in mind when you are about to buy a backpacker car in New Zealand.
Of course you can also buy a NSC car. They are in generally cheaper. And when you stay sometimes on affordable campsites when there is no free option around, it doesn’t really have to cost you a lot. But be wise and never ever camp somewhere with your NSC car where there’s only SC allowed. Chances are big you will find a fine of $ 200,- on your window the next morning. (And please don’t start whining around then like some backpackers tend to do. You knew it could happen!)
How much will a backpacker car cost you?
Hopefully you are able to make a decision now between SC and NSC. Especially when you know a bit more about the prices you can expect when buying a backpacker car in New Zealand. When you arrive here you will see especially a lot of ‘multi purpose vehicles’ (like Toyota Estima) and all types of vans. In Australia it’s really common to see 4×4 jeeps for backpackers around, sometimes with amazing roof top tents on top of it. That ain’t gonna happen in New Zealand. It’s way to humid around here so it’s not useful at all.
When it comes to the price you can make it as crazy as you want. It is possible to buy a really old car for around $ 1000,- NZD. But if you gonna make it with that to see the whole country… We saw a lot of backpacker cars roughly between $ 3.000,- NZD for a NSC car and $ 10.000,- NZD for a super fancy, self-contained van. And what I said before: SC is in general more expensive than NSC.
It also really depends on the season in New Zealand you tend to buy a car and where you want to buy it. The cheapest period to buy a car is around the winter periode in June. In this period a lot of backpackers leave the country and less people are coming. The most expensive period is obviously spring and summer, when the same thing happen the other way around. Prices differences can be huge between these seasons. If you want to keep an eye on the current prices, I would suggest to check out the New Zealand Backpackers buy or sell car on Facebook.
Where can you buy a backpacker car in New Zealand
Most backpackers will buy their car from other backpackers in Auckland or Christchurch. You often see ads hanging around in hostels, and there a special Facebook groups for backpacker cars like the one I mentioned earlier. Also check out Trademe, New Zealand’s biggest website for second-hand stuff. In Auckland they organize the Auckland City Car Fair every Saturday and the Ellerslie Carfair on Sunday. We actually found our van on the last one. You will definitely find all types of cars for different prices on these fairs.
A lot of garages will sell cars as well and you can also find some backpacker car markets. To be fair: we heard from a lot of people you really want to avoid the latter. I can’t speak for myself as I have no experience with backpacker car markets, but different local said it to us. If you have other experiences with it, please let me know.
What to look out for when buying a car
It really doesn’t have to be difficult to buy a backpacker car in New Zealand. But buying a GOOD car is a whole other story. You never know for sure if a car will last your whole road trip to be fair. Shit can always happen. But you definitely can save yourself some trouble by buying your car from a person you trust and to check the car before buying.
What you can check before buying a backpacker car in New Zealand
When you have decided to buy a car, it can be really smart to request a AA Vehicle History Report for $ 20,- of $ 25,- NZD. The AA is the biggest automobile association in New Zealand. (You can become a member to get discount on different things, like this report.) With this report you can check the history of the car, the (real) mileage, if the car once has been reported to the police or if there are any open unpaid fines.
If you don’t find anything dodgy in the report, you can also decide to do a Pre Purpase Inspection at the AA or another garage. Yes, it will cost you some extra money (around $ 170,- / $ 200,- NZD), but your future road trip buddy will get a check up on the most important things. After the check you will get an extensive report so you will know if there is anything wrong with the car and what to do about it. We did the check as well and were lucky enough that there was just one small thing that needed to be fixed. I can tell you that you feel much safer on the road when knowing everything should be ok.
Does the owner not want to take some time to do a Pre Purchase Check with you? I personally wouldn’t buy the car then. Always ask for all the paperwork and old invoices from visites to garages as well. And always walk around and check the car yourself.
WOF, REGO and Road User Charges
Something to think about as well before buying a backpacker car is to check if the WOF and REGO are still valid or not. Every car in New Zealand needs to have a valid WOF (Warranty of Fitness) and REGO (motor-vehicle registration).
Warranty of fitness (WOF)
A WOF inspection needs to be done at least once a year to check if the vehicle is still roadworthy or not. So a WOF certificate is valid for a maximum of one year and you can find this certificate with a ‘valid until’-date on the front window of every car. Cars built before 2000 need to have a WOF check every six months. You can check the most recent facts about the WOF on this website.
A Warrant of Fitness Inspection doesn’t have to be that expensive. AA can check your car for around $ 55,- NZD. But if the outcome is that some reparations are necessary, you won’t get a new WOF before that’s done. Otherwise it’s illegal to drive the car.
Vehicle Licensing (REGO)
A REGO is a sort of tax that needs to be paid at least once a year. You can find the REGO sticker again on the front window of every car. This sticker also contains a ‘valid until’-date. The amount you have to pay depends on the type of car you have. You can check the exact amount on this website for your car. We had to pay for our van (Mazda Bongo) around $ 100,- per year. Also, you can easily extend your REGO online by the way.
Road User Charges (RUC)
The last importing thing to know before you buy a backpacker car in New Zealand is the way you pay taxes on petrol and diesel. When you go to a fuel station in New Zealand you will see that petrol is much more expensive than diesel. That’s because the tax is already included in the price of petrol.
If your car uses diesel, you have to pay this tax another way. For every 1000 kilometer you need to pay Road User Charges (RUC). You have to pay this before you actually drive those 1000 kilometer and you can either pay online or at an AA office. It depends on the weight of your car how much you have to pay, but it will be around $ 70,- NZD per 1000 kilometer. You can find the most actual prizes on this website.
Does it make it more expensive to drive when you still have to pay Road User Charges? I don’t really think so. When I calculated the difference between petrol and diesel minus the Road User Charges per 1000 kilometer for our van, it was just a difference of $ 5,-. It just gives you some extra thing you need to think about.
Putting the car on your name
If one thing is so easy about buying a backpacker car in New Zealand, it’s to put the car on your name. It almost sounds crazy as hell, but you can actually put every car in New Zealand on your name if you really want to.
The only thing you need to do is fill in a form that declares you are the new owner. You can find this form online to fill in. Or you can go to the local post office (PostShop/Kiwibank). The seller doesn’t even need to be there. He can actually fill in a form to declare it’s not his car anymore, but not everyone takes the time to do this. At the moment you filled in the right form, you need to pay the crazy amount of $ 9,- and put the form in a mailbox. That’s it. It’s your car now.
Of course it’s much better to go to the post office together to fill in both forms. Especially when you are selling a car. You really want to be sure it’s not on your name anymore when you leave New Zealand. If for some reason the car is still on your name, you might get potential fees and claims in the future. Not what you want at all.
Getting yourself a car insurance
Don’t go driving around in New Zealand without a proper car insurance. A car insurance doesn’t have to be that expensive in New Zealand either. We had a car insurance with AA. We paid $ 180,- for a whole year (not all-inclusive) and when you somehow decide to sell your car earlier, you will get the money for the remaining months back.
Make sure you get yourself the right car insurance though. When we just had our van, we noticed that some companies would see it as a car and other ones as campervan. A lot of car insurance companies will see a self-contained car as a campervan. The reason for that is that you’re sleeping in it and it contains stuff as a sink. In case you will get a car insurance especially for cars and you are unfortunate enough to cause an accident, the insurance company won’t pay you anything. The reason: you are insured for something you don’t have. You don’t have a car, you have a campervan.
So always make sure to check with the insurance company before getting a car insurance and call them if you are not sure. Then you can decide what the best option is for you.
Just to let you know for sure, I do mention AA a lot of times in this article about buying a backpacker car in New Zealand. But that’s just because we have such good experiences with the AA. They don’t sponsor this article in any way.