It’s a good idea to invest in a car early when you come to NZ, because everything is so spread out and the public transport isn’t up to other country’s standards. Many Kiwis will drive everywhere. In New Zealand, it’s actually a very cost-effective option to buy your own car, due to the mass import of second-hand cars from Japan, where you can pick up a pretty good car for around NZ$1800-$2300
Where to buy a car
There are many different ways to find and buy a good second-hand car in New Zealand:
One of the main car trading websites is Trademe.co.nz, which is New Zealand’s equivalent to eBay. This site has car listings from both private sellers and car dealers and a good way to search for a car in the comfort of home. https://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars
For other online car listings, you can check out Facebook marketplace, buy/sell facebook groups and Turners Auctions. These all will have a great variety of cars for all budgets and wants.
Car fairs are another great place to pick up a good deal on a car. You will only find these in the big cities like Auckland and Christchurch and usually consist of private owners selling their cars. You will also find a lot of backpackers trying to sell their travelling cars and vans. In Auckland, we recommend Ellerslie Car Fair which is run every Sunday morning.
Dealerships are the most expensive place to buy, but you will likely get the most help and warranties from these places. There are many dealerships specialising in second-hand cars and some places offer the option of a buyback. This means the place that sells you the car will then guarantee to buy it back off you for a set price.
Lastly, if you love the thrill of auctions then Turners live auctions are another great place to find a bargain, especially if no one else is going for the same car as you. They’re the biggest car auction house in New Zealand but they can also be quite pricey, plus it is recommended you get all the car checks done before the auction and there can also be some hidden costs you need to watch out for. https://www.turners.co.nz/
In New Zealand it’s not compulsory to have car insurance, however it is highly recommended.Next time you’re out and about, you may notice there is a crazy high amount of cars with big dents in them! Especially in Auckland - we’re not known for our great driving. There are three main types of car insurance - comprehensive, third-party and third-party fire and theft.
Comprehensive insurance: This is the highest level of car insurance, which covers you for almost anything that could happen on the road, or by the side of the road as well. If you damage yours or another person’s car or other property, you won’t be required to pay the full amount for repairs, only the pre-agreed excess amount.
Third-party insurance: This is the most basic type of insurance, it covers all or part of your legal liability if you harm another person or damage their property, but you won’t be covered for damage to your own vehicle.
Third-party, fire & theft cover: This is the same kind of insurance as the standard third party, but with the additional cover for fire damage and theft. Some insurance companies will have policies that also cover damage from natural disasters.
There are a large number of insurance companies out there, with competitive prices and plans so it pays to do your research to find the best deal. Some places to start are AA Insurance, AMI and Tower.
Find out what you should be paying
Car prices can vary in New Zealand and can be very different from your home country, so it’s a good idea to find out the average price for the type and year of the car you are looking to buy. Turners auctions have a great free tool which shows you what cars have sold for in the past 12 months. So you can be sure you aren’t being swindled for more than the car is worth. https://www.turners.co.nz/Vehicle-Sale-Price-History/
What to check for
Rust is a major thing to look out for when buying a car. Once rust has set in it can be very expensive and difficult to rectify, plus it’s likely the car won’t pass its Warrant of Fitness (WOF) - compulsory safety checks. Check around the door hinges and along the edges of the car especially, but also give the whole care a once over. Be aware of cars that have been left sitting for a long time, as rust could have very easily set in.
Oil leaks into the engine will mean the end of the car very soon. To check for this, get someone to stand behind the car while you give the car a good hard rev - the more black smoke that comes out of the exhaust the more leaks you have.
Check for broken headlights and cracked castings as these will make you fail your WOF. Also, make sure the headlights work in dipped and full beam. It’s illegal to drive without them at night.
Listen to the engine; does it turn over smoothly or does it splutter and sound a bit sickly? Check the oil - is it new or old (black)?
Take the car up a hill and check the engine strength, as there are many big hills in New Zealand. If it is struggling to get up the hill or you hear a metal tapping noise, then find something else.
When taking it for a test drive, does the car pull to the left or right as you are driving? Do you have to turn the steering wheel to go in a straight line? This can be a sign of a damaged or worn axel and these can be very expensive to replace.
Ask about the history of the car, like when was the car last serviced and when was the cambelt last changed.
If the car has just got its WOF, ask if the inspectors found any problems - if you get an immediate flat no then move on straight away as this is highly unlikely.
For more detailed lists of what to check for have a look at these links:
You can also get a professional to check the car by purchasing a pre-purchase inspection, which can range in prices between NZ$100-$190. This can get quite expensive if you’re needing to purchase a few of them, but in the long term, it will save you much more money if it stops you buying a problem car. These pre-purchase vehicle inspections can be done by the AA or a local mechanic. https://www.aa.co.nz/cars/buying-a-car/car-buying-guide/pre-purchase-vehicle-inspections/
The Warrant of Fitness (WOF)
The Warrant of Fitness in New Zealand checks that your car is fit and safe to drive on the road. This is by law compulsory for every car. Old cars (registered before 1 January 2000) need to be WOF tested every 6 months. The date for the next WOF is displayed on a sticker on the windscreen. When purchasing a car check that this sticker is still valid.
For more information see: https://www.nzta.govt.nz/vehicles/warrants-and-certificates/warrant-of-fitness/
Car history checks
We would also recommend getting a history check done before you buy a car. These can be easily done through AA for around $25. A car history check will tell you if the car has money owing, an inconsistent odometer or has been reported stolen. It will also enable you to confirm the current legal owner so you can be sure you’re dealing with the correct person.
This is a road tax and is displayed on the windscreen of the car as well. Registrations can be renewed at post offices, VINZ, VTNZ or the easiest way - online. You can purchase a yearly registration or do it 6 months at a time. Another thing to check when purchasing a car, is to see how long the registration is going to last before you need to pay.
Types of cars
The main types of cars in NZ are automatics and Japanese imports. Manuals can be quite expensive to buy in NZ and not really recommended if you are living in Auckland with the amount of traffic you will be idling in. When deciding on the make of a car, it’s best to stick with the Japanese models because parts are cheap to buy and mechanics prefer to work on these models so you’ll have a cheaper time getting them fixed.
You’ll also notice that diesel is much cheaper than petrol and therefore buying a diesel car will be cheaper. However, all diesel cars are subject to road user charges whereas petrol cars are not. This means that in addition to the registration you must also purchase kilometres per 1000km. These extra road user charges means the real benefit of owning a diesel is a little less than it first appears.