Guide to Buying a Secondhand Car in New Zealand

Guide to Buying a Secondhand Car in New Zealand

Here's how you can get the best deals for secondhand cars in New Zealand.

When I first thought of getting around in New Zealand while on a working holiday, it didn’t come across my mind to buy a second-hand car. I figured it would be a hassle to buy, difficult to sell after six months, and well, I was a little afraid of driving long stretches of winding roads that I’ve heard a lot about in New Zealand.

I quite liked the idea of hopping on and off buses (Naked Bus, InterCity, and Mana bus), and having the luxury of travelling by rail if I so inclined. The TranzAlpine journey that traverses the mighty Southern Alps from Christchurch to Greymouth on the South Island particularly intrigued me.

I was happy to travel around New Zealand the budget-friendly, car-free way. Until I set my eyes on a $1300 Subaru Legacy Grand Wagon, 1995 imported model, 2500 CC.

Why buy a second-hand car in New Zealand?

I came to learn that there are many places in New Zealand that are best reached by car. Buses may not stop in more obscure places, and there are many great photo opportunities along the way. Taking the bus means you can only enjoy them from your bus window, if you’re lucky enough to get a window seat. Hitchhiking is another option, but it’s a hit or miss mostly. You could end up waiting by the side of the road for hours if no one picks you up, or you need to break up your journey into several parts because no one’s going to your exact location.

With buses, you are at the mercy of the bus schedules. This means you may have to spend a whole day on the bus when a car ride would only have taken 4 hours. Having your own ride gives you the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want.

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I’ve picked up several hitchhikers while driving from one town to another, and it’s a great way to make friends from around the world and get travelling tips for their country as well as for New Zealand. One girl I met from Sweden was a hardcore hiker, and inspired me to go on the five-day Heaphy Track even without any camping experience! We’re still in contact via Facebook and exchange notes on our adventures from time to time.

The station wagon allowed me enough room to sleep in it. I pimped my ride by folding down the back seats and laying a thin mattress, a quilt, and pillows. I also installed curtains for privacy. These were all bought from stores like The Salvation Army and two dollar shops. I slept very comfortably in my car for many nights under the stars, but only at hostel compounds and campgrounds. That saves you quite a bit on accommodation cost. Do note that attempting to sleep in your car at non-stipulated areas is illegal.

Some jobs, such as orchard work, prefer workers with their own cars. You will usually be staying at an assigned hostel and need to travel very early in the morning to the fields, which tend to be quite some distance away from the town (which is where you usually stay in). This means that you will have an advantage of landing certain jobs just because you have your own ride.

New Zealand may be the only place in the world you can be a car owner with a little over $1000. There is an abundance of imported Japanese cars that are in reasonable shape.

The whole process of buying a second-hand car is really straightforward in New Zealand.

What you need

1) Your driver’s license

This can be from your country if it’s in English, and if you’ve been in New Zealand for less than one year. If the license is not in English, you’ll need an official translation.

2) Owner Transferral Fees

This fee of $9 is usually borne by the car buyer. The transferal can be done at any post office.

3) Money to buy your car

This goes without saying.

4) Insurance

Although not mandatory, I recommend getting a comprehensive car insurance from companies like AA. Get the coverage that includes towing services and windscreen. While driving around New Zealand, you are bound to have small rocks or other objects that may crack your windscreen. It costs thousands of dollars to replace, so this is where insurance will be a godsend.

Also read: 10 Drop Dead Gorgeous Little Towns in New Zealand

Where to find second-hand cars


These are popular sites for working holidaymakers to buy and sell cars. Scour the following websites to get a feel of price range and car types.

  1. TradeMe Used Cars
  2. BBH notice board for vehicle buy/sell
  3. Notice Boards and Classifieds – Cars & Campervans to Buy & Sell


Sometimes you may come across a great car that’s not listed online. You can find them at:

1. Car fairs

Usually in major cities, there are car fairs held quite frequently where you will be able to see all used cars on sale. The benefit of this is that you will have a car dealer who can help you with the paperwork as well as the necessary checks.

2. Hostel notice boards

With so many working holidaymakers coming and going, there are plenty of travellers buying and selling their cars at hostels. Look out for these ads when you have some days at a hostel to meet the seller and have sufficient time for the potential handover.

3. Supermarket billboard ads

I love how old school billboard ads at the supermarkets still work very well in New Zealand. Amidst the ads for nannies, meditation classes, and jobs wanted, you’ll find a decent number of used cars for sale as well.

4. “For Sale” sign on cars

While driving between towns and sometimes even around some residential neighbourhoods, there will be cars with a prominent “For Sale” sign and a contact number.

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What to look out for

Before you start contacting sellers, you should consider your budget, engine size, the age of the car, and whether you prefer automatic or manual transmission. When you’ve found a car that meets all your needs, do pay attention to the following before making a commitment:

1. A valid WOF (Warrant of Fitness)

The WOF is a test done every six months to ensure that the car is fit and safe to drive on the roads. There should be a sticker on the windscreen of the car that states the date of the WOF validity. Don’t buy a car that does not have a current valid WOF as you will need to send it for screening and if it doesn’t pass, you basically bought a useless piece of metal.

2. An existing registration

This is also another sticker found on the windscreen of cars. Ensure its validity or that you are in time to renew it (can be done easily at post offices).

3. Test drive and inspection

Bring a friend (preferably with car expertise) during the day to assist you in checking out the car. Other than going for a test drive to get a feel that it works well without any unusual noise, check the headlights and indicators as well as do a rev test. Get someone to stand behind the car while you give the car a good hard rev. If there’s black smoke coming out of the exhaust, it means there’s oil leaks and you should be looking at buying another car. If necessary, you can also pay a fee to a mechanic before you buy any car to check for any deal breakers.

What’s a fair price to pay for a second-hand car?

Car demand is higher in summer as travellers all have the same idea of coming in summer and leaving after the season ends. This means that you may be paying a slightly higher price in summer than in winter. Nevertheless, sellers are usually asking for slightly more in their ads to give allowance for some haggling. Feel free to negotiate a little on the price. It’ll be good for you to shop around both online and offline to have a good feel of the different price ranges of varying car models, their age and specifications.

About Author

Xanne Lim
Xanne Lim

Easily restless, Xanne has crazy ideas brewing in her mind constantly. They usually involve travel, food, and living in different places at each phase of her life. She thinks she creates multiple lives that way. In another life, she was pursuing lifeless symbols and collecting meaningless possessions. These days, you will find her chasing waterfalls and kayaking on white water. And smiling a lot while at it. Sometimes, she can be seen jumping off something somewhere when she’s had enough of normal. She shares more of her adventures, experiences and thoughts on Where is Xanne?.


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