Buying a used car in New Zealand can be a cost-effective transport option if you're planning on visiting for a few months or more. Here are some tips to help you through the process.

When buying a car with the purpose of selling it at the end of your visit, don’t pay more than you are willing to lose – you may not end up selling it for much. Because of the mass import of Japanese-made cars, you should be able to pick up a reasonable set of wheels for between $1000 and $3000. The risk that you take when you buy a used car in New Zealand is that you won’t know its history, so it’s important to take some time to inspect it properly and check out the paperwork.

Where to buy a used car

There are a variety of ways to buy a used car in New Zealand. 

Car inspection pointers

Inspect the car on a dry, sunny day if possible – you’re more likely to see the clues to the car’s real condition. Take your time to examine everything you see; don’t just look at what the seller chooses to show you.

Take these things to your inspection:

  • A check list(opens in new window) of things to look for
  • A magnet to check for hidden rust repairs
  • A torch to look under the bonnet
  • A friend or someone with car knowledge
Christchurch - Canterbury
Nin's Bin, Kaikoura, Christchurch - Canterbury

Nin's Bin, Kaikoura

Checking the paperwork


Check that the car has a current Warrant of Fitness. This means that the car is fit and safe to drive on the roads. WOF tests have to be conducted on old cars every six months. The date of the next WOF is displayed on a sticker on the windscreen of every car in New Zealand. Check that this sticker is still valid when you are looking at buying a car. You can buy the car ‘as is where is’, but under this option you’ll need to drive the car directly from where you buy it to a garage or inspection station to get a warrant. It is likely you will need to pay for repairs to get the car up to warrant standard.


This is a road tax and is displayed on the windscreen of the car. A car’s registration can be renewed at any post office, or online here(opens in new window).

Before you buy

Insist on having a full professional inspection before buying any used car. Most garages perform these inspections, or you can book a vehicle inspection with the Automobile Association (AA)(opens in new window). Afterwards, both you and the seller will receive a report detailing any repairs that are needed.
It is also recommended that you get a car history check before you buy a vehicle. This will tell you if the vehicle has:

  • An inconsistent odometer
  • Been reported stolen
  • Any money owing

Car history checks can be bought instantly online at motorweb(opens in new window).

After you buy

Both the buyer and seller are required to notify the New Zealand Transport Agency immediately after a vehicle is bought and sold. This is a straightforward and simple process you can do online here(opens in new window).


It is not compulsory in New Zealand to have car insurance. However, it is recommended that you get third party insurance at least so if you cause an accident, you are covered for any damage you cause to other cars. Travellers car insurance offers low cost insurance for backpackers; or you can choose to go through any of the larger insurance companies.

Driving in New Zealand

Driving in New Zealand can be very different to other countries. Ensure you're familiar with what driving in New Zealand entails as well as our road rules & safety before you get behind the wheel.

Hit the road