Buying a Car in New Zealand – A Guide for Travelers

I’ve been looking into buying a car in the US/Canada for our upcoming trip. What’s struck me is how confusing it is to do something like this that seems so basic to do at home.

So, I thought I’d write up some info for people coming to New Zealand for travel or working holidays who want to purchase a car here.

Where to Look.

Look on Trade Me is a massively popular website in New Zealand. I’ll be selling my car via Trade Me prior to leaving.

Another option would be at a weekly car auction like Turners in Christchurch. Each week they auction a large number of cars (it’s on a particular night of the week but I’m not sure which night).

What’s available.

New Zealanders tend to keep their cars longer than Americans. Many of the cars for sale will be around 10 years old.


Cars in New Zealand much have a “WOF” inspection (stands for Warrant of Fitness) every six months. When you buy a vehicle you ideally want to get one that has just gotten a new WOF so that you don’t need to redo it.

A WOF inspection costs around $45. They can be done at virtually any mechanic shop, or at “testing stations” like VTNZ where you don’t need to make an appointment but may need to wait up to an hour. If your car doesn’t pass the WOF at VTNZ you have to get the repairs done and go back for a free re-test.

If you want to get a pre-purchase inspection, the AA offer this or you could ask a local garage (mechanics) to do it.


Changing the ownership of a vehicle is very easy in New Zealand. Unlike the US, the plates are not removed from the car. The new owner uses the existing plates. You will need an address you can use because they need to know where to find you e.g., if you get a speed camera ticket.

Registration is a national thing in New Zealand so you do not need to worry about which part of the country you are purchasing your car in.

The change of ownership form is filed at the post office or online.

Registration costs around $300 for a year and can be done for shorter periods e.g., 3 months. If you pay your registration online, you can choose the exact number of months you need.


Here’s where I can’t completely help because I’ve never tried to get insurance as a non-resident. If you know a New Zealander who has car insurance you may like them to ring their insurance company and ask about the possibility of you getting insurance. I know an Asian student who couldn’t get insurance until their home stay family rang their insurance and questioned why the student wasn’t being offered the opportunity to coverage.

Insurance is not mandatory here. You can buy 3rd party policies (that don’t cover damage to your car but will cover damage you do to someone else’s car) or comprehensive policies. Insurance is not expensive here but policies have a high deductible (called an “excess” here) and when you make a claim you lose your no claims discount, so claims end up being very expensive. If you have a no claims discount on your current policy in your home country, you may like to consider bringing evidence of that.

Once you have insurance, typically anyone over 25 can drive your car and be covered (provided they’re just borrowing it for personal use). You will need to pay extra if you want people under 25 (other than you) to be allowed to drive your car.

Crossing the Cook Straight

It costs around $300 to take a car and driver across from the North Island to South Island.

Gas Prices

Gas prices are expensive – around $2.25 per litre which equates to around $8.50 for a US gallon. You can get full discounts at BP Petrol stations by getting a free AA discount card (offers 4c off per litre). Supermarkets also give fuel discount coupons when you spend over $40. These have to be used at a specific brand of Petrol Station.

All petrol stations essentially charge the same prices. Most cars take “91” although a few European cars take the more expensive “95” petrol.


  1. // Reply

    I’m a non-resident and I didn’t have any trouble getting insurance with Tower, and I had a friend on a working holiday visa who bought a car and got her 3rd party through AA, and did it all online, easy as! (I wouldn’t let her drive until she had the insurance sorted – so doing it online was great)

    I’m also looking into buying a car once I arrive in Canada next month, and I’m not impressed with the hoops I know I’ll have to jump through over there. One of the biggest problems is that every province (in Canada) and state (in the US) has their own set of rules that’s just a wee bit different from the next. Annoying!

    Good luck!

    1. // Reply

      Thanks for sharing that extra bit of info about you and your friend getting insurance here. You’re right about it being much easier here than when there are state/province issues to deal with.

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