Exploring New Zealand in a campervan is an extraordinary experience that everyone should try at least once. If you’re already here on a WHV or planning your next holiday in New Zealand, then travelling around by campervan is an option to really consider. But before you start planning your road trip, there are a few things you should know about buying a campervan in New Zealand.
Firstly, the question to ask yourself will be whether you should buy one or rent instead. If you are in New Zealand for a short period of time (less than 3 months), renting will probably be the best option. Indeed, the search for and resale of the campervan may take a few weeks. So it’s best to save those weeks to explore! There are a lot of rental companies so you should be able to find what you are looking for.
Buying a campervan in New Zealand is quick and easy. However, the New Zealand specific terms can be difficult to grasp when you are just starting out. Being the proud owner of a campervan, and having gone through all the stages of buying a campervan, this blog post will explain the important terms you need to know before buying a campervan. It will also explain how the buying process works, what happens afterwards, and how to properly insure your vehicle.
I mention the steps for buying a campervan in New Zealand but this guide is also valid for any other vehicle 😉
Which seasons is best to buy a campervan in New Zealand?
Travellers come and go from New Zealand all year round. However, there is one period more favourable than others.
During summer, the tourist season, there are many more people looking for a campervan. Despite the offer, the high demand means that prices will be higher. Even exorbitant. It is not uncommon to see a 20-year-old campervan, more than 300,000 km around NZD $12-14,000 just because the layout is top-notch. Be careful! Many sellers are taking advantage of this high demand to drive up prices. Don’t jump on the first one just because of the aesthetics. But make sure that the other criteria are met as well (I’ll talk about this in detail below).
The winter season would therefore be the most advantageous season to have a campervan at the right price. I understand that you may not want to wait until winter to acquire your campervan. In that case, try as much as possible to avoid the peak season between November and February
The important thing, no matter what season you buy your campervan, is to take your time to do your research. Visit several of them so that you can compare prices and offers. Your van is going to be your home for a few months, so it’s worth to be patient to find your little gem.
Terms to know before buying your campervan in New Zealand
Before starting your research, it is recommended that you know the basics about vehicles in New Zealand. These will be important criteria to consider when making your choice.
The Warrant of Fitness is the equivalent of the French ‘control technique’. It certifies the good general condition of the vehicle, the safety. It is not a mechanical inspection, let’s be clear!
If your campervan is more than 6 years old, the WoF must be carried out every 6 months. If the vehicle is refused, you will have to pay for the repairs before you can drive it again. You will have a small sticker on the windscreen with the date of validity. Remember to check this when you visit the campervan you want. Its price varies between NZD $50 and $100 depending on the garage. More information
Vehicle registration and licensing or ‘Rego’
This road tax is compulsory for driving in New Zealand. You can easily renew it at post offices and it costs around $200 per year. You can choose whether you want to register the vehicle for 6 months or 1 year.
As with the WoF, you will have a label to display on your windscreen with the validity date of your Rego. It is always a good idea to check how many months are still valid when you visit the van that interests you before purchasing. More information
Road User Charges are a tax that only concerns owners of diesel vehicles. Diesel is less taxed at the pump than petrol, so you have to go to the post office to buy kilometres. These can be bought in increments of 1000 km and you will also have to put a sticker on the windscreen. More information
I highly recommend that you choose a campervan with Self Contained certification. Even though these will be a little more expensive, this certification will save you a lot of trouble.
This certification approves that a vehicle and its occupants can live in total autonomy for 3 days while being environmentally friendly. That means that you can keep your waste and greywater. It gives you the right to sleep in many places, for free! New Zealand severely restricts free camping if you don’t have this certification. Many free campsites mention “self-contained only” and therefore any vehicle without this certification runs the risk of being fined $200 if you do not comply.
In order to be certified, the campervan must be inspected by an approved organisation such as the NZMCA. The cost is NZD $220 and is valid for 4 years. The campervan must contain :
- a 25L clear water tank
- One 25L grey water/water tank
- A sink with tap
- A portable toilet and a bin
When the certification is approved, they will issue you with a sticker to display on the windscreen with the certification validity date, as well as a logo to stick on the rear of the vehicle.
Now that you know the basic info on NZ specific terms, you are ready to look through ads and find your dreamed campervan. But where to look for a campervan in New Zealand?
How and where to buy your campervan in New Zealand?
When buying a campervan in New Zealand, there are a number of options available to you:
The Facebook platform with its marketplace works very well for finding a van. It is on this platform that we found our two campervans in New Zealand.
Travellers often post their ads via Facebook groups and on the marketplace. You will also find Facebook groups specialised in car sales in NZ such as Backpackers Cars New Zealand.
It is very easy to contact the seller via private message to request more information and why not visit the campervan in question.
On this website, you will find everything and therefore vehicles. The advantage of this platform is that you can make a search according to what you want: type of vehicle, years, mileage, etc.
This site is the favourite site of kiwis so you will find ads from travellers, but also from locals.
Cars fairs are occasional fairs that usually take place at weekends in car parks. There are a lot of them in Auckland. The largest is the one in Ellerslie on Sunday morning. You will find everything there: good and bad deals so be careful!
What type/model of vehicle to choose?
On the above-mentioned platforms, you will find a large number of campervan offers. However, if you plan to live in your vehicle for several months, some are to be preferred over others.
If you’re new to the business, sellers (obviously they want to sell) will promise you that their van is super comfortable, easy to live in for months on end etc., although this is not always true. So it’s best to know at least the types of vehicles on offer before you get started.
Station wagon $
Yes, you can live in your car if you wish. Many people furnish the back of their station wagon with a mattress. Buy a small camping table with a stove and off you go! This is obviously the cheapest option. But above all the least practical!
This kind of vehicle cannot have Self-Contained certification, so it will be difficult to find free campsites to spend the night. Especially as only your mattress will be inside. It is not practical to eat outside on a rainy day. And that happens quite often in New Zealand.
Although this may seem like the cheapest solution at first, it turns out that in the long run you will probably spend more on restaurants/takeaways as you will clearly be lazy to cook in these conditions. So I don’t recommend it especially if you are travelling as a couple!
The Toyota Estima $$
That dear and sweet Toyota Estima! So loved by some, hated by others. This famous little minivan that many people love because it could be certified ‘self-contained’ (wow – for your information this is no longer allowed!) and its price is still much cheaper than a real campervan. YES, I dare to say it! I don’t consider a Toyota Estima to be a proper campervan.
I understand. It’s true that it has advantages. You often have a fully equipped kitchen in the trunk and enough room to sleep at 2, and it’s affordable!
I would say that this campervan can be interesting if you travel for a short period of time or only during your weekends because you work during the week. So you don’t need much comfort. In the long term, if you travel 24 hours a day in it, I would say that it has its limits. Especially as now the Self-Contained certification will no longer be issued for Toyota Estima – which means you won’t be able to renew it if it expires during your trip.
Standard furnished van $$$
Let’s talk about something serious now! The fully equipped campervan: it is the standard size campervan, or even the Long Wheel Base (LWB) if you want something a little longer (it can make all the difference in a layout).
The design can be different from one campervan to another and the choice is entirely up to you. Tastes and colours are not up for discussion. But the comfort will be incomparable to the 2 other options mentioned above. In this type of campervan, there is room for a kitchen and a bed inside (perfect for rainy days). And with very often the sofa bed option which will give you much more space when it is in sofa.
Not to mention that this type of campervan is eligible for Self-Contained certification, which makes life a lot easier!
The High Roof option is also available. This can be really good for tall people. That’s not the case for me. But Ben likes to repeat that our pop-top campervan from Australia was really good for his back 😉 Here in New Zealand, we opted for a standard Toyota Hiace. Because we also use it as our main car. And in Auckland, for underground parking, the high roof can be tricky. Especially when I’m driving…
Of course, the budget will be higher, but the comfort will also be doubled. And I assure you, if you don’t have a good, comfortable and pleasant campervan, your road trip can quickly turn into a nightmare. You have been warned!
As you can see, I’m a fan of this type of campervan. I really think it’s better to put a bit more money and purchase a campervan that corresponds to your expectations and needs in order to spend the best road trip of your life.
As far as brands are concerned, the best known are :
- Toyota Hiace (normal or LWB): my favourite and also the most reliable
- Mazda L300
- Mitsubishi L300 or LWB
- Ford Econovan
I’m quoting a few brands because although the interior design plays a role in the choice, it should not be the main criterion of choice. Far from it! This is what we’ll see in the next chapter.
And why not fit out your own campervan? Yes, that’s also an option! But only if you have the time and the right place (and the right tools) to fit out your campervan. If you do, go for it! Empty, unfitted vans are often much cheaper and the cost of fitting out your campervan will certainly be less than buying a fully equipped campervan.
What should you check before buying a campervan in New Zealand?
Now that you know a little bit more about campervan offers in New Zealand, you can start your active search. If you’re like me, and you know nothing about mechanics, cars, all that, read the following criteria carefully in order to buy a van in good condition that will hold the road.
Special mention to Benoit who helped me a lot to write this blog post!
He is the expert in mechanics/motor. If it was up to me, I would have surely chosen our van according to the pretty curtains or the beautiful wooden layout 😉 BIG MISTAKE! The layout is nice but it won’t make your van go any further. So the first piece of advice from Ben: Check the engine!
Mileage is an important point to consider when you are looking for a car. A 20-year-old campervan will have an average mileage of between 200,000 km and 300,000 km. But don’t be shocked to also see campervans with almost 500,000 km on the odometer. Reliable campervans like Toyota Hiace can still drive well even after 500,000 km.
However, when making your choice, consider resale. A van with a lot of kilometres can be harder to resell. I would recommend that you avoid purchasing a campervan with over 300,000 km.
The most important thing is to compare the mileage with the maintenance of the vehicle. You can find campervans with a few kilometres, but which have never been maintained by previous owners. And that’s a no! On the contrary, having a campervan with more than 300,000 km maintained to perfection will surely last much longer.
It’s up to you to judge and check all the parameters before making a choice.
Of course, having a recent van is always better. But as with mileage, don’t let the years get in the way of your choice of campervan.
For example, in Australia, our campervan was from 1988. Yes, you read that right! On resale, it was celebrating its 30th anniversary and yet we managed to resell it at the same price as the purchase price. (with 60,000 extra km on the odometer – we are good seller 😉 )
When the campervan is well maintained, anything is possible. It’s better to leave on an older campervan with a perfect engine. Rather than a recent one, but badly or not at all maintained and which is in its 5th generation of backpackers. Yes, it is well known that many backpackers do not maintain their campervan, do not do the recommended follow-ups or repairs.
This brings me to the next point, and surely one of the most important: the condition of the engine and the exterior of the vehicle.
Checking the engine and the general condition of the van
My first piece of advice is to ALWAYS check the history of the vehicle, ask for invoices (all documents relating to the van) to see if the owners have done the follow-ups, services, etc. This will already give you an idea of how the van has been maintained.
Then put your head in the engine and check it thoroughly. If you don’t know anything about it, ask a knowledgeable friend to help you.
In the engine, check :
- oil level
- But also the level of all liquids: coolant, brake fluid, steering fluid, transmission fluid.
- The condition of the radiator – rust?
- Any oil, water or gas leaks.
- Condition of battery – corrosion?
- Condition of pipes
If the engine appears to be in good condition, proceed to inspect the exterior/interior condition of the campervan:
- Condition of the body – rust/corrosion/paintwork?
- Condition of the windscreen – crack/chip ?
- Tyre condition
- Opening and closing of doors and windows
- Windscreen wipers, turn signals, headlights, horn
- Spare wheel
- Condition of the shock absorbers
- Look at the underside of the vehicle for rust as well as the exhaust pipe.
- Are all seat belts in place and in good condition? I am telling you this because it happened to us. We didn’t check these (we never used the middle seat so we didn’t think to check) and during our first WoF, the mechanical advised no belt on the middle seat – and this is mandatory to pass the inspection
Once you’ve inspected all this, test the vehicle for 15-20 minutes to see if it runs properly.
Petrol or diesel? Many people wonder which one to choose and if it really matters. You will soon realise that most vans in New Zealand run on petrol. But you can also find some that run on diesel.
At the pump, petrol (petrol 91) is around $2/L compared to $1.60/L for diesel. Diesel fuel is subject to an extra charge of RUC. Generally speaking, there is not much difference between the two, especially if you only keep your van for a few months or up to a year.
The interior layout
Now that you are convinced of the reliability of the van’s engine and general condition, you can look at the aesthetic aspect of it. It’s still important to have a van that feels good inside.
Apart from the decoration aspect (curtain/kitchen layout/ convertible sofa bed) which really depends on the taste of each person, there are a few features that can make the difference in your choice:
- What type of mattress? Lie down and check if it is comfortable, not too thin.
- Mini fridge, electric cooler? If you plan to live in your van for several months, it can still be practical, especially in the summer.
- Second ‘deep cycle’ battery: much more efficient than a normal battery – essential if the van contains a small fridge. A standard battery will be more than enough if you only have sockets for charging your PCs, iPhone, etc.
- Power Inverter to convert the energy from the second battery.
- Solar panels? Allow you to charge the second battery when you are not driving. In fact, check the connections from the second battery to the main battery to make sure that the second battery charges automatically when you are not driving.
- Camping tools and accessories sold with the van. You can easily find kitchen utensils, etc. at the Kmart or Warehouse if something is missing.
Check administrative documents
Last check before purchase: administrative documents are up to date! At the beginning of this blog post, I explained the different terms used when buying a van in New Zealand: Rego, WoF. Don’t forget to check that they are in order before finalising the sale.
A small warning regarding the WoF (Warrant of Fitness). Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to falsify this very important certificate. Therefore, it is strongly recommended before purchasing to ask for a “Pre-purchase vehicle inspection”. This is a complete inspection that you can carry out in a garage. It will give you a detailed overview of the condition of the vehicle and any repairs that may need to be carried out. The inspection will be paid for by you as the buyer, and costs around NZD $150, and should be carried out at an approved garage such as AA or VTNZ.
Another trick, which is optional, but still advisable, is to check the vehicle’s history using the VIR (Vehicle Information Report). This allows you to check whether there are any outstanding fines, theft, number of owners, etc. This is done online by simply entering the number plate and costs between NZD $15 and $20. You can apply for it on the Motorweb or Carjam website.
The purchase and after purchase steps of a campervan in New Zealand?
Have you found the campervan of your dreams? All you have to do now is to buy it. Don’t hesitate to negotiate the price, it’s part of the game. Especially if your pre-purchase inspection shows that you have repairs to make. Use this argument to lower the price a little more 😉
Once the price has been fixed, agree with the seller on the means of payment. Depending on your both nationalities, some means may be more advantageous than others (bank transfers in the same currency are more profitable and this avoids exchange rate charges). If you wish to pay in cash, plan in advance. It can be complicated to withdraw a large sum of money at once.
Campervan paid, you are the proud owner of your first vehicle in New Zealand. Or almost! Now you just have to change the ownership. It couldn’t be simpler. All you need to do is go to a post office and fill in the document called “Change of registered person – buyer” MR13B. The seller must also fill in a document numbered MR13A. It will cost you less than $10 and will take less than 10 minutes to have the vehicle registered in your name. Easy peasy!
Don’t forget to bring your passport and driving licence (your official license + international license required to drive abroad).
Ready for the big adventure with your new campervan? One last important thing to do: car insurance!
Insuring your vehicle in New Zealand
Insuring your vehicle in New Zealand is not compulsory but strongly recommended. As for the health travel insurance.
For your safety, but also that of others, I strongly recommend that you take out insurance as soon as you buy your campervan in NZ. Even if you feel confident behind the wheel of your van, an accident can happen very quickly.
The proof! We experienced it with our first campervan (I told you earlier that we bought 2 campervans in NZ) and we were not at all fault. That day we were thankful that we had taken out insurance. Better safe than sorry as we say here.
There are different levels of cover. The best known is AA Insurance. It offers 3 options:
- Third-Party: this is the third party only insurance that covers damage to other people’s property (legal liability). It is the cheapest option. But be aware, it does not cover your own vehicle if there are repairs to be made.
- Third-party fire and theft: same coverage as the first with the addition of theft and fire included for your vehicle.
- Comprehensive: This is the most covered insurance which covers the same level as the other two + includes any damages caused to your vehicle.
Tips: Subscribe to AA membership, for only NZD $89 per year. This will allow you to benefit from Road Side Assistance (24/7 breakdown assistance). As a member, you are entitled to 6 calls out per year. This may include replacement of batteries, tyres, windshields, towing, etc. On top of that, you’ll also have access to exclusive discounts in certain shops and cinemas, for example. More info here
On the road to adventure
Well, if you’ve followed all these steps, you’ll have no problem finding the campervan of your dreams and setting off on the beautiful roads of New Zealand. The process is ultimately quite simple and quick. The hardest part is finding the right campervan for you and maybe selling it later. But as said above, if you choose the right period (i.e. summer) for resale, you shouldn’t lose too much in the process!
If this guide has helped you or if you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. You can also contact me directly via Instagram @justinejehanno
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