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Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection


Backpacker car and backpacker road trip: it all starts with buying the right car.

Want to make sure that your car will last and you will be able to sell it at the end of your trip? Of course you do! Buying a car in New Zealand, or anywhere, is not as easy as your supermarket shopping. Make sure to take your time and check out multiple options.

You can start your search for a car on:

Once you have found a few potential cars, follow the first step below on the Buying a Car in New Zealand guide.

Three Steps to Car-buying Success!

Easy as 1-2-3 and 4. Make sure to check all our articles on the subject.

Working Holiday Insurance


Outside the Car

When looking outside the car that you want to buy, look for any signs of damage. If the car has been in an accident, there could be other hidden damages that could cause the car to breakdown. Those signs are:

  • Difference in the colour between panels.
  • Bumps or major scratches covered with paint.
  • Kick the shock absorbers a little to see if they are holding on.

Once you feel confident that your potential future ride did not have any major accidents, have look for:

  • Rust that may affect the value of the car.
  • Chips in the windscreen, as it may not pass the WOF and it could crack at the first pot hole.
  • The gaps should be even between the doors and the car, you obviously want the car doors to work properly.


Under the car

Now that you’ve had a look outside the car, time to get a bit dirty. Get on the floor and look under the car. You will need to check the tyres, check for leaks, the exhaust pipe and most importantly check for rust!

Check the Tyres

First you will have to pay close attention to the tyres:

  • Make sure that they are worn evenly, uneven wear will show wheel misalignment.
  • Check that they are all the same type of tyre.
  • Check the spare tyre is in good condition.
  • Check that the tread (the crack in the tyre) is over 1.5mm – the legal requirement.
What else to check

After you have decided the tyres look good, check:

  • That there is no leaks: look at the bottom of the car and on the floor where it is parked.
  • Check also that the bottom of the car does not show too much rust either.
  • Finally, give a gentle kick at the exhaust pipe (tailpipe) to see if it is well fixed. If it flies off, you know the car is not worth buying and it will be hilarious.


Under the hood/Bonnet

You don’t need to be a mechanic to avoid most scams, simply open the bonnet of the car and look at the following:

  • Check the oil level. If it is too low, it may show a leak.
  • In fact, check all fluid levels: brake and power steering too.
  • Make sure that there are no leaks of oil, water or gas.
  • Look at the radiator for rust.
  • Any obvious signs of repair.

Asking to look under the hood of the car in itself shows that you are a conscious buyer. If the seller starts getting stressed about it and pressuring you, it may show that they are trying to sell you a dodgy car.


Inside the car

Finally you can sit inside! By the way, make sure that you can sit inside by adjusting the seat and check the leg room.

Some things like smelling of cigarette smoke are pretty obvious and may put you or future buyers off.

What else to check inside the car

Also, check the following:

  • Controls: indicators, locks, lights (including warning lights) and heater.
  • Lift up a corners of the carpets and check for rust again.
  • Check that the seat belts work fine and are not worn out.
  • Make sure that the windows open and close easily and close completely.

Done! Your should now be ready to test drive the car – step 2 of our guide.

Other things worth mentioning

Mechanic pre-purchase inspection

A pre-purchase inspection will cost you between NZ$80 and NZ$120 in any mechanic shop – nothing compared to the money you will lose if you buy a faulty car. Make sure to pick a mechanic of your choice, randomly if needed, and not use one that your seller recommends. Plus, it will save you the trouble of having to go through all of the steps above.

One more thing, make sure you have a valid driver licence for driving in New Zealand.

Before you hit the road, make sure you have a legal driver license. Find out more in How to Drive in New Zealand and Converting Your Driver License into a New Zealand Driver License.

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