Buying a car

New Zealand’s large geography and sparse population mean it can be challenging to get around if you do not own a car. Big towns and cities have public transport, and there are many intercity transport options like buses however, owning a vehicle makes travel more convenient.Almost all towns will have car dealerships selling new and second-hand cars. There are a variety of ways to buy a used car in New Zealand.

  • Trade Me is New Zealand’s online auction marketplace and has a large selection of used cars. You can also check online travel guide sites like backpackerboard.
  • Car Fairs are held in main cities. Auckland’s Ellerslie Car Fair is the largest in the country.
  • Turners car auctions
  • Newspaper classifieds
  • Car dealerships

Car inspection

Outside of the Car
When looking outside of 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:

  • A 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 pothole
  • The gaps should be even between the doors and the car, you obviously want the car doors to work properly.

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.

After you have decided the tyres look good, check:

  • That there are 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 legroom.
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 the 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.

Test drive

Choose the Best Route for a Test Drive
Ideally, you will want a bit of highway to take some speed and a hill to test the engine. Luckily, New Zealand has almost only that, so the mix should not be hard to find.
Ask the seller, as they should know the area well and can guide you to the right place.


Before Driving
Aside from checking the comfort of the car and placement of the controls, you will want to pay attention to:

  • The steering wheel, it should not have too much play.
  • How easy is the engine to start, the harder it is, the less you want the car.


During the Test Drive
Off you go, the road is yours! You will have a bunch of things to check before feeling confident that this will be a decent ride.


What to Check First
Before taking to the open road, drive around the car park or street to see if:

  • The car goes straight when the steering wheel is straight.
  • The steering wheel stays straight if you let it go while the car is moving.
  • The brakes are not too loose, so you don’t have to put your feet down to the floor when you want to stop.
  • Check that the car stops straight.


What to Check When Driving Uphill
Driving up a hill is your best chance to test the engine and handbrake, so here is what you need to be aware of:

  • Listen for unusual engine noises.
  • Check that the car doesn’t have too much of a hard time going uphill.
  • The brakes are not too loose, so you don’t have to put your feet down to the floor when you want to stop.
  • Try to stop uphill and use the handbrake, it should hold the car even on a hill.
  • On the way down, check the suspension a little to see how rough itis and test the brakes again.


What to Check When Driving on the Highway
Driving on a highway will allow you to get some speed and test the engine another way. Again, pay attention to the noise that the car makes. Your checklist for the highway test drive should be:

  • There are no fuel or oil smells.
  • Check that the car doesn’t have too much of a hard time going uphill.
  • The brakes are not too loose, so you don’t have to put your feet down to the floor when you want to stop.
  • Test the gears again it is always better to test twice.


After the Test Drive
Now you need to check the last couple of things:

  • Make sure that when you turn off the engine, it stops running. Duh!
  • Check also if the car does not make smoke of any colour.


Vehicle Ratings
Sitting down and looking at the paperwork is your chance to check the rating of the car that you are buying. There are five different ratings that you may want to have a look at:

  • ANCAP test
  • Used car safety rating
  • Fuel economy rating
  • Air pollution rating
  • CO2 emission rating

Ask your seller or search online for the model of the vehicle so you can get accurate ratings.


Warrant Of Fitness(WOF)
Any vehicle sold in New Zealand should have a valid Warrant of Fitness less than one-month-old. (Or a COF, which means Certificate of Fitness, that is used for heavy vehicles like campervans). A WOF is a document certifying that the car has passed the inspection of safety and road-worthiness.
Be aware that a WOF is not a pre-purchase inspection, it is merely a compulsory check to see that the car meets the compulsory standards.
Our advice: do not buy a car without a WOF.


Consumer Information Notice(CIN)
If dealing with a professional car dealer, you should be given a Consumer Information Notice (CIN). This document will only be provided by a professional dealer, not a private seller. It includes the price of the vehicle and all information relating to it.
The Information Included on the Consumer Information Notice (CIN)

  • Year of registration in New Zealand
  • Odometer reading
  • Mention of damage recorded at importation
  • Make, model, year of manufacture and other legal info about the vehicle
  • Dealer’s contact details and registration
  • Any securities registered on the vehicle.


Debt Check
When buying a car from a private seller, we strongly advise you to run a quick debt check on the car that you want to buy. It will allow you to see if the car has been used as security for any credit. Remember, if there is any outstanding debt on the car that you are buying, even if the debt isn’t yours, your car could be repossessed and you will have no way to contest it.
Run a vehicle history check online for free on the New Zealand Ministry of Business’ Personal Property Securities website.


Sales Agreement
The sales agreement is an agreement that will disclose all the terms of the sale. It will only be provided by professional dealers.
There may be a fee along with it called a “documentation fee” as part of the negotiation. However,it may be waived, so try it. As with any agreement, make sure to read it carefully before signing it.


Certificate of Registration
This is a very simple form that will display the list of all the current owners of the car. You simply have to compare it with your seller’s ID and see if it matches to make sure that you are buying the car from its rightful owner.
On the subject of ID, make sure you have a valid driving licence for driving in New Zealand, whether it is a driver licence in the English language, an international driver licence, or a New Zealand driver licence.


Change of Ownership
This is one of the most important documents of this list. The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) Change of Ownership form will state who is responsible for the car and who will pay fines and other fees. This can be done online on the NZTA website (note that you will need to a New Zealand driver license to complete the form online). You and the seller will have to complete this form.
If you prefer good old paper form or if you don’t have a New Zealand driver license, you can find the paper forms in any NZ Post office or AA insurance centre.

  • Buyer’s form: MR13B
  • Seller’s form: MR13A


Get Insurance
Although it is not mandatory to get insurance when driving in New Zealand, it is strongly recommend that you get some. New Zealand’s roads are not the easiest to drive on. Even if you are a cautious driver, the person behind you might not be.

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