10 important things to know before you buy a campervan in new zealand - wildlovelyworld travel blog
Campervans,  New Zealand

10 Essential Things To Know Before You Buy A Campervan | New Zealand

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Last Updated On 6th February 2024 By Lauren | Wild Lovely World

In this post, we look at 10 essential things you NEED to know before you buy a campervan in New Zealand. These important things are essential things to know for everyone who wants to buy a campervan in New Zealand. Plus, I share my top tips and recommendations for how to buy a campervan in New Zealand.

Have you always wanted to live the #vanlife dream in New Zealand? Like many of you, I always had a plan to come to New Zealand and buy a campervan.

I remember meeting a backpacker about ten years ago. He told me about his campervan adventure in New Zealand. He travelled in his campervan across the country for 18 months. His photos looked amazing! Sleeping under the stars by a calm lake, the majestic, snow-capped mountains in the distance. I was truly inspired! I wanted that life!

Well, ten years after meeting that guy, my dream finally came true. I arrived in New Zealand in the nick of time! I landed in Auckland just before the NZ borders were closed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Me and my partner started the search for a campervan as soon as we arrived. Within two weeks, we had bought our very first campervan!

We had our campervan for 3 years and we lived in it and travelled all around New Zealand. I’m so happy that we bought a campervan as we both loved living and travelling in our sweet little home on wheels!

Why You Should Buy A Campervan To Travel In New Zealand

campervan on road in tongariro national park new zealand
Our campervan in Tongariro National Park – what a view! – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

New Zealand is a very popular place to travel by campervan. It’s a passion shared by both backpackers and Kiwis alike. It’s amazing having the freedom of the open road.

New Zealand has great amenities for campervans. There are Freedom Campsites all over the country. These are places campers can park up and sleep overnight completely for free. There are dump stations, drinking water, toilets and much more.

Many backpackers choose to buy a campervan to travel in New Zealand. It can be more cost-effective than renting, especially if you want to travel for more than a few weeks.

New Zealand has a booming campervan market. There are many vans to buy and sell. Prices can be really cheap. For example, you can get a campervan for as low as NZD $3000 (around GBP £1500).

Another great reason to buy a campervan is that New Zealand lacks in infrastructure. While it is possible, it is challenging to travel around the country by train and bus. Using public transport limits you to go to certain places. With a campervan, you have the freedom to go anywhere.

Buying a campervan is definitely the best way to travel in New Zealand. However, the process to buy a campervan in New Zealand may seem daunting. But do not worry!

In this post, I will share with you the most important things that you need to know before you buy a campervan in New Zealand. These are important things that every traveller should consider before buying a vehicle in New Zealand.

10 Important Things You Need To Know For Before You Buy A Campervan In New Zealand

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1. Check Your Drivers Licence Requirements

The first thing to know before you buy a campervan in New Zealand is, can you drive it? To legally drive in New Zealand there are certain requirements that your licence must meet. The NZTA provides guidance on driving in New Zealand with an overseas licence (link to NZTA website).

To legally drive in New Zealand, I needed to buy an International Driver’s Permit before I left the UK. I got this at the Post Office a few days before I flew to New Zealand and it cost £5.50. Most countries will issue an International Driver’s Permit for driving abroad. You must get this before you leave your home country as you cannot get it afterwards.

When you buy a campervan in New Zealand and go to register your purchase, they will ask to see your driving licence and International Driver’s Permit. So it is essential that you have it with you!

You can only drive on your overseas driver’s licence for 12 months. After 12 months of using your overseas driver’s licence in New Zealand, you will need to convert to a New Zealand Driver’s Licence. The process is very cheap and easy to do. It costs about $50 and you can do it at an AA Centre. You can find out about the process for converting to a NZ licence here (link to NZTA website).

2. Where To Find A Campervan To Buy For Traveling In New Zealand

There are multiple resources you can use to find a second-hand campervan to buy in New Zealand.

Check out my post for a complete buying guide: Campervans In New Zealand: Where To Look To Buy?

In this post, I share the best places to look to find campervans to buy and how to have success on each platform.

woman next to campervan on hill in hawkes bay new zealand
Me with our cute little campervan on Te Mata Peak, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

Related Read: 6 Places To Find Secondhand Campervans For Sale | New Zealand

3. Understand The Different Models Of Campervan Available To Buy In New Zealand

There are many things to consider when thinking about which model of campervan to buy for travelling in New Zealand. Should you get a Hi-Top, a 4WD, or a diesel? It can be overwhelming to know what is available and narrow down the options.

Before you buy a campervan in New Zealand, you should understand the different models of campervans available.

Furthermore, it is important for you to know which model of campervan would be most suitable for your needs. Thinking about what you really want to use your campervan for will help you to know which features you will need. Do you want to go off-grid and live in your campervan for a few weeks? Or do you want to just use it for occasional travel and weekend trips? It can be helpful to write a list of all the things you want to have in a campervan.

Luckily, I’ve written a whole post about the different models of campervans to buy for travelling in New Zealand. The post is full of awesome information to answer all your questions so I highly recommend you give it a read. I explain key things to know about campervans in New Zealand. For example the differences between manual/automatic, petrol/diesel, 2WD/4WD, Long Wheel Base/Hi-Top plus campervan interiors and conversions. We also look at different models and go over the pros and cons of each. I’ve also included photos of the inside and outside. There is also a list of other popular campervan and camper car models that are suitable to buy for travelling in New Zealand. Lastly, I tell you which campervan model we chose to buy for our 3+ year plus trip in New Zealand and why.

Related Read: New Zealand Campervan Model Guide With Pros & Cons (Including Photos)

4. The Difference Between Self-Contained & Non-Self-Contained Campervans

Self-Contained Campervans (SC)

If you’re planning to do a lot of travelling in your campervan and want the freedom to be able to sleep overnight in it, you’ll have to buy a Self-Contained vehicle.

Self-Contained vehicles have passed certain criteria to meet requirements for off-grid living. They contain a portable toilet, rubbish bins and enough water to last a few days off-grid.

This makes you eligible to stay at a huge number of Freedom Campsites located all over New Zealand.

The best part about using Freedom Campsites is that they are COMPLETELY FREE! It’s good peace of mind knowing there is a place to park up and sleep in your vehicle overnight.

Mostly the freedom campsites are in beautiful locations such as in the forest or by the beach. There are also freedom camping spots at car parks in towns and cities.

Freedom Campsites usually have drinking water, public toilets and dump stations.

Of course, Self-Containment allows you to stay at Freedom Campsites without any facilities too. You will have everything you need in your vehicle (drinking water and a portable toilet).

To identify self-containment, look for the blue sticker on the back of the vehicle. There will also be a blue certificate card with the expiry date stuck on the windscreen. There may also be a self-contained certification letter in the vehicle paperwork.

Non-Self-Contained Campervans (NSC)

There are a few freedom camping sites at which you can park Non-Self-Contained (NSC) vehicles. But most often you will need to pay to park at campsites overnight.

Without self-containment, you could always risk staying in Freedom Campsites (many people do). But if you get caught then you could be handed a heavy fine (around $200).

So, for these reasons, I highly recommend you buy a campervan only with Self-Containment certification. With a SC vehicle, you will be able to maximise the benefits and opportunities of Freedom Camping when you travel around New Zealand.

fiachra with campervan in a car park by the sea
Fiachra with our campervan in the Bay of Plenty – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

Related Read: Which Campervan Model To Buy For Traveling In New Zealand

5. Make Sure The Vehicle Has A WOF (Warrant Of Fitness)

The Warrant of Fitness is similar to an MOT in the UK. It is a legal document which proves the vehicle meets the necessary standards to be considered safe on the road. Things like seat belts, tyres, breaks and windscreen wipers are checked.

The frequency of the WOF depends on the age of the vehicle. For vehicles older than the year 2000 (1999 and older), the WOF needs to be completed every 6 months. For vehicles newer than the year 2000, the WOF can be done every 12 months. This is handy to keep in mind when you are buying a second-hand vehicle as it will determine how often you’ll have to pay to take it to a mechanic for a WOF!

Which Is Better: a 6-month or a 12-month WOF?

Some buyers will look for a vehicle that is newer than the year 2000 so that they don’t need to take it to the mechanic as often. If you only want to have to get the WOF done once per year then you are limited to buying vehicles from the year 2000 or newer, so keep that in mind when you are looking.

Most backpackers in New Zealand don’t mind a 6-month WOF for a few reasons. Firstly, the vehicles tend to be cheaper as they are older. Secondly, many backpackers buy the vehicles are the start of the summer, use them for a few months and then try to sell them. In that case, they only need the WOF valid for less than 6 months anyway. Lastly, taking the vehicle to the garage on a more frequent basis means that you are sure your vehicle is safe to drive. Any problems are noticed earlier on and can be fixed before they get worse.

It is your personal preference what you might prefer.

How To Get A WOF

A WOF can be done at most mechanics in New Zealand and costs about $45-55. The cost varies depending on the garage as they set their own charges. Any repairs required to pass the WOF will cost extra. The appointment takes about 1 hour.

Once the WOF is successfully completed, the owner will receive a WOF Certificate and a label will be placed on the vehicle’s windscreen with the validity dates.

Make sure that the vehicle you are buying has a valid WOF! This means that the vehicle has met legal requirements for safety standards.

To know if the vehicle has a valid WOF, you can look at the label displayed on the windscreen and ask the current owner to show you the paperwork.

6. Make Sure The Vehicle Has A Rego (Vehicle Registration/Licensing)

All vehicles in New Zealand need to be registered with the New Zealand Transport Authority. This is similar to paying Road Tax in the UK. In New Zealand, it is called ‘Rego’.

The cost is per month and is different for every vehicle. There is a calculator on the NZTA website that can give you an idea of how much it will cost.

How To Get A Rego

Licensing a vehicle is very easy to do. A Rego can be bought online or by completing a simple form at the Post Office.

Completing it online is cheaper but you will need an address to get the certificate sent to.

To get the Rego instantly, simply complete a simple form at the Post Office and pay the fee to the clerk. Once paid, they will give you the Rego Certificate which you display in the windscreen on the vehicle.

You can buy as many months as you want, from 1 month to 12 months at a time.

The vehicle will need a valid Warrant Of Fitness (WOF) to buy the Rego.

For example, for my campervan, it costs $9 per month for the Rego and I buy it in 6-month blocks. This is because my van is from 1994 and the WOF needs to be done every 6 months.

Make sure that the vehicle you are buying has a valid Rego! It is a legal requirement for vehicles on the road in New Zealand.

To know if the vehicle has a valid Rego, you can look at the label displayed on the windscreen.

Related Read: How Much Does A Campervan Cost To Buy In New Zealand? (Complete Cost Guide & Money Saving Tips)

7. Check The Vehicle’s Condition & Do A Pre-Purchase Inspection Check

Check The Vehicle Over Yourself & Take It For A Test Drive

Make sure you check the vehicle thoroughly for any bumps, dents, scratches, rust etc… Unfortunately, many backpacker cars tend to be in poor condition. They are driven thousands of kilometres all over the country by many different people. They are given the bare minimum amount of maintenance and care by their owners. This is because typically many backpackers tend to be using the vehicle for a short amount of time. So understandably they don’t want to invest in its upkeep. Of course, this isn’t the case for all backpacker vehicles but it can be the case for many of them.

You can give the vehicle a thorough check over yourself when you view it. Check out this video from Chris Fixx on YouTube (link to YouTube – I love this guy). He goes through everything you need to look for when buying a second-hand vehicle. Also, check out his on his website free vehicle inspection checklist. I found his advice to be really useful when I have been buying second-hand vehicles.

Make sure you take it for a test drive too. You need to be comfortable driving the vehicle so make sure it feels good. Again, Chris Fixx has a great video on how to test drive a vehicle before you buy it (link to YouTube).

Take photos of the campervan so you can review them later. It’s easy to miss things when you are first having a look. So if you have photos you may spot something you may have missed. You can also remind yourself and compare them to other campers you have seen so you can make a well-informed decision!

Get The Vehicle Checked By A Mechanic (Pre-Purchase Inspection Check)

If you’re happy with how the vehicle looks and feels after doing your own checks that’s a great start. But before you go ahead and buy it, I highly recommend you invest in a Pre-Purchase Inspection Check.

This is a thorough check provided by a mechanic. The mechanic will assess the vehicle and provide you with a hard document detailing all the findings. They can also send it to you as a PDF by email. They may even speak with you on the phone and talk you through the condition of the vehicle, as the mechanic at the AA did for us. The mechanic will tell you the condition of the vehicle before you buy it, any potential WOF issues or recommended repairs.

How To Get A Pre-Purchase Inspection Check

A Pre-Purchase Inspection can be done at most mechanics and the AA. It’s really easy to book online with the AA. There are sites all over New Zealand (link to AA website).

A Pre-Purchase Inspection can cost around $200. Yes, it is expensive! If you have to pay more than once to get different vehicles checked (like we did) it can end up costing quite a lot! But the cost is well worth it in the long run in case there are any hidden issues.

As a buyer, you don’t even need to be present at the check (we weren’t). So you might see a vehicle you like in Christchurch but you are currently in Auckland. Well, just ask the seller to take it for the check and the mechanic will get in touch with you directly afterwards to report the findings.

If the seller is serious about selling the vehicle and they have nothing to hide then they should have no problem taking it for the check. Better yet, they may have already gotten the check done themselves and can show you the paperwork.

Why We Are Glad We Did A Pre-Purchase Inspection Check

Me and Fiachra did two of these (with the AA) before we bought a campervan in New Zealand. We are so glad we did it! It was worth the money 100%.

The vehicle we were going to buy turned out to be in really bad shape. It would have cost us a LOT of money to do all the necessary repairs. Therefore, we saved ourselves a lot of hassle and money by doing the Pre-Purchase Inspection before we went ahead to buy.

We ended up buying another campervan that we also got checked. It gave us peace of mind knowing that everything was in working order and in great condition, especially given the campervan’s age (a Nissan Caravan from 1994!).

The Danger Of Not Doing A Pre-Purchase Inspection Check

Unfortunately, a lot of backpackers do not do Pre-Purchase Inspections before they buy a vehicle. Then they have a lot of trouble further down the line! By then it is too late. They will have to fork out for any repairs as they are already in ownership or try to sell the vehicle for a much lower price than they bought it. We see this all the time on the sales pages online where backpackers cannot afford (or do not have the time/money/care) to repair their vehicles.

We have also heard of sellers that intentionally hope that potential buyers do not do a Pre-Purchase Inspection. This is because they know that the vehicle needs work done but they don’t want to sort it out themselves.

The best advice I can give is this. When you are serious about buying a particular vehicle then make sure you do the Pre-Purchase checks! This way you know what you are getting yourself into.

If the vehicle needs some repairs and you still want to buy it, get a quote from the mechanic for how much this would cost and then you can use this information in your negotiation of the price. If the seller won’t negotiate or get the vehicle fixed, walk away!

freedom camping east cape mahia peninsula new zealand finding campervans to buy for sale in new zealand
Freedom camping in Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

8. Ask For The Vehicle’s Servicing & Repairs History

When buying a second-hand vehicle it is a good idea to ask the seller for the vehicle servicing and repairs history.

The reason vehicle history is useful is because it can tell you when it was last serviced or if any major repairs have been done in the past. It can give future owners an idea of any problems which might come up and how much these are likely to cost.

A vehicle should be given a full service at least once per year. If you have the history then you will know when the next service is due.

This is particularly useful for backpacker cars and campervans which have likely changed ownership many times.

Responsible vehicle owners will keep any invoices/receipts of work that has been done on the vehicle. This can simply be kept in a document wallet in the glove box.

I think if the current owner has these documents then it is a good sign that they are responsible and have taken good care of the vehicle.

What To Do If They Don’t Have The Vehicle History

Unfortunately, many vehicle owners do not keep these documents. Without the documents it can be very difficult to know what history the vehicle has had.

That is not to say that if they don’t have the documents that it is not a good vehicle. They may have a good reason for not having them. For example, maybe they were never given any when they bought the vehicle from the previous owner.

Depending on how long they have owned the vehicle they should have some documents. If they have owned the vehicle for 6-12 months then they should have done a WOF or service at least. If they have had the vehicle less time than that you should be asking why are they selling it.

Not having the vehicle servicing/repairs history paperwork is not a deal breaker, but it is an important thing to consider before you buy a campervan.

9. Get Insurance & Roadside Assistance

This is CRAZY, but vehicle insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand.

Luckily, the ACC will help pay for medical treatment if you get injured in an accident (link to Immigration New Zealand website about ACC).

Many travel insurance providers will also cover you for accidents, so make sure you get that before leaving home and double-check your policy.

But the ACC and travel insurance will not cover the cost of your vehicle or any damage you may cause to others. In that case, you may be eligible to pay, and it won’t be cheap.

Many travellers will not want to buy vehicle insurance, especially if they are only using the vehicle for a short amount of time. But it would be worth it if you got into any trouble.

When searching for vehicle insurance in New Zealand, make sure that you shop around. Get quotes from multiple providers. It can be time-consuming, but that way you can get the best deal. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a comparison website in New Zealand to help us out with this yet! So you might need to put the details into each website to get quotes.

Insurance Companies To Try For A Quote For Your Campervan

It is useful to have Roadside Assistance as well. This will help you out in case you ever get into any trouble on the side of the road and need a rescue! You can buy roadside separately or as part of your insurance policy. AA offer membership for $200 a year.

I got insurance for our campervan with Trade Me Insurance. They gave me the best price and I liked the policy. It cost about $450 for a year of Comprehensive. The insurance covers any damage to my windscreen, including replacement, and roadside assistance. I’ve found it to be really good. I even had to get my windscreen completely replaced twice because of chips and cracks (thanks, New Zealand roads!). Thankfully, it didn’t cost me a penny! And I didn’t lose my no-claims bonus, so I got a discount on my second year.

I highly recommend getting vehicle insurance while you are driving in New Zealand. Get some quotes and factor this into your budget before you buy a campervan in New Zealand.

Related Read: Complete Cost Breakdown Of Buying A Campervan In New Zealand (How Much To Budget & How To Save Money)

10. Complete The Vehicle Buying/Selling Paperwork

Completing the paperwork is the final step to buying a campervan in New Zealand.

Paperwork can often be confusing. But the good news is that the paperwork for buying a vehicle in New Zealand is INCREDIBLY easy. I was actually shocked that the process was this simple!

Everything can be done at the Post Office. The buyer and seller do not even need to be together to do it. Just follow these simple steps.

Buying A Vehicle

The buyer needs to complete the Change of registered person – buyer (MR13B) form (link to NZTA website). The forms are available at the Post Office and can be filled out there too.

After sending payment to the seller and driving the vehicle away, head to the Post Office. On the form, just fill in simple details about the vehicle and yourself as the new owner. Make sure you have an address you can use on the form (it can be the hostel you are staying at).

When submitting the form at the Post Office, show your Driver’s Licence and International Driver’s Permit and pay the $9 fee. Then wait for your Certificate of Ownership to arrive in the mail or by email.

Selling A Vehicle

The seller needs to complete the Selling or disposing of a vehicle (MR13A) form (link to NZTA website). The forms are available at the Post Office and can be filled out there too.

The seller can complete this step after receiving payment from the buyer and handing the vehicle over to them. This form can be handed into the Post Office and nothing more needs to be done.

The paperwork process to buy a campervan in New Zealand is simple, but make sure you follow NZTA’s advice (link to NZTA website).

campervan by the beach in new zealand
Traveling by campervan in New Zealand means waking up to views like this! Better than a 5 star hotel 😉 – Ⓒ Wild Lovely World

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10 Essential Things You Need To Know Before You Buy A Campervan In New Zealand – Thanks For Reading!

Thanks for reading this post about important things you need to know before you buy a campervan in New Zealand! We have looked at 10 essential things you need to know, including the process for buying a campervan, associated costs and different models to consider. I hope you found this post useful! 😊 – Lauren x

Are you planning to buy a campervan to travel New Zealand? If you have any questions about how to buy a campervan in New Zealand, please ask them in the comments!

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Thanks for reading! 🙂 – © Wild Lovely World

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Lauren is a coffee and cat obsessed travel writer from the U.K., specialising in solo female, couple travel and budget backpacking. She has previously lived in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, England and Scotland. Follow her adventures around the world on her blog WildLovelyWorld.com