Before heading off on our backpacking travels, New Zealand was the place I was most excited for. I just kept imagining how freeing it would be travelling the country in a camper van, waking up and making our morning coffee looking out onto incredible countryside. And now having bought a van a few months ago, we are in the process of converting it into a liveable space ready for our road trip in November! The most popular way to travel the country is by camper van and for good reason! So if you are not too sure where to start, first read through my tips on buying a van in New Zealand.
First of all you need to have a think whether you want to rent or buy a van. If you are just in the country for a few weeks, renting is going to be your best option. Unfortunately it will be more expensive, as the money you spend you aren’t going to get back unlike buying a van. However you won’t have enough time to look for a van and then sell it at the end of your trip. But if you are going to be travelling for a few months I would say that buying a van is 100% the way to go.
When we arrived in New Zealand we actually changed our plans for travelling. We had initially wanted to travel the country quite soon after arriving, despite it being winter, and spend the rest of our twelve month working holiday visa in backpacker jobs. However as we arrived in February, we decided we weren’t overly keen on being in a van in the middle of winter, and actually ended up starting work first. We bought our van in July and are planning on hitting the road around the middle of November. Luckily we have the luxury of time so we were able to decide when in the year to buy a van and travel. If you have this luxury too I would highly recommend buying a van in winter if you can and waiting a few months to travel when the higher temperatures of summer kick in. The main pro being how much cheaper it was! Prices in winter are going to be much cheaper than in summer when the demand is at its highest. I would also try to avoid buying in Auckland for the same reason!
So you have figured out that buying a van is the best option for you, now you need to decide on…
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A VAN?
DO YOU WANT IT TO BE ALREADY CONVERTED?
The thought of arriving in a completely new country and having to figure out things like how to hire tools and where you will have space to convert a van is quite daunting. So unless you are already quite good at DIY-type things or have had experience in a more hands-on job I would advise to look for a van that has already been converted. If, like us, you find a van that has been converted but there are things you would want to change that seem doable by all means go for that. Plus, if it has already been converted into a self contained van you don’t have to worry about being re-certified!
DO YOU WANT IT TO BE SELF-CONTAINED?
I would definitely recommend looking at self-contained vans over non self-contained. Mainly due to the fact that it gives you more freedom to park up at free sites that are for self-contained only. However saying that after looking on the WikiCamps app there are free sites all over New Zealand that aren’t just restricted to self-contained and that provide toilet facilities.
If you are looking at self-contained vans they are more likely to be larger vehicles. As to be self-contained you are required to have a fresh water tank, a grey water tank, a toilet and a bin with a lid. If you don’t feel comfortable driving a larger vehicle this is something to take into consideration. Also, self-contained vans are likely to be more expensive!
This is our van when we first bought it, stay tuned for after conversion pictures!
HOW TO FIND A VAN
This was how we ended up finding our little van! We joined the group Van & Cars Buy and Sell Christchurch, but if you are in a different area make sure to join the one near you! It might take you a good few weeks to find the one for you, just make sure to have a look every day until you find it.
NOTICE BOARDS IN HOSTELS
This is the most likely way you are going to find lots of backpacker friendly options, as the people that advertise will be backpackers themselves! They are all likely to be converted, whether self-contained or not. The notice board or binder might not be kept up to date, but make sure to ask at the reception of your hostel if you can’t find it yourself. Even visit other hostels you aren’t staying at to look at their selection.
We didn’t find any vans for us on here, but it would be better if you are looking for a van to convert yourself! Lots of locals and car traders sell on Trade Me.
WHEN LOOKING AT A VAN
Once you’ve contacted the seller and arranged a time to look at the vehicle you will want to make sure you ask all the right questions. You will probably already know the age, make of the car and it’s mileage from the listing, but it is always good to go over the details with the seller to make sure all the info is correct. Have a look at the condition of the tyres, if they might need to be replaced this could be something you could negotiate the price for. It is always good to have a look under the bonnet, even if you don’t really know what you are looking for. If anything looks rusty under there or things are missing, that of course isn’t good!
If you have the opportunity to take it for a test drive, always do so! You can get an idea of how it drives, and make sure to listen out for any odd noises. They should also be able to show you previous WOF documents, which will show you when it expires and what previous problems the vehicle has had.
A big tip that I always have to remind myself of when looking at a vehicle is to not show too much interest to the seller. You will need to ask all the required questions, but if you think you want to buy it try not to look too keen, as it will hinder your chances of getting the price down!
DO AN ONLINE VEHICLE CHECK
Before agreeing a sale with the seller make sure to run an online vehicle check. We used the website CarJam, all we needed was the registration number and you pay just $11.75 for a whole load of information. It tells you if there is any money owing on the vehicle, if it is stolen, ownership history, WOF and licence expiry dates, etc. I would definitely recommend doing this before buying as you know you won’t come across any horrible surprises!
ALWAYS NEGOTIATE ON THE PRICE
Even if you think the asking price is quite reasonable to begin with, make sure to always go in with a lower offer. The seller probably expected this to happen and raised the price a little when advertising it. Our van was initially on Facebook at $6500, he dropped it to $6000 and we managed to get him down to $5200. So it was well worth our time doing a bit of awkward negotiating!
Once you have agreed a sale you will just need to head to the post office or AA with the seller to register the change of ownership for a small fee of $9 and then of course pay for the van! We ended up getting cash out of the bank, however you can also do this by bank transfer if you both have NZ bank accounts.
If you didn’t know already, it isn’t actually compulsory to have car insurance here! However I would definitely recommend you get some! You will be driving around the country for a few months, it’s nice to have that peace of mind that if something happens you will be covered. We ended up getting Third Party, Fire and Theft Insurance with Ami for just $22.70 per month.
And finally, with all those miles you will be covering breakdown cover is a must! Chances are your van won’t be brand new, and as much as we hope it won’t break down you never know! We went with AA which cost $79 for 1 year, and we get six call-outs for that. A lot of other online companies were cheaper, but that only gave you one call out!
So now hopefully you will have found your perfect van and are ready to head off on your New Zealand road trip! I hope these tips have helped you, and you have a great few months driving the length and breadth of the country! I can’t wait to start our travels in November, and if you want to see how we converted our van make sure to keep up to date with my blog posts!
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