Buyers' Guide: Have wheels, will travel
Ask just about anyone who has been to New Zealand and you'll be told there's a whole lot of beauty to take in, especially if you're planning to travel the length of the country. Summer brings an influx of visitors to our shores but it's also a popular time for young New Zealanders to head out to see more of their native Aotearoa.
If you're planning on buying a car fit for crossing our range of terrains, it's worth getting a head start on your search. But what do you look for? Here are some key things to consider when you're choosing your four-wheeled travelling companion, to ensure your experience is as exciting and satisfying as possible.
Size and safety matter
More often than not, those heading off on an extended tiki tour of New Zealand will want a more spacious vehicle to pack in all of their stuff. It's no surprise then that vans and wagons are a popular starting point. One size and shape rarely fits all though, so thankfully there are a range of choices available, due mainly to the abundance of overseas models available in New Zealand.
The MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) market has a raft of choices including, among others, the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Previa and Nissan Elgrand. These offer a similar amount of room to that you could expect in a van, and they often come with a cheaper price tag. More often than not, the MPVs available tend to be later models with the safety features you should be looking for as a priority, such as airbags and anti-locking braking systems.
MPVs with seating configurations that transform the seats into day beds are a good bet from a comfort perspective, but be careful not to take on a vehicle that looks like it's been modified to add space to lie down. Modifications must fall within the NZTA Warrant of Fitness requirements, for it to be deemed fit to drive.
A station wagon provides length, but less room and height than the MPV or a van, but these can be easier to come by during the holiday season. A good station wagon offers superior handling on the road and a better driving experience.
If you find a wagon equipped with 4WD this would be advantageous, as there are plenty of unsealed roads in New Zealand.
Having a long vehicle doesn't guarantee comfort though, so think about roof height if you want to have enough space to move comfortably within the vehicle.
Another option if you need a bit of height is a fully fledged van. These tend to be more expensive because they're favoured by tradespeople for commercial purposes and often not suited to those searching on a shoestring budget.
If you do set your sights firmly on a van, look for one that was privately owned and lightly used, rather than a former trade vehicle as they tend to rack up the mileage and often have a hard life.
Finding a reliable vehicle on a budget
It can be tempting to simply pick up where other tourists left off, and inherit some fellow traveller's well-worn motor. But do you really want to be driving a car whose past owners haven't necessarily been inclined to look after it, knowing that it's only a temporary means to an end? As well as accumulating the kilometres, it will have accumulated neglect and isn't likely to have had a good service for some time. A car that has been with a previous owner for some time is more likely to have received some TLC.
We recommend you buy a vehicle with a good ownership history trail and service documentation, with up-to-date registration and RUC, if applicable. Yes, these kinds of vehicles might cost more but it's worth the extra money investing up-front. You don't want to end up broken down -- not only is it stressful, it can be a costly and arduous process, especially if you're in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, if you would like further reassurance that you're not buying a dud, consider spending a couple of hundred bucks on a pre-purchase vehicle inspection from some trusted experts.