Guide to Buying a Campervan in New Zealand

Living in a van

If you are going to be traveling for a couple of months, buying a campervan in New Zealand is more cost-effective than renting. If you do want to buy a campervan, make sure you read this guide first as it includes a ton of information to help you make the right choice (and not get ripped off!)

Guide to Buying a Campervan in New Zealand

Buying a campervan in New Zealand is an exciting experience. It’s the beginning step to having an awesome road trip around the beautiful country of New Zealand. However, picking the right campervan is super important to ensure your holiday is stress-free.

When it comes to buying a campervan there are things you really need to look for and things you must do before handing over any money.

In this blog, I’m going to explain the ins and outs of buying a campervan in New Zealand and include everything you need to know to increase what you get for your money

This is a complete guide to buying a campervan in New Zealand.

A home built campervan in New Zealand
The finished product my Toyota Hiace campervan I built while in New Zealand
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Picking a Good Make and Model Campervan

The make and model of your campervan is a big decision. Not only are different cars known for being more reliable and lasting longer but some are also cheaper to fix if something goes wrong.

Some common types of campervans are the Nissan Caravan, Toyota Hiace, Mazda Bongo, Ford Transit, Nissan Vanette, and the Mitsubishi L300. These vans make up 95% of the budget campervan market in New Zealand. It is very hard to say which van is the most reliable as every car in every different year and model can vary so much.

With that said, the Toyota Hiace is known to be one of the most reliable cars on the road. They are well known to go far beyond 500,000km and are one of the most popular vans on the market.

This not only means that they are wanted more by buyers but, there is also an abundance of spare parts around the country making them cheap to maintain and fix.

In my opinion, the trusty Toyota Hiace is a great choice.

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Why a Long Wheelbase Van is so Important

A long wheelbase van means that the van is longer than a standard van. Most long wheelbase vans are about 0.8m longer than a standard (or short) wheelbase. While this doesn’t sound like much, it makes a huge difference for space and resale.

In the coming years, it is going to become super important to buy a campervan in New Zealand that is a long-wheelbase van for self-containment. This is because new laws were made in mid-2018 stating that you must be able to use your toilet with elbow room in your van when the bed is made.

In short wheelbase vans, this is impossible as the room between the bed and kitchen is almost non-existent. This means that when the self-contained certification runs out (4 years from the date of inspection) that campervan will no longer be able to be certified self-contained. At the latest, these vans will be self-contained until mid-2022.

The problem with this is that if you happen to buy the short-wheelbase van while it’s self-contained and then try to sell it near the time (or after) the self-contained cert runs out you could see a massive drop in value leaving you out of pocket.

Buying a campervan in new Zealand
This is the minimum amount of room needed to get self-contained with the bed down

Diesel or Petrol?

When you’re buying a campervan in New Zealand people will love to tell you why petrol or diesel is better (depending on what vehicle they have). The most common thing I see though is people hugely over-exaggerating the fuel economy or telling you one is cheaper because of the fuel tax.

The facts

  1. The facts are that Diesel engines are more efficient than petrol engines. If both are put in two similar engines diesel is generally more efficient by 20-30%.
  2.  An old 1994 2L Toyota Hiace petrol engine (example) in a campervan will not do 10 liters of fuel to 100km of driving (I see this advertised a lot). It’s simply not possible with the extra weight being carried and when driving on windy, hilly roads in New Zealand. It’s more likely going to be between 12 – 15 liters per 100km.
  3. With a diesel equivalent, you’re still going to be between 10-13 liters per 100km. However, all this depends on how well the vehicle has been looked after. A poorly maintained vehicle will lose fuel efficiency over time.
  4. Diesel engines also last longer than petrol engines due to lubrication when the fuel is burnt. So when buying a car with high kilometers a diesel is generally a safer option – so long as it’s been looked after. With that said, they generally cost more to repair.

The fuel tax

Petrol currently sits at around $2 per liter in New Zealand and diesel around $1.40. These prices move with each other and the gap between the fuels is generally the same. So to many, they assume diesel is cheaper, and at the fuel station, it is.

However, in New Zealand, you must pay a fuel tax for every kilometer you drive on the roads if you own a diesel vehicle. The current tax for a van or car (under 3500kg) is $68 for 1000km. This means if your diesel campervan burns 12 liters of fuel per 100km it actually costs you an extra $0.56 cents per liter of fuel.

$68 = 1000km, $68/10 = ($6.80 per 100km) So $6.80/12 liters of fuel (average fuel consumption)= $0.56 cents extra per liter of diesel.

$1.40 price of diesel + $0.56 (diesel fuel tax) = $1.96 (total cost of diesel fuel after-tax based on diesel at $1.40)

Bringing your diesel fuels cost about the same as petrol.

Before you buy a diesel…

If you are buying a diesel be sure to check that the tax on the kilometers driven has been paid! There is a small square piece of paper kept on the left side of the windscreen which shows how many kilometers have been paid on the vehicle.

Compare this number with the odometer reading and if it is lower, then the seller needs to pay the rest of the tax (otherwise you will incur that cost!)

To pay the diesel fuel tax just go into a post office or pay online. If you pay online you need an address to ship the little piece of paper to, whereas at the post office in person they print it for you immediately.

Checking the rego, wof and km when buying a campervan in New Zealand
Top is the Diesel tax km ad bottom is cars registration. The WOF is on the other side and at the top of the windscreen.

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Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection

Getting a pre-purchase inspection before buying a campervan in New Zealand is very important. During the inspection, the mechanic will look for defects that would fail a new WOF, problems that could arise in the near future, and give you a better understanding of the campervan you are buying.

It’s also a great way to knock some money off the price of the vehicle you are buying, and in most cases, pays for itself. Usually, the buyer pays for this inspection and it costs about $150-200 NZD. VTNZ or AA are common companies to do pre-purchase inspections but most mechanics do them.

It is also important to understand that your budget might only allow for an older car and you can’t expect to get a perfect report back. It’s best to focus on the WOF issues and urgent faults that require attention.

One thing I found on my report was cracked drive belts on the alternator and power steering. This may sound scary but cracks can appear around halfway through the belts’ life meaning it is still fine and doesn’t need replacing. To rectify this, we went to a second mechanic and had the belts looked at. He informed us they still had 40,000 to 50,000km left in them!

a pre purchase inspection when buying a campervan in New Zealand
A pre-purchase inspection can find some real problems and save you a headache in the future!

The WOF (warrant of fitness)

The WOF or warrant of fitness is a certificate that states that the vehicle you are driving is safe to be on the road. It is a legal requirement in New Zealand and without it, a vehicle cannot be used.

To get the WOF you must go to a qualified mechanic who performs a standardized check on the vehicle. If there is something wrong that affects the safety of the vehicle then you must get it fixed before being able to pass your WOF.

Depending on the age of your vehicle, you will need to go for the inspection either every 6 months (older than 2001) or yearly (newer than 2001)  – unless you have a brand new vehicle (doesn’t require WOF for first 3 years).

When selling or buying a vehicle in New Zealand it is strongly suggested to have a WOF no older than 1 month.

Getting a fresh WOF on a vehicle before you buy it from a trusted mechanic is a great idea and highly recommended and it lets you know that there are no major repairs that need to be done to the vehicle immediately. For example, something as small a crack in the windscreen will cause a vehicle to fail a WOF inspection and while this is a small repair, it is costly! You should want to know about these costs and damages before you buy!

If you do buy a vehicle with a WOF older than one month it is recommended that you write a letter to the seller stating you understand it does not have a WOF less than one month old.


Mechanical Things to Check (Before Paying for a Pre-Purchase Inspection)

You don’t have to be a mechanic to make a few checks of your own. These checks can be done by anyone and any clear signs of the below could mean a failed WOF or future troubles.

Rust

Looking for rust anywhere of the vehicle is important as too much will fail a WOF. Be sure to check the roof and under the car – rust on the chassis of the vehicle (mainframe) is an instant fail and very hard and expensive to rectify.

Oftentimes, big rust issues are more expensive to fix than the vehicle’s worth, this means the only place you could sell the vehicle to is an auto wrecker (for a couple of hundred dollars cash at most.)

you must look for rust when buying a self contained van in New Zealand
No rust here!

Oil Leaks

Almost any car more than 10 years old will leak oil to some extent. However, bad leaks are something you should be concerned about. If you look under the car and see signs of a bad leak be careful.

Smoke

When you drive the car look for black or white smoke coming from the exhaust. Dark black smoke can mean a fault in the fuel injectors and many other issues.

White smoke is just as bad though, if not worse. White smoke can be a sign of a cracked head or blown head gasket. A cracked head could cost $3000+ to fix!

For more information on what smoke from your exhaust means click here

Breaks

There are a few simple checks you can do the check how good the breaks are on the campervan you are buying. Although breaks are not hugely costly to fix it’s still a good indication if the vehicle has been looked after.

The first is by test driving the vehicle and hearing for squealing noises when you brake. This is a sign the brake pads are worn and need replacing.

The second is to apply the brakes hard and feel for a shudder in your feet or if the car turns. This is another sign the breaks need replacing or one break is more active than the other which could fail a WOF.

Another way to check is by looking at the disk brakes. Check that they are smooth and have no gouges in them. If they do, then the disks will need to be machined next time the breaks are changed. This is not super costly but should be considered when deciding a fair price for the vehicle.

Cambelt

Belt driven vans need to have the belts replaced every 100,000km. Be sure to ask when the cambelt was done last if that vehicle has one. Ask to see a receipt and if they cannot provide one assume it needs to be done. It’s costly (around $1000) and should affect the price you should pay.

You can also ask the mechanic who does your pre-purchase inspection to find the Cambelt sticker that indicates when it was last done.

Tires

Tires in New Zealand must have at least 1.5mm of the tread. Ideally, if you’re buying a vehicle you want 4mm +. Be sure the check the entire tire as they can wear in different areas such as the inside or outside edge. If this is the case then the car could require a wheel alignment too.

The tread to look for when buying a campervan in New Zealand
This tread is around 6mm.

Many of the other issues that need checking are best done by a mechanic. However, if some or many of the problems above are present then consider looking at another van before paying for a pre-purchase inspection.

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Things to Look for in Your Campervan

Ant or mice problems

Ant and mice problems can become an issue in campervans. Be sure to have a good inspection of the vehicle for either of these pests!

For mice, looking for droppings in corners and crevices is the best way to tell if they are around. Ants can be harder to find so just have a good look around especially where there is any food stored!

Second Batteries

Getting a campervan with a second battery is a great feature as it will allow you to have power! However, if the batteries haven’t been lookout after and maintained properly then they probably won’t work as you’d anticipate.

The problem with the second batteries is if they haven’t been looked after they lose their battery life. With deep cycle batteries, you are not supposed to drain them past 50%. If you do, you begin to harm the battery’s life. Many people don’t know this and simply drain their battery regularly.

Another issue is charging the battery. If you do drain it completely your car driving will never fully charge it again unless you drive for 20 hours + without using it. That’s why it’s important to also have a battery charger (which almost no one does!) Ask the seller how they charge the second battery and if they say only when driving, I’d be wary of the condition of the battery.

My recommendation is to be very cautious when paying more for a vehicle because it has a second battery. Checking to see the battery is less than a year old is recommended as well as asking the seller how they take care of it.

battery in a campervan to watch out for when buying a campervan in New Zealand
Be careful when buying cars with old second batteries!

Mold

Mold can be a huge issue in campervans. This is because of the wet winters and condensation caused by sleeping in cars with little to no ventilation. Growing mold is a health issue and you should not purchase or sleep in a vehicle that has mold.

Also, keep in mind that even a very small amount f mold can be a problem because it grows fast and can be hard to get rid of!

Mattress

A comfy mattress means a good night’s sleep. Buying a campervan in New Zealand with a thin foam mattress is not a good idea. Look for a van with a thick mattress around 150mm at least!

freedom camping in new zealand benefits
Traveling in a van is the best life!

If buying a campervan seems a liittle too confusing, consider renting one instead. If you rent a campervan with Mad Campers and use our discount code DEST5 you’ll save 5%! We can also get many more discounts for our readers and save you money on your campervan rental in New Zealand so reach out and let us see what discount we can get you!

When to Buy

Buying a campervan in New Zealand at the start of summer will mean paying much more for a campervan as opposed to buying one closer to winter. In the months of February, March, April, and May you can pick up a really good deal from those heading back home not being able to sell there campervan. It’s a simple case of supply and demand and it’s a great time to buy.

Of course, if you buy in December and plan on selling in May you should allow losing some money in the market.


Where to buy a campervan in New Zealand

Trademe.co.nz

Trade Me is a great place to look when buying a campervan in New Zealand. It’s an online marketplace that is widely used around New Zealand. On Trade Me, users must pay to post an ad which could limit your market. If you are looking for cheaper campervans try the options below.

Facebook Groups and Facebook Marketplace

There are a few Facebook groups in New Zealand for selling campervans. These groups are great for finding a campervan as most people post to these first before paying for a Trade Me ad. It’s also much easier to communicate with buyers as it is done of Facebook Messenger.

The best group is: New Zealand buy and sell campervans

Car Fairs

Around the country, there are a few campervan car fairs with some of the biggest one being in Auckland. There are a few in the city with one of the most popular ones being on a Sunday. You can find more info about it here.

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how to take better travel photos
Climbing up for a good sunrise view!

Buying a campervan in New Zealand can be a tedious process but spending some time looking around could save you a huge headache later on. If you have any questions or feedback on this post please feel free to leave a comment below!

If you are considering renting instead of buying, be sure to read our blog about Renting A Campervan in New Zealand! And  if you are building your own campervan, read our campervan conversion DIY guide! For more campervan related blogs, check out all of our van-life articles!

-Daniel

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Don’t forget travel insurance!

Travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years. World Nomads is a great company to use because they are affordable and cover many adventure activities that other companies don’t!

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