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Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection

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How to Do Your Own Car Inspection When Buying a Used Car or Campervan in New Zealand (+ Tips on Pre-Purchase Inspections)

As you probably well know by the time you read this article, buying a vehicle for exploring New Zealand is a cost-effective way to travel on an extended visit or a working holiday. With that, you probably want to make sure that your car will last all the way up to when you sell it at the end of your trip (and beyond, of course)! Buying a car or campervan in New Zealand, or anywhere, is not as easy as your supermarket shopping. Make sure to take your time and check out multiple options.

After you have used the various avenues mentioned in How to Find Used Cars for Sale in New Zealand, you should plan to do a thorough car inspection yourself before making a decision to buy. In this guide, we go over how to do your own vehicle inspection of a used car or campervan. Plus, we offer tips about doing pre-purchase inspections in New Zealand.

3 Steps to Car (or Campervan) Buying Success!

Easy as 1-2-3. Make sure to check all our articles on the subject.

Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection© Backpacker Car

… Or Skip the Car Inspection Step by Buying a Pre-Serviced Car or Campervan with a Mechanic Warranty

If the idea of inspecting a vehicle with no mechanical experience seems a bit daunting, opt for a pre-serviced and inspected secondhand car with Backpacker Car. All of their used vehicles for sale go through strict mechanical checks and have the WOF and REGO ready to go! Plus, there’s an included 30-day mechanic warranty on the vehicle with options to extend the warranty for peace of mind. Check out their cars and campervans for sale at backpackercar.co.nz.

Pixabay© Pixabay

DIY Vehicle Inspection: Inspecting Outside of the Car

When looking outside of the car or campervan 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 break down in the future.

Signs of damage could include:

  • A difference in the colour between panels
  • Bumps or major scratches covered with paint
  • The shock absorbers are loose or don’t move at all; stand at a corner of the car and push it up and down to get a rhythmic motion then stop. If the car doesn’t stop immediately or there’s no movement at all, the shocks need replacing. Repeat the test on all four corners of the vehicle.

Once you feel confident that your potential future ride did not have any major accidents, 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.
Pixabay© Pixabay

DIY Vehicle Inspection: Inspecting Under the Car

Now that you’ve had a look outside the car, it’s time to get a bit dirty. Get on the floor and look under the car with a torchlight. 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 the tyres are evenly worn; 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 indents in the tyre) is deeper than the 1.5mm legal requirement.

What Else to Check

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 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.
Pixabay© Pixabay

DIY Vehicle Inspection: Inspecting 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.

Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection© NZPocketGuide.com

DIY Vehicle Inspection: Inspecting Inside the Vehicle

Finally, you can sit inside! By the way, make sure that you can sit inside by adjusting the seat and checking the legroom.

Some things like the smell of cigarette smoke are pretty obvious and may put you or future buyers off, so that’s a good starting point.

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.

Additional Inspections for Campervans

Campervans come with a few more living appliances that you will want to make sure work well before paying a fair price. As it is likely the first time that you’re using campervan appliances, you may want to ask the seller to give you a demonstration of how each functions (and pay attention so you can do it yourself).

Ask to see a demonstration of:

  • How to change between mains and 12V electricity
  • The fridge and make sure it does, indeed, cool
  • The sink and the fresh water and grey water tanks
  • How to refill and empty the water tanks
  • The toilet or portable toilet (but maybe not a “full” demonstration…)
  • Check the hobs (usually gas – ask for a discount if there is no gas canister, as you won’t be able to check)
  • Check that the bed, tables, seats, etc. all fold well.

You will have some additional paperwork that you will want to inspect when buying a campervan, such as the self-contained certificate, which we cover in Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 3: The Paperwork.

Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection© Pexels

Should You Do a Mechanic Pre-Purchase Inspection?

For additional peace of mind, it’s a good idea to get a mechanic pre-purchase inspection. You will need to organise this with the seller.

How Much Does Car Pre-Purchase Inspection Cost?

A pre-purchase inspection will cost you between NZ$100 and NZ$220 in any mechanic shop; nothing compared to the money you will lose if you buy a faulty car.

How to Find a Mechanic for a Pre-Purchase Inspection

Make sure to pick a mechanic of your choice and not use one that your seller recommends for the most accurate inspection possible.

Ideally, choose a reputable mechanic that is listed on the MTA website. That way, if there are any issues after the inspection, you can report them to the MTA who may be able to work with the mechanic’s insurance to pay you back for unforeseen repairs.

And if there’s only one thing to make sure that the mechanic has inspected thoroughly, make sure it’s the engine, as this is the most expensive part to repair/replace. Plus, a mechanic pre-purchase inspection will save you the trouble of having to go through all of the steps above.

Next Step

Step 2: Test Drive


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Robin C.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Robin, who is the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. With more than 15 years of experience in the New Zealand tourism industry, Robin has co-founded three influential tourism businesses and five additional travel guides for South Pacific nations. He is an expert in New Zealand travel and has tested over 600 activities and 300+ accommodations across the country.

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