Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 2: Test Drive©
Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 2: Test Drive

Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 2: How to Test Drive a Used Car

Article Single Pages©
Article Single Pages©
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A Guide to Test Driving a Car or Campervan to Buy in New Zealand

You are well on your way to buying your car or campervan to start your New Zealand road trip. After reading Step 1: Car Inspection of our “Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand” series, it’s time to test drive your potential new vehicle. Make sure you have your driver’s licence with you for this step. Valid driver’s licences in New Zealand are either a license in the English language, an international driver’s permit, or a New Zealand driver licence.

Now onto Step 2: How to test drive a used car or campervan in New Zealand!

3 Steps to Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

There are three main steps to buying a car or campervan in New Zealand. Make sure to check all our articles on the subject:

Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 2: Test Drive© Backpacker Car

… Or Make the Whole Process Simpler by Buying a Pre-Serviced Car or Campervan with a Mechanic Warranty

If the idea of inspecting and test driving 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

Pixabay© Pixabay

Choose the Best Route for a Test Drive

Ideally, you will want a bit of highway to take some speed and a hill to test the engine. Luckily, New Zealand has almost only that, so the mix should not be hard to find.

Ask the seller, as they should know the area well and can guide you to the right place.

© Pexels

Before Driving

Aside from checking the comfort of the car and placement of the controls, wing mirrors, etc., you will want to pay attention to:

  • Check that there are no wet or oil patches on the floor underneath the vehicle (that’s why it’s best to do your test drive on a dry day rather than a rainy day)
  • The steering wheel should not have too much play
  • Do the oil and coolant lights go off after a few seconds?
  • How easy is the engine to start; the harder it is, the less you’ll want the car.
Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 2: Test Drive© Unsplash

During the Test Drive

Off you go, the road is yours! You will have a bunch of things to check before feeling confident that this will be a decent ride.

What to Check First

Before taking to the open road, drive around the car park or street to see if:

  • The car goes straight when the steering wheel is straight
  • The steering wheel stays straight if you let it go while the car is moving (slowly)
  • The brakes are not too loose, so you don’t have to put your foot down on the floor when you want to slow down
  • Check that the car stops straight.

What to Check When Driving Uphill

Driving up a hill is your best chance to test the engine and handbrake, so here is what you need to be aware of:

  • Listen for unusual engine noises
  • Check that the car doesn’t have too much of a hard time going uphill
  • Switch gears and see if it is smooth enough (if the vehicle has a manual transmission)
  • Try to stop uphill and use the handbrake; it should hold the car even on a hill
  • On the way down, check the suspension a little to see how rough it is and test the brakes again.

What to Check When Driving on the Highway

Driving on a highway will allow you to get some speed and test the engine another way. Again, pay attention to the noise that the car makes. Your checklist for the highway test drive should be:

  • There are no fuel or oil smells
  • The engine should not heat up too much. If you feel heat coming from the engine to the driver or passenger seat, this is not good
  • Test the gears again it is always better to test twice.
© Pxhere

After the Test Drive

Wow, the car passed our entire checklist! Time to park it. Now you need to check the last couple of things:

  • Make sure that when you turn off the engine, it stops running. Duh!
  • Check also if the car does not make smoke of any colour
  • Finally, check the ground again to make sure there are no wet or oily patches under the vehicle.

Well done! You are one last step away from getting the sweet ride of your trip. If you missed the inspection of the living appliances in campervans, we covered that in the Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection.

Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 2: Test Drive©

During the Test Drive, the Seller is Going to Give You Their Sales Pitch

Be aware that most sellers in New Zealand start with a high asking price in order to discount it during the test drive and lock the sale on the spot. Don’t get trapped; take the discount, but also take the time to finish your checklist and ask all the questions you want to ask.


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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