Renting a Car in New Zealand: The Essential Guide [2023]©
Renting a Car in New Zealand: The Essential Guide [2023]

Renting a Car in New Zealand: The Essential Guide [2023]


What You Need to Know About Renting a Car in New Zealand

We love a good road trip in New Zealand, purely for these 10 Things We Like About a Road Trip in New Zealand. However, the whole renting-a-car process can be a bit daunting. Luckily for you, this complete guide to renting a car in New Zealand is a great place to start!

Renting a car for a road trip in New Zealand presents heaps of advantages, such as 10 Things We Love About Renting a Car in New Zealand, and it is one of the most popular ways to get on the road quickly in New Zealand. To help you go through the process of choosing what type of vehicle to rent, weighing up the costs, choosing a company to rent from, etc., we have compiled this guide to renting a car in New Zealand so you can start planning your adventure!

For more travel advice, be sure to bookmark The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.

What Do You Need to Hire a Car in New Zealand?

While there are not that many restrictions for renting a car in New Zealand, here are a couple that may affect you.

Driving Licence

You can rent a vehicle in New Zealand as long as you have a full valid driver’s license that is written in English. If your license is not in English, then it needs to be accompanied by an approved translation or an International Driving Permit (IDP). Every car rental company in New Zealand accepts an IDP, so if your driving license is not written in English, we strongly advise you get one before coming to New Zealand. Every country has a different process, fee and processing time to issue an IDP. It can sometimes take up to three weeks, so get started on that early. Find out more in Why You Need an International Driving Permit for New Zealand.

Note that very few car rental companies allow drivers with a restricted license to rent a car in New Zealand. In the rare case that they allow it, it’s usually under the condition that it’s a New Zealand or Australian restricted license.

Age of Driver

You can rent a car in New Zealand from the age of 18 but some car rental companies have their own age restrictions, such as only hiring to over 21-year-olds. Some rental companies may include a surcharge or the mandatory purchase of an insurance excess reducer if you are under 25 years old.

For motorhome rental, most companies prefer the driver to be 21 years old and over. Find out more about possible age restrictions on Age Restrictions When Renting a Vehicle in New Zealand, as well as companies best for younger drivers in The Best New Zealand Car & Campervan Rentals for Ages 18 to 25.

Credit Card

In order to hire a car in New Zealand, you need to provide a bond, also known as a security deposit, which will be returned to you upon dropping off your vehicle providing the vehicle is undamaged, has a full fuel tank and meets the other conditions of the rental agreement. The bond is usually the same price as your insurance excess option, which can range from NZ$250 to $4,000! Because is a lot of cash to hand over upfront, car rental companies tend to prefer taking a credit card imprint, which means they will have access to the specified amount of money from your credit card should you damage the vehicle. Therefore, a credit card with Visa or MasterCard is needed to hire a car from most companies. Many companies are happy with a Visa or MasterCard debit card, while a rare few rental companies will accept a cash deposit.

Head over to How to Hire a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Without a Credit Card for more advice on the subject.

Renting a Car in New Zealand: The Essential Guide [2023]© Unsplash

Plan and Budget for Car Road Trip in New Zealand

Taking on a road trip in New Zealand is not something to approach lightly. You will need to save up to be able to afford all the activities that you have set your mind on. Plus, renting a car in New Zealand can be costly if not well-planned. To help budget properly for renting a vehicle, check out How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car or Campervan in New Zealand?

Car Rental Costs

The daily cost of the car rental itself ranges from NZ$20/day for a small car in the low season to NZ$150/day for in the high season. For premium vehicles, like EVs, 4WDs and SUVs, expect this to be around NZ$70/day in the low season and up to NZ$195/day in the high season.

Other rental fees may include a young driver’s fee if you are under 25 years old, a one-way fee if dropping off the vehicle in a different location to where you picked it up, and an extra driver’s fee. There may also be optional extras like hiring a GPS or snow chains. If there is any damage to the car that you cause, it is likely you will have to pay for damages unless you have paid for the top insurance. We’ll go through more of that below.

For ways to get a better deal on your car rental cost, check out the 20 Ways to Save Money on Car & Campervan Rental in New Zealand.

Car Rental Insurance

When renting a vehicle in New Zealand, insurance is included in the price. You have the option to drop the excess to a lower price by paying a daily fee. For example, a high excess that might be included in your rental could be around NZ$3,000 but you may have the option to reduce this excess to, for example, NZ$1,000 excess or NZ$0 excess at an extra daily rate. For more information, check out New Zealand Rental Car Insurance: Explained!

The Cost of Fuel

Of course, fuel costs vary throughout the country, but the average cost for petrol is usually NZ$2+ per litre (approximately NZ$7.60+ per gallon). For diesel, it’s NZ$1.35+ (approximately NZ$5.10+ per gallon) but you also have to pay a road user charge (RUC) which is around NZ$76-$82 per 1,000km (621 miles) and depending on the size of the vehicle. Check out weekly fuel price data on the MBIE website and RUC costs on the NZ Transport Agency website.

The Ferry Cost

Another cost to put into your budget is the cost of the ferry between the North Island and the South Island. For example, it’s around NZ$175-$255 one way for a car plus one passenger. Find out more about costs in Ferry Between the North Island and South Island.

Toll Roads

The three toll roads in New Zealand are all on the North Island: the Northern Gateway Toll Road, the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road and the Takitimu Drive Toll Road. Find out more in our guide, Toll Roads in New Zealand.

Road Trip Holiday Costs

Next up, you’ll need to make an itinerary so you know where you are going and what your options are for accommodation, food and activities. An idea of costs can be found in NZ Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to New Zealand Cost? This can be as rough as it needs to be so you have the flexibility that you want while on the road. However, during the peak season (summer) you will need to stick to a plan as some towns can be fully booked a couple of weeks in advance making it impossible for you to spend the night there at the last minute. Travelling in the shoulder season allows you to be much more flexible, as well as has many more benefits which we outline in the 11 Reasons to Travel in the Shoulder and Off-Season in New Zealand.

To start with your itinerary planning, check out the following itineraries for the best road trip routes:

Finally, you’ll need to consider who you will be travelling with: How many of you are here? Are you planning to pick up other travellers along the way? Who will want/be able to drive? All of those will affect your car or campervan rental choices.

Renting a Car in New Zealand: The Essential Guide [2023]©

Choose a Rental Vehicle

Choosing the right vehicle is one of the most important parts of planning your trip. This will determine how you will travel and where you will be sleeping during your whole road trip. One of the most common questions asked is What is the Best Type of Car to Rent in New Zealand? But there is a much simpler and straightforward one that should come first: Should You Rent a Campervan or Car in New Zealand?

Make sure to pick a ride that is the perfect balance between cost-effectiveness and comfort for the whole group. The bigger the vehicle, the more expensive it is to rent, the more you will spend on gas, and the less you’ll have to spend on activities. So choose wisely – gas ain’t cheap nowadays…

Say you’re happy to stick with renting a car rather than renting a campervan, you have three main options when it comes to types of vehicles to rent: small to medium cars, large cars (like SUVs and 4WDs), and electric vehicles.

Small to Medium Cars

Perfect for: Travelling from city to city, either solo, as a couple or as a group of three or four.
Budget: Cars can go as low as NZ$25 per day in the low season to over NZ$100 per day for higher-end models in the high season.

Fuel efficient and reliable, the small to medium car is the most economical choice. A car with 2WD (2-wheel drive) is the same car that you are probably used to back home. Car rental companies use a wide range of models to satisfy every need, from the classic Nissan Maxima to the all-time favourite Toyota Corolla without forgetting the GertzSwift and other small to medium car models. Other options include people-movers which are cars that can accommodate up to six people comfortably like the Toyota Estima.

Large Cars (SUVs and 4WDs)

Perfect for: Travelling in style with a group of friends or family, accessing ski fields, and accessing more remote gravel roads, if the rental agreement allows.
Budget: 4WD usually starts around NZ$70 per day in the low season and can be more than NZ$195 per day in the high season.

You will also find 4WD (4-wheel drive) and SUVs for rent in New Zealand. It is absolutely not necessary to get a 4WD to enjoy New Zealand. We do not recommend renting a 4WD for a road trip in New Zealand as we fail to see the value for money on this type of vehicle. Almost every spot that international visitors go to can be accessed with a normal car. A few rare instances where you might prefer a 4WD vehicle are accessing ski field roads in the middle of winter (although, there are usually shuttle alternatives available) and accessing remote areas for hunting, fishing and tramping.

Instances where you might find SUVs a better rental car in New Zealand are for travelling on New Zealand’s gravel roads, of which there are many when you go off the main tourist routes. However, be sure to check that your car rental agreement allows you to take your rental vehicle on gravel roads, as many do not. The extra space that SUVs provide for groups and families may also be a reason to hire.

The type of models available range from the Nissan PathfinderToyota RAV4 or the Hyundai Tucson.

Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Perfect for: Environmentally-conscious travellers or those wanting to save money on fuel.
Budget: In the low season, you would be able to find a small EV car for around NZ$70 or a Tesla at NZ$195 per day. In mid-summer, it is common to find them up to NZ$150-$215 per day.

With models across the spectrum, electric vehicle rentals are becoming more and more popular in New Zealand. What’s more, the infrastructure is in place to keep your vehicle charged throughout New Zealand.

When it comes to size and practicality, see the sections above for the benefits of small to medium cars, as well as campervans and motorhomes. The only categories that electric cars are lacking in New Zealand are 4WDs and SUVs.

When it comes to fuel efficiency, EVs obvious come out on top with charging stations costing much less (or are sometimes free) compared to refuelling with petrol or diesel – see our how-to at NZ EV Guide: How to Travel Around New Zealand in an Electric Car. Electric vehicles are also one of the more sustainable transport options.

Weigh more of the pros and cons of each vehicle type in our guide, What is the Best Type of Car to Rent in New Zealand?

Pixabay© Pixabay

Choose the Right Car Rental Company

There is no right or wrong answer here. Every company has its advantages and disadvantages. In fact, it can be quite tricky to compare your options. To help you out on that one we have made a guide, Compare Car & Campervan Hire in New Zealand: The ULTIMATE Guide.

You will have to take into account a whole range of criteria far beyond simply comparing prices, from services to age limit, availability to vehicle types, and inclusions to insurance costs. You are in for a few hours of intense comparison and decision-making here. We think that the huge amount of car and campervan rental companies in New Zealand is a blessing in disguise, as there is no need to compromise. If a company does not suit you, scrap it and pass on to the next one. There is bound to be one that will fit all your criteria.

The Best Car Rental Companies in New Zealand

While we’re here, we might as well share with you some of the best car rental companies in New Zealand. Check out the links to rental company comparisons based on pick-up locations:

Plus, check out for cheap car rental deals.

New Zealand Car Relocations

It’s also worth mentioning car relocations, which can actually be the cheapest type of car rental in New Zealand! This is when rental companies need to relocate vehicles from one depot to another, often offering the rental for free! The downside is that usually the relocation is required to be completed within just a few days. Find if it’s the right option for you by checking out our full car relocation guide, New Zealand Car Relocations: How to Get Free Car Hire.

Renting a Car in New Zealand: The Essential Guide [2023]© Unsplash

Book and Pick Up Your Car Rental

When booking your car rental, you will either have to pay for your booking in full (which often has a small credit or debit card fee) or you will only pay a deposit to secure your booking and then pay the rest of the rate on pick-up. Be aware that most deposits are non-refundable.

Either way, before picking up your vehicle, you’ll have to pay the bill. In New Zealand, you will be asked to pay for your rental before starting your trip, not when dropping off the vehicle.

We also suggest you don’t go too crazy on options that you would like to add to your rental when booking. All can be added on pick-up, even your insurance. So if you are unsure about the insurance cover offered by your credit card company for rental, for instance, just book your car rental without insurance and add it on at pick-up if necessary. The same goes for every other add-on. Don’t worry, the car rental company will be happy to upsell you on the spot if you decide to add something to your booking.

On pick-up, be sure to inspect every dent or scratch of the vehicle with the rental company employee so you are not charged for any damage you did not cause to the vehicle. You are also likely to have to hand over your credit or debit card details for pre-authorisation so that the car rental company has access to a certain sum of money, known as a “security bond”, should you damage the vehicle. Learn more about that in How to Hire a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Without a Credit Card.

Pixabay© Pixabay

Have a Blast on the Road!

You are in for a treat! After carefully inspecting your vehicle on pick-up and marking every dent, crack, mark and chip on the pick-up rental sheet, you are off to the most breathtaking road trip of your life. Dramatic landscapes and adventurous activities are at every turn of the road!

Speaking of turns, the roads of New Zealand are slightly different than what you may be used to back in your home country so do yourself a favour and browse our 12 Safe Driving Tips for New Zealand and How to Drive in New Zealand so you know what to expect. You also might like to check out How to Plan a Road Trip in New Zealand for more advice on travelling by car.

Take your time on the road; a great road trip in New Zealand is not measured in distance but by memories.

More About Renting a Car in New Zealand

That’s it for our guide to renting a car in New Zealand. For more car rental tips, check out these:

Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in Travel By Car in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

Was this article useful?