How to Maintain Your Car for Travelling New Zealand

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Keeping Your Car Maintained in New Zealand

So you’ve bought a sweet ride for travelling New Zealand? That’s awesome! Although buying your own car for a long trip or working holiday in New Zealand only means you will be keeping the car for a few months to a year, you will still want to maintain it well. A well-maintained backpacker car makes it much easier to sell, more likely to pass its Warrant of Fitness (WOF), plus, reduces further repair costs that could be avoided. Maintaining your car doesn’t take much time or effort, which well show you in this simple guide on how to maintain your car for travelling New Zealand.

If you are about to buy a car, however, be sure to follow the steps in Buying a Car in New Zealand Step by Step so you don’t end up buying a lemon and your car will be easier to maintain.

Early Signs That You Need to Take Your Car to a Mechanic

One way to maintain your car is to just be aware of any unusual changes to your cars driving. Getting something checked up on by a mechanic as soon as you notice something wrong is likely to keep the repair cost as low as possible before it causes other problems to the car.

Get Your Vehicle Checked Out If…
  • The brake pedal feels spongy
  • There are vibrations going through the pedal while braking
  • The steering pulls to the side while braking
  • There is a squealing noise when you brake
  • The exhaust releases smoke or sound unusual
  • The steering wheel shakes a lot when you drive at speed
  • Your car is unstable on gravel roads
  • Your car continues to rock once you have come to a standstill
  • And any other unusual noises.

Find out more in How to Check if Your Car is Safe For a Road Trip.

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Maintaining the Engine

Backpacker cars go through a lot. They rack up so many kilometres and put the engine through its paces. One essential way to maintain the engine of your vehicle is to change the oil regularly. It’s recommended to change the oil every three months or every 5,000km/3,107 miles (or more frequently if you drive in dusty conditions, which may well happen on New Zealand’s gravel roads). If your car hasn’t been properly serviced when you first purchase it, change the oil straight away since you don’t know how long it has been since it was last changed.

How Often Should You Check?

Every three months.

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Maintaining the Battery

One of the problems backpackers run into on their car is their battery going flat. Batteries store energy that is needed to start the engine. Every time the engine runs, the alternator starts recharging the battery for the next start. Keep your car battery (the big boxy thing under the bonnet/hood of the car) clean and secured so it doesn’t vibrate when you drive. Also, keep the connections clean and tight at the terminals.

How Often Should You Check?

Twice a year.

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Maintaining Your Tyres

Tyres (or tires for you Americans) often need replacing on vehicles, especially on backpacker vehicles that have seen the country several times. First, make sure that you have enough tread on your tyres. Legally, the minimum tread depth is 1.5mm so make sure your tread is no less than this make sure you check the tread on several parts of the tyre for a more accurate reading.

Secondly, check the tyre pressure once a month. Tyre pressures are different for each vehicle and can even vary between the front and back wheels. You can usually find out what your tyre pressure is meant to be on the inside of the driver door (if not, take a look at the Energywise website). Check your tyre pressure at any gas station which will tell you what your current tyre pressure is, and then you just need to add or release air with the pump to get the right pressure.

Finally, while you’re checking your tyre pressure and tread, have a look for cracks, bubbles or sharp object stuck in there. If there are, you will need to change the tyres.

How Often Should You Check?

Every month.

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Maintaining Your Windows and Mirrors

For obvious safety reasons, you need to make sure you can see out of your windows and use your mirrors. Most gas stations in New Zealand has window-cleaning brushes by the gas pump so make use of these! Get your passengers to do a clean for you every time you stop for gas. Clean all the windows and mirrors regularly not only so you can see while you are driving, but this stops dirt from permanently sticking on there.

How Often Should You Check?

Every couple of weeks.

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Lights and Indicators

In order to pass a Warrant of Fitness (WOF), which is a mandatory certificate to check if your vehicle is safe for the roads, all your lights need to work. This is an easy fix and you can check this yourself by reversing close to a wall, put your foot on the brake pedal, then checking if the lights light up the wall seen through your review mirror. Also, put your hazard lights on and walk around the car to see if all your indicators are working. You can check your front lights by simply turning them on and checking outside. Make sure you keep the light lenses clean too. Changing a broken light is as simple as going to an auto parts store and its likely that they will even change them for you.

How Often Should You Check?

Every couple of weeks

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Maintaining the Body of Your Car

Rust: This is every car owner’s worst nightmare. Rust can weaken the car’s structure and potentially cause all kinds of problems by eating its way to the more important parts of your car. Of course, before you bought your car, you should have checked for rust when you followed Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection. Plus, once you’re car starts getting rust it is going to get much harder to sell. To keep rust at bay while you are in possession of the car, avoid parking on grassy areas for a long period of time, as the moisture can cause rusting. Additionally, always wash your car after it has been exposed to salt or saltwater.

How Often Should You Check?


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