Which Model of Vehicle to Buy for a Road Trip in New Zealand?
Travelling New Zealand by car or campervan is an awesome way to see the country and experience true freedom. However, the model of vehicles in New Zealand might not only be different to what’s available back home but things like the availability of vehicles, prices and how readily available parts are in case your vehicle needs a repair all need to be taken into consideration. Not to mention, buying a car or campervan to travel around New Zealand can be an extremely cost-effective way to see the country, especially if you sell it after your trip. So, what model of car or campervan should you buy for travelling around New Zealand?
If you’re only in New Zealand for a few months to a year, it’s likely that you’ll want something cheap, reliable and perhaps something you can sleep in to save some extra cash on accommodation. With that in mind, we have given detailed descriptions of the four most popular cars for travellers on the market in New Zealand.
Oh and by the way, if you are looking for more tips on this subject, check out Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand: A Step by Step Guide and Vanlife in NZ: The Guide to Living in a Campervan in New Zealand.
What Features to Look for on a Used Vehicle in New Zealand?
If you’re buying a used vehicle with travelling New Zealand in mind, then make sure you buy something that is going to fulfil your needs. You might want to check if the vehicles you are looking at have the following:
- WOF – the Warrant of Fitness is a legal certificate that deems your car safe and roadworthy. As per New Zealand law, you can insist that a car for sale has a WOF that is less than one month old
- Licensing (rego) – A car needs to have a license or “rego” to drive on public roads. Find out more on Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 3: The Paperwork
- 2WD or 4WD? – Two-wheel drive will get you around fine on New Zealand’s sealed roads and gravel roads (just take it easy on gravel roads). 4WD is not necessary but might come in handy if you are stuck in a muddy campsite, for instance.
- Self-containment certificate – Being a certified self-contained vehicle means that you can freedom camp (apart from where there are restrictions). Find out more about where you can camp in Camping in New Zealand.
To check out the pros and cons between 2WD cars, 4WD cars, campercars, campervans and motorhomes, check out What is the Best Type of Vehicle to Rent in New Zealand?
Space, size and sleeping arrangements
Let’s start with by far the most popular backpacker car in New Zealand, the Toyota Estima. The Toyota Estima is a spacious vehicle carrying seven people. Take the seats out and you have plenty of room to fit a bed and extra storage in the back. It’s ideal for one or two people travelling around New Zealand and sleeping in their car. What’s more, the “family car” will cost less than a campervan on the ferry between the North Island and South Island.
However, with the Self-Containment Standard (NZS 5465:2001) requiring vehicles to have space for a fixed toilet while the bed is made up, it’s next to impossible to find a Toyota Estima that is certified self-contained. In short, you’ll have to follow our Car Camping NZ: Where to Camp if Your Campervan is Not Self-Contained.
Most Toyota Estimas for sale at backpacker car dealerships and Facebook Groups are already custom-built with a raised bed so you can fit storage underneath. If you have the time and are willing to rent or buy the tools, you can even modify a Toyota Estima yourself.
What the Toyota Estima is Like to Drive
The Toyota Estima drives very well for a car of its size. Its low height means you don’t get the feeling of leaning around corners and the steering is light. Most commonly, you’ll find models on the market with a 2.4 L engine which produces 116 kW. This makes the car pretty zippy with just two people, a bed and a couple of backpacks. Any more, and you’ll feel the car become sluggish. Some versions of the Toyota Estima come with a 3 L engine, hybrid engine or four-wheel-drive, which boosts the performance and fuel economy.
The Reliability of the Toyota Estima
The entry-level Toyota Estimas (2.4 L four-cylinder engines) are considered durable and reliable if it has been regularly serviced. However, look out for the plastic top tank which can degrade over time leading to leaks and the possibility of the engine overheating. Early signs of this are parts of the plastic turning a brownish colour. Also, look at the condition of the rear suspension trailing arm bushes which often wear down on high-mileage Estimas.
The great thing about Estimas is that there are so many in New Zealand that getting parts is cheap and readily available. Labour costs will be your biggest expense on any repairs. Of course, look out for the standard mechanical issues on an Estima as you would when buying any car. More advice on that can be found in our Buying a Car in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection.
Fuel Consumption of the Toyota Estima
For a Toyota Estima 2000-2010, on-road fuel cost is estimated at NZ$3,290 per year based on driving 14,000 km per year and the fuel price is NZ$2.50 per litre (according to rightcar.govt.nz). In general, the newer the car, the better the fuel economy.
Space, Size and Sleeping Arrangements
The second-most common backpacker vehicle is the Honda ODYSSEY. It’s another SUV/people-mover that can be transformed into a bed-wielding campercar. The spacious SUV carries seven people but most Honda ODYSSEYs on the backpacker market have the passenger seats either removed or cleverly folded down with a bed built on top. Furthermore, you’ll get away with paying a car price for the ferry between islands rather than a more expensive campervan.
However, like a Toyota Estima, it suffers from usually not having enough space to meet the Self-Containment Standard (NZS 5465:2001) requiring vehicles to have space for a fixed toilet while the bed is made up. Again, if you want to sleep in the car, make your plans following the advice in Car Camping NZ: Where to Camp if Your Campervan is Not Self-Contained.
What the Honda ODYSSEY Feels Like to Drive
The standard model has either a 2.2 or 2.4 L engine which is fine for two passengers, a bed and a couple of backpacks in the back. Any more and the car will start to feel sluggish. The ODYSSEY is comfortable to drive, even if the steering feels a bit light, and experiences a bit of a lean on corners. There have also been a few complaints about judging the space of the earlier models of the Honda ODYSSEY so a lot of care is needed when parking.
Reliability of the Honda ODYSSEY
The engines of Honda ODYSSEY are pretty sensitive and require regular servicing. The cambelt needs to be replaced regularly and sludge build-up can cause issues in the advanced variable valve timing systems.
Earlier versions of the ODYSSEY (up to 2003) have been known to have issues with automatic transmission. Issues can still remain in later models with continuous variable transmission (CVT) which is identified by a shudder on takeoff or a loss of drive. Issues can also be identified in a manual/five-speed transmission if the engine revs between shifts. It’s best to avoid buying cars with these issues as replacing can be costly (around NZ$2,500).
Parts are relatively easy to source in New Zealand, with the exception of the panel and trim parts which can be costly. Car insurance would not be a bad idea when getting a Honda ODYSSEY, which you can read up more on in How to Get Backpacker Car & Campervan Insurance in New Zealand.
Fuel Consumption of the Honda ODYSSEY
For a Honda ODYSSEY 2004-2009, on-road fuel cost is estimated at NZ$3,260 per year based on driving 14,000 km per year and the fuel price is NZ$2.50 per litre (according to rightcar.govt.nz). In general, the newer the car, the better the fuel economy.
Space, Size and Sleeping Arrangements
Moving onto the larger vans, the Toyota Hiace is one the cheapest panel vans on the market making it an extremely popular backpacker campervan. The Toyota Hiace sits a driver and either one or two passengers in the front.
Although there are a few empty vans on the market, if you have the time, money to rent tools and the DIY skills, you can spruce up a fine campervan with a lot of space to work with.
One of the biggest drawcards is that there is just enough space to fix a toilet while the bed is made up and has water supply and storage making it possible to have this van certified self-contained and therefore, a lot more options for freedom camping.
That’s not to say that there are not plenty of options for already modified Toyota Hiaces available if you just want to buy one and hit the road.
What the Toyota Hiace Feels Like to Drive
As a bigger van than the cars previously mentioned, you’ll need to be aware of the space for parking (see The Best Tips for Parking a Campervan or Motorhome in New Zealand). As a higher van too, you are likely to experience more of a lean or body roll on corners so take it easy. The Toyota Hiace is by no means a fast van, but it can handle heavy loads, so kitting up the van does not strain the engine. The engine is just below the driver’s cabin, so it can get pretty noisy when driving. Driving is similar to a car except the hand brake is below the steering wheel.
Reliability of the Toyota Hiace
What the Toyota Hiace lacks in quality interior it makes up for in its reliable engine. You’ll find plenty of 2000 and onward models which keep prices low and they may have a good engine if they have been regularly serviced. Be sure to check the engine and follow the steps in our guide Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection and Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 2: Test Drive.
The main thing you will need to look for is damage to the interior or panels. Check out the sliding doors to see if they work properly, for instance. Also, check if the appliances in the campervan work properly.
Fuel Consumption of the Toyota Hiace
For a Toyota Hiace 2003-04, on-road fuel cost is estimated at NZ $3,850 per year based on driving 14,000 km per year and the fuel price is NZ$2.50 per litre (according to rightcar.govt.nz). In general, the newer the vehicle, the better the fuel economy.
Space, Size and Sleeping Arrangements
A strong competitor on the backpacker campervan market to the Toyota Hiace is the Nissan Vanette. Another cheap van with a reliable reputation, the Nissan Vanette is an easy campervan doer-upper. There are plenty of already modified campervans out there on TradeMe, backpacker car dealerships and Facebook Groups for a quick road trip getaway. However, if doing one up yourself, you will notice some slightly odd shaping of the interior yet still just enough space to make it a self-contained vehicle and to add a kitchenette and sleeping area.
What the Nissan Vanette Feels Like to Drive
Usually found with a 2.3 or 2.4 L engine, the Nissan Vanette is more of a cruisy van than a fast one. You won’t be overtaking too many cars or going up hills in a hurry. The engine noise can be a bit loud in the driver’s cabin too. On the other hand, you can usually rely on its powerful braking system.
As a high van, expect to feel lean as you go around corners and be aware of its size when parking. The Vanette also has a reputation for being bumpy in the back so secure your items.
Reliability of the Nissan Vanette
The Nissan Vanette excels in the amount of weight it can carry comfortably (1,200 kg/2,645 lbs), meaning that kitting it up as a campervan is not a problem. Be sure to do all the checks mentioned in Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 1: Car Inspection and Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand Step 2: Test Drive. Also, check the exterior for damage.
Fuel Consumption of the Nissan Vanette
For a Nissan Vanette 2003, on-road fuel cost is estimated at NZ $4,060 per year based on driving 14,000 km per year and the fuel price is NZ$2.50 per litre (according to rightcar.govt.nz). In general, the newer the vehicle, the better the fuel economy.
Buy Estimas, Odysseys, Hiaces and Vanettes from Backpacker Car
Want one of the models mentioned above (among others) that is newly converted into a camping vehicle ready for exploring New Zealand? Take a look at Backpacker Car. All of their cars, campercars and self-contained campervans for sale are pre-serviced, fully equipped with camping gear and have a 30-day warranty, so you can hit the ground running once you arrive in New Zealand. You can reserve your vehicle before you arrive and there’s even the option to sell the vehicle back to the team, saving you weeks off the usual buying and selling process! Check out their vehicles for sale at backpackercar.co.nz.
Take Your Campervan Experience to the Next Level with an Effortless Electricity Supply
If you prefer to purchase a campercar or van that you can do up yourself, you’ll need it to power any appliances, such as a fridge, electric barbeque or oven, for charging your devices or even to power a heater on those chilly New Zealand nights.
The most versatile and easiest electricity source for first-time van conversions is a portable power station. These are basically large power banks with multiple outlets to use for all sorts of appliances. Some of our favourites are the BLUETTI AC300 and AC500 with a huge 3,000 W or 5,000 W of power and a base 3,072 Wh of battery capacity with a modular system that can be upgraded to hold a massive 18,423 Wh! The power stations have dual charging; solar panels and AC inputs, as well as several output options, including four AC outlets, four USB-A, a USB-C, an RV port, a cigarette lighter port and a DC 5521 output.
More About What Model of Car or Campervan to Buy in New Zealand
Now that you know a bit more about the best model of car or campervan to buy in New Zealand, here are a few extra tips to guide you to road tripping success:
- How Car & Campervan Insurance Works in New Zealand
- 10 Tips for Buying a Secondhand Car in New Zealand
- How to Check if Your Car is Safe For a Road Trip
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in Buying a Car or Campervan in New Zealand: A Step by Step Guide.