Danu Travels

Hello! We are Dan and Manu, an international couple from Australia and Germany. Through our articles we share our travel knowledge and personal experience with you. We hope to help you with your travel planning, inspire you to add new places to your travel list and contribute to you having the best time when abroad.

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New Zealand Vanlife

Everything you need to know when buying and selling a Campervan in New Zealand 

November 29, 2019

Buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand can seem overwhelming, but without a doubt its the best way to explore the country. Driving from sight to site, it’s the simplicity and freedom which makes it so special! Whether its a vast lake or towering mountain which has been claimed as your new ‘front yard’ for the morning, you cannot help but feel content as you’re sitting there with your morning coffee.

New Zealand is a small yet immensely geographical diverse country. You can drive for 1.5 hours and you will be from snow capped mountains to surf at sea. Similarly, a dry rocky landscape can quickly turn into lush rainforest. There is an abundance of activities to do during the day and even more stars to look at as night falls over. New Zealand is one of the best countries in the world to see the Milky Way, especially from your campsite with minimal light pollution.

Having explored New Zealand with both a car and campervan…we unanimously agree that the campervan will always win! It’s the convenience, comfort and mobility that makes it a must. We have answered below a few common questions which arise when buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand. 

To buy or to rent a campervan?

To determine whether buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand is suitable for you; it first depends on how long you will be travelling throughout the country. New Zealand is about the same size as the UK. If you were to drive non-stop from Cape Reinga to Invercargill (top to bottom) it would take you 28 hrs along 2,055 km of road and ferry. However, don’t let this seemingly short distance fool you. There is so much to see and do – the country is abundant with countless hikes, sights, activities and raw natural beauty which is best appreciated when not in a rush.

So to buy or to rent? The general rule of thumb is one month. If you are to stay less than a month it will be best to rent a van. Buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand can be time consuming. With this seemingly short time, you won’t want to waste a moment. If you’re staying longer than a month, buying a van comes usually more cost effective

When buying a van in New Zealand there are two seasons to consider: high and low season. They will determine whether you’ll pay a premium or discount price. High season is during the warmer late spring and summer months (Nov to Feb). Due to higher demand you should expect vans to be more expensive. As the crowds begin to drop away during the colder months (Apr to Aug), prices for campervans begin to drop too. Vans become much cheaper as there is less demand during these autumn and winter months.

It’s better to buy from other travelers rather than dealers!

When travelers reach towards the end of their travels in NZ, they usually have a departure date already booked (even before they have sold their campervans). This means they have a limited number of days to sell their van before they run out of time. The most common cities travelers depart from are Christchurch or Auckland. This means that you will find an abundance of vans available for sale in these two cities.

You can find some amazing deals online. We recommend checking out the follow for current listings:

When backpackers aren’t able to sell their vans themselves, they have no choice but to sell it to a dealership for a low price (usually at a significant loss).

It is better to buy the van from an honest backpacker who has lived in the van for the last few months and called it their home. Not only will you get a better deal as they are about to leave the country, but you will also support their travels by giving them a better price than the dealerships.

For greater confidence you can purchase a Car Jam Vehicle History Report for under $20 which contains facts about the vehicle, its history and whether any money is still owing. We also recommend taking the vehicle to a mechanic for a pre-purchase check for about $80-100. They will review the van both mechanically and structurally, and identify if there are any existing mechanical issues which can cause problems in the future. You can also refer to NZTA’s tips on what to look out for when buying a used vehicle.

Age matters

The Kiwi approach to life is very easy-going, and usually not too strict about many things. However, when it comes to vehicle road safety there is a lot of importance. Each vehicle needs to pass a Warrant of Fitness (WoF) safety test which extensively checks many sections of the vehicle including tire and brake conditions, structural condition, operation of body (inc. seat belts, doors, windscreen wipers, air bags, speedometer, exhaust and fuel system etc). 

The older your van is the more likely safety issues may arise that need to be repaired. Note that rust and exhaust leaks become more common with older vans). For this reason an older van will need to be more frequently checked than a newer one. If the van is older than 1 January 2000 you will need to obtain a WoF every 6 months. However, if the van is newer than 1 January 2000 you only need to obtain a WoF every 12 months. 

Although there are cheap older vans which are still in great condition, you will have to get a vehicle older than 2000 checked every 6 months. To reduce the amount of WoF visits and the risk of safety issues it is a greater advantage to purchase a van newer than 2000. 

The power struggle – Petrol or Diesel?

When buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand, there can be some misunderstanding around choosing petrol or diesel. The average fuel price for petrol at most fuel stations is $2.20* per litre. Diesel is usually around $1.45* especially at NPD, Allied and Mckeown fuel stations. The RUC (Road users charge) is a tax the government puts on fuel which goes towards the upkeep of NZ roads. For standard campervans up to 3.5 tonnes the RUC is $72** per 1000km.

Petrol fuel prices already include the RUC which explains its seemingly higher price. With a diesel van you will need to pre-purchase ‘kilometers’ either online or selected stores around NZ (such as the NZ Post). Although it may seem difficult or inconvenient to purchase kilometers in advance, it’s actually very straightforward to do. We compared the cost of fuel (including RUC) between near identical campervans with petrol and diesel engines per 1000km. We found overall that diesel was only slightly (up to 10%) cheaper than petrol.

What convinced us to go ahead with a diesel was its fuel efficiency and higher torque. With all the furniture and fittings added to your van, it will be heavier than normal. A diesel engine produces more torque than petrol and you will be able to drive better up hills and off-road in NZ. Diesel engines are also more fuel economical than petrol (up to 30% better) meaning you will need to fill up less. 

One main disadvantage of diesel engines compared to petrol is the higher pollution it produces. However, this is another reason to get a newer campervan. It will have better fuel efficiency and less pollution compared to an older one.

Is buying a self contained van worth it?

For a van to become self contained certified it must meet certain criteria including a kitchen sink connecting to both fresh water and grey water storage (25L capacity each), a ‘portable’ toilet and a bin with a lid. Self contained certifications usually have 4 years validity.

When traveling New Zealand it is worth obtaining a self contained van as this gives you permission to stay in freedom camping zones. 

Freedom camping zones are designated throughout NZ and allow you to camp there for a limited number of nights free of charge! (Download CamperMate onto your phone to easily find these free sites.) Although most campervans have a bed, cooking facilities and storage – a self contained certified campervan will take it a step further. As some freedom camping sites have limited facilities (meaning no fresh water and toilets), to stay at these free sites a self contained certification is necessary. Non-self contained vans must usually stay at paid sites unless otherwise specified. 

When buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand, you will generally find that self contained vans have a higher value than those without the certification.

A benefit of choosing a self contained van is that you will save some costs by staying at free camp sites. However, the real advantage isn’t associated with the costs, rather with having the freedom to camp at a nearby freedom camping zone – its the convenience that really matters. When travelling through remote places in NZ, freedom camping sites become more abundant. Having the option to stay at one of these freedom camping sites could save you from having to drive 45 minutes down the road to the nearest paid site.

Play it safe – Insure your ride

You have come this far and finally you have found the right van. It drives well, you intent on taking it slow for the next few months as you explore New Zealand and may think that van insurance is not important. This can be a massive mistake!

NZ roads are different. They can be really winding, steep, gravelly and alongside mountains with big drops. This become clear to us when we saw one car every few days in a ditch (not kidding). Remember to take it easy on the roads! Fire hazards are also a risk from the motor or kitchen. As absurd as it sounds, we met a fellow traveler whose engine randomly went on fire. His car was wrecked and having chosen not to be insured, he lost thousands of dollars. 

Based on our needs, we took out a ‘Third Party Fire and Theft’ policy with AA Insurance for our van. We found that they were the best value for money. For roughly $20 per month, we were covered if our van was stolen or caught on fire. It also covers the damage to another person’s vehicle up to $20 million and a few other benefits too.

Comprehensive insurance policies are honestly not much more expensive, and could be better suited to your van, needs and budget. When picking an insurance compare the benefits of both these policies and pick the one best for you

The Final Countdown – Selling your van

Your time exploring this stunning country is soon about to end. You have hiked in the mountains, swam in the chilly waters, did some form of extreme sport and and seen everything in between. If you haven’t already arranged to sell your van, then here are a few tips and tricks to help you get the best deal (without much stress). Just as you bought the van with careful planning and research, the same goes with selling it. 

Location: It is always best to finish your NZ trip in Auckland or Christchurch. These cities have the largest international airports and the largest markets for selling campervans. Most backpackers will begin their trips here.

Timing: Start preparing your advert three weeks before you leave the country. This will give you plenty of time to clean your van and take good some pictures; and take a complete inventory of all the accessories (inc. kitchenware, chairs, burners, kayak etc) which come with the van. You want the buyer to understand all the value they are getting for the price. See this article by AA Motoring for more tips and tricks to get the best out of your advert.

Aim to have your advert live two weeks before you leave. It is very common that backpackers still travel in their van while it’s listed for sale, so be transparent about your schedule once you put the advert online. You never know…someone might want to buy your van on the go before you reach your final destination (this might suit you for the right price).

Where to find buyers: When it comes to finding a buyer, do what you can to reach as many people as possible. Put your advert on Facebook marketplace, and as many NZ campervan related groups you can find on Facebook. Personally, we have also found great value from Backpacker Board and Trade Me.

Usually online ads will be enough, however, you can still go further. The old school method of printing adverts and sticking them on the back window of your van may seem useless. But you never know who is around you ready to buy a van. If you are staying in the same place for a few days, it might also be worth posting your advert on the notice board at popular hostels – especially in the big cities. 

Price: As there is the high season (Nov to Feb) and low season (Apr to Aug) your sale price may differ from your purchase price. If you bought your van in the low season, and selling in the high season…good for you, chances are you are making a profit. Generally, the best indicator for setting your sale price is to check the market. As mentioned earlier, websites like Facebook, Trade Me, Backpackers Board will have current listings. If you have made modifications or major repairs – it is fair to increase your sale cost.

Dealing with buyers: It’s important to be aware of signs of rust, exhaust leaks, slow engine starts, irregular engine idle, worn out tires, wobbly brakes/steering, faulty electronics (non functional A/C for example), and anything else that is squeaky, shaky or smoky coming from the van. Pretty much be aware of anything that can raise concern for the buyer. Be honest and transparent about how the van runs, and all the little quirks it may have. The buyer will trust you for it and understand the kind of van they are buying.

Reach out to us!

If you have questions or require more information about buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand, let us know! It will be a pleasure to help bring your camper dream alive 🙂

*prices last updated in November 2019

**effective from 1 July 2019

***all costs above are listed in NZD

  1. Reply

    Tushar Dabholkar

    November 29, 2019

    Your blog is beautifuly narrated,very informative.Thnks a lot.Bst of luck guys. Safe travels.

    • Reply

      Danu Travels

      November 30, 2019

      Thank you Tushar, we are glad you found the article helpful 🙂 Hope to hear from you soon in New Zealand!