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How to buy a second hand campervan in New Zealand

If you're looking to explore the beautiful countryside at your own pace, buying a second-hand caravan in New Zealand is a great choice.
By · November 7, 2023
How to buy a second hand campervan in New Zealand

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New Zealand's breathtaking landscapes, from serene beaches to lush forests and rugged mountains, make it the perfect location for a road trip. If you're looking to explore the beautiful countryside at your own pace, buying a second-hand caravan in New Zealand is a great choice.

Whether you live in New Zealand or are just visiting, doing your research before you buy a secondhand campervan will ensure you get the best possible deal. Here’s everything you need to know before you buy.

Figure out what you need

Before looking for a camper, figure out what you need. It’s a good idea to start with some basic questions like,

  • How many people will be travelling with you?

  • Where are you planning on staying (established campgrounds, or do you prefer off-grid camping)?

  • What terrain will you need to navigate most of the time (sealed roads, gravel, or off-road)?

  • What amenities and features are essential for your comfort and convenience?

  • What is your budget?

  • Do you plan on freedom camping? (You’ll need to buy a self-contained vehicle rather than any old camper)

  • How long do you want to keep the vehicle for?

  • Is renting cheaper for the time period you are planning on staying/using it?

Understanding your basic needs will help you narrow down your options and make a more informed decision.

If you are travelling with friends or your family, a bigger camping van or caravan is probably your best option. Look for campers with multiple beds or areas that can be converted from sleeping areas into beds.

Another important thing to consider is whether you want the option of freedom camping. In New Zealand, there are rules to protect the environment from freedom campers. You’ll be better off investing a little more in a camper that can be certified as self-contained (CSC).

How long you plan to keep your vehicle should also factor into your plan. If you’re visiting New Zealand on a holiday, it’s fairly common practice to buy a second-hand van or camper for a short period of time. However, if you live here and plan on using your vehicle often, it’s probably worth investing a little more money into your camper.

Start researching campervan types

There are lots of options for buying second-hand campervans in New Zealand.

If you’re open to staying in your car, you could consider buying a station wagon. Station wagons are a popular vehicle in New Zealand and can often be cheaper than buying a campervan. You can easily convert the back of the vehicle into a sleeping area during the night.

You can also consider buying a traditional caravan, which is towable as long as your towing vehicle has a towbar. Traditional caravans have pros and cons. One upside is that you can detach your caravan, set it up and have the freedom to drive your car separately. The downsides are that towing a caravan often means you’ll have to drive slower on the open road, and reversing can be difficult for people who have never backed a trailer before.

Another option is a motorhome. This is what most people think of when they picture a campervan. Motorhomes come in all shapes and sizes. Some have higher rooves, allowing additional storage, and others have full shower and toilet facilities. Some motorhomes are more like large buses and have all the bells and whistles of a home on wheels!

A converted van is another popular camping option. These are like a campervan but usually have less built-in storage or facilities. They may have a bedframe installed as a space to sleep and store luggage or clothing underneath.

The last option you might want to consider is a utility van converted to a campervan. These usually have built-in kitchens with portable gas stoves and a separate area for you to sleep. Some campervans will also have a table and seats that can be converted into a bed. Many campers aren’t self-contained, although some may come with a portable toilet.

What else should you consider?

The main thing you should consider is your comfort level and how you will use the vehicle.

  • If you love all the comforts of home, a motorhome or caravan may be the best option.
  • For people who like camping or cooking outdoors, a standard van or station wagon that you can sleep in is a good choice.
  • For travellers that want to freedom camp but want more options on where they can stay, a self-contained motorhome might be the best fit.
  • Vans and campers are great for managed camping grounds, DOC camping grounds and freedom camping sites with toilets nearby. However, if they aren’t CSC, you’ll have fewer options of where to freedom camp.

Set your budget

Once you've decided on the campervan you want, set a budget. The type of van you want will influence how much money you’ll need to spend. Most of the time, you’ll find that campervans and station wagons are cheaper than motorhomes, while caravans fall somewhere in between.

Don’t forget about ongoing costs like insurance, registration, maintenance, and fuel. Older campervans usually require more maintenance, so it's important to factor this into your budget.

Start your search

When buying a second-hand caravan in New Zealand, you have a few options:

Private sellers: Private sellers may offer a more diverse range of options and potentially better deals. Websites like TradeMe and Facebook Marketplace can be excellent for finding private sellers.

Backpacker boards: One of the biggest markets for secondhand campers in New Zealand is backpacker boards. You can find physical boards at hostels and local backpackers and online at sites like backpackerboard.co.nz

Dealerships: Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland are more popular cities for finding used cars and vans at a dealership. Look out for campers, vans or station wagons that have recently been traded in as it’s more likely that the dealership will negotiate.

Auctions: Check out Turners.co.nz which has auction sites in most major cities, or the Auckland Car Fair at Ellerslie, every Sunday.

Facebook Groups: Joining backpacking groups in New Zealand is a great way to look for a second-hand campervan. Just be aware that these vans, campervans or cars are more likely to be older, heavily used or quite popular. Still, Facebook groups are full of backpackers trying to sell their used cars.

Inspect and Test Drive

Inspecting a second-hand caravan is an important step to make you're making a good investment, even if you only plan on using your vehicle for a few months. Here's what to look for:

  • Chassis and frame: Check for rust, damage, or signs of wear on the chassis and frame.

  • Exterior: Examine the body for dents, scratches, and signs of leaks.

  • Interior: Inspect the living area, appliances, plumbing, and electrical systems. Ensure everything is in good working order.

  • Tires and suspension: Check the tires for wear and the suspension for any issues.

  • Test drive: Take the vehicle for a test drive to ensure it drives smoothly and test it out on hills and at higher speed limits to make sure it’s safe to drive.

  • If you're not confident in your ability to assess a campervan’s condition, you can take it to a VTNZ and ask them to check it for you for a fee.

Negotiate and complete the purchase

Once you're satisfied with the condition of the campervan, it's time to negotiate the price with the seller. Don't be afraid to haggle and reach a fair deal. Remember that the time of year you are travelling will affect the price.

New Zealand’s travelling season is from Spring (October in the Southern Hemisphere) until Autumn (late March, early April). In Spring, you will find the most competition for a vehicle and the highest prices. Campervans get considerably cheaper in late summer and early Autumn.

If it won’t affect your travels, try buying a vehicle at the end of Summer or Autumn. You’ll get a better price and can still make the most of the great weather that New Zealand gets in March and April. However, if you want to travel over the Summer, you may have to pay a higher price for the vehicle that you want.

Once you have agreed on a price, the owner will need to transfer the vehicle registration into your name. You may also need insurance (third party is not compulsory but recommended and a New Zealand driver’s licence if you’ve been in New Zealand for more than 12 months.

Is my purchase covered if anything goes wrong?

Unfortunately, the Consumer Guarantee Act does not cover private sales in New Zealand, so you need to be careful about buying a second-hand campervan. The best thing you can do is:

  • Get your vehicle professionally checked out at VTNZ

  • Stick to a budget so you aren’t over or under-spending

  • Take the vehicle for a test drive on different types of terrain

  • Take out full coverage insurance before you travel

Buying a second-hand campervan in New Zealand can open up a world of adventure. If you need help getting your campervan from to its final destination, Wise Move can help. Check out our vehicle relocation services.

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