How to Rent a Car in New Zealand.
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- Read the post
- 1Driving a Car in New Zealand.
- 2Renting a Car Without a Travel Agency.
- 3Which Car Model to Choose for New Zealand?
- 4The Size of the Trunk Is Important.
- 5The Important Accessories
- 6Complementary Insurances.
- 7Taking the Vehicle at the Rental Station.
- 8Returning the vehicle at the end.
- 9The ferry crossing with a car
- 10Expert Advice Before Hitting the Road.
Driving a Car in New Zealand.
If you dream to visit New Zealand, and spend your nights in welcoming hotels or Beds and Breakfasts, you will not be disappointed, because the country has an excellent road network and does not know the traffic jams! To rent a car, you only need to be between 21 and 75 years old and to hold a valid driving license.
If it remains mandatory, the driving license is not sufficient and must be accompanied by an overseas driver’s licence sometimes referred as “International Driving License” if you don't come from an English's speaking countries.
This simple English translation of your driving license will be required to rent a car and can be requested by the local authorities during road controls. I'll explain how to rent a car in New Zealand by addressing practical issues such as the choice of model, the appropriate insurance and even the ferry crossing.
Kiwipal also provides a comparator and an online booking service where you won't pay any travel agency fees.
Renting a car can be done easily on the Internet without intermediaries!
But if you're essentially looking for advice about New Zealand's driving code, you should also read our special guide which explains how to drive on the left side of the road (UK citizens, Australians, Japanese, Indians... don't need advice on this subject, but there are also some differences they should discover before the departure).
And if you still hesitate between renting a car or a camper van, you can check our Bible of the motorhome in New Zealand to make yourself an idea.
Renting a Car Without a Travel Agency.
Renting a car abroad might seem daunting at first sight, but the vehicle booking process in New Zealand is similar to what is done anywhere else in the world.
All major brands such as Hertz, Avis or Europcar are present in New Zealand, but their reservations rates are quite high. Fortunately, you can greatly reduce your rental car budget, thanks to the local companies recommended by Kiwipal.
How to Book at the Best Price?
Kiwipal provides a free comparator which aggregates all the best car rental companies in New Zealand. You can book your vehicle by yourself, without paying any travel agency fees because Kiwipal does not add a commission to the final price!
Booking without intermediaries brings the following benefits:
- Unlimited kilometers
- Guarantee of the lowest rate in the market
- Free cancellation on most reservations
- Possibility to add additional insurance
You can book without paying immediately (or you can just pay a small deposit to secure the reservation). You will pay the balance on location when you collect the car's keys, which means that you won't be forced to pay for the entire rental when you book.
What Price Should You Expect?
Here is the average budget for a good quality rental car in New Zealand (remember that the high season is between November and March).
|High||25 $||35 $||48 $|
|Low||15 $||30 $||40 $|
You naturally want to pay the cheapest possible price for your car rental, but there are limits not to cross. Of course, renting an old Japanese car with a half a million kilometers' counter is available at an unbeatable price, but is it reasonable?
Saving ten dollars per day in exchange of your safety and your comfort is not a good idea. And generally, the cheapest cars always have a high fuel consumption, which means that you lose at the pump what you won on the rental price.
In reality, there is a considerable difference of quality between a $30 and a $45 per day rental. While on holiday, do you sincerely want to drive 3000 km with a car which is even less comfortable than the one you use in your country to go to work?
Some car rental companies do not charge for an extra driver, but sometimes they will claim you a dollar a day for insurance reasons.
Which Car Model to Choose for New Zealand?
The New Zealand car market was submerged by the Asian low-end models for a long time, but one must recognize that the quality has improved significantly and you now have plenty of choice when it comes to rent a car!
If you are not aware of that, please note that people drive on the left in New Zealand.
The steering wheel is on the right in the cockpit, and if the speed pedal, brake and clutch are not reversed, however, the driver will change the speed using its the left hand.
Although there are manual gearboxes in New Zealand, I strongly recommend to only rent cars with an automatic transmission.
Why should you complicate your life during holidays with additional difficulties?
Once your decision taken, you can consider renting a car from the following categories:
Economy Cars (Compact)
The small city cars like the Toyota Corolla Hatch are perfect for couples without children, provided you travel light with two small suitcases maximum (the size of the trunk being just sufficient to contain them). They are easy models to drive and park anywhere.
Sedans and Road Cars
These cars are more suitable for families with children, but as it is one of the most requested models (New Zealanders are taking holidays too) it is essential to book far in advance to get good rates. The large trunk is practical and you have enough space to store some extra hikes equipment like shoes.
The Four-Wheel Vehicles (4x4)
The increased comfort, better grip and excellent visibility are accompanied by a carbon signing more important! The 4x4 wheels leave no one indifferent, but insofar as the relief of the country comes down to a succession of hollows and bumps, this type of gear is by far the most fun to drive in New Zealand.
Although more expensive, it is especially recommended for people who are driving on the left for the first time.
How About the Gas Price?
Cheap cars equipped with automatic gearboxes are obviously consuming more fuel, especially in mountainous regions where it is often necessary to use the first speed of the vehicle. Once again, the cheapest model penalizes you at the pump, and it is better to rent a recent car, even if you have to pay ten dollars more a day for it.
Gasoline is often cheaper in New Zealand, but the relief increase consumption.
To estimate your budget gasoline (or diesel), you can consult the website “Price Watch” which display the pump prices for every fuel types available in New Zealand.
A simple rule of three with the total distance and the average fuel consumption should give you a good idea of the budget to predict.
Do not hesitate to increase the estimated price by 10% if you visit the South Island because gasoline is more expensive in remote areas and the car uses more fuel due to the mountain terrain.
The Size of the Trunk Is Important.
I must confess that I had to store a suitcase on the rear passenger seats during a whole trip because there was not enough place in the trunk. Every time I had to leave the car for a hike, I was worried about what could happen, because the luggage was well in evidence. I bitterly regretted not having examined more seriously the measures given by the rental company on its website.
Do not reproduce my mistake, and please consider the capacity of the trunk of the car when you compare the models on the Kiwipal's comparator. If a car is designed for five passengers, this doesn't mean that you'll have the place to store five suitcases... That's why you must measure the size of your luggage and compare with the size of the trunk before the booking.
Anyway, between motels, laundromats and hotels that offer dry cleaning, there is no reason to be loaded unnecessarily. Accept the idea to wash your clothes in New Zealand during your trip and you will be able to significantly lighten your luggage. Remember that your car will consume less gasoline if your luggage is light!
Opt for soft bags that can be more easily stored in the trunk, rather than rigid suitcases (certainly more convenient at the airport, but wasting too much space).
Finally, I also suggest you keep some empty space to keep your trek shoes easy to access between two walks. You won't drive with dirty shoes, so this is a good idea to put them in a plastic bag you will keep in the trunk.
The Important Accessories
There are accessories that you can add to your rental car. Unless you plan to camping, you can forget the outdoor equipment, but renting a GPS, child seats or even chains in winter, deserves more attention.
The GPS proposed by rental companies costs a few dollars per day and is useful but not essential in New Zealand. The road network is so simple that the use of a GPS may seem superfluous: you will sometime the GPS' numeric voice informing you that you must turn left in 50 km!
Should You Rent a GPS?
When it comes to finding a hotel lost in the countryside, or find your way in town, the satellite guidance will save your valuable time. Paradoxically, the route is so simple in New Zealand that you could easily miss the next exit if the GPS was not here to remind you to turn.
Kiwipal recommends using a GPS guidance during your stay in New Zealand.
Beyond three weeks of stay, however, I recommend not to rent the GPS, but rather to buy your own in a shop of Auckland or Christchurch. You can also use your own GPS (the cigarette lighter socket is often compatible), but you must have the New Zealand map installed, a map which is often more expensive than a brand new GPS.
Seats for Baby or Child.
Essential and mandatory in New Zealand, seats for babies or young children are to rent in options from the car rental companies at a price of about $25 for an entire stay.
The types of seats and the corresponding age range:
|Baby capsule||0 to 11 months|
|Child seat||1 to 3 years|
|Booster seat||4 years and more|
Do You Need to Use Snow Chains in Winter?
Depending on your itinerary, your car might need snow chains during the winter months (their absence could lead to a $750 fine). But in practice it rarely snows in New Zealand and there are not so many travelers visiting the country during the low season. However, if you plan to explore the South Island from June to September, you must know that the SH94 (the only road to access the Milford Sound) may be prohibited to vehicles not equipped with snow chains.
Complementary insurance and franchise repurchases are available when booking online. The optional nature of these services suggests that they are not essential, but they are nevertheless highly recommended.
Renting a car includes a basic insurance, but there are many cases where insurance does not cover the potential damages, starting with the broken windows or car theft.
This is why the New Zealand car rental companies offer additional insurances that increase the price of the daily rental of a few dollars, but cover the driver and the car a bit more.
If you plan to borrow a gravel road for example (they are very common in New Zealand as soon as you leave the speed highway), the glass breakage insurance is highly recommended.
Should I Redeem the Franchise?
If you are not familiar with the car rental, you must know that the franchise is the amount of money left at your charge after the repairs in case of accident.
You can accept to pay the rental at higher price to lower the franchise and in case of accident you might not spend a dime or only pay what remains of the franchise.
A well-insured vehicle allows you to travel with a free mind and to drive in a more relaxed manner.
You are not really on holiday if you are always worrying about something or if you drive with the fear to damage your rental car.
Is My Own Insurance Sufficient in New Zealand?
You are right to ask this question, but there are, alas, 99% chance that your local insurance company does not cover a car rental abroad.
If your own insurance company offer an extension to cover a car rental in New Zealand, it will always be more a more expensive than the complementary insurance from a New Zealand rental company. You can also forget your bank insurance. Most credit cards (including type gold ones) only cover you for a derisory amount in case of accident, and you will have to pay any expenses in advance, expecting to be refunded later by your bank.
Can I Rent a Car Without Insurance?
The very principle of insurance is to protect against the unexpected.
Therefore, if someone does not see any good reason to be insured while traveling to the other side of the globe, then I do not see what we could say to convince him.
A gravel particle that cracks the windshield indiscriminately strikes the good or the bad driver (insured or not), and if New Zealand is a peaceful country with a low crime rate, car theft remains a possibility (statistically especially near Rotorua).).
Do not try to save a hundred dollars at the expense of a good insurance that could protect yourself and your family!
Therefore, if you can, of course, save money on airline tickets, hotel nights, restaurants and activities, you should not do the same for an insurance that protects yourself and your family during a trip in New Zealand!
Anyway, Kiwipal's comparator will already help you to save a great deal of money on the car rental and it also offers discounts if you rent in advance.
Investing a small part of the money already saved subscribing a solid complementary insurance seems reasonable.
Taking the Vehicle at the Rental Station.
Before explaining the rental process in detail, I must insist on an important security point: you must never drive within the 24 hours following an international flight. A law should be passed to validate this principle in New Zealand.
Your reflexes are at their lowest after a very long flight, and you need to recover strength and attention before driving in a foreign country. Therefore, I advise you to spend your first day visiting a city after a good night’s sleep. After hours in a plane cabin, fresh air is what you need.
The Formalities at the Rental Company
Most rental companies offer a free shuttle service between your hotel and the deposit station usually located downtown or near the airport. If such a service is available, it will be displayed in Kiwipal's comparator, so please take some time to study the question before booking.
Before getting the vehicle keys, you must sign the rental contract and pay by credit card. That's not a problem, even if your fluency in English is rudimentary. The most annoying is to wait your turn if there are many customers queueing before you.
Unlike a motorhome rental where the rental agent usually takes the time to show you the vehicle in detail, the car rental companies often do the minimum. Feel free to ask questions even if the rental agent seems a bit rushed. Don't be shy and ask how the automatic transmission works, and what is the most appropriate fuel to fill the tank.
The First Moment on the Road.
Even if you are an excellent driver, you should take your time before getting in the traffic. If you have never driven on the left side of the road, you'll need some time to acclimate yourself, just like the other passenger seated where the driver usually is.
Take your time before getting into the traffic.
As soon as you turn the key, some automatic cars move slowly even if you don't press the accelerator pedal. Do not panic, this is in fact a very convenient option to maneuver or leave a car park, but that can surprise you if you are not used to it.
Automatic gearboxes usually come with multiple positions on the gear lever. This is usually a basic choice between an economical or a sportive driving mode. The user's manual of the vehicle will give you an exact answer, but it's far easier to ask the rental company before taking the road.
It's easy to recognize a beginner who has never driven on the left side when he activates its wipers before turning (a bad reflex that will disappear after few days of driving).
Before turning the key, take the time to study the dashboard to familiarize yourself with the controls, including the windscreen wipers and the flashings whose positions are reversed in New Zealand (if you are not driving on the left side of the road in your own country).
Most vehicle's user manual are available online and you can check them before your stay to familiarize yourself with the dashboard instruments.
Returning the vehicle at the end.
At the end of your stay, you must return the car at the rental agency, in strict accordance with the date and time specified in your rental contract. Penalties apply if you arrive late, because the vehicle may already be assigned to another customer.
The fuel level mentioned in the rental contract must be respected. Do not assume that the renters will be tolerant about it! If you return the vehicle with insufficient fuel, the renter may charge a penalty or even ask you to refuel the car in a gas station!
You may not have to clean the car body before returning it, but basic cleaning would be nice! If some dirt or dead flies on the windshield are acceptable, a deplorable state will irritate the renter and he might be fussier while checking the vehicle.
However, the interior of the car and the trunk must be clean and empty. Make sure you have not forgotten anything and check several times under the seats and in the different compartments. If you have stained the seats, or caused any damage, the amount of compensation will be deducted from the deposit which is to be refunded by a bank transfer, few weeks after the end of the stay.
Do not wait until the last minute to bring back the car at the arrival deposit because you might miss the plane if the formalities take too long!
You must plan a reasonable time to return the car, especially if you have to go to the airport afterward: you can't take any risk to miss your plane.
Of course, you could return the car with a fuel measure higher than the one given at the departure, but do not expect to get a refund of the difference.
The ferry crossing with a car
The use of ferry is a must if you visit the two great Island New Zealand. The three-hour journey between Wellington and Picton is assured by the Interislander or Bluebridge companies.
Booking the ferry on the Internet is not difficult at all, but you must decide in advance whether you want to make the crossing with your car rental (parked on board), or if you prefer to rent a different car on each island? Both solutions have their advantages and disadvantages.
Solution 1: Taking the Ferry With Your Car.
The main advantage concerns the organization of your stay in New Zealand: with only one car booking to do, you do not waste your time in the rental stations.
However, the one-way rental fees are a bit more expensive, because the rental company will often have to repatriate the vehicle by its own means.
However, if you start your trip at Christchurch, your car rental will be cheaper if you plan to restitute the vehicle at Auckland.
This is because you will drive the vehicle up to the North Island, where most travelers start their trip in New Zealand and where more cars are needed.
Boarding the car on the ferry simplify the organization of the stay.
Boarding your car on the ferry presents no difficulty. Just plan to be ready for the boarding at least one hour in advance. The ferry team will assign you a place to park the car on board. You won't waste time to register your luggage and you won't have to recover them on arrival, as they travel in the trunk of your car.
Solution 2: Booking a Different Car on Each Island.
For the rental companies, this represents a direct benefit because it will be easier to repatriate the vehicle to its starting point. The booking might be a little bit cheaper, but the economy is relative ...
Because if you return the car before boarding the ferry, it implies that you rent another one on the other island. If the procedure drags a little bit (which is often the case during the high season), you can easily lose several hours in the rental station, and will anyway undergo the baggage registration procedure before boarding the ferry.
You will pay a bit less, of course ... but you will lose a precious time.
The Solution Recommended by Kiwipal.
There is no perfect solution, it depends if you prefer to save money or win time to visit the country. Some people even decide to return the vehicle immediately upon their arrival in Wellington, in the hope to save money by visiting the city on foot or by bus.
But without a car, you will save money, of course, but unfortunately you will lose time and will visit fewer locations! For years, I changed my rental cars to reduce the price of the ferry, but I now consider that boarding the vehicle for only $NZ 135 greatly simplifies the organization of the stay.
You have all the cards in hand, but from my experience it is better to keep the same car from one island to another (if you are happy and want to keep the same model for the whole stay, why changing?). However, if you want to save 135 dollars, you can consider booking a different car on each island.
The majority of travelers arrive in Auckland and end their stay in Christchurch. The rental is sometimes cheaper when done in reverse.
Expert Advice Before Hitting the Road.
Honestly, nowadays, who is asking a travel agency to book a car? Why would you need the help of a travel agent for a procedure you can do all by yourself in five minutes?
Under these conditions, it is better to avoid any intermediaries and you should book online without paying travel agency fees. Moreover, the money you save allows you to get additional insurance and to increase the quality of your stay by doing more original activities in New Zealand.
Driving on the Left Side of the Road.
This article was essentially focused on the practical aspects of the car rental. I purposely left out the New Zealand's driving code and the advice to drive on the left side of the road. But I invite you to consult a great Kiwipal guide that address these two topics in detail, because there are some characteristics in New Zealand you need to learn.
Enjoy the Best Value for Your Money.
Travelers often ask me what is the best rental company recommended by Kiwipal. It's a simple question, but the answer is tricky because there are many criteria to consider. In fact, it is a good idea to search check local rental companies with cars of at least five years old. You can trust Kiwipal's comparator to find the best compromise.
Car or Camper van?
Some of you are probably hesitating between renting a car or a motorhome. I cannot answer such a complex issue in a few words, but since you are now well informed about the car rental, how about reading our practical guide about motorhome? You will have all the cards in hand to make the right decision.
Traveling With Music.
After all these questions of budgets, car rental and ferry booking, we should end on a lighter note. You will spend many hours on the roads of the country, and I recommend driving with music!
The radio programs in New Zealand are incredibly bad. You should travel with your own music stock on your smartphone a tablet.
The best solution is to check first that the car model you want to rent has an USB port or an audio jack input on its dashboard. But you could even use an FM transmitter to broadcast your own signal to the car stereo.
One cannot consider driving several thousand kilometers without music!
This will be the last word on this subject. I give the mike to our friend Ben who has his own Question & Answer section below where he helps travelers. He is unbeatable and you can ask him any advice about car rental and New Zealand in general. Have a nice trip!
Questions & Answers.
What can I do for you? If you have any questions about the car rental in New Zealand, please do not hesitate to contact me.
- All topics ... 13 answers in total
- Online Booking 5 answers
- The Ferry Crossing 4 answers
- Security Instructions 3 answers
- Booking and Rentals 1 answer
- Can I cancel a reservation?
Yes, but fees may apply if you cancel close to maturity. The cancellation conditions are clearly specified in your rental agreement.
- Can I rent a car at the airport?
Most car rental agencies have an agency in major airports in the country (or a nearby depot). But I remind you that it is not recommended renting a car just after a long flight by plane.
- How to find the rental agency?
Most agencies offer a free shuttle service. Simply notify in advance by indicating the flight number, or to call to the agency that will send a shuttle to pick you up.
- Why was my booking refused?
It happens that the vehicle you requested is no longer available and that is why the rental company confirms the booking within 48 hours. If the vehicle cannot be rented, you will not be charged, and other similar models will be offered without obligation to book again.
- Can you rent a car if you are under 21 years old?
Unfortunately, this is a condition found in most countries in the world.
The Ferry Crossing
- Can we stay in the car during the crossing?
No, because no traveler is allowed to stay in the car from the beginning to the end of the crossing.
- Do you have access to the car during the crossing?
No, you will not have access to the ferry's car park during the crossing.
- What is the best place to park in the ferry?
You will not be able to choose your spot, even if you try to be the last to board to be close to an exit (a bet that can prove to be risky).
- Can we buy tickets at the last minute?
During the high season you run the risk of not finding a place if you do not book well in advance. In low season, you can often book the same day, but keep in mind that there are fewer seats available for vehicles than for passengers.
- Is it dangerous to drive in New Zealand?
No, to the extent that roads are generally deserted. Nevertheless, driving always carries risks, and you must be vigilant and respect the New Zealand Highway Traffic Act.
- Can I leave my luggage in the car?
I do not recommend that you leave your luggage in the trunk of the vehicle when you stay at the hotel, because if your car is stolen you would lose your belongings. In any case, do not leave your stuff in evidence inside the car when you are away, for example when you go hiking in the middle of nowhere.
- Who do you call in case of an accident?
If the accident is serious, the police, the insurance company and the landlord are called in order. Note that in New Zealand it is customary to call the police at 911 in case of accident. The emergency numbers will be communicated to you by the car rental agency.
Booking and Rentals
- Should the car be refilled with gasoline.
The vehicle must be returned with the same fuel level as at the departure.
Seek advice from experts in New Zealand:
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