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The complete guide to buying a used car in NZ

1. Choosing a car

First, consider what you need from your car. Do you need a runabout for the city, a people mover, something with some oomph for towing, or maybe something that can go and keep going on just one tank of petrol?

Here’s a quick breakdown of the main basic types of car:

  • Sedan. Your classic all-rounder.
  • SUV. Big, grunty and have become serious luxury vehicles too.
  • Utility vehicle (‘Ute’). The classic choice for tradies, utes don’t usually have a lot of space for passengers but have plenty of room for tools and/or cargo.
  • Hatchback. These little zippers are small, maneuverable and a breeze to park even in the smallest of spaces.
  • Wagon. Take a sedan and make it bigger to fit the kids. The classic Mum-and-Dad people mover.

2. Checking your budget

Next, you’ll need to match your needs against your budget. When buying a used car, there are generally two main costs: 

  • Upfront costs. This is how much you actually pay for the car. If you’re getting a car loan instead, this would be any deposit for the loan.
  • Ongoing costs. This is how much it costs to keep the car running and, if you’ve got finance, pay the loan. This includes petrol, maintenance and insurance.

For upfront costs, check your local dealers for prices on the cars on your list. If you’re getting a loan, check with lenders to see if the car is one they’d be willing to fund, and how much they’d need as a deposit.

For ongoing costs, this might need a bit of maths. Fuel efficiency is well published for all cars, but you have to combine it with your local fuel costs and how much you drive to get a weekly spend. The same goes for insurance and maintenance. If you’re getting a loan, check the interest rates and subsequent repayments.

You can safely cross off any vehicle on your list that doesn’t meet your budget expectations. One quick thing to remember with buying a used car is that you might be able to find an older model that’s cheaper to purchase upfront.

3. Finding your used car

Your list will be smaller now, but the search isn’t over yet! To actually find the car you want to buy, you’ll generally have two main choices:

  • Going to a car dealer. These are businesses that specialise in selling cars, usually with experts that can help you with your purchase.
  • Buying privately. This means buying a car from a private seller on TradeMe, a Facebook buy and sell group, or similar.

Generally speaking, we recommend going to a dealer. We know – we’re biased. But going to a used car dealer gives you protections you don’t get with a private sale: most notably the Fair Trading Act and the Consumer Guarantees Act.

If you go to a private seller, there’s a chance that:

  • There’s still money owing on the car.
  • The car has serious issues the seller either doesn’t know about or doesn’t tell you about.
  • The vehicle is stolen.

You have to do lots of diligence if you plan to purchase a vehicle privately. If you go to a dealership, they are required by law to ensure the vehicle is sold as advertised, that any major issues are pointed out, and that if anything goes wrong, you are able to return the vehicle and get your money back. 

Plus, if you find that the car you’ve gone to see isn’t quite what you expected, dealerships have experts that can help you find a similar or alternative car that you might have missed off your list.

4. Test drives and checks

You’ve found it! The used car you’ve been looking for. Now it’s time to make sure it’s everything you dreamed of with a test drive.

A test drive can tell you lots about a car, including:

  • How smooth it is to drive
  • How comfortable it is.
  • How good the brakes are.
  • How maneuverable it is.
  • How much you actually like driving it.

Ideally, you should put any used car through its proper paces. Drive it on town roads, on motorways, maybe on rougher ground if you can find it. Parallel park it, reverse it, switch on the radio, test out the GPS and any other technology it may have. Basically, treat it as though you’re doing your driving test all over again! But this time, instead of your skills, it’s the vehicle being checked over.

It’s also a good idea to ask the seller to drive the car while you sit in the passenger seat. This way, you can keep an ear out for any noises without taking your eyes off the road. Listen out for rattling, chattering, clunks or other unusual sounds. It could be a signal that there is a larger problem under the hood and you should be cautious about your purchase.

5. Getting finance

If you aren’t paying in cash up front, there are options for finance from a variety of lenders including banks, non-banks and finance companies. You could go to an auto loan broker before you begin your search to get a pre-approval on a vehicle, but often lenders will want to know the exact make and model of the car you purchase – so you have to essentially have the car deal solidified before you get it.

Nicholson Auto can arrange fair, low interest finance for you right here on the car yard. This means you can get your financing quickly without needing to go to another business. Very convenient!

Regardless of where you get your cash from, make sure to read the contracts thoroughly before signing to ensure there aren’t any fees or t’s & c’s you’re not expecting.

Once you’re happy, sign on the dotted line and that’s it! You’re ready to drive away.

  • How smooth it is to drive
  • How comfortable it is.
  • How good the brakes are.
  • How maneuverable it is.
  • How much you actually like driving it.


To buy a used car in New Zealand, you should:

  • Consider what you need from the car and decide on the body style.
  • Create a list of possible choices by reading reviews and getting recommendations.
  • Investigate prices and cut down your choices if they don’t fit.
  • Find your used cars at a dealership or private sale. Remember that a dealership has more protections!
  • Test drive your choice(s) and listen out for any problems. Decide which is the best for you from your experience.
  • Secure finance either through having cash or getting a loan. Make sure you read the contracts thoroughly.
  • Sign on the dotted line and drive away!

Find the right used car for you at Nicholson Auto. Check out what cars we have available right now online, or get in touch with us to find out more. Happy hunting!

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