Rent a Car in New Zealand: Things You Should Expect

Renting a car in New Zealand is a common practice for many travelers. During our three-week road trip in New Zealand, we decided to rent two cars, one from Auckland Airport and the other from Christchurch Airport.

Despite our prior experience renting cars in different countries, our New Zealand road trip proved to be uniquely surprising. Along with the usual requirements such as insurance and a valid driver’s license, we encountered unexpected aspects that caught us off guard.

Here are a few things you should expect in general when you rent a car in New Zealand:

  • Beware of High Rental Car Costs
  • Comprehensive Inspection of Rental Cars, Including Underneath
  • Being Prepared for Older Rental Cars, much older than one can imagine
  • Anticipate Frequent Fuel Stops with Rental Cars

Beware of High Rental Car Costs

Price differs dramatically between the old and new models

During our car selection process, we observed that the majority of rental prices were relatively low, but often accompanied by older car models. However, we also noticed that the rental prices for cars with updated features were significantly higher, sometimes even doubled or tripled. This pricing discrepancy often resulted in the value and price being disproportionate.

The extra cost of a child seat

One aspect that left us dissatisfied was the exorbitant cost of renting a child seat. The rental fee for a child seat was unreasonably high, to the point where purchasing a brand-new one would have been more cost-effective. As a result, we made the decision to bring our own child seat from Germany, which was not only more convenient but also saved us a significant amount of money in rental fees. We were glad we were able to find a workaround to avoid the unnecessary expense.

Rent a Car in New Zealand

Comprehensive Inspection of Rental Cars, Including Underneath

Our first rental car was from a local car rental company. According to the booking, we were expecting an old car. However, we were pleasantly surprised when the staff handed us a brand new silver Toyota with only 3000 km on it. The car had all modern facilities, except for a navigation system, such as a USB slot, and it was in great condition.

Our luck seemed to be going well, but unfortunately, it didn’t last long. We realized that the bottom of the car was not properly attached and was hitting the ground. We were worried that driving further might cause more damage, so we used a shoestring to temporarily fix the issue. However, the fix was not stable, and we had to keep re-fixing it every now and then.

The next day, we drove back to the rental company to report the issue. They were initially skeptical and insisted that we had caused the damage. We explained that we had only driven to Paihia and the road was in good condition. To verify our claim, they even called our hotel in Paihia to check the parking area. After an hour of questioning, the manager of the rental company finally agreed that the car was already damaged before we rented it. They replaced the car with a brand new blue Toyota as a replacement.

We learned that many roads in rural areas are uneven and unpaved, which increases the risk of damaging the bottom of the car. So, even if you receive a car in good condition, it’s important to thoroughly check the bottom as well to avoid any potential issues.

 Being Prepared for Older Rental Cars, much older than one can imagine

At the rental office near Christchurch Airport, as we waited for our car to be ready, we noticed an aged white Nissan parked to the side. It appeared to be in poor condition and we assumed it would be scrapped. However, when the friendly staff, a nice girl, brought us to the car, we realized that we were going to be driving this “car” for the next 15 days in the rural areas of the South Island. My husband, who is German, seemed surprised as he had never seen a car in such a condition in Germany. When we questioned the girl, she assured us with a smile that the car was in “good” condition.

But what does “good” condition mean? Firstly, the car had nearly 300,000 kilometers on it already. The rubber parts of the door frames were broken, one of the doors wasn’t attached properly, and the seat covers were worn out. The child door lock was also dysfunctional. Upon checking the exterior, we noticed numerous scratches and missing paint in some areas. The tank cover was broken as well.

We realized that there were no other options available, as all the cars had similar or even worse conditions. So, we checked the tires and brakes, which fortunately seemed to have been recently replaced and were functioning well.

It was impossible to document all the broken parts on the rental agreement. The girl still smiled at us and commented that she had already filled in all the necessary information for us. With the old Nissan, we embarked on our journey through the South Island of New Zealand.

So, if you opt for a very cheap rental cost, be prepared to receive an older car, much older than one can imagine.

Anticipate Frequent Fuel Stops with Rental Cars

There are only a few cities or towns with sizable populations in certain areas, particularly in the South Island, where gas stations can be scarce. It is important to plan ahead and ensure you have enough fuel to reach your destination, as there may be long distances between gas stations. This was evident during our trip to Milford Sound from Te Anau, which is about fifty kilometers away. As Milford Sound is a nature protection zone, it is unlikely to have a gas station, so we decided to take precaution and drove back to Te Anau to fill up our tank.

Adding to the challenge, our rental car was an older Nissan model with a fuel display that seemed to decrease rapidly even after just a few minutes of driving. It was possible that the fuel consumption display was inaccurate or malfunctioning. To avoid any unforeseen fuel shortage issues, we made sure to top up our tank before embarking on our day’s journey.

As such, it is advisable to expect the need for more frequent fuel stops and plan accordingly when traveling in these remote areas with limited access to gas stations.

The alternative to rent a car in New Zealand

What we learned from our experience is not to rent a too old car in New Zealand. A few weeks of a road trip in New Zealand is not a short trip. You might need certain comfort for the entire trip while avoiding potential problems.

It is probably a better practice to rent a car in New Zealand form an international chain with newer models. We always rent a car from several large chains and have never had the above issues.

But if your budget is tight, perhaps take a bus trip or join a tour is a better alternative for the rental car.

Rent a Car in New Zealand
Rent a Car in New Zealand
Rent a Car in New Zealand

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