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10 things you should know before renting a car in New Zealand

Renting a car in New Zealand offers you all sort of travel possibilities that other transport options don’t.

A rental car will let you go where you want when you want at your own pace. We're, obviously, biased but a self-drive holiday is a great way to see New Zealand. Your car choice is key to the success of your trip though.

We’ve been organizing rental cars for people planning a New Zealand adventure for 11 years now and we accumulated a little knowledge along the way.

It’s important to choose the right car and options to ensure the vehicle you get is well suited to the adventure you are planning. There are some things we think you should know:

1. You’re spoiled for rental car choice

It is easy to be overwhelmed by choice when it comes to renting a car in New Zealand – a search for ‘Auckland airport car rental’ on a car rental comparison site might produce hundreds of results for any given date.

You’ll find all the international brands you are familiar with plus any number of local options. And these range from national operations to small local operators.

2. You get what you pay for

Smaller operators and the savings they offer can be a great choice. But they won’t have the network of branches that larger operators have and may not allow the flexibility you need for a lengthy self-drive holiday in terms of pick-up, drop off and support.

Believe us: there’s a lot to be said for knowing support isn’t too far away wherever you are.

An amazing day walking in the Southern Alps could turn sour when your car won’t start and you can’t get an answer on the number you have for the Auckland car rental operator you used. Even if they do answer, they’re over a 1000km away and have limited options because it’s late on a Sunday …

Major operators offer a full range of insurance cover and options.

3. Watch out for ‘hidden costs’

As with renting a car just about anywhere in the world, you will often find the daily price you see on a website is just the start of the daily cost. The classic hidden cost is insurance, of course, but one way fees and other charges like airport terminal fees can also drive your costs up. That’s why we quote our car rental with everything included …

4. Not all vehicles on offer will be new

One of the reasons we work with larger brands is that it ensures our self-drivers will travel in a new late-model vehicles – usually six month or less old. Smaller operators often use older vehicles and there will be a lot more variability in models at each option.

Nothing wrong with a 10-year-old vehicle 90% of the time. But why risk losing days of your holiday you have traveled half way round the world for to save a little on a rental car?

Peace of mind comes with knowing your vehicle is only 6 months old and it comes with 24 hour roadside assistance. That’s why we work with the major brands when organizing vehicle for our clients.

5. Don’t expect to get the model you saw on the website

Nothing new here if you have rented a car before. However, it’s worth noting that, although we do organize specific vehicles for some people, in most cases the specific model you see on our site or the rental car company site isn’t necessarily what you will drive off in.

(If your dream New Zealand experience involves a convertible sports car and some empty southern roads, it can easily be arranged. Talk to one of our vacation planners about your specific vehicle requirements and they will get it for you if at all possible.)

6. Think carefully about how much luggage you will be traveling with and accumulating as you travel

“Who is going to share the back seat with the bags?” It may pay to get the slightly larger vehicle rather than squeeze into the compact. A self-drive vacation, by definition, involves a lot of time in your vehicle and everyone will be happier with a little more space.

7. Consider where you plan to go in choosing your vehicle

The New Zealand road network is well maintained and won’t challenge standard vehicles. If you plan to explore well beyond the main highways you might prefer an SUV but it is really a case of personal preference rather than necessity.

We are often asked whether an SUV is a good idea for winter visits. Your route may be affected by snow if you are traveling through the South Island in June, July, August or September. And an SUV means you are less likely to need to fit snow chains to drive up to our ski resorts, if you are planning to sample some Southern Hemisphere skiing while you are here. In most cases, however, you will be fine with a winter-equipped standard vehicle and a lesson from the car company on how to fit your snow chains.

Hint: snow affected roads will generally be cleared quickly; take a little more time over breakfast or take in some sightseeing where you are before you hit the road, if your route has been affected by snow.

8. Most rental cars have automatic rather than manual gearboxes

No need to worry if you don’t know how to drive a “stick shift” (or ‘manual’ in New Zealand parlance). The vast majority of rental vehicles come with automatic gearboxes.

9. You’ll need a drivers licence in English to drive in New Zealand

If you are over 25 and have a drivers’ licence you can rent a car in new Zealand but you need to be able to present an English language licence to the rental company.

10. Don’t underestimate travel times

New Zealand has nothing comparing to a US interstate highway or British motorway beyond the main centres. You’ll be sharing the road with oncoming traffic and the road will wind its way through the spectacular scenery you have come to see.

Bonus Tip:

11. Don't take your rental car on the Inter-islander ferry

It is easy and less expensive to drop your car in Wellington / Picton and pick another one up in Picton / Wellington to continue your journey.