AUSTRALASIA Australia Lifestyle New Zealand Travel Advice Van Life


A few months ago now, we bought our first campervan (lovely Cecil) in Auckland. We had a great time travelling all over the country, experiencing van life for the first time! We did a lot of research before buying the van and even put together a list of things to look out for and what to avoid. This list also included questions to ask the seller, to learn more about the vehicle and its history. It was extremely useful for us when we were buying Cecil, so I thought I’d share this pre-purchase checklist with you guys!

I’ve summarised everything in this post, but for a more comprehensive & printable PDF guide: 




*Check for obvious signs of damage. Hidden damage is harder to spot, but look for:

  • Difference in the colour between panels.
  • Bumps or major scratches covered with paint.
  • Gently kick the shock absorbers gently to see if they are holding on.
  • Look for rust – it may affect the value of the car and can lead to further problems.
  • Chips in the windscreen. Small chips are fine and are easily filled in but watch out for chips in the driver’s view as it may not pass a WOF (Warrant of Fitness – a safety check required by law). Larger chips could lead to a bigger crack at the first pot hole if not repaired properly.
  • The gaps between the doors and the car should be even all the way around. Check that each door opens and closes properly.
  • Check there is a petrol cap and that it fits on OK.


*Check that the tyres are all the same type.

*Make sure that the tyres are worn evenly, uneven wear can indicate wheel misalignment.

*Check if there is spare tyre and if it’s in good condition.

*Check that the tread (the crack in the tyre) is over 1.5mm – the legal requirement. Over 3mm is better. See my PDF for more information and a photo guide!

*Check the jack and lug nut wrench. Do they have any jack blocks?

*Check there are no leaks: look at the bottom of the car and on the floor where it is parked.

*Check underneath the car for rust.

*Check the exhaust pipe (tailpipe) to see if it is well fixed and not wobbly.


*Check the oil level. If it is too low, it may mean there is a leak. Green or orange stains indicate a leak.

*Check all fluid levels where applicable, including brake fluid, power steering, transmission fluid, coolant and windscreen wash. Transmission fluid shouldn’t smell burnt! Make sure all levels are above the low line and under the max line.

*Check for leaks of oil, water or gas inside.

*Look at the radiator for rust damage – this can be an expensive repair!

*Look for any obvious signs that parts have been repaired/replaced.

*Check the battery for corrosion.

*Check all pipes for damage – squeeze them – shouldn’t be too hard or too soft.


*Adjust all seats and mirrors to check they move as they should.

*Controls: check indicators, locks, lights (including warning lights) and heater, indicators, full beam boot lock, radio, AC, etc to see if they work.

*Lift up corners of the carpets where possible and check for rust, dampness and mould.

*Check that the seat belts work and are not worn out.

*Check the windows open and close easily and close completely.

*Check charge ports work.

*Check glove box

*Check sun visors

*Check windscreen wipers and all other accessories.


It’s really important you take the car for a test drive and have a go at driving the vehicle yourself. Try and avoid just taking it for 5 minutes down the nearest road – a 20 minute drive over multiple roads is advisable.

*Check how easy is the engine to start – the harder it is, the less you want the car!

*Have someone start the car whilst you wait at the back. If thick white/blue/black smoke comes out when started, there may be a problem. See this guide for more information.

*Check the steering wheel – it should not have too much play (be too loose). Check before starting and during the drive.

*Before taking to the open road, drive around the car park or street to see if:

  • The car goes straight when the steering wheel is straight and doesn’t veer off to one side.
  • The steering wheel stays straight if you let it go while the car is moving.
  • The breaks are not too loose, you shouldn’t have to put your feet down to the floor to stop.
  • Check that the car stops straight.

*Route – try and find a highway to be able to increase your speed and see how the car reacts.

  • The car shouldn’t be too noisy.
  • The steering wheel shouldn’t shake once the speed is increased.
  • Check there are no fuel or oil smells.
  • The engine should not heat up too much. Heat coming from the engine to the driver or passenger seat is not good.
  • Test the gears again – it is always better to test twice.

*Try and find a big hill to see how the vehicle handles it.

  • Does it maintain a good speed?
  • Switch gears and see if it is smooth enough.
  • Listen for unusual/unhappy engine noises.
  • Try and stop/park uphill and use the handbrake, it should hold the car even on a hill.
  • On the way down, check the suspension a little to see how rough it is and test the brakes again.

*After the test drive check that reverse gear works fine.

*Make sure that when you turn off the engine, it stops running.


*Do they have the owner’s manual?

*Ask if there is any debt attached to the car (you can follow this up with an online pre-purchase check which will highlight any debt).

*Ask to see all repair history and receipts. Every vehicle is required to have a registration document and Warrant of Fitness (WOF). The longer you have on the WOF, the better!

*Check how many keys come with the car.


There are a few questions worth asking the seller to find out more information about the car. I’ve listed all these and more in a full PDF guide!


I spent a lot of time working on the guide, but I wanted to make it free to read so that as many people can benefit from it as possible. If you’d like to thank me for my efforts, you can treat me to a coffee by sticking a few quid in my PayPal account 🙂

guide to buying a used carObviously, it won’t always be possible for you to buy and sell a campervan, especially if you are only in New Zealand for a short amount of time. It would be unrealistic to expect to buy and sell a campervan if you are travelling for less than 6 weeks. It would still be cost effective to buy a van if you are travelling for 4 weeks, but you’d need to factor in a couple of weeks before and after your travels to allow yourself time to find a van and then sell it on at the end.

If you would prefer to hire rather than buy, there are plenty of options including generic car hire companies, which sometimes offer great deals on relocation. If they need to get the car from one place to another (e.g. after another traveller has rented from one place, but finished in another) they will usually offer a discounted price. For a more personal experience, you can use a company like My Car Your Rental which is like AirBnB but for cars 🙂 They have a large range of locally owned cars and campervans which you can borrow for an hour or more. They all come with full cover insurance, which is great for piece of mind whilst you are driving around New Zealand!

If you are looking for more general information and advice for buying a campervan, see my last post:


I really hope you find the guide as useful as we did! If you have any questions about purchasing a car/campervan in New Zealand, please let me know in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them for you 🙂

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  • Reply
    Amy Anderson
    August 1, 2017 at 5:26 am

    I will download the pdf file and go through the file but you have never mentioned the prices of car I like the red one if you answer me how much price of that vehicle want to buy

    • Reply
      August 3, 2017 at 1:05 pm

      Hi 🙂 Prices change all the time (more expensive in summer than winter) and will vary depending on what type of car and where you buy it. Auckland is quite expensive for example. You could find a non self-contained smaller car (like a Toyota Estima) for around $2000. For a bigger self-contained van, you could pay up to $8000! We paid $5500 for the red van in the photos which was a very good price – other similar vans were selling for around $6000-6300. Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Hello, Thanks a bunch for the guide you wrote 🙂 ! It is extremely useful and I will gladly make use of it.
    May I ask for some more specifications of your van? Like in which year it was built, how much kilometers, manual or automatic? It seems like a very decent price you paid, compared to the prices I see at present.

    • Reply
      November 29, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      Hey 🙂 Sorry for the delayed reply! My van was built in 1997 and had done 355,000kms when I bought it, which is fairly high but Toyota’s last a long time! It was automatic (most cars in NZ are) and diesel. I was lucky and bought it from a couple who were keen to leave New Zealand as soon as possible, so I was able to lower the price. I also found a few issues at the mechanical check and was able to knock them down a bit more to cover that. I was also buying at the end of summer, so it’s easier to buy cars/ they are cheaper than if you are looking now, right before summer.

      Good luck with your search! I am actually friends with a guy who sells cars/ campervans, so if you are in Auckland, feel free to send me an email with what you are looking for 🙂

  • Reply
    Raj Sharma
    April 21, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    That’s an amazing article.Thanks for the guidance you provided through the article.I would surely check all that before buying a used car.Thanks for sharing .

  • Reply
    Wayne Olsen
    May 8, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    That’s a great post! It’s super useful for everyone and easy to understand 🙂
    Keep it up!

    • Reply
      May 14, 2018 at 5:03 am

      Thank you! 🙂

    • Reply
      October 5, 2019 at 3:18 am

      Hi! Thank you so much for this great guide. One question: Would you recommend to get a pre-purchase check by a garage even though the WOF check has been done only some days ago? Aren’t they checking exactly the same things that are checked for the WOF certification?

      • Reply
        October 11, 2019 at 1:58 am

        Hey! Having an up to date (within a few days) WOF is a good sign – all cars must be sold with a WOF no older than 1 month. It can still be worth doing the pre-purchase check though because you can choose the mechanic (and make sure it’s a reputable garage) and the car is tested on the day (anything can happen between a WOF and selling). People can fake also WOFs or see their mate at the garage to get it signed off… If you really like a car, I’d recommend arranging the pre-purchase check with the idea being that if it passes, you drive it out the garage and take ownership from that point 🙂

  • Reply
    January 17, 2019 at 6:15 am

    Thanks for sharing your post, very informative and well-written blog.
    Make sure to inspect the vehicle properly before buying it. After all, you cannot totally rely on the seller’s opinions about the car. As they will certainly highlight its best features.

  • Reply
    Bree Ward
    February 14, 2019 at 6:25 am

    I like it when said that it’s important to take the car for a test drive and experience driving the vehicle yourself. This is for you to check if the car is in good condition and if it’s really suitable for you. If ever that I buy a used car in the future, I will definitely do a test drive. Thanks for the tip.

  • Reply
    Frank Young
    March 15, 2019 at 5:01 am

    Thanks for sharing useful information with us. It really helpful for me. I always read quality material. Thanks for sharing this blog with us.

  • Reply
    Autohub New Zealand
    August 21, 2020 at 1:08 am

    I agree that you cannot test drive a car just by going for a 5-minute run. It takes longer than that to really get a feel of it.

    Pretty sums up everything! Thanks for sharing this information with us!

  • Reply
    Willie Lopez
    July 5, 2021 at 7:48 am

    Thank you for this post! It is a great guide on buying used cars. Now I learn the great step to buying used car that help me make the best used car purchase decision.

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