Contact Us   Site Map

Rental cars in NZ tend to be older than in the US, but hopefully they have been well maintained.

Here are various issues to keep in mind when choosing the car for your travels around NZ.

Travel Planning and Assistance
Road Warrior resources
How to Book and Buy Travel
Scary, Silly and Stupid Security Stories
Airline Reviews
Airline (Mis)!Management
Miscellaneous Features
Reference Materials
About the Travel Insider
Looking for something else? Search over two million words of free information on our site.
Custom Search
Free Newsletter

In addition to our feature articles, we offer you a free weekly newsletter with a mix of news and opinions on travel related topics.

Click here to choose between a daily or weekly or instantaneous newsletter edition.  All are free.

 View Sample
Privacy Policy

Help this Site
Thank you for your interest in helping this site to continue to develop. Some of the information we give you here can save you thousands of dollars the next time you're arranging travel, or will substantially help the quality of your travel experiences in other, non-cash ways. Click for more information
Reader's Replies

If you'd like to send in your own ideas and thoughts, send me a note.


Renting a Car in New Zealand part 2

Make the right choice of car for your journey

NZ cars tend to be a bit smaller and even more predominantly Japanese than in the US.

Part two of a three part series on renting a car in New Zealand - see also :
1.  Choosing a Rental Car Company
2.  Choosing the right rental car
3.  Other things to consider

Part of a series on travel to and in New Zealand - click the links in the right hand column for more articles.



People who think nothing of spending many hundreds of dollars a month to own their only lightly used car back home suddenly become 'penny wise and pound foolish' when choosing a rental car for their vacation.

Be careful not to make the same mistakes yourself when choosing a rental car for your New Zealand vacation.

Consider also of driving on the other side of the road in New Zealand, together with the implications of that when choosing between stick shift/manual or an auto transmission vehicle..

What Size Car to Hire?

Many people who own large luxury and possibly V8 cars back home will choose to rent the smallest sub-compact car when on vacation.

They drive their up-market full-sized car, at home, only a few miles a day around town and on freeways, and usually in an empty car, along.

But then, when on a vacation, these same people choose a small underpowered budget car to take two or more people and all their luggage on possibly a 1000+ mile journey.

That makes no sense.  If anything, you'll probably need a more capable car on vacation than back home.

New Zealand's roads are usually of good quality and well surfaced, but you'll be driving up and down hills, and on occasionally moderately windy stretches, and most of the time not on freeways.  You'll need the extra power for simply getting comfortably up the hills, and for occasional overtaking of trucks and slower motorists.

Don't be 'penny wise and pound foolish'.  Choose a mid size or full size car - in terms of extra cost per mile driven, and in terms of your total vacation budget, the extra cost of a better car is trivially small, but in terms of extra comfort per mile driven, and in terms of your overall vacation experience, it is very appreciable.

Automatic or Manual

Many rental cars in New Zealand - particularly smaller sized cars - do not have automatic transmission.

Unless you're both familiar with driving a stick shift car and also familiar with driving on the other side of the road (New Zealand cars drive on the left side of the road and you, as driver, will be seated on the right side of the vehicle) we recommend you choose an automatic rather than manual transmission.

Remember also that if you do choose a stick shift car, the gear lever will be on the opposite side - it will be on your left rather than on your right.

Petrol or Diesel

In the US, diesel is more expensive than petrol, but the greater fuel efficiency of a diesel engine generally balances out the extra cost of the diesel, possibly making it a slightly better deal overall in terms of cost per mile driven.

But in New Zealand, diesel costs appreciably less than petrol.  True!  In January 2011, petrol was the equivalent of about US$5.70 - US$6/gallon, depending on the grade of petrol chosen.  At the same time, diesel was the equivalent of US$3.95/gallon.

With a third less cost per gallon and 20% or more extra efficiency, you'll have a very greatly reduced cost per mile for fuel if you find a diesel car.  Indeed, even if the diesel car costs more to rent, you might still save money.

Here's a table of daily fuel savings in NZ dollars which you can use to consider how much extra a day to pay for a diesel car, assuming US$4/gallon for diesel and US$6/gallon for petrol.


Daily Fuel Saving of Diesel over Petrol


100 miles/day

200 miles/day

300 miles/day

25 vs 30




30 vs 40




Luggage Capacity

If there are just two of you in the car, then you can probably fit all your luggage variously into the car's trunk (called 'boot' in New Zealand) and/or its back seat.  But if there are going to be three of you, that means you will have more luggage and less back seat space to stow it.

If you're going to be traveling as a group of three in one car, you should choose a large sized car with ample luggage space, and carefully limit the number and size of suitcases you travel with.

And if there are four of you, you'll probably want a station wagon so as to hopefully be able to fit your luggage into the car.

Quick rule of thumb :  If all of you and all your luggage can't fit in one car back home, then there's going to be a problem when you rent a similar sized car in NZ!

Remember also that while traveling around, you're going to want to 'spread out' a bit in the car.  You might have open maps, some 'carry-on' bags (purses/handbags, backpacks, camera bags, etc) you want to have in the passenger compartment with you, some drinks or food, and so on.  You'll be taking up more space in your rental car with all your stuff spread out rather than neatly packed into your traveling suitcases.  This is, ahem, another reason to choose a bigger car rather than a smaller one.

Insurance Options for your Rental Car

New Zealand has a different type of liability system to that in most other countries.  Insurance companies operate on what is called a 'knock for knock' basis whereby each insurance company simply pays for the cost of repairs to its insured person's vehicles, no matter who was at fault.

The reasoning is that it should balance out as between the times a company pays for repairs that in theory it is not liable to pay for based on who was at fault, and the times when a company is spared the need to pay for repairs that it otherwise would have been liable for.  Not only does it balance out, but it keeps the costs and delays and hassle of attorneys and litigation out of the entire process.

New Zealand also has 'no fault' accident liability where the costs of most accidents are paid by a government body.  It levies fees (primarily on employers) and these fees are then used to fund the cost of health care when accidents occur.  This means that most of the time you can't sue (and you can't be sued) if you suffer from or cause an accident.

Due to this very different type of legal system to that in, eg, the US, your US insurance policy may or may not cover you while driving in New Zealand.  Additionally, a rental car company in New Zealand may or may not include in its basic rental rate the underlying basic insurance that all vehicles should have.

If the basic insurance is not included in the vehicle rental, and if the rental car company insists you must pay it, then, guess what.  Pay it you must.

So be sure, when getting quotes, to understand which insurances are mandatory (if any) and which are optional, and, most of all, which ones you feel you need.

You might see what seems to be a bargain car rental rate, but perhaps it is not really a bargain at all because of the need to add a mandatory daily insurance fee to the low rental rate.

New Zealand Goods & Services Tax (GST)

NZ has a Goods and Services Tax (referred to as GST) which is similar to other GST and VAT taxes in other countries around the world.  This tax (first introduced in 1986 at a rate of 10%) increased on 1 October 2010 from its former rate of 12.5% to a new rate of 15%.

Typically this tax must be included in the cost of anything you buy, whether it be food, accommodation, gifts, entertainment, or rental car hires, with the only legal exception being if the advertiser deals primarily with wholesale clients rather than retail clients.

But some of the less honorable and ethical companies will try and cheat this as much as they possibly can.  For example, the more expensive the hotel, the greater the chance that they might be quoting rates exclusive of GST, requiring you to add a further 15% to the rate you see quoted.

Check that the rental car rate you are being quoted includes GST.

Part two of a three part series on renting a car in New Zealand - see also :
1.  Choosing a Rental Car Company
2.  Choosing the right rental car
3.  Other things to consider 

Related Articles, etc

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.


Originally published 3 Feb 2011, last update 30 May 2021

Related Articles
Information about planning a vacation in New Zealand
NZ Epicurean Extravaganza Tour Oct 2014
When to Visit NZ and how long to stay
Trains and rail travel in New Zealand
Your Choices when Traveling between NZ's North and South Island
Taking a Ferry between the North and South Islands :  Parts 1  2  3
Renting a Car in New Zealand Parts 1  2  3
Self-drive touring in New Zealand
Self-drive itinerary directory
Christchurch - What to see and do part 1
Christchurch - What to see and do part 2
Hawkes Bay - What to see and do
Rotorua - What to see and do
Queenstown - Where to Stay
Queenstown - What to see and do
Queenstown - Jetboating
Te Anau - What to see and do
New Zealand's Wonderful Wines and Wineries

Information about planning a vacation in Australia

Your Feedback

How Would You Rate this Article


Was the Article Length and Coverage

Too short/simplistic
About right 
Too long/complex

Would You Like More Articles on this Subject