Renting a car in New Zealand is the best way to explore this magnificent country.
Below is my complete guide on how to rent a car in New Zealand, covering:
- which type of car is best,
- best rental companies, reviews,
- tips on reducing costs,
- insurance recommendations,
- essentials to avoid any scam,
- rules and regulations,
I have tried listing everything you may need to know to enjoy a worry-free car hire experience.
This article contains affiliate links (Disclosure page). If you purchase using my link, I get a commission at no extra cost to you.
Renting a car in New Zealand - Overview
Do you need a car in New Zealand?
It depends what kind of holiday you want.
But if you want to be able:
- To enjoy some of the hidden gems,
- See the variety of landscapes,
- Visit a place early before the crowds, or at sunrise or sunset,
- Be flexible to adapt to the weather...
Then renting a car is the best option.
Below are a few locations you could discover with your rental car:
Car rental essential tips - from my personal experiences
If you don't want to read the entire article with the step-by-step to renting a car in NZ, here is a short summary of my top tips:
- Choose a car with a trunk large enough for your luggages, so they are all hidden during the day. No need to tempt thieves.
- Choose a car with a good motor: you keep turning and going up and down, so a car that can stay stable is really more enjoyable
- Book early to get the best prices and the choice of cars
- Always check the car upon arrival and take pictures of anything you see (don't forget the roof and under the bumper)
- If visiting North and South island, choose a company with offices on both to make any issue easier to resolve
The booking platform I personally use
You will see a lot of mentions of Discovercars.com throughout this article.
This is the platform I personally use and one of the best customer-rated comparison sites on the market.
As soon as I decide on a destination and dates, I go check their deals and car types.
I have found some really good deals many times.
Plus, they have a practical coverage option at great price that will cover you in case of damage to the outside of the car.
And I have tested their cancellation policy without issues.
In the case of New Zealand I had chosen the company Snap.
Is it difficult to drive in New Zealand? Is it safe?
- LEFT SIDE - Driving is on the left side of the road so it can be stressful for some people, but it is not that complex. You just have to be careful when getting out of your parking space
- NOT TOO DIFFICULT - New Zealand is not really difficult. Roads are sinuous, especially in North Island but always large enough and in good conditions. My main difficulties were in the vicinity of Auckland with the traffic.
- TAKE YOUR TIME - The landscapes are beautiful! be careful where you stop, not to block other cars
- ONE LANE BRIDGES - The only thing you could find difficult in the beginning are the one lane bridges. But they are well indicated, with signs to indicate who has priority. And since there is not much traffic, it is very easy.
Check out my article about driving in New Zealand.
#1 to 3 - How to rent a car in New Zealand - required elements
Tip 1 - License to rent a car in New Zealand
It is always better to have you International Driving Permit anywhere you travel out of the country.
This way you never wonder.
However, know that to be allowed to drive in New Zealand (for less than 12 month), you can use a standard license if it has:
- a licence number,
- a photograph,
- a valid date,
- and it is in English
A valid US license works.
A valid Canadian License works.
A valid UK License works.
Tip 2 - Extra age requirements / years of driving
Official driving age in New Zealand is 16 (with restrictions).
However, most car rental companies in NZ:
- will require you to be 21
- will require you to have held a license in your home country for a year or more,
- may add charges, if you are under 25,
- may add charges, if you are over a certain age.
It’s best to make sure to read all the fine print.
On the platform Discovercars.com you can enter your age, to see any limitation in rental cars available and any additional fee.
Tip 3 - A credit card that can handle the hold charge
Remember that unless you have decided to purchase a full coverage insurance directly with the rental company, you will be asked for your credit card to hold a deposit. This amount s blocked on your account via your credit card (until you bring the car back without damages).
As it is on top of the payment, you may be hitting the limit of your credit card daily/weekly or monthly protection limit.
So be prepared! Your options are:
- Use a different credit card for the hold charge,
- Contact your bank prior to traveling to change your limits,
- Purchase a full coverage insurance with a 0 excess charge.
On the platform Discovercars.com:
- once you open one option, you can click on Rental Conditions, and you will see the Security Deposit amount.
- And if this is an issue for you, you can pre-select the amount you are willing to have blocked as security deposit in the filters
#4 & 5 - When and where to hire a car in New Zealand
Tip 4 - Best period
New Zealand is a very popular destination, especially in January and February
So, if you want the choice of your vehicle types and good prices, it is better to rent your car as early as possible.
You won't find last-minute deals in Summer. As soon as you have picked your dates, book the car!
Tip 5 - Where
Most travelers will be arriving in New Zealand by plane.
There are big rental hubs at all the international airports.
If landing in Auckland, I recommend not renting a car when visiting the city. There is a lot of traffic. Take it after or bring it back before..
The largest car rental hubs in New Zealand are:
#6 to 10 - What type of car to choose
Tip 6 - Recommendations for size of car / power - does size matters?
I know it depends on how many people are traveling and how much luggage you are traveling with.
But here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling in New Zealand:
- You will often have you luggage with you changing accommodations, so you want a trunk big enough to have them all in and nothing visible in the car - No need to tempt thieves.
- Choose a car with a good motor: there are hills and lots turning. You want a car that can stay stable so that the drive is really more enjoyable
Tip 7 - Transmission type - Manual vs Automatic
Most cars to rent in New Zealand have a automatic transmission.
On Discovercars.com, you can use the filter "Manual transmission" on the left, if this is a must have for you.
Tip 8 - Fuel choice - Diesel, Gas or electric
New Zealanders can use interesting words that vary from American English or British.
However, when it comes to fuel, it stays classic:
- Gas stations
- See the concentration of electric car charging station, where you are going in New Zealand on this website
Tip 9 - Is it useful to have a 4WD?
Some points of interest require up to 10km of driving on gravel roads.
They are still quite easy and you don't need a 4WD.
Know that even if you have a 4WD, the insurance protection associated with the rental probably does not cover use of the car out of paved roads.
This is frequent in many countries. Read the fine print.
Tip 10 - Consider vehicles with sleeping options
Another idea is to rent a vehicle in which you can sleep.
Overall, this could save you money compared to booking extra accommodations.
- Wild camping is allowed - section 10 of the Freedom Camping Act 2011 state that " you are allowed to camp in any local authority area unless camping is actively restricted or prohibited in that area".
- There are camping sites
Two compagnies that I have seen with good reviews are Mad Campers or Juicy.
All my favorite locations are included (with GPS coordinates, map and tips) in my travel guide eBook that helps you easily plan your New Zealand road trip:
Plan your perfect trip around New Zealand!
#11 to 17 - Best rental car companies in New Zealand
Tip 11 - Cost of car rental in New Zealand
To give you an idea, based on data from Discovercars.com, prices are around:
- There are big variations throughout the year - The average prices vary from 30 to 90 USD per day
- The cheapest prices are generally for when you travel in July and August (Winter in New Zealand).
It is very easy to compare prices online on a single platform - but if comparing between sites, remember to check all hidden fees.
Tip 12 - Things to consider when choosing your car rental company
- First, of course, the company must have the type of car your needs
- Then, check out the cancellation fees - on Discovercars.com, cancellation is free
- Authorized milage - depending on what you are planning, have a look at unlimited or defined daily milage allowance
- The pickup location - some require a shuttle to the get to the rental area
- Check that they have offices on both islands (large international brands do, no need to check) - it is just for more reactivity in case of issues.
- more general tips
Tip 13 - Best rated car rental companies in New Zealand
When reading reviews, don't forget that on Tripadvisor or Google for example, anyone can write a review even if they have not used the company.
Plus, only the people who had issues write comments, most of the people without issues, don't take the time to write that it went smoothly.
On the platform Discovercars.com, each rental company has a mark on 10 points. This is an average of the marks given by actual customers.
On the search page, you have a filter to select only the best rated ones:
Some of the best rated rental car companies in New Zealand are:
Tip 14 - How to save money - cheap car rental in New Zealand
If keeping the cost down is your main concern, you should:
- Book very early
- Return the car where you picked it up
- Book a smaller car
- Pay attention to pick-up and drop-off times - Car hire is typically charged per 24-hour period
- Choose a rental without cancellation or with limited cancellation
- If renting for 6 days, check the price for 7 days - sometimes companies have a discount for 1 week rentals.
- Book with limited milage
Tip 15 - Check opening hours if picking a company not at an airport
If you are picking up your car at the airport, the companies are normally open as long as flights are arriving.
However, if you are renting a car from a town, especially a smaller one, they will have shorter opening hours (especially on weekends). This may mean that you have to rent for an extra day if you can't drop off the car.
Tip 16 - Car rental scams in New Zealand
There is no specific scam in New Zealand, that I am aware of.
As in most country, if the price is very very low, then there must be conditions and tricks behind it.
And some companies do try to charge more for damages. My advice is to always take the time to check the car and take date pictures at pick-up and drop-off.
Tip 17 - Be careful if changing island
From New Zealand, you can visit 2 main islands
However, that implies taking a ferry.
This is not allowed by all rental companies.
And for others, you have to let them know and there are fees included. With one company I read the following: "Using a ferry is allowed on the previous request and for an additional charge with special permission from the car rental company."
If renting with Discovercars.com, once you selected a car you can click on "Rental conditions" and then again "Rental conditions" or "Additional conditions" to find the "geographical restrictions".
If it is not documented, you can add the question for customer support to answer.
#18 to 20 - Understanding Insurances
Tip 18 - Choose the types of insurance you need + requirements in NZ
Many levels of insurances are available. And their wording is often not very clear.
Here is a high-level overview of the different types of insurances - which are not really insurances, but waivers to limit your liability:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) - It limits the customer’s responsibility during the rental period and sets the maximum amount of money the customer will have to pay in case of damages -
- Theft Protection (TP) - this waiver limits your liability up to the vehicle’s deductible/excess amount in the event the car is stolen (proof required are a police report and the car keys). TP is frequently included in the car rental price.
- Third Party Liability (TPL) - also known as Supplemental Liability Insurance, Extended protection, liability protection... - it covers personal and material damages caused to other people’s cars, property and even medical expenses. They have different limits.
- and many others...
In New Zealand, there is a compensation scheme so you can't be sued for causing injury.
By default, the car is insured but what remains to your charge is the deductible.
All the extra insurance are to reduce that deductible. So, paying for an extra insurance depends on your willingness to risk that amount.
Tip 19 - 4 ways to purchase insurance
- Option no insurance - apart from the mandatory one, you don't have to take extras. Just know that in case something happen, you can be liable for your entire deposit.
- Option 1 - Use your credit card insurance/ or your own car insurance
Many credit cards have some kind of coverage for rental cars. They all differ.
Similarly, your home car insurance can be covering you as well when renting a car.
You need to read all the fine prints to clearly understand what is covered or not.
- Option 2 - Purchase upon booking your rental car
When you book your rental car, you normally have the option to select the insurances you want. The deals are most of the time better than at the counter (I have seen 3 times less, once).
On direct websites, you get the dealer's insurance, but on platforms, you get a special insurance created by the platform.
For example, on Discovercars.com, they have their own Full Coverage Waiver Insurance Option
- Option 3 - At car rental
This is the more expensive option, but if you have not done it before, you could purchase it as you are paying.
- Option 4 - Travel Insurance
Get a travel insurance that include comprehensive car rental insurance with one of the classic insurance companies.
Tip 20 - Consider taking roadside assistance
Technically, it is not an insurance, but it is offered at the same time.
Conditions of coverage vary but they normally include:
- Loss or damage of car keys
- Keys locked inside the car
- Flat tire
- Rental car not starting
- Car out of fuel
If you are in a country you don't know, traveling alone and not good at changing tires, this could be a great option.
This is something you can get at the counter when getting the car.
#21 to 23 - Extras
Tip 21 - Do I need GPS?
To navigate, a GPS can make your experience smoother. So that you can focus on the driving.
- Option 1 - Bring your own GPS
This is my favorite options. I know well how it works, plus I can pre-enter all my destinations which saves me a lot of time.
On my travel guide eBook you get the GPS coordinates of the carparks of all my favorite locations
- Option 2 - Use your phone
If you have a phone, don't forget that the roaming charges abroad can be very expensive.
However, you can download a map beforehand, when you are connected to wifi, so that you can navigate without spending money.
Don't forget the charger and your phone holder so that it is comfortable!
- Option 3 - Take the GPS extra
I don't recommend it. I think this is a last resort if you don't have your own or a good phone. I always find it very expensive.
Tip 22 - Additional driver charges
Decide beforehand whether or not you will need more than one driver.
If so, take this into account when comparing rental deals between companies.
Some companies have deals that has a free extra driver.
On the platform Discovercars.com, if there are any, it can be selected on the filters:
Tip 23 - Child safety seats rules in New Zealand
All children under the age of 7 must use an approved car seat.
And 7 and 8 years old, must use an approved car seat if available.
#24 to 31 - How to collect and return the car to avoid issues
Tip 24 - Check your vehicle at pick-up
For a worry-free exchange with the rental car company, I recommend you do a thorough check of the car before leaving the carpark.
Sometimes it is done with an agent. Sometimes they just give you a form with the state of the car before renting. Sometimes they tell you nothing...
Make sure all dents and scratches are noted, if not, make sure they add it.
Plus, for peace of mind, you can take pictures before leaving (like in every country).
Things to look for:
- Check all the exterior of the car for dent and scratches
- Don't forget to check the roof!!!! It is often forgotten, but they might check it when you return
- Don't forget under the bumper
- And don't forget the back of the mirrors
- Check the interior for any damage
- Check the state of the tires
- Check the state of the fender (mud wing above the wheels)
- Make sure the spare tire is in place and in good condition
- Check that gas level and milage match the record
Tip 25 - Check the mandatory equipment is in the car
In New Zealand, there are no mandatory extra pieces of equipment.
However, NZTA strongly recommend to have in your car:
- a Warning triangle
- a Reflective vest or jacket
- a First aid kit
- a Non-expired fire extinguisher
If visiting in Winter and heading to the mountains, make sure your car has winter tires.
Tip 26 - Ask about the management of tolls
There are 3 sections of roads in New Zealand with tolls.
There are no tollbooths.
They are well indicated as well as exit if you want to take the detour and avoid paying.
If you go ahead, it takes a picture of your plate number. You just have to
- go online on www.tollroad.govt.nz,
- don't create an account just click on "buy or pay a toll"
- enter your plate number,
- and pay. It is very easy!
The 3 roads are:
- The Auckland Northern Gateway on road 1 between Auckland and Warkworth - it costs 2.30 NZD per car and saves you 9min compared to the detour
- The Tauranga Eastern Link on Road 2 between Paengaroa and Papampoa - it costs 2 NZD per car and saves you 12min compared to the detour
- The Tauranga Takitimu Drive on road 29, South of Tauranga - it costs 1.80 NZD and saves you 7min compared to the detour
Tip 27 - What to do in case of fine or tickets (speed / parking)
You are responsible for any parking tickets or driving fines that you receive during the rental period.
If you are aware of it right away, you can go and pay at the police station or online, as indicated.
But know that it can take up to 3 months for a fine to be reported to the car owner (the rental company). In that case, they will send you proof and charge you for it and maybe add an administrative fee for managing the fine.
Tip 28 - What if there is a problem with the car
Don't lose your rental agreement.
On it, you will find the steps to take if you have a problem with your car.
Most use a breakdown assistance service and the number will be listed on the agreement.
Then you can contact the rental company to see how to car can be replaced.
Tip 29 - Don't forget to manage your tank
More and more company now have a system where you must bring back the car with the same level of fuel (not full to full tank but same to same).
This is very annoying, but it is easier for them to manage.
Therefore, you need to understand how much the car consumes and how many kilometers / miles you still have to do, if you don't want to waste money.
Tip 30 - Drop off
For peace of mind, try dropping off the car during opening hours so that the car checks can all be made and validated.
If not possible, take pictures of the car before leaving it.
So don't be stressed. If you have taken a reputable company, are respecting the rules, it should go very smoothly.
Tip 31 - What if you damaged the car
If your rental car gets damaged, the first thing to do is to contact the car rental agency.
- If your rental has only basic insurance, you will have to cover the damages up to your deductible amount.
- If you have purchased a full coverage with the rental company, check with them and it should be covered
- If you have purchased with Discovercars.com, contact them and provide all info (within 28 days of dropping off the car). They with refund you for charges and costs related to the damage, if warranted
- If you are using your own insurance, contact them and provide all info. They with refund you for charges and costs related to the damage, if warranted.
#32 to 36 - Get ready to drive in New Zealand
Below is a snapshot with the main things to know.
You can learn more on my article about driving in New Zealand.
Tip 32 - Understand the rules
- Driving is on the left side of the road
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all
- Alcohol limit is 0.05% for drivers above 20 years old
- Speed limits are well indicate in red circle. They change quite often! Normally in urban areas, the limit is 50km/h
- When the road is sinuous, you will have big yellow signs with the recommended speed for the turn. Make sure you slow down!!!
- At roundabouts, you give way to traffic already on the roundabout
Tip 33 - Watch videos
To get familiar with the driving you can watch videos of people road tripping in New Zealand.
Below is my short video to give you an idea of what it looks like:
Tip 34 - Know the potential dangers
Apart from driving on the left, there are a few things to be aware of to limit dangers on the roads of New Zealand:
- Landscapes - the scenery is stunning, it is hard to stop looking at it... but that means that you don't look at the road. Make sure you alternate drivers, or, if you are alone, make frequent stop to satisfy your love for nature.
- Weather changes - fog, rain...
- Animals - there can be sheep and wild animals on the roads (especially flightless birds). In areas where it is frequent, you will see danger signs, slow down and pay attention. Do NOT sound your horn.
- Railway crossings - Approach railway crossings with cautions. On the main roads, they have lights and barriers but on side roads to accommodations for example, they don't. Always slow down on a look in each direction.
- Roadwork - don't forget to check the status of the roads on this website
Tip 35 - Plan your itinerary
It can be fun to go an adventure.
But if you want to see many locations on your road trip, better to plan ahead to balance your days and book accommodations.
See my examples:
- New Zealand North Island Itinerary - 4+ options
- New Zealand South Island itinerary - 4+ options
- New Zealand Itinerary 2 weeks - best of both islands
Find all my favorite locations and tips in my travel guide eBook:
Plan your perfect trip around New Zealand!
Where to stay in New Zealand?
- In Auckland, to explore the vibrant city - see best rated accommodations
- In Rotorua, to visit the geothermal parks - see best rated accommodations
- In Wellington, to feel the vibe of the capital city - see best rated accommodations
- In New Plymouth, to admire Mount Taranaki - see best rated accommodations
- In Kaikoura, for dolphins and whales - see best rated accommodations
- In Queenstown, for the mountains - see best rated accommodations
- In Dunedin, to explore the Catlins - see best rated accommodations
- In Lake Tekapo, to admire Lake Pukaki, Mount cook and the Dark Sky - see accommodations
Find more inspiration in my article about where to stay in New Zealand
Tip 36 - What to do in case of accident
In case there are people hurt or there is a conflict, the emergency number in New Zealand is: 111
The best order of actions is:
- contact emergency services
- contact the police
- contact your rental provider
Want to see more of New Zealand?
- New Zealand North Island vs South Island - read article
- New Zealand in 50 photos - read article
- 20 Best waterfalls in New Zealand - read article
- 15 most beautiful beaches in New Zealand - read article
- Things to do in New Zealand North island - read article
- Things to do in New Zealand South island - read article
- New Zealand hidden gems - read article
- How to plan a New Zealand road trip - read article
- New Zealand 2 week itinerary - read article
And keep track of your own trip!
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