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Our easy 9 step car buyer's guide

MotorWeb helps guide you through the process of buying a car privately. Take the hassle out of car buying and protect your financial investment by following these 9 easy steps:

1. Work out what you really need and want from a vehicle

Do you have children or pets? Do you need to transport work equipment, large loads or tow a trailer? Where do you drive - in rural areas or mostly around town? Consider the car's body style, transmission type (automatic or manual), fuel consumption, engine size, safety and comfort features to find out what will best suit your needs.

Make a 'must have' and a 'nice to have' list to help you choose your ideal car (let's face it - British Racing Green isn't really a 'must have' is it?).

2. Know your budget ... and stick to it!

If you already own a car, start getting estimates to work out what it will be worth when you sell or trade it. This information will help you work out what you can afford and the final amount you need to budget for.

Shop around for the best finance deal you can get before you shop for a car. If you're looking for finance don't be talked into spending more than you can afford to repay - actual interest rates can be very high, and sometimes this isn't obvious.

Important note: Do your homework - read all the documents carefully (or get a friend or family member to do so) and don't sign anything that you don't understand or don't agree with. The golden rule is: if in doubt, get a second opinion before you commit to any finance agreement.

3. Do your research

Work out what type of car will suit your needs and start comparing vehicles that interest you to get an understanding of what your money will buy.

Once you've determined the type of car you need, compare cars of similar quality. Comparing prices can be misleading as an inferior quality car could have legal or mechanical problems that may quickly cost you more money.

Important note: Registered Motor Vehicle Traders operate under strict guidelines and regulations. However, if you buy privately you may have no comeback if a problem occurs, so take your time and choose carefully.

4. Select the best prospects and take them for a spin

Make a shortlist of the best cars that match your needs and budget, and arrange to test drive all of them.

The main things to consider when taking a test drive are:

  • Sit in the driver's seat - check if it's comfortable and easy to adjust, with enough leg-room. Are the gauges readable and the controls within easy reach? If someone else will regularly be driving the vehicle, get them to do the same.
  • Is there enough back and neck support? Can you adjust the steering wheel to a comfortable position?
  • Ensure you have good visibility at the front, rear and sides. Adjust the driving position and mirrors correctly before you start driving.
  • Take a close look around the interior, exterior and tyres to make sure there are no obvious problems.
  • Check that the registration label (rego) and a Warrant of Fitness (WOF) are current; both of these should be clearly visible on the inside of the front windscreen. Driving a car without a current WOF could be dangerous and you could incur a fine.
  • Ensure the vehicle has adequate insurance before you take it for a test drive. If the vehicle is not properly insured you may be liable for damage if you have an accident.
  • Do you like the way it drives? Is it comfortable and does it suit your purposes? Make a note of anything that concerns you about the vehicle.
  • Review all available paperwork including Certificate of Registration, service or repair receipts, window card and past legal checks.
  • Don't be pressured into signing anything, until you've considered all your options.

Remember that at this stage of the buying process you are checking if this car suits your needs, not its mechanical condition. A full mechanical check is best done by a professional vehicle inspection company such as VTNZ.

5. Check the car's history and legal status with a Vehicle Information Report (history check)

MotorWeb's VIR® helps protect you from the risks of buying a car privately. Even with expert car knowledge this is still the one important check you can't do yourself. It gives you peace of mind by alerting you to important information such as:

  • whether the seller is the registered owner
  • if the vehicle is reported stolen
  • any money owing (because if there is, the vehicle could be repossessed)
  • whether NZTA have flagged the vehicle as being a flood damaged import or having a wound back or tampered odometer
  • any outstanding Road User Charges
  • the vehicle's fuel economy ratings
  • and loads more!

Any problems that are uncovered are clearly identified in the VIR® with comprehensive, yet simple explanations and advice for you to discuss with the seller before any money changes hands.

You can get a VIR® online 24 hours a day, or by calling 0800 843 847. All you need to know is the car's registration plate number. The VIR® is an important legal document that you should keep in a safe place with the rest of your vehicle's documents.

6. Get a full mechanical check

Arrange a full mechanical check from a reputable organisation such as VTNZ.

Don't end up with a lemon - let the professionals uncover any issues you won't easily detect yourself. They're trained to identify any serious problems with the transmission, cooling system, exhaust, brakes, shock absorbers and engine (e.g. a cam belt can snap without warning so it should be replaced around every 100,000kms) that you could easily miss.

If you have any concerns from the test drive, tell the vehicle inspector so they can investigate these further. Don't let minor faults that could be easily fixed put you off an otherwise sound vehicle. However, if the inspection uncovers a serious fault you should re-think purchasing the vehicle or offer an adjusted price to cover all repair costs.

7. Don't forget the documentation

Protect yourself by documenting everything on a proper agreement. We offer a Free Purchase Agreement with every VIR®.

The Purchase Agreement should detail the names of both parties including signatures, the price, payment method, vehicle description and the date. It should state that no other party has a claim on the car or its accessories (validate this with the MotorWeb VIR®).

If the car has personalised plates the agreement should also state if these are included within the sale.

8. Protect your investment from the unexpected

Without insurance, you are at risk of losing your vehicle as soon as you drive away, so make sure you arrange motor vehicle insurance before you finalise the purchase.

If the car doesn't have an alarm or engine immobiliser, consider fitting one as an effective anti-theft measure. Anti-theft devices may also reduce the cost of your motor vehicle insurance premiums.

If this is your first car or if you are new to New Zealand, we strongly recommend that you take a defensive driving course. A defensive driving course will enhance your driving confidence and help you and your vehicle stay safe and accident-free.

Remember, try to drive with courtesy and enjoy your new vehicle!

9. Put the vehicle in your name

You must complete an MR13B and take it to a New Zealand Transport Agency agent for processing. This will register the change of ownership.

We recommend doing a change of ownership online with the NZTA. The alternative is to hand paper forms into an NZTA agent e.g. VTNZ. The seller of a motor vehicle is required to complete a MR13A. The buyer is required to complete a MR13B.

You will be required to provide proof of identification such as your NZ driver's licence or other approved ID that states your full name, signature and date of birth.

Important note: By law, you must complete these forms within seven days but it's best to do it straight away. This prevents both you and the seller becoming liable for each other's fees, charges or traffic fines. Your new Certificate of Registration (rego) should arrive by post within 10 working days. Keep the rego certificate in a safe place along with the rest of the vehicle's documents.