Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Buying a car in New Zealand? Read this first.

By Nicole

DSC_6835So you’ve just arrived in New Zealand, and after months of life on the sea, you’re looking forward to doing a bit of land travel. Sweet! Before you hand over those Kiwi dollars for a used car or caravan, though, make sure you have all the information. Buying a used car can be a crapshoot for sure, but in New Zealand, the odds of getting stuck with a lemon are significantly reduced. Here’s what happened to us:

When we bought our 1997 Honda Legend in Opua, we were stoked to have our own wheels for the first time in nearly three years. The same day we signed the paperwork, we made a run to the grocery store (no lugging heavy bags on the bus!) and managed to handle a week’s worth of errands in just one afternoon. The next day, we zipped off for a full-day of driving and exploring New Zealand’s gorgeous North Island. Having a car was awesome! What happened next, though, turned from awesome to extremely stressful.

One Sunday morning not even a week after taking possession, I hopped in the car, turned the key and … nothing. The car wouldn’t start for the second time in three days. We just slapped down $275 to fix the main relay (controlling the fuel pump), and it was still having problems? WTF. The decision to buy this car over any of the others on the lot now seemed like a huge financial mistake. What were we going to do? Being a Sunday, neither the auto repair shop or the small dealership where we bought the car were open. Since we couldn’t do anything else, we turned to the internet for some answers. What we discovered in New Zealand’s Consumer Guarantees Act for motor vehicles let us breathe a little easier knowing we had options.

The Consumer Guarantees Act protects consumers’ rights when they purchase goods or services in New Zealand, and it’s extremely generous. When a consumer buys a car for personal use from a licensed dealer (called a trader in NZ), that car comes with certain guarantees. I won’t go into all the specifics here, but suffice it to say that if you purchase a car that then ends up with a fault, the trader is obligated to make it right. If the fault is minor, the trader should pay to have it repaired. If the fault is serious, you have the option of rejecting the vehicle and getting a refund or replacement or keeping the car and getting compensation for loss of value. Yep, you read that right. If your car develops a serious fault – one that, if known, would’ve prevented a reasonable consumer from purchasing the car in the first place – you can get your money back. And you have up to 6 years (!) to lodge your claim. Caveat emptor? Not so much in New Zealand.

The main point to note, though, is that you must buy the car from a licensed trader to be covered under the CGA. This “lemon law” doesn’t apply to private sales.

Long story short, our car spent a week or so in the shop and came out running like a champ. (Turns out there was a problem with the immobilizer, which prevents the car from being stolen.) The dealer reimbursed us for the first minor fault (the $275) and covered all expenses associated with the second fault, including loaning us a car while ours was in the shop. While the whole thing was a stressful hassle, it could’ve been a lot worse – especially if we’d bought the car in the U.S.

For more information on your rights as a car buyer in New Zealand, see the Consumer Affairs website.

DSC_6814Back in the saddle again (the heated, leather variety)