My love-hate relationship with car ownership in New Zealand

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It’s currently my week 24 here in New Zealand and I am starting to draft this out but I’ll probably only publish this article towards the end of my working holiday in case there are more dramas to my car ownership journey. Yep, the first big-ticket item that I’ve bought here is my car; at $3,990.

Yes I know, it sounds crazily expensive. Most people (at least those around me) buy their cars between $1500-$2800 and they kind of laugh at me after finding out how much I paid for mine. Oh wells, what could I have done? I’m pretty much a car noob who drives occasionally back at home and.. I don’t even know how to open the car bonnet, check the engine oil, replace the spare tyre, pump air using the traditional pump and pump petrol on my own ><

Feeling helpless about how to check a car, I decide to buy a car from a car dealer, hoping that I can get a better assurance for my money.

As I was traveling alone, I opted to look for fuel efficient small cars – Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Suzuki Swift, Nissan March , Mazda Demio were the common ones that I could at least.. recognise their model. I remember spending the first week of my stay in Christchurch scouting through Facebook Marketplace, TradeMe Motors, Social Group Chats, Turners Auction and also walking to every single car dealer I saw when I’m out.

For car dealers, I realised that $4k is pretty much the lowest price that they will go. Car dealers (with the exception of Turners) will usually provide you with 3 months warranty, where you could go back to them should you have issues with your car. That’s the premium you have to pay for ‘a piece of mind’.

Before I bought the car, I rented a car (from the car dealer I was planning to purchase from) to attend 2 job interviews, both which required me to drive to work. Well, the plan was to buy the car only after securing a job offer. I still remember shortlisting 1 car on a Friday and by Monday, the car was sold (apparently over the weekend). I was disappointed; but the car dealer was not to be blamed too as I did not put any deposit on the car.

Sadly, my happy car journey was kind of short-lived as I noticed that there were some jerks in my acceleration after I started hitting the highways. While I was house searching, I asked one of the landlord (who had the same car as me), and she advised me to go back to the car dealer. I went back to the car dealer and he replaced 4 ignition coils for me and all was good (for the next three months).

I do enjoy owning a car. You kind of get the freedom to go anywhere, everywhere you want to. To be honest, it feels pretty unreal to own a car as cars in Singapore are super pricey as we have to purchase this paper known as COE (Certificate of Entitlement) which starts from $20-30k on an average year.

It is also very convenient to own a car. When I move from house to house (5 times right now), I am able to not pack my stuff and just throw everything into my car. This is especially important when it comes to transporting all the cooking things that I’ve bought, especially the seasonings and my massive supply of instant noodles and sushi rice.

Five (and perhaps six) months on, I’ve finally come to realise the price I had to pay for my freedom and convenience – The harsh truth of.. car ownership.

1. Car Insurance
There are 2 main components of car insurance

  • Third Party (which covers the liability of the car or other person that you have damaged/injured).
    Although insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand, this is absolutely a necessity as the damages incurred to third party can hit sky high. Imagine you accidentally bang a ferrari while parking. The damage for one tiny scratch could cost more than the price of your car so this is absolutely necessary.
  • Comprehensive (this covers damages to your own car should there be an accident).
    Some people will choose not to purchase this as the cost of the car may not be too far off from the ‘excess’. Assuming that you are a new driver under the age of 26, the excess is usually quite high (like $2-3k)Excess refers to the amount that you will have to fork out. Only the amount above the excess will be borne by the insurance company.
  • Optional windscreen protection
    As there are many flying rocks/sand in New Zealand, it is not uncommon to have your windscreen damaged while you drive. This additional premium allows you to have $0 excess in relation to repairing or replacing your damaged windscreen.Depending on the model/make, value of the car and type of coverage you require, the price will differ greatly.

Damage: For my car, I’m paying approximately $25+ per fortnight which works out to be approximately $500 for my 9 months duration.

2. AA Membership
This is one annoying thing that that I wished I had known better. Purchasing AA Car Insurance doesn’t make you an AA member. So if you’ve spoken to seniors on the trip, most people will recommend that you purchase the AA membership cause it will give you a greater peace of mind. I only ended up buying this after my car broke down. What does this membership provide? Well, 6 call-outs for breakdown assistance which includes changing car tyres, power your car’s battery or even provide tow truck services. At only $79/year (no shorter term packages) and additional $49/year for the plus membership, it is a pretty cheap price to pay in comparison compared to when your car do break down somewhere along the way.

Well, I did not start off with buying the AA membership as I thought that purchasing AA car insurance means that I am an AA member. After realising the mistake, I was also skeptical against buying it as I didn’t have much time left in New Zealand. I only ended up buying the membership after my car broke down 5 months in and I may only have 1 to 4 months left in New Zealand. I bought it to make my mind at ease.

Damage: $128/year (there’s no discount even if you use it for 6 to 9 months)

3. Car Maintenance & Servicing
As I bought the car from a car dealer, I was gifted with a mechanical car warranty (which was pretty useless as the excess was $400 per repair item -_-). One of the requirements for the mechanical car warranty to be valid was that I had to service my car within the first 5,000km. I had to visit a ‘branded’ workshop as I need to have the stamp/chop to verify my servicing. As a result, I paid about $85 for the servicing and oil change. They recommended me to change my filters which I did for Air Filter: $41; Cabin Filter: $45. After which, I replaced two of my tyres and one bearing of my wheel which cost $270. In my latest maintenance (Nov 2019), I paid $369.80 which included servicing, oil change, brake fluid change, spark plugs.

Damage: $811 just on maintenance and servicing

4. Warrant of Fitness (WOF) Cost
All cars in New Zealand are required to pass the ‘WOF’ test which is every 6 months for cars before 2000 and every 12 months for car after 2000. The price is usually $67 (at VTNZ) and they will allow you to check once, inform you of the fixes required (and then you rectify the fixes), and then they will check it for the second time for free. Things that they usually check for WOF: lights, wipers, tyres (need to have sufficient tyre tread depth), oil, seat belts and safety, breaks, leaks, speedometers, exhaust, fuels, structural (no rest at certain area), etc.
Should there be anything wrong with the above, the WOF will not be granted and you are not allowed to drive the car until you fix it. This is why cars with a long WOF period can usually be sold at a higher price.

My car dealer passed the WOF for my car before selling it to me.

Damage: $67 + potential items you need to rectify. Most of my friends pay between $100 to $1,000 to fix their car in order to pass the WOF.

Anyway, there are varying degrees of WOF inspections and some workshops may be more slack. Having a car that have passed WOF recently doesn’t guarantee it to be a good car but with a longer WOF, you will save the trouble of the inspection and the pandora box to the required fixes.

5. Licensing Rego Fee (Something like Road Tax for the Car)
You are allowed to purchase in denominations of 3, 6 and 12 months.
It is cheaper to pay for 12 months – $109.16 ($9.09/month) rather than for 3 months – $30.56 ($10.19/month) but the difference is quite minimal. It is a very simple process to purchase the Rego and it can be done online. Do ensure that you do it at least 2 weeks before the current rego expires as time is needed for them to mail the slip of paper to you (which you will have to display on the windscreen of your car).

Damage: $109.16 for 1 year

6. Petrol Cost
This is.. a huge question mark as it really depends on how intensive your traveling is, how far your workplace is from your accommodation and how fuel efficient is your car. The sums that I am going to provide is based on my rather fuel efficient car, Honda Fit.

To date, I have spent a total of $793 on 374.77L of 91 petrol and drove a 5,900km (average). This is not very accurate as I didn’t start with full petrol and right now I’m also 1/4 on my petrol tank. But based on the law of large numbers, it should all equal out in the end.

My average petrol price for 91 Fuel: $2.1159
Petrol consumption: 15.74km/L
Cost per km: $0.1344

My mileage is pretty low (as I’ve only ventured around in South Island) but assuming you travel from north island down to south island, I’m pretty sure your mileage will be at about 15,000km for your 9 months duration.

Estimated Damage: $2,016 (which could be lesser assuming you fetch people along the way and they opted to share the fuel with you)

7. Unexpected Cost

I had to call for a tow truck ($120 + GST), replaced a craft shank sensor and 2 ignition coils during a sudden breakdown. The car workshop person said that the craft shank sensor was an electronic/wiring issue and it can just happen like without warning. No idea what came first but it turns out to be that my spark plugs (a wear and tear item to be changed usually at 100k) had to be changed as well. After which, I had to change 2 ignition coils as well. The cost just keeps piling up like a snowball and right now my car feels fine and good to drive but it did cost me a hell lot of stress and panic.

8. Fines/Summons

It has not happened to me yet and I hope it will never will. However, I’m adding this in to highlight that it is rather common to be ‘fined’ for things like speeding, parking beyond the time limit (yes they do have people checking), not purchasing a parking coupon when it is required, parking at unauthorized locations (my friend’s car got towed away before) and the list goes on..

Summary of Car Cost (Estimate for 9 months)

Cost of Car: $3,990
Insurance: $500
AA Membership: $79+$49
Maintenance: $250 (I reckon at least once/twice)
Petrol: $2,000

Total: $6,868 less $4,000 (selling price of car) = $2,868

The above is just a conservative estimation with the assumption of a very lucky driver.

In the duration of my working holiday, I’ve heard of many cases where people just end up crashing their car (insurance pays the write-off amount) due to unfortunate accidents. There were 3 cases in my share house of 9 girls :/ Also, I have heard of one girl who’s car engine just totally died/malfunctioned somewhere along the road and she had to pay $2,000 to fix her $3,500 car. And there’s me, who has spent $1,800 to date on car related fixes and maintenance. Owning a car is definitely not cheap and it can be annoying if your streak of bad luck keeps coming like mine.

On hindsight, I will still get a car because.. I enjoy traveling solo and I needed the freedom much more than I can’t part with my money. It had indeed been a high and low journey with my car and I’m still glad that I embarked on that journey.

********

I finally parted with my car in Week 28. I sold it to a local person in Alexandra, at the price that I bought it at (well $10 more). It was a tough decision but kind of a necessary one as the fear of driving my car was a little stressing me out and I thought that I should sell the car when everything is good. The first (and only) person that did the test drive said my car was perfect and they eventually haggled the price down from $4,300 to $4,000. To be honest, I wouldn’t be accepting anything less than $4,000 so she was pretty smart in figuring out my bottomline.

Anyway, here’s my final car stats for your reference:

Car Ownership Duration: 5 July 2019 – 3 Jan 2020
Mileage: 6,071km

Cost of Car: $3,990
Insurance: $12.68/week x 183 days = $331.50
AA Membership: $79 + $49 (plus)
Maintenance/Servicing: $1,807
Changed items: oil filter, air filter, 2 second hand wheels, 1 wheel bearing, 2 ignition coils, 1 craft shank sensor, engine oil, brake fluid, repaired 1 punctured tyre
Petrol: $862.40

Total Cost: $7,118.90

Total Damage less $4k (price I sold my car): $3,118.90 – This was the price I had to pay for my 6-months car usage.

I’m a little unsettled without my car and I don’t know what will become of me. I guess you will have to stay tuned to my weekly updates to find out if I will end up buying a second car, or perhaps survive on a new kind of adventure in New Zealand.

Good Luck!

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