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Like other countries with a small and spread out population, NZ has very few public transport options.

Renting a car is generally the best way for you to be able to get around, both in the cities and also when touring between cities.

 
 
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Renting a Car in New Zealand part 1

Consider Local Rental Car Companies for Better Values
 

This sign at NZ's Christchurch Airport shows the wide variety of rental car company choices available in New Zealand (and this sign lists only the nearby off-airport companies, not the major on-airport companies).

Part onw 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.

 

 

On the face of it, you'd think renting a car to be a universally similar experience, everywhere in the world.

This is not necessarily the case, and you need to adjust your choice of car to meet local expectations.  Furthermore, the rental car companies you know and rely on back home may not be the best choice (and may not even exist) in New Zealand.

This section of our New Zealand series will tell you what you need to know in order to select and rent the most suitable car for your NZ vacation.

Rental Cars Are Almost Essential in New Zealand

It is difficult to enjoy a vacation in New Zealand if you don't have a rental car to give you the independence and ability to go where you wish, as and when you wish.

Indeed, with New Zealand being a country of such outstanding scenic beauty, the traveling part of your time downunder isn't just 'wasted' getting from Point A to Point B, but rather is one of the highlights of your time in the country, and one of the main purposes of visiting.

Don't worry about driving on the other side of the road - our page on How to drive on the other side of the road gives you helpful advice on how to do this.  And don't worry about where and how to go on a self-drive tour of NZ, because our page on self drive touring in New Zealand and our series of NZ self-drive itineraries give you lots of helpful advice about those things too.

Choosing a Rental Car Company in NZ

If you're going to be renting a car for your travels around New Zealand, you have a choice of the usual international branded companies such as Hertz and Avis as well as smaller New Zealand companies.

There are several differences between the companies offering services in addition to the obvious pricing differences.

I've rented from Hertz in the past and always had good experiences.  I used to sell vast quantities of rentals for NZ Rentacar, with generally positive feedback, but this company has undergone some changes of ownership and may not be the same these days as it was back in the 1990s.

Most recently, I rented a couple of cars from About NZ Rentals in mid 2010, which is a different brand name of Apex, a company that claims to be NZ's largest domestic rental car company.  My experiences with About/Apex were all uniformly excellent too.

Nearly new or not so new cars :  Some of the lower priced car companies have older and high mileage vehicles, whereas the major brand companies buy cars new and rotate them out of their fleet regularly.

We've occasionally heard horror stories from people who rented older cars with bald tires and/or mechanical problems - issues made worse by unresponsive personnel at the no-brand rental car company.

One way rental policy :  Most rental companies will allow you to hire cars one way, but if you're doing this, check to be sure you can do this and there are no subtle extra charges involved.

Insurance charges :  Some rental car companies impose mandatory insurance charges on all rentals, whereas others just have the usual range of optional insurance coverages.

Taking cars across Cook Strait :  Some rental car companies don't allow you to take cars across Cook Strait, others require that you must.

See the section below to decide if you want to take a car with you when traveling between the two islands or not.

Real Company or Consolidator/Broker

Some companies don't actually own or operate cars, or they might own and operate cars in one or two locations and have 'code share' type services with other rental car companies in other locations.

This means that not every car you rent in one location could be returned to another location which they apparently have, because the two locations might actually be two completely different rental car companies.

It also means that there is potentially less quality control in the process and more chances for things to go wrong.  If you make a booking direct with a rental car company, that is one thing, but if you make it through some other company in the middle (not a travel agent, but an apparent rental car company) then there's plenty of chance for 'Oh, they should have told you ....' or 'Oh dear, they never told us .....' or just 'I'm sorry, but you'll have to sort that out with the company you made your booking with when you get home'.

There is another side to that coin.  If you have a problem with a rental car company in NZ (or any other foreign country) you're not in a very strong bargaining position.  They know you're about to leave the country, and they know you'll probably never rent a car from them again anyway, so there's not a lot of motivation to go out of their way to help you.

But if you are dealing through a third party that gives them lots of business, and if you arrange for the third party to beat up on them on your behalf, they are more likely to be responsive in such a case.

Furthermore, sometimes these third party consolidators can give you better deals than if you were to deal direct with the rental car company itself.  How crazy is that?  Crazy, yes, but also very common.

Perhaps the most prominent company that doesn't operate its own cars is Auto Europe (name notwithstanding, these days it offers cars in New Zealand and many other countries too).  Their prices are often excellent and considerably lower than you'd get dealing directly, so don't overlook them as an option.

Another variation on this is a company with two different brand names - for example, About New Zealand Rentals and Apex Car Rental.  This is the same company, even has similar websites, and you'll go to the same depot to pick up and return the same cars, with the only difference being that About NZ Rentals tends to be a dollar or two a day cheaper.

One more variation.  Some companies, such as New Zealand Rent a Car, are marketing creations.  They are an association of small independent car operators around the country who have clubbed together to form a larger international presence.  These sorts of groups of private operators can sometimes work well, but can sometimes also be plagued with quality control problems whereby one or two of the participating companies aren't adhering to the notional standards set by the overall management/marketing company.

Branch Locations and Issues

There is a wide range of different issues and outcomes when you start looking at the different numbers of branches operated by the different rental car companies in New Zealand.

These are four of the most relevant points to consider.

Number of branches :  Some rental car companies have only one location, others have two or possibly three locations.  A very few companies have many different branches all around the country.  Most people will plan to pick up a rental car in Auckland and return it in Auckland or Christchurch (or vice versa) so this isn't a problem, but other people might want to selectively collect and return cars to other locations - for example Queenstown, or perhaps Greymouth (to connect with the wonderful Tranz-Alpine scenic train to/from Christchurch).

On or Off Airport : The same as in most other companies, some rental car companies have on-airport locations where you can essentially walk between where the cars are located and the passenger terminal, while others have off-airport locations that may be some considerable distance away.

There's no real downside to an off-airport location other than the extra time it takes to get between your car and the airport; however if you are choosing an off-airport company, you need to keep two other points in mind.

The first is how you will get between the rental car depot and the airport terminal. Do they have shuttle bus service or will they drive you in your rental car, or will they reimburse you a taxi fare? Or what other arrangements exist?

The second is how will you travel to the airport if you are returning the car to the branch outside of its regular opening hours?

Opening hours :  No rental car depots in New Zealand are open 24/7.  Some branches in smaller towns may be closed on Sundays, and possibly closed on Saturdays too.  If you're going to be picking up or returning cars outside of 9-5, Mon-Fri, check to make sure this will be possible.

Hotel Delivery of Car : Some companies will offer to deliver your car direct to your hotel (and/or possibly pick it up too), although probably only during regular office hours, and only to reasonably centrally located hotels.

This can be a nice added convenience if you're not always picking up and dropping off your cars at airports. If you might be able to benefit from this, ask if the service is available and free.

Part one 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
 

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Originally published 3 Feb 2011, last update 28 May 2011

 
 
 
Related Articles
Information about planning a vacation in New Zealand
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 - What to see and do
Te Anau - What to see and do
The Travel Insider's NZ Tour, Oct/Nov 08

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