Renting a Car in New Zealand part 1
Consider Local Rental Car Companies for Better
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 :
Choosing a Rental Car Company
2. Choosing the right
3. Other things to
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
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
drive touring in New Zealand and our series of
itineraries give you lots of helpful advice about those things
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Part one of a three part series
on renting a car in New Zealand - see also :
1. Choosing a Rental Car
2. Choosing the right
3. Other things to
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3 Feb 2011, last update
28 May 2011