Choose the right rental car for your New Zealand vacation

The perfect car for a self drive NZ tour

Choosing the right vehicle for your New Zealand road trip is a question of safety!

Choosing the right vehicle is probably one of the most important decisions you can make when planning your driving holiday in New Zealand. This article has been designed to help you decide which is the best vehicle to rent for your New Zealand road trip. The rental vehicles we select from when planning your road trip are brand new, modern vehicles with an average age no older than 6 months) and the latest models, including the latest safety features.

Comfort is Safety!


Driving comfort is extremely important to remaining safe while on the road. When you consider the type of vehicle to hire, ask yourself whether you would feel comfortable when driving, does it have the necessary space and features for your specific journey - especially if it is a long one.

Driving long distances can be tiring and when you’re tired it can be dangerous, especially if you’re not used to driving on the left. There are few "interstate" highways (called motorways here) and the rest of the country is one lane each way. This is a hilly country and many roads, even major ones are narrow and winding and sometimes steep – taking these factors into consideration when planning your holiday, calculate an average speed of only 70 km (43 miles) an hour. If traveling a short distance, then you won’t need a vehicle that has tons of features, however if you’re traveling for many hours then we recommend  having a vehicle that has conveniences/comforts like extra legroom, air conditioning and extra safety features like electronic stability control and extra airbags. 

If you’re simply looking to save money on vehicle hire and petrol, you’ll probably want to hire the smallest available model, which is fine for those shorter trips, but size has definite safety implications when we talk about spending long hours driving. When in a crash with another car of differing size, it’s often whoever is the biggest is the safest, unfortunately this is true and statistically speaking most accidents are head on in New Zealand.

Features to Consider


Safety                                                            Comfort                     
Anti-lock BrakesSound System
Rear View CameraBluetooth
GPS NavigationSun/Moon Roof
Side Airbags Seat Heaters
Cruise ControlFull Air Conditioning
Rear-view CameraPower Outlet / USB
Electronic StabilityRear Entry Trunk / Boot

Family Touring


If you’re touring with your family (children) or with a lot of luggage, you probably want to look at a larger sedan or SUV (sport utility vehicle). Enough bottle and cup holders, flexible back seats to help kids relax when tired. If small children or young adults are easily bored, consider a car with a Wi-Fi hotspot for social media and movie streaming and an audio system for enjoying the perfect road trip playlist.

Does it have a child lock and is it flexible to all the kinds of car seats?


Family Carhire New Zealand

Size Matters


Enough trunk/boot space is a must: It is important a vehicle accommodates all essential luggage and also provides ample space to fit the luggage evenly and makes it easily accessible. SUV’s score highly as the trunk/boot is reachable from inside the vehicle and helps to avoid too many stops while driving.

Internal space management and features: When we talk about spending long hours driving, a car with comfortable and smart interiors acts as a perfect companion. Enough bottle and cup holders, flexible back seats, a good music system to entertain on long drives, comfortable seats with adjustable features while driving, minimal cabin noise are some of the essentials which are to be noted.

Cars are smaller in New Zealand as compared to the States so be forewarned the trunks are smaller too! A good example of this is that a large NZ saloon will comfortably seat 4 adults but will not fit 4 large suitcases plus small bags into its trunk. 

Vehicle Efficiency


Low Emission, Hybrid Cars & Electric Cars: The smaller the car the more fuel-efficient was the general rule, however there is now a line of cars in New Zealand that offer high fuel-efficiency and are easy on the wallet. We are now able to offer clean, low-emissions vehicles. All of the vehicles in this class offer guest’s significant fuel economy and lower emissions. This includes electric cars and hybrid cars. These vehicles are available at select locations with more coming online every month. The fleet includes compact cars, sedans and SUVs.

Fuel-efficiency is seen in New Zealand as reaching a combined miles per gallon (MPG) rating of 28. The combined MPG rating is calculated with a 45%/55% split using Highway and City measurements, respectively. For more on combined MPG visit

Fuel efficiency: Smaller cars with smaller engines are more fuel-efficient, however some of the larger 4WD vehicles and people movers have efficient diesel engines. Diesel is significantly cheaper than petrol in New Zealand.

Milford Road

Automatic or Manual


The majority of New Zealand rental cars are automatic, some categories like compact or intermediate cars do offer a manual option, however this option is more expensive. Most car hire companies are phasing out all manual cars.

Global Positioning System


A Global Positioning System (GPS) is a great addition to your New Zealand travel experience. The major plus of a GPS is that it eliminates a big source of travel stress – getting lost and driving distractions when trying to navigate by road atlas or map.

Although many Smart phones now feature built in GPS, the smaller screen, lower volume and reliance on patchy internet coverage in remote locations can be a disadvantage. Stand alone GPS has more consistent performance, and won’t be affected by receiving a phone call. For peace of mind and to reduce disagreements over directions and maps, a GPS is designed to save you time and ease your journey. More and more, the GPS is a must-have for your kiwi adventure.

Some late model vehicles do have GPS built in, but If not First Light Travel will have one ready and waiting when you arrive.

Child Protection and Safety


Under New Zealand law, all children under 7 years of age must use an approved child seat/restraint appropriate for their age and size. It is the driver's (your) responsibility to ensure that any child that is travelling in the vehicle/car is correctly using an appropriate child restraint.

We have, rear-seat forward facing reversible child safety seats available at most of our locations and with advanced warning we can get them there.

These child safety seats can be used in two ways:

  • Forward-facing for toddlers
  • Reversed for babies

Child Booster Seats are suitable for children upto 3-7 years of age or children weighing 18-36 kgs (40-80 lbs).

Child Safety Seats are suitable for younger infants and toddlers age 0-6 that weigh 9-18 kgs (20-40 lbs) in a forward-facing configuration.

Child Safety Seats are suitable for younger infants and toddlers age 0-6 that weigh 2.2-9 kgs (5-20 lbs) in a rear-facing configuration.

Scenic Drives in NZ

The Fine Print


Insurance: All rental cars come with an insurance cover. There is a maximum excess or deduction which you are liable to pay in the event of an accident and these range between NZ$340 and NZ$460 depending on the rental car company and the type of vehicle (value). These are clearly shown on your itinerary and quote from us.

Reducing your damage excess: Reducing your damage excess or deductible for rental cars is like paying insurance on anything in life – it’s about recognising the risk and protecting your-self accordingly. There are a number of damage excess options covering loss or damage to your hire car availiable.

Insurance exclusions: Insurance cover does have some exclusions. Damage to tyres and windscreens are not covered and all of these details are also specified.

Bond: In order to rent any vehicle in New Zealand a security bond is required to cover the excess or deductible is requested by the rental company on collection of the vehicle. This is usually in the form of a credit card authorisation.

Who can drive: There are few restrictions on who can drive the rental. There’s a minimum age of 21 years to rent a vehicle. Some companies apply a surcharge for those 21 to 24 years. Provided you have a licence, there is no maximum age for rental.

Emergency Assistance: A 24-Hour Emergency Roadside Assistance comes with all of our vehicles. This means you can drive with peace of mind. Whenever and wherever you get into trouble with your vehicle, Roadside Assistance will get you back on the road as quickly as possible. This is free of charge when the fault is a technical/mechanical failure, however if the driver is at fault e.g. you have a flat battery because you left the lights on or you put in the incorrect fuel (diesel into a petrol tank). Premium Roadside Assistance for non technical/mechanical assistance can be purchased at the time of rental.

Traffic Violations: The renter is solely responsible for any traffic violations or parking tickets incurred during the rental period.

Sheep on Road

In Summary


Yes it’s a beautiful country and a road trip is a great way to experience our country but driving in New Zealand is NOTHING like driving in the US (for example). There are some obvious differences, like the steering wheel being on the right and the blinker (indicator) and windshield wipers reversed.

But the real difference comes when you look at a map and say, "look it is only 80 km (50miles) between Thames and Whitianga, it should take us only 45 minutes to get there." WRONG! There are few "interstate" highways (called motorways here) and the rest of the country is one lane each way. That means slowing down to go through the numerous small towns, getting stuck behind logging or cattle trucks doing 60km (37miles) and other unforeseen delays that do not show-up on maps – So your choice of car is essential, especially if you are going to spent a lot of time behind the wheel.

See our comprehensive fleet of Rental Cars and People Movers.

See our comprehensive range of Campervans and Motor-homes.

Everything you need to know about New Zealand Car Rental Insurance.

Since 2001 we’ve been helping visitors plan their dream New Zealand holiday. We aim to make visiting our beautiful land effortless. Let our expert holiday planners put together an itinerary for you, no obligation FREE of charge, or get some friendly advice on what small group tour would suit - Just follow the link and answer a few brief questions.

Pricing terms

The price is based on current exchange rates but is only an approximation. Please contact us for a final price