How to sell a campervan in New Zealand

As I hope I’ve exhibited in penning the series “Freedom to Roam,” there are few better travel experiences than touring New Zealand by campervan. Trekking through the Southern Alps, exploring hidden wine regions, sampling freshly caught seafood, basking on lazy beaches — all are accessible by simply putting four wheels beneath your feet and hitting the open road.

That being said, all of that goes out the window once it comes time to sell the van. For all the monuments of relaxation, which lay scattered about the country, selling a van in New Zealand can be the most ulcer-inducing, stress-provoking, miserable existence that can surely be the worst part of your trip. It’s the price to pay for the economic gamble, and unlike most fairy tales, it doesn’t always have a happy ending.

As I discussed in the initial entry to the series, “New Zealand by campervan,” travelers can save heaps of money on long-term New Zealand travel by opting to buy and sell a van versus renting one and eating the cost. Potential risks of this option, however, involve buying a van that needs immediate maintenance or, worse yet, the chance that you aren’t able to sell the van before you leave the country.

So after 7,000 kilometers, in which the van transported me from glaciers to rodeos and Murderer’s Bay to Mordor, here’s a look into how the gamble worked out as well as some tips for recreating the adventure. First off, you’re going to have much better luck selling a van in Christchurch than in Auckland. Why? Because there are about 45,000 campervans for sale at any given time in Auckland. The supply far outweighs the demand, and this is terrifying if you are a seller. As a general rule for buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand, buy one in Auckland but sell it in Christchurch. Trust me on this one.

I was not in Christchurch, however, I was in Auckland, and competition was stiff. In a market like this you need to get noticed fast, and you want to make sure your car is clean and in good working order. Luckily, ours was only in need of an oil change. So with new oil, a new filter and $85 later, I was in possession of one more selling point.

Next, you need to find a place to advertise your van.

Option #1: Backpacker’s Car Market, Auckland

Though the name sounds welcoming, be warned. This place can be the most depressing spot on the planet. If you are a seller, seriously, this can be the seventh circle of Hell. Here’s the deal with the Backpacker’s Car Market: As a seller, it’s going to cost you $135 NZD for a spot at the market in which you have three days to sell your car. If it doesn’t sell after three days, time to fork up the cash again.

During our time at the car market there was a lone traveler from Israel named Gabriel who couldn’t sell his van. It was painted the color of an old man’s couch and had about 340,000 kilometers on it. Gabriel was on his 14th straight day of sitting at the market, which is a soul-sucking garage in a sleazy part of town. Needless to say, Gabriel was not in a good mood.

The main problem with the Auckland Backpacker’s Car Market is literally in the name; you are selling to backpackers. Often times this means you are haggling with people with minimal foresight with regards to quality and maximum emphasis is placed on the cost. If the van next to yours is $200 cheaper, they’re going to buy that van. Why? Because, that’s like, a lot of beer, dude.

Furthermore, every day there is a new seller who is on their third day or has a flight in the morning, so they get desperate, drop $1000 or $1500 off of their car and leave the country with something other than a total loss. As you can imagine, it’s tough to compete with these people.

Granted, there are all sorts of travelers who successfully sell their van here, but a room full of money-desperate travelers trying to sell used cars to penniless backpackers is a recipe for misery.

Want a better option? Sell your car at the Backpacker Car Market in Christchurch where you can leave the van for up to six months. Plus, there are only about 12 vans here to choose from, so it’s a seller’s market.

Option #2: Utilize online forums

Just as we have Craigslist here in America, so too does New Zealand have their share of online forums. While TradeMe is the most well known, they require a hefty listing fee as well as a fee for if your van sells. It’s cheaper than the car market, but it’s still an expense. Better bet is to go on Gumtree or Backpacker Board where you can list the van for free and still reach a large number of buyers. This option works best if you have a mobile telephone where buyers can contact you to arrange a meeting.

Option #3: Put flyers at a hostel

This seems like a good idea until you go into an Auckland hostel and add your flyer to a stack of about 100 deep. Similarly, staring down a wall that is plastered in flyers for vans that are exactly the same or cheaper than yours can be another depressing realization. Nevertheless, you still have to try…

Option #4: Sell it to a dealer

For those who have entered desperation mode there are a fair amount of dealerships willing to give you pennies on the dollar for what you paid. This is a last resort as you won’t get more than a few hundred dollars, but it beats taking a total loss. Still, not recommended.

Option #5: Good old fashioned ‘For Sale’ sign

This, it seems, is almost clichéd. It’s just too easy. Put a sign up on your car and go about your daily life. What an incredible concept! There’s no way that can actually work though, right?

Wrong. Of both the campervans I’ve ever sold in New Zealand (2007 and 2012), this is the method through which I sold both vans. Once, while parked outside the Fat Camel hostel in downtown Auckland, and this current time, while sleeping at a holiday park on the outskirts of town.

So after nearly a week of haggling at the car market, printing dozens of fliers, visiting every hostel in Auckland, putting write-ups on every message board and getting jerked around repeatedly by a penny-pinching German named Johan, I was at wits end and beside myself with the frustrations of being unable to offload a perfectly good van and recoup some of the money I barely had in the first place.

Just when all seemed lost and this gamble was going south, an unexpected voice with a decidedly British accent disrupted me from a vigorous writing session inside the television room of the crowded campground.

“Are you Kyle? The one with the van for sale in camp number 13?”

“Why yes. Yes I am. Why don’t we step outside and chat.”

This concludes blogger Kyle Ellison’s series “Freedom To Roam,” the tales of an epic eight weeks spent embedded in a New Zealand campervan. After the worst week of his life spent failing to sell his van, he finally lucked out on a deal for $3400 to an affable British couple who he wishes nothing but the best in their travels. So what was the final overall cost for a campervan for eight weeks in New Zealand? $300. Was it a gamble? Sure. But when you’re an international vagabond, sometimes that’s just how you have to roll.