Preparing to buy a camper van

Our first big task after arriving was to find a camper. Before leaving the UK we did a fair bit of research. We looked at how long we were away for, how much travelling we wanted to do and what sort of budget we had for the trip. It was pretty easy for us to see that we wanted to travel via camper van; a few years ago we did a road trip in a big car and enjoyed travelling by road. It seems silly that we have our camper at home and have hardly used it.

We looked at how long we wanted to travel for and to get both islands in, Jenny came up with a figure of 7-8 weeks. Then we started looking at hiring a camper. It quickly became apparent that this was going to be an expensive option. Even a bottom of the range camper was going to set us back $8000-10000 for the 8 weeks. Whilst doing our research we’d seen a few mentions of people buying and selling vans for a trip like this. We looked into it and it looked like a viable option for a trip length greater than 6 weeks.

An important note here, the trade off for lower costs is greater risk of problems and a lot more time spent researching for your trip. We both got our Google-fu going and looked up what was involved with buying a vehicle in New Zealand. Thankfully there are a couple of really useful resources on the internet for this. We found to be the most all-round resource, with links to some useful government sites. Also we found several Facebook buy/sell groups for camper vans in New Zealand. We started looking at these 3 months before we left, not because we were trying to buy a van that early, but so we could get a feel for the sorts of vehicles available and what prices we’d expect to pay.

Our camper van requirements

So, with the research done we set about choosing what features and budget we would aim for when getting a camper:

Must haves:

  • Bed in the back
  • Storage space
  • Larger than an MPV
  • Less than 350,000 km
  • New/recent WoF
  • Located in Christchurch and ready for sale by 15/12/16

Ideally haves:

  • Certified as Self-contained
  • Less than 300,000 km
  • Secondary battery and 12V system

Love to have:

  • Fridge
  • Mains hook-up
  • Less than 240,000 km
  • Good condition inside and outside
  • Air conditioning

With all of this in mind we knew that we’d need to budget $8000-$10000.

Finding Cayley

Just before we left the UK we started making contact with sellers on the internet that had vans that we thought would suit our needs. we arranged 2 viewings for the first full day we had in Christchurch. So we hired some bikes from the Hostel we were in and went to see the first van. A HiAce Super Custom from the late 90’s.

At first sight she wasn’t anything amazing to look at, having a lot of paint chips and scratches, but as the owner showed us around it became apparent that this van ticked almost all of the boxes. In fact we decided after the first visit that this van would do us fine and to avoid lots of extra decision making we would offer to buy this one and cancel the second viewing. As it happened the second seller was no longer available that afternoon anyway.

Making the purchase

So we arranged with the HiAce’s owner to come back later in the afternoon to go over a few little bits that needed sorted. The van didn’t yet have a WoF, although the required remedial work was already underway by the owner. The biggest stumbling block was that we wanted to have a PPA check carried out. Initially the owner was more than happy with this, but was less enthusiastic when it turned out that we wouldn’t be able to get an appointment first thing the next day, due to all of the test facilities being booked up. In the end we got a booking at the local VINZ office, that said they’d fit it in between other jobs if we drop it off first thing in the morning.

Kindly the owner suggested that we took the van that night so we could drop it off at the test place first thing in the morning and he could just get on with his day. We did just this, and the plan seemed to be OK until about lunchtime, when the van was still at the VINZ and the owner wanted it back. After a slightly stressful couple of hours we managed to get the van picked up with it’s completed PPA and get back to the seller to complete the sale. In the end we think the owner was having second thoughts as he’d been given a slightly higher offer after he’d agreed to our sale. Although once we returned and completed the sale, the owner seemed happy enough.

Cayley the camper van

Cayley got her name from the letters in her number plate CYY824. She’s a 1996 Toyota HiAce Super Custom, back in the day she would have been a top end model and we’re surprised by the number of cool, working features she has:

  • 3L Turbo Diesel engine
  • Automatic Gearbox
  • Electrically adjusted drivers seat
  • Alloy wheels with commercially rated tires
  • Radio/Stereo/CD player
  • Sunroof in the front
  • Large electric sunroof in the back
  • 2 Small electric sunroofs in the back
  • Air conditioning
  • Tinted Windows
  • 309,500 km
  • Certified as Self Contained
  • Secondary 12V system, with mains hookup and charger
  • Fridge
  • Sink
  • Pumped water, with on-board clean and grey water tanks
  • Rear seats, that convert into double bed
  • Internal pedestal table
  • External fold down table
  • Curtains all round

All in all it was a successful purchase, but does involve some amount of stress.

It then took another full day driving around Christchurch picking up the rest of the bits to use in the camper for the rest of our trip.

Since buying the van we’ve already clocked up over 600 km, including 50 km on dirt roads and at least 100 km through the mountains. Cayley has been nearly faultless apart from a scary 20 minutes when she wouldn’t start up in Arthur’s pass. Thankfully I found that the battery connection had come loose after all the bumping on the dirt roads. Fingers crossed we don’t have too many mechanical problems along the way.

We would recommend buying your own van if you are away for 8 weeks or more, but less than that and you may find the time cost isn’t worth the savings over renting a van.