“A free rental car in New Zealand?” I asked the Irish construction worker sitting across the room from me at my Queenstown hostel. “That doesn’t sound like a real thing.”
When my friend and I told him about our plans to bus from Queenstown to Picton, he suggested we drive. We told him we couldn’t afford a car, but he countered we could get one for free. Naturally, we were skeptical. Usually when the words “free” and “car” are together in one sentence, you’re either looking at a one-in-a-million shot or a total scam.
We hesitated to believe him, but it was worth looking into. On break from our semester abroad, we would spend the next week traveling through New Zealand’s South Island. This meant lots of bus tickets and one long ferry ride. As students, neither of us had the budget to pay for a rental car—but we could afford “free”.
How I Got a Free Rental Car in New Zealand
Per that stranger’s advice, we typed Transfercar into the search engine and there it was—a website offering up free rental cars. Transfercar is a relocation service for rental car companies that need their vehicles to be sent elsewhere. Instead of paying for the cars to be towed where they’re needed, Transfercar finds travelers willing to take the car from one city to another.
Sound too good to be true? Here’s the catch: Drivers have to pick up the car and drop it off at its next destination by a designated day. For example, if you pick up a van in Queenstown on January 15, you have until January 19 to drop it off in Auckland—giving you just four days to drive all the way across New Zealand. The timeline given differs depending on each listing, and you can pay an extra $80 per day if you’d like a little more time to explore. You can also purchase insurance, which is well worth it when you consider how much you’re saving.
In the Transfercar listings, each car offers different combinations of sizes, origins, and final destinations, which means you can’t be picky and will have to choose from what’s available. Some might say “two free days” or “four free days,” which simply denotes how much time the rental car gives you to deliver the car. Drivers must be over 18 and have a valid driver’s license, whether it’s for New Zealand or overseas. Gas is on your own dime, but most rental car companies don’t require that you return the car with a full tank—just in case you didn’t think you were saving enough money already.
When my friend and I arrived in Christchurch to pick up our car, we were surprised by how easy it was. After a bit of paperwork (which took no longer than that of a normal car rental) they gave us the keys. We had three days to deliver a black SUV from Christchurch to Nelson, which left plenty of time to drive through and explore parts of the South Island we never would have reached by bus.
With its sprawling mountains, breathtaking fjords, and rolling hills dotted with sleepy sheep, New Zealand was already a place too good to be true. Throw in a free rental car to explore it all? At this point, we were just being spoiled.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 7 Secret Places to See on New Zealand’s South Island
- 10 Best Apps for Road Trips
- 10 Europe Road Trips That Should Be On Your Bucket List
Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.