Buying guide

What paperwork will I need when buying a car?

We explain all the paperwork involved when buying a car.

Whether you're buying from a private seller or car dealer, make sure you fill out all the necessary paperwork when you take over car ownership. Or you could be stuck with unwanted fines or costs.

Change of ownership

You need to change the ownership before driving away. There are a few very easy ways to get this done:

  • Filling in the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) change of ownership/registered person forms can be done online, or you can go to an NZTA agent in person.
  • It needs to be completed by both the buyer and seller, so you should try to do this when you pick the car up.
  • If you’re buying from a car dealer they normally complete the process for you, but always check it’s been done.
  • If you’re buying a new imported car, you’ll need to register the car so the NZTA can issue you with a car number plate. The car dealer should do this before selling, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Once you’ve changed ownership or registered your new car, the NZTA will send you a Certificate of Registration in your name.

If you don’t complete the change of ownership process, you could land a $1,000 fine plus any unpaid fees or fines owing on the car. So it definitely needs to be done!


Protecting yourself and your car with insurance is important and you should arrange it before picking the car up. Use your current insurance company or you can get a car insurance quote online with Trade Me Insurance.

Registration and vehicle licensing (rego)

Your car needs to be both registered and have vehicle licensing (rego). Having a rego on your vehicle is the law – you could be fined $200 for driving without one.

  • Your car needs to be registered and licensed with the NZTA from the moment you drive away with it – or you risk being stung with a $200 fine.
  • If the car you’ve bought has been un-licensed (without rego) for less than a year, you can apply to the NZTA for renewal. The seller is responsible for the money owed on the licence fees up to the point of sale and then the responsibility is all yours.
  • Pay online, or to receive an instant rego label go to your nearest AA, NZ Post shop, VTNZ, VINZ or an independent outlet displaying the NZTA logo.
  • If the car has been unlicensed (without rego) for more than 12 months, its registration will be cancelled and getting it reinstated involves a bit more work including inspection, certification, re-registration, licensing and getting new plates and labels.
  • Some cars have personalised plates and the owner may want to keep them, so work out a transfer agreement before you take ownership of the car.

Warrant of Fitness (WoF)

Every car needs to be checked to make sure it meets all standard safety requirements, which is called a Warrant of Fitness (WoF).

It’s illegal to drive a car without a current WoF, so make sure your newly bought car has one, or drive straight to a testing station or authorised mechanic to get one; you're legally allowed to drive an unwarranted car to one of these places (if the car is in a state to do so), but nowhere else.

The age of your car will determine how often you need to renew your WoF, which can be from six months to three years.

Reminder, a WoF isn’t the same as a pre-purchase inspection as it doesn’t check all the same things.

Road user charges (RUC)

All diesel-powered cars need to display a current distance licence on the windscreen showing up to date payment of road user charges (RUC), or mileage. How often you pay for RUC depends on how far you drive, as you buy the licence in 1,000km units.

If the RUC on the car you’re buying has expired, the seller needs to fix this before you take ownership, or you’ll have to pay any outstanding costs.

Mechanical warranty

If you’re buying your car from a dealer, you can choose to buy a mechanical warranty. It’s like a warranty on any other product you’d buy in a shop – meaning that if there’s a defect or other problem, the dealer may have to cover the cost of repairing or replacing it. Make sure you understand what is and isn’t covered before you purchase one.

You should now be confident you know all of the paperwork you’ll need to complete as part of your car purchase – which is fantastic as it means you can get on with enjoying your new ride! This isn’t, however, where our help and support for you ends. If you’re unsure about some of the legal aspects when buying then let us give you some advice.