The dilemma:

Tom, his wife and two kids - plus the family labrador - are moving back to New Zealand after living in Canada and owning a 1999 Subaru Outback and "fully-loaded" 2007 Mazda3 GT.

"We are looking to replace our primary family car as quickly as we can. We will be using it to explore on weekends and longer road trips, as well as driving around town for daily life," says Tom."We like performance cars and are keen on a Mazda6 wagon."

He's shocked at new-car prices in New Zealand, while the used car prices seem "reasonable" to him.


Well Tom, if you think our car prices are high then I suspect a bigger shock awaits you in terms of our current fuel prices.

New Zealand has a very old vehicle fleet compared to many other countries (average age around 12 years) with a high percentage of those vehicles being Japanese used imports built in the mid-1990s.

Used import European cars mainly from Japan (and more recently from the UK) have also become affordable for many Kiwi motorists.

Recent Government changes have meant a tightening of the used import rules which over time should see a positive change in average vehicle age, tail-pipe emissions, fuel economy and on-board safety features to the NZ used-car fleet.

In a nutshell NZ has a huge mixture of used cars to choose from, so some patience and market research is vital to ensure you get the vehicle which best suits your needs and also represents the best value for money.

The budget:

The shortlist:
Subaru Outback
Subaru as a brand is popular in New Zealand. However, the market is almost saturated with used imports which can make on-selling very competitive and difficult. Your budget would see you in a 2004-06 model. While AWD has its advantages don't expect fantastic fuel consumption around town or on the open road from either the 2.5 or 3.0 litre petrol engines. If major engine repairs are required then the boxer or horizontally opposed designed engine is certainly not the cheapest to repair.

Toyota Avensis
It's hard not to recommend the Toyota brand full stop due to their proven reliability (although never assume every one is bullet proof). One model that may appeal is the 2007 2-litre Avensis station wagon. Don't assume they are all spec'd the same but we found a one-owner, NZ-new example travelled 80K fitted with multiple airbags (including front/rear curtain plus drivers knee) and vehicle stability control that fitted within your budget.

Honda Odyssey
This is more of a straight-out people mover than a station wagon. A 2006 2.4-litre Odyssey may have the space and practicality you are looking for. Used imports can complicate things with all sorts of extras on offer than the NZ-new variants.

Driven recommends:
The Toyota Avensis because with new arrivals, proven reliability and risk reduction should be priorities.

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