5 Smart Car Import and Relocation Tips

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to find out costs and procedures involved in shipping your car from Australia to New Zealand.

Posted on 29th April 2014 – Shipping Vehicles


Moving houses is one of the most stressful events in life, even when it is just a few streets down. There’s the moving company to be chosen, the packing to be done, making sure that you are informing everybody who needs to know that you are moving, and all those little administrative things that drive you to distraction but are nonetheless imperative.

Relocating to another country is no different, only there are the added complications of your belongings travelling further, crossing borders, and in the case of moving to New Zealand, of being shipped over the Tasman. With all of this to contend with, lack of planning or the wrong decision could result in lengthy delays and significant extra costs.

If you have decided to import your car into New Zealand from Australia, rather than buy one when you arrive, you will want to make sure that its shipping goes smoothly. With the right preparation and the correct information, you can make this process stress free, and this is how:

1. Have Your Car Checked for Mechanical Faults Before Shipping It

There would be nothing more frustrating than to ship your car, to find out that it won’t be allowed on New Zealand roads, would there? The country has very strict regulations concerning safety and environmental suitability when it comes to importing cars, and failure to comply with them and get your car shipshape will result in your vehicle being refused entry until it has the “all-clear”.

Upon arrival in New Zealand, your vehicle will be inspected by an approved testing station in order to identify any necessary repair; the authorities being very vigilant about rusted parts in particular. Having the proper mechanical check done in your country of origin won’t hurt as it should catch most things, and it is therefore most advisable if you want to get your car back as soon as possible at the other end.

In addition, your car needs to comply with environmental standards and be ‘Euro 4’ emission compliant.

Your shipping company or your local NZ Compliance Centre should be able to advise whether your vehicle will be compliant or not.

2. Choose a Reputable Shipping Company

Even if you are the most trusting, laid-back person, you would be forgiven for that sudden twinge as you see your car disappear into the sunset! When you relinquish your vehicle into somebody else’s care, you want to make sure it is in competent hands, with a shipping company which will keep you informed and will be able to deal with issues if any.

But when you know nothing about international car shipping yourself, how do you know what to look out for?

It is not necessarily because someone has been doing a job for a long time that they do it well, but when it comes to international shipping, longevity is a good indication of the quality of the business. International freight-forwarding comes with many country-specific regulations and a company who lacks competence will not last long – so if a company has been established for a decade, they most probably know what they are doing.

Likewise, it is crucial that you choose a shipping company that has specific knowledge of the country you are importing your car into so that they can pre-empt any request and smooth out any difficulties.

A reputable shipping company will be a member of their national shipping association, which also gives you an independent third party to go to should something go wrong. It is also a good idea to ask them about their relationships within the shipping business and port authorities. Knowing people in the right place could make all the difference and it will also testify to how well-respected they are in their own industry.

While it is customary to request references from previous customers, remember that no business is likely to encourage you to talk to dissatisfied clients so you are unlikely to become aware of issues this way. A better way could be to google the shipping companies on your short list, especially using key words such “complaints about” and see if anything comes up.

Take time to get to know the staff. We don’t mean inviting them to come over for dinner, but simply to gauge the quality of their customer service by engaging with them. Is it easy to get hold of them and do they respond promptly to your queries? Are they happy to address your questions in a friendly and knowledgeable manner? Are they flexible? If they are local, visiting their offices would be a good way to assess how organised and professional they are.

You are not expected to become best friends, but you need to be comfortable enough with them to ensure that you will be able resolve any issues that require your input.

3. Make Sure You Understand What It Is You Are Agreeing to!

RORO, CIF, FOB, EXW, FCL, LCL…. No, we didn’t fall asleep on our keyboard and typed random characters!

All these delightful acronyms express only a few of the many, many levels of services coming under the term “shipping”, most of which you will have had no reason to come across of before you receive a quote. It is, however, absolutely essential that you understand exactly what it is you are being quoted for. If you are worried about looking ignorant, don’t, only shipping professionals use those terms. And anyway, you are the customer and you are always right, so ask away!

Not being clear about what you are agreeing to could, on the other hand, lead to comical situations, such as you waiting for your car in your new Kiwi home when you have actually agreed to collect it yourself from the port. It will, of course, take some time for you to be able to laugh about it….

Marine insurance is not included by default in quotes so you should specifically check whether it is in yours. Granted, the likelihood of the ship sinking to the bottom of the ocean with your vehicle in it is rather minimal, but marine insurance would also cover you if your car got damaged in transit. Nowadays, many financial products such as credit cards include extra insurances and other benefits, and your car might be covered for shipping through its normal insurance, so it is worth talking to them too.

Without a clear understanding of what is included, you will also be unable to compare quotes and you could end up paying more than you need to, as this and that extra you didn’t know about gets added along the way.

Likewise, if you get a quote that is significantly cheaper than the others, ask yourself, and the shipping company, why that is. Price will be an important consideration for most people, but you will have to weigh service quality versus cost.

4. Getting Your Car Ready

Once you have chosen your shipping company, you will need to take further steps to prepare your car for its journey, as well as for its arrival in New Zealand.

a) You will need to obtain paperwork to show that you have fulfilled your Australian administrative and financial obligations. If you are importing your car temporarily, i.e. less than 12 months, for example, your vehicle to be still registered there and require that you comply with all legislation and taxation in vigour, even if your car won’t physically be in the country.

b) As far as your car itself is concerned, it cannot be stressed enough that it will need to be immaculately clean, inside and outside, to be allowed on New Zealand roads.

New Zealand being a group of islands, it is no surprise that the authorities should take strict measures to ensure that no alien pest or disease is introduced in the ecosystem and they therefore have very strict bio-security rules.

Your freight forwarder should have organised a bio-security inspection permit for your car so that it can be taken to a special transitional facility upon arrival. There, your vehicle will be inspected in the most thorough manner by an inspector of the Ministry for Primary Industry, the entity that set the bio-security regulations.

They will look in places that you didn’t even know existed and if they find any debris or organic material, your car will be cleaned to the appropriate standards before it is re-inspected, which will not only increase your costs, but also delay your reunion with your car by several days.

If your motorbike is shipped in a crate, it will need to be PMI-compliant too as it will undergo the same checks as your vehicle.

c) To minimise the risk of damage during transit, it is a good idea to remove protruding items such as the antennae, and fold your wing mirrors. Ship convertibles with their top up and secured, and seal seams and holes to prevent damage from air and moisture. If, for some reason, it isn’t possible to raise the top, cover your car with a fitting tarp.

It is also important to note that you need to empty your tank so that it holds no more than a quarter of its fuel capacity, or it won’t be allowed to ship. You may also want to make sure that your battery is fully charged, and any unnecessary item discharging it, such as the burglar alarm or the clock, switched off, to save you from a flat battery in New Zealand!

d) Although it is allowed to ship inner cargo with your car, it will have to be cleared separately when your car arrives in New Zealand so it is best to remove all personal items from your car to allow for quicker clearance.

If you do need to ship some items in your car, some are strictly prohibited: perishable products such as foodstuff; plants; seeds and nuts; corrosive chemicals, explosives and flammable items; gas appliances; firearms; non-prescription and prescription drugs; animals and pornography.

e) Take pictures of your car, interior and exterior. Should it get damaged in transit and should you need to make a claim, it would be required by your insurance policy. An advantage of having had your car cleaned for bio-security reasons is that it will show scratches and dents in all their splendour and you will have a faithful record of your car’s condition.

5. On Arrival

Quality shipping companies are very experienced at keeping your belongings safe, but occasionally, a car may get damaged during transit.

Once you and your car are reunited, you may be so happy that you will be tempted to sign any paperwork without thinking twice. Resist this impulse! Your first task should be to inspect your vehicle meticulously for any sign of damage. It is best to do it immediately with the person delivering your car, and you should make sure that you make a note of any damage on the Bill of Lading, your own copy as well as the driver’s, and ask the delivery person to sign them both.

You should also take pictures showing the damage as additional evidence, as it will make it easier for you to claim.

Shipping cars to New Zealand can be quite a complex affair if you don’t know what you are doing, but good preparation will usually remove most of the difficulties. The best advice anyone could give you is not to leave it to the last minute, but start preparing as soon as you can: importing cars involves a fair amount of paperwork, obtaining certificates, etc… all of which take time to be processed.

Choosing an experienced shipping company is also crucial, as they will guide you through the formalities and will ensure that you provide them in good time with all the information they need so that you don’t have to worry about the “unknown unknowns” and can look forward to your new life in the friendliest country on earth!

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