4 Wheel Drive Rental In New Zealand

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Read about '4 Wheel Drive Rental In New Zealand' on USAVE, the place for all things car rental.

Vehicles equipped with 4WD features are always in demand here in New Zealand due to the nature of our rugged terrain and sometimes trying weather conditions. However when considering the purchase of a 4WD people often find themselves facing some fairly hefty price tags, when in fact, they may only require the use of the 4WD features for a very small percentage of the time.

Buying a 4WD when spending the majority of the time on streets or paved roads seems a little pointless when renting a 4WD for those infrequent ski trips or weekend getaways is often the better option, saving money on both the price of the vehicle and ongoing maintenance and fuel costs.

Hiring a 4×4 in New Zealand is easy, any good car rental company will have multiple four wheel drive options on offer. Whether you go for the usual SUV type vehicle, 4WD station wagon or are looking for a minibus or minivan with 4×4 capabilities, there is something to suit every application.

When looking at 4WD rental, deciding whether you need a 4WD and understanding their limitations is an important part of the decision, here are a few things to think about.

SUV Off Road In Mountain Landscape

4WD And AWD Are They The Same Thing?

The terms AWD and 4WD are often used interchangeably; however they are not the same thing. Read on for a basic explanation of the differences.


Traditionally an All Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicle uses a number of ‘differentials’ to provide driving forces to all four of the vehicles wheels all of the time. (A differential is a mechanical device used to accommodate the necessity during turning to allow the outer drive wheels to rotate faster than inner wheels).

While the vehicle has the capabilities to provide power to all four wheels all of the time, depending on the vehicle some will function under 2WD until the differential detects wheel slippage, activating the AWD feature. While others will operate in AWD with a fifty fifty split of power delivered between the four wheels, redistributing the power between the wheels as needed and where. AWD vehicles are generally not designed for off-road use and do not have a low gear range.


Traditional Four Wheel Drive vehicles are able to operate in 2WD and 4WD depending on the driver’s selection. Two differentials are used in conjunction with a transfer system which allows the vehicle to distribute power equally to the four wheels when 4WD is engaged, and only 2 wheels when not.

While older 4WD’s require the driver to manually engage 4WD selections while the vehicle is stationary, modern 4WD’s now have electronic push-button style engagement features. It is important to consult the vehicle manual as to whether driving at speed on sealed or paved roads with 4WD engaged is acceptable.

When To Use 4 Wheel Drive

Certain situations are better suited to 4WD’s than others, here are a few pointers to get you started, for more in depth information on specific vehicles capabilities it is best to consult the vehicle’s manual.

4 LO

4WD low range gearing is useful for situations where:

  • More power is needed to pull or carry heavy loads at slow speeds.
  • Steeps grades mean more power is needed at a slow speed.
  • Engine breaking assistance is required when descending steep grades.

4 HI

Hi range gearing in a 4WD is useful for situations where:

  • The road surface is slippery when driving at speed (paved roadways).
  • Extra traction is needed.
  • The vehicle is stuck in mud, snow or ice.

4x4 Tyres In Snow

Four Wheel Drive Tips For Beginners

Four wheel drive vehicles are helpful but they are not the solution to all driving situations. It is important to understand the limitations of 4×4’s before tackling difficult road conditions. Below are some of the most important things to keep in mind when driving a four wheel drive in New Zealand.

Tyres, Tyres, Tyres. As with any vehicle, good tyres are essential. Driving a 4WD with inadequate tyres reduces the added benefits of 4WD features. It is important tyres always be matching sets to avoid handling problems and potential damage to the vehicles driving systems.

Traction Control. Traction control systems are designed to prevent the wheels from spinning out of control, however these systems can interfere with the 4WD’s intention when attempting to drive in snow for example. Sometimes it is possible to temporarily switch off the traction control feature.

4WD Does Not Equal Invincible. Driving too fast, breaking suddenly or overtaking recklessly as well as other normal safe driving rules do apply to 4WD’s also. Nobody is bullet-proof whether on the road or off, driving safely is always important.

Know Your 4WD. Read the manual, understand the workings of the 4WD engagement process and what the different gearing settings are best used for. Check if the vehicle has traction control? Ask your car rental company for advice and detailed information before leaving the depot.

Benefits And Drawbacks Of A 4WD

Like any vehicle a 4WD has its advantages and disadvantages, when considering 4WD rental it is important to think about what you intend to use the vehicle for.

Benefits Of A 4WD

  • When heading to the beach or simply driving across a paddock to get to your favourite camping spot, vehicles with AWD or 4WD do reduce the chances of getting stuck.
  • In bad weather AWD and 4WD vehicles can accelerate better than their two wheel drive counterparts.
  • The improved traction can assist when towing heavy loads like boats or trailers.
  • 4WD vehicles tend to have extra luggage and storage space.

Drawbacks Of A 4WD

  • The suspension on 4WD rental cars in New Zealand designed for normal road use, not off-road four wheel driving.
  • Initial purchase costs are higher for 4WD and AWD than an equivalent car meaning rental costs may be higher.
  • The vehicle will cost more to run in terms of things like fuel consumption and tyres.
  • 4WD’s do tend to have lower rates of fuel economy due to the extra power resources.
  • Higher maintenance costs, the extra components like the Differentials on AWD and 4WD vehicles require regular maintenance. Because of the extra componentry repairs often cost more than a 2WD vehicle.
  • Additional AWD and 4WD capabilities only help only with acceleration and traction, not braking abilities.

Road Trip By Car

New Zealand Roads

Roads in New Zealand are generally well designed and safe to drive on in any vehicle, but a New Zealand rental 4WD gives you the peace of mind of knowing that you’ll always be in control and kept safely on the road. 

For those here on a winter holiday heading up to the mountains, or for those wanting to get off the beaten path and take the back country roads, a tough and reliable vehicle is essential for your own safety. Roads in New Zealand that require a four-wheel drive vehicle are usually well marked, however some of the locations in New Zealand that are generally recommended to have a 4WD vehicle include:

  • When crossing the Southern Alps via the Lewis or Arthurs Passes during winter. Though the roads are regularly cleared and gritted, having extra power can be very helpful.
  • The central plateau in winter. Home to a number of popular mountain destinations, conditions through the central North Island can be hazardous from late Autumn to early Spring.
  • When travelling to Milford Sound at any time of year. There can be sudden rockfalls, and the roads are very steep and winding as you make your way to the Sound. Extra grip and control is very useful.
  • When heading into the South Island high country, or any sort of area that goes through farmland and is likely to not have sealed roads.

A four wheel drive rental will help you navigate tricky roads safely and in comfort. If you’re planning on driving in rural or remote areas, choose a 4WD hire car from the New Zealand experts at USAVE Car and Truck Rentals.

USAVE Freephone