The reputation of an Australian road trip leaves people dreaming of expansive red landscapes, sweeping hills and tropical coastlines. The ultimate way to make the most of Australia’s diverse landscapes and to discover the wilderness is travel by car or campervan. Many backpackers often prefer taking a road trip when travelling in Australia. There is the option to rent a vehicle for the trip or for endless freedom you could purchase your own. Compare both options (purchase / renting) depending on your interests and needs before beginning. Whether you are looking to discover wild rugged landscapes or to cross the country for work, the vehicle you choose can make a difference. Covering vehicle models, insurance details, vehicle registration information and vital checklists, this is a complete guide to help you buy a vehicle in Australia.
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Buying a vehicle in Australia: advantages and disadvantages
As you know, buying a vehicle has many advantages, especially in a huge country such as Australia. But, make no mistake, you should know that it has its downsides too. Rest assured, they are less and will not prevent you from taking the plunge of the purchase!
- More cost-effective for a long trip (from 2-3 months).
- Maximum freedom: to go where you want, when you want
- Have the impression of having a home, you own it, you can do what you want to it.
- No time or destination constraints
- Possibility of soliciting employers and being accommodated on site (this is a great advantage when looking for a job compared to those who do not have a vehicle, for example).
- Contrary to renting, Buying a vehicle you will tend to get an older vehicle with higher mileage and more
- If you fall down, you can not swear for yourself (and Australian hospitality!), no assistance as rent.
- Resale can also be a disadvantage (or advantage) depending on time and location.
- Research is longer at the time of purchase, and the sale time can also be long.
Read also : Life in a van in Australia
Impact of the Pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a notable impact on the vehicle market in Australia. Supply chain disruptions have led to shortages in new car inventories, which in turn has driven up prices for both new and used vehicles. Additionally, there has been a shift in consumer preferences, with more Australians seeking vehicles for domestic travel and outdoor adventures, given the restrictions on international travel.
Choosing a vehicle to travel around Australia
Between a 4WD, a van or a car, the question arises and is not without consequences. Here are some criteria to take into account, they will help you see more clearly in your search:
- The type of road trip you plan to do and the regions you want to explore,
- its duration,
- your need in terms of comfort,
- and of course, your budget.
The three types of vehicles to consider and compare include:
A 4WD (Four-wheel-drive)
A 4WD is suitable if you plan to go off track and engage in the outback, in the sand (on the beach for example, especially at Fraser Island) or take on water crossings.
Some national parks are accessible only by 4WD, particularly in the north of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The most famous sites in these states are the Kimberley, Kakadu National Park (part of it is accessible with a conventional vehicle), Bungle Bungles and Karijini National Park.
To sum up, buy a 4X4 vehicle if you crave adventure and want to discover remote areas or difficult to access places.
However, buying a 4WD vehicle is an expensive option. The price can range from anywhere between $8,000AUD – $15,000AUD. Also consider calculating in your budget fuel consumption. Four-wheel-drive vehicles offer comfortable interior room but, can become tight if you are travelling with more than 2-3 people.
You can choose to buy a 4WD vehicle that is already equipped or not. It is quite common to find travellers with a fully furnished 4WD for sale (a bed or a rooftop tent). It should also include all necessary equipment for cooking and camping. Otherwise you can choose to buy a 4WD unequipped (cheaper) to benefit from more seats or you want to design and do the interior fit out yourself.
The most common models are: Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Landcruiser, Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Nissan Terrano, Nissan Patrol, Holden Jackaroo, Jeep Cherokee.
Buy a regular car
A car is a good way to travel economically and is the cheapest vehicle to buy. The disadvantage is especially space. Depending on the model of car but, you might have to count on sleeping in a tent rather than inside the vehicle.
However, this is a great option for socialising and making travel buddies, which in turn will save you money if you end up car-pooling. A car will also be suitable for backpackers who are currently working and are opting for the occasional road trip and relatively short trips, to go from one city to another for example.
The most common models are: Ford Falcon, Holden, Mitsubishi Lancer, Toyota Camry, Subaru Outback / Liberty. Station wagons are quite popular for backpackers and are highly prized as they offer more space and provide space in the rear for a bed.
Buy a campervan
Campervans are a classic for road trips in Australia! It will allow you to adopt a lifestyle that is more comfortable by the space it offers and will be better suited to long journeys / stays.
Expect between AUD4,000 and AUD10,000 for the purchase, depending on the equipment, vehicle age and the number of kilometres.
Owning a campervan is less convenient for socializing and car-pooling with other travellers on the road as vans are often equipped for 2 sometimes 3 passengers. Vans would benefit those traveling as a couple. The van is also a big advantage to look for jobs in agriculture (farm work, fruit picking) as some employers will require you to have your own house or “own accommodation.”
In general, life will be more pleasant there than in a car or 4WD, in particular thanks to the space it has. However, it can become impractical when it comes to parking in town.
There are different types of vans, such as “classic” vans: the small van, “poptop” vans where the roof is raised by hand to allow for more room, the “Hitop” which has a permanent raised roof allowing the option to have a second bed in the upper part of the vehicle, or 4×4 vans (which are a good compromise) which allow you to take the tracks more easily.
The most common models among backpackers are: Toyota Hiace, Mitsubishi Express, Mazda E2000, Ford Econovan, Toyota Townace, Nissan Urvan.
Checklist for Buying a vehicle in Australia
If you decide to buy a vehicle in Australia, it is important to think carefully and take your time so you do not buy a vehicle that does not hold up (no hidden defect(s), not too many kilometres on the odometer, well equipped …). Here is a list of things which it is important to be vigilant before buying a van, a car, or a 4×4 in Australia.
Check everything! Starting with general external conditions of the vehicle: are there traces of rust? Paint spots that could disguise the fact that the vehicle has had an accident? Look at the condition of the tyres, the engine (if there is residue built up, traces of leaks around it). Test that the doors and windows open and close properly, windshield wipers and all lights are working properly. Check for a spare tyre and a jack. A bull bar and solar panels will be a plus during your road trip.
Also pay attention to the inside of the vehicle: find out about the electrical system and do not hesitate to test it. Ask if the vehicle has one or two batteries and make sure you ask the current owner to show and explain how it all works. Do not hesitate to switch on the ignition and try the car radio and the ventilation (air conditioning AND heating).
In addition, your contact with the seller is an essential criteria. Chances are you can sense whether the person is trustworthy or not, so don’t hesitate to start the conversation. Remember to ask all possible and unimaginable questions (your money is at stake). Ask the seller about previous repairs, mechanical history of the vehicle (with supporting invoices), previous use. If you buy a vehicle from a local who has owned it for a long time, it will certainly be well maintained.
We advise you to test drive the vehicle before purchasing. Avoid at all costs buying a vehicle that you have not been able to test drive. Drive it, even if it’s not long, it will allow you to note if an unusual noise is heard, to try the brakes, the clutch, to see the handling and if you are comfortable with driving that vehicle (particularly for vans). Before driving, check that the papers are in order and that the registration has not expired. If the owner refuses to let you try it, beware.
The “Registration” or Rego of a vehicle is very important. This is similar to registrations in the UK, US and Canada. All vehicles are required to be registered in a state of Australia. It is necessary to check whether the vehicle has a valid registration.
Know that each state has different regulations. This is an extremely important point, because some states require a roadworthy certificate inspection every year and before the resale of vehicles. And in this case, the roadworthy certificate inspection shall be performed in the state in which it is registered (making it a more complicated resale).
If the rego is still valid and it comes from a state requiring a roadworthy certificate, you’ll know that your vehicle was deemed “safe” there in the last year. If it is not valid, do not forget that it is required, and you should budget for it. So, plan for any repairs that are required as a result of the roadworthy inspection.
You should also consider whether the price of registration for your van / 4WD / car is justified or not. A vehicle whose registration is already expired may not be a good plan. To register a vehicle, count between $500 and $1000 per year.
Registration also includes a third-party insurance. So, if you want a more complete insurance/all risks, plan a supplementary budget beyond that.
Also remember to check (before the purchase) if the seller has no fines to pay by going to the Government website: https://transact.ppsr.gov.au/ppsr/Home, you don’t want to have the bad surprise to have to pay in his place…
Buy a popular vehicle
It is not advisable to buy a rare vehicle in Australia, which could cause you problems in case of failure, especially if you need to change parts on your vehicle. If you breakdown in the country or in a small town it may be difficult to find parts. Having had this experience, it sometimes takes 15 days to receive a parcel! It will be much easier and certainly cheaper to change parts on your vehicle if it is popular make and model around Australia. Popular vehicle makes include: Toyota, Nissan, Ford, Holden.
Frequent contact with the seller is essential. There’s a good chance you will feel if the person is reliable or not. Do not hesitate to start a conversation. Ask some important questions like: has there been any repairs to the vehicle? If so, which ones and when? Ask to see the mechanical servicing history. Also ask who were the last owners: were they backpackers? Did they make a long road trip? Was it a work vehicle? Were they Australian owners? If you buy from a local who has had it for a long time, the vehicle is sure to be well-maintained.
Where and when to purchase a vehicle in Australia?
Where should you buy your van in Australia?
Many agree that it is in larger cities you will find trusty sellers. Sydney and Melbourne constantly have swarms of sellers and buyers. Here you will have plenty of choice. Buying a vehicle in a city less populated such as Adelaide or Cairns can be a good plan if you do it at the right time. There’s fewer sellers certainly, but also fewer buyers, which can allow you to negotiate prices . This is especially true for vans and 4WD (furnished). There’s not a better or worse time for buying a car as opposed to vans and 4WD’s..
In terms of how to go about it; the site Gumtree is a great resource for ‘for sale’ ads that you can search and compare without leaving your home. However, beware of ads that seem too good to be true, they can hide defects or be scams! Also check MarketPlace on Facebook, with ads from previous backpackers leaving the country.
The “car market” is also a good place to start looking, especially for those wanting to buy a van. You will have the advantage of looking at several vehicles in person rather than just pictures. You will also have the advantage of being able to discuss directly with the seller. The car-market Sydney is renowned.
Best time to buy a van in Australia?
The location and time are key factors for doing good business and not too much hassle. It is more advantageous to purchase a vehicle in low season (between April and September). During that time, backpackers depart more than they arrive, thus the supply is higher than demand. Many backpackers do not anticipate enough time for resale and are forced to sell their car at a lower price. They are in a hurry to catch their flight home and do not have the time. This is where you can come in, if you’re not too rushed and you arrive between March and September, you have a better chance of finder a great deal!
Tips for Finding the Best Deals
- Research and Compare: Utilize online platforms to compare prices across different dealerships and private sellers. Websites like CarSales, Drive, and CarsGuide are excellent resources for comparing vehicle prices and features.
- Negotiate: Don’t hesitate to negotiate the price. Often, there is room for negotiation, especially if you are informed about the market value of the vehicle you are interested in.
- Look for Deals and Incentives: Keep an eye out for special deals, manufacturer incentives, and rebates, especially during promotional periods or when new models are about to be released.
Registration of your vehicle includes “compulsory third-party insurance” (CTP Insurance). It is insurance that covers any injury caused to a third party in case of an accident where you would be at fault. No material damage will be considered, nor those of your vehicle, or those caused by other vehicles. You have no legal obligation to take out supplementary insurance, but it is recommended as the repair costs can be high (imagine you collide with a Mercedes or a Porsche ..). The main insurance companies are NRMA, AAMI, RACQ and QBE.
Be aware that some insurance companies only cover permanent residents (RACQ Roadside Assistance, for example, only covers permanent residents of Queensland). We have had several experiences from backpackers following misadventures with this insurance company because they were not permanent residents. So find out about this before you take out insurance.
We also encourage you to subscribe to roadside assistance. This can be reassuring when going on a road trips across Australia because in the event of a break down, they will come to your rescue. Be careful though, some conditions may state that you will not be supported in specific circumstances (if you are not on bitumen roads for example).
Things to know before driving in Australia
Speed and driving
Speed limits are different from Europe. Outside built-up areas, you must drive at 100 km/h (110 km/h on expressways). Some roads in the Northern Territory are limited to 130km/h.
Driving in Australia is on the left and the steering wheel is on the right. If you are not from the UK, you will certainly get confused at first but will quickly get used to it as you go.
You will find them in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The license plate of your vehicle is scanned and you pay directly for your journey via the Internet in the days following your visit. You can also pay in advance or buy a pass. It is a good option if you intend to use the paying section of road regularly, it will be much cheaper for you (go to the Linkt and E-toll sites).
We advise you not to drive after dark (under no circumstances other than force majeure). Indeed this is THE favorite time for wildlife to appear right in front of you. Your visibility is reduced and therefore your reflexes will be slower.
These road trains made up of several trailers (1 to 4) are impressive in their size! They are a permanent threat on gravel or sealed roads (especially in the outback). It often happens that on the roads there is not enough space for two vehicles that overtake (especially if a road train is involved). If you see one in the distance, pull over to the side of the road to let it pass. Because launched at high speed with its imposing weight, it won’t give you a chance.
Have a minimum equipment in your vehicle.
- A tow strap: if your vehicle (or another) is stuck and you need help to get it out
- Gasoline (at least a can): if you break down in the middle of nowhere or your fill-up is about to end and there is no gas station nearby
- Water and food: at least 5L of water/person and provisions of food in case you break down
- Everything you need to change a wheel: jack, key and spare wheel.
Useful Digital Resources and Apps
Here’s a look at some of the most useful digital tools available:
- Fuel Price Comparison Apps
- FuelMap Australia: This app provides real-time information on fuel prices at different stations across Australia, allowing users to find the cheapest fuel nearby. It also includes features like tracking your car’s fuel consumption and expenses.
- PetrolSpy Australia: Another great tool for comparing fuel prices, PetrolSpy allows users to view recent fuel prices submitted by the community, ensuring you can always find the best deal on fuel.
- Vehicle Maintenance Apps
- Drivvo: This app helps in managing all aspects of car maintenance. From tracking fuel consumption and service costs to setting reminders for regular maintenance checks, Drivvo keeps your vehicle’s health in check.
- myCARFAX: Known for providing detailed vehicle history reports, myCARFAX also offers maintenance reminders and tracks service history, helping you keep your vehicle in top condition.
- Platforms for Buying and Selling Vehicles
- CarSales: Australia’s largest online vehicle marketplace, CarSales offers a vast selection of new and used cars. It provides detailed car reviews, price comparisons, and a range of filters to help you find the perfect vehicle.
- Gumtree: A popular classifieds site in Australia, Gumtree is a great platform for buying and selling used vehicles. It offers a more direct and personal approach to vehicle transactions.
- CarsGuide: This platform not only allows you to buy and sell cars but also provides valuable advice, car reviews, and the latest automotive news.
Selling your vehicle
Anticipate and think about resale. It is advisable to calculate your whole cost by planning to sell the vehicle in the high season (from October to January).
Allow a couple of weeks or even months before reselling your van/car/4WD, although it is still early, start to prepare your ad for the Internet, think about the money you want to get for it, etc. .
At resale, please have the deed of purchase, the certificate of registration and history of vehicle repairs. In some states (Queensland, Victoria, NSW, ACT), you will be required to conduct a roadworthy inspection prior to resale.
To maximise your chances of resale, restore and clean your van. Take a lot of quality photos of your vehicle for your ad. Post an ad with as much detail as possible (age, mileage, equipment …) on Gumtree and Facebook groups.
FAQs On Buying a Vehicle
Yes, tourists can purchase a vehicle. However, you need a valid visa to register the vehicle.
You can find vehicles for sale in Australia in car dealerships, garages, online car sales sites such as Carsales, local newspapers, Facebook groups or on Gumtree.
Yes, you can negotiate the price of a vehicle in Australia. For example, for a purchase where the rego is coming to an end, or if the tyres are worn, etc. However, find out what the market price is and do some research before you start negotiating.
Regulations vary from state to state, but as a general rule you will need proof of purchase, proof of address in the state where you want to register, a technical inspection, your passport and driving licence.
If the vehicle has a current rego, it is possible to drive the vehicle before registering it, but you must ensure that you are covered by motor insurance and that you have proof of purchase with you in the event of a roadside check. If the vehicle no longer has a rego then you will need permission to move the vehicle. The rules vary from state to state, so we advise you to consult our dedicated article: Vehicle Registration in Australia.
For people wishing to take a short road trip and enjoy a reliable and well-equipped vehicle, here are more details on van hire in Australia: – Buy or Rent a Van in Australia? – How to rent a Cheap Campervan in Australia – Which Campervan insurance is best?