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Choosing & Buying a Vehicle

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. 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 car 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 AustraliaWhich Campervan insurance is best?

Buying a vehicle in Australia: pros and cons

The advantages

  • 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


  • 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.

 If you wonder how it feels to live in a van in Australia , please see this article.

Choosing a vehicle to travel around Australia?

Between a 4WD, a van or a car, the question arises and is not without consequences. The first criteria to consider is the type of road trip you plan, the duration, the areas you wish to discover, your need for comfort and of course, your budget. The three types of vehicles to consider and compare include:

A 4X4 (Four-wheel-drive)

A 4WD is suitable if you plan to go off track and engage in the deserts of the outback, in the sand (on the beach for example) or take on water crossings. 

Some national sites and parks are accessible only by 4×4, particularly in the north of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The most famous sites in these states are the Kimberley, Kakadu National Park, 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 4X4 vehicle is the most expensive option. The price can range from anywhere between $3,000AUD – $15,000AUD, depending on included 4X4 accessories. You must 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 4X4 vehicle that is already equipped or not. It is quite common to find travellers with a fully furnished 4X4 for sale. Fully furnished means that you will have a bed or tent set on the roof (rooftop tent). It should also include all necessary equipment for cooking and camping. Otherwise you can choose to buy a 4X4 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 conventional 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 $3,000AUD and $ 6,000AUD 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.” 

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.

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 car in Australia, it is important to think carefully and take your time so you do not buy a vehicle that does not hold up. 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.


To make it simple and avoid unpleasant surprises during your trip, you have to 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? It is important to look at the condition of the tyres, the engine (if there is residue built up, traces of leaks around the engine). 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. Do not hesitate to switch on the ignition and test the car radio and ventilation…

Also be attentive to the electrical system: ask to test the electrical system, check if there are one or two batteries and if they still function. If there is a solar panel set-up, make you ask the current owner to show and explain how it all works.

Test drive

Try before you buy! Take a short test drive. Even if it is not long, you can see if there are any unusual noises from the engine. Test the brakes and the clutch in a few different situations; around corners, immediate braking. Before taking the vehicle for a test drive, ask to see that current vehicle registration to ensure that it has not expired. If the owner refuses to let you try, beware that something could be wrong. 


The “Registration” of the vehicle is 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. For a classic van, count between $300 and $600 per year for registration. 

Registration also includes a third-party insurance. So, if you want a more complete insurance/all risks, plan a supplementary budget beyond that.

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.

Ask questions

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?

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 because they are in a hurry to catch their flight home. 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!

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 4 × 4 (furnished). There’s not a better or worse time for buying a car as opposed to vans and 4×4’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!

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.



Registration of your vehicle includes “compulsory third-party insurance”. It is insurance that covers any injury caused to another 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.

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).

Selling the vehicle

It is necessary to anticipate and think about resale upon purchase. 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 months before reselling your van/car/4×4, 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 on Facebook groups. Highlight its advantages, but do not seek to hide defects, specify also the little things that do not go or are to be repaired, it will give you an image of reliability and transparency. There is also the option of putting your car in a car-market however, this type of expose will cost about $60 AUD per week. Again, many backpackers are forced to sell off their cars because they must leave the country and they have not anticipated this VERY important factor, so feel free to go about it in advance.