Australia is a huge country, and although they have several bus and train lines between major cities, you simply can’t get everywhere by public transportation. So, having your own car in Australia means freedom! Buying a car in Australia for backpackers can be quite a challenge, but these guide and the included 8 things you need to know will make it easier for you!
As being one of the Australian backpackers, you might also want to use your car or Van as an accommodation. So you are not only buying a car, but you are also kind of buying a house! That can be quite a challenge, but luckily we have plenty of tips and tricks for you to make it a lot easier!
Video: Buying a car in Australia inspiration
1. Why should you buy a car in Australia as a backpacker?
There are a couple of reasons that buying a car in Australia is absolutely worth it. But, before I tell you these reasons, let me tell you that they only apply when you want to stay in Australia for a longer period of time (at least 3 months). Otherwise, it is not worth the hassle and a rental car might be the cheaper option for you!
So, if you stay in Australia for a longer time, having your own car makes you more flexible. You can go wherever and whenever you want to go. So, your travel doesn’t need to depend on public transportation schedules or tours when you want to visit a certain place.
Besides, public transportation doesn’t cover all of Australia. Obviously, bus lines and trains will bring you from one to another city, but if you want to explore the outback, public transportation will let you down.
Planning on working? With your own car, you can work wherever you want. Some employers even make it mandatory to have your own car, as you need it to drive for grocery runs (nope, there isn’t a supermarket in every Australian town).
With a car, you are also more flexible in your searches for work. If there is no work in the place where you are currently staying, you can easily move around to another place.
Saving money is another good reason to buy your own car. Renting a car or a Van is expensive! So, it is probably more affordable to buy one and sell it later on when you are finished with your road trip.
If you also use your car as accommodation (with a rooftop tent or a converted Van), it will also save you a lot of accommodation costs. One night in a dorm room in a backpackers hostel will cost you on average between AU$15 to $25. Calculate your profit if you can sleep in your car!
2. The basics of buying a car in Australia
There are some basic, but very essential things you need to know as a backpacker when you want to buy a car in Australia. This will help you in your search, but it will also help you decide which car might be worth a personal visit for further inspection.
The differences between states
Australia has 8 states and all have their own rules according to cars, safety, and registration. Also, all states have their own number plates, so you can easily recognize where a car is registered.
I won’t bother you with all the exact differences, I will just tell you the most important things you need to know to be able to buy a proper car.
The only thing you have to make sure is that the registration form, that comes with the car, is from the same state as the number plate says. Otherwise, the registration form might be outdated or the car might be stolen.
The registration of the car, or the so-called Rego is a document that identifies your car. It is mandatory to have a valid Rego to be able to drive your car in Australia. The Rego must be in the name of the owner of the vehicle, so it is necessary to transfer the Rego to your name when you buy your car.
The owner of the car needs to pay for the Rego and can choose for the duration of 3, 6 or 12 months. The Rego is registered on the car, so always check if there is still Rego on the car before you buy it. This will save you some costs. In general, it is not a problem to buy a car without Rego, it just means that you have to do some extra paperwork and pay for the time you want to have the Rego for.
When you buy your own car to travel around in Australia, you have to make sure that it is safe. You can do this by checking if the car has been serviced and if the car has a roadworthy certificate.
During service, the engine oil and the air and oil filter are checked. The tires, brakes, belts, filters, and hoses also get a check.
Although this might be the very basics of a safe car, it is important that servicing is done every 10K that is driven or every 6 months, if you drive less than 10K in 6 months’ time. If the car isn’t serviced accordingly, you should not even think about buying the car.
A roadworthy certificate or the so-called pink slip is an extra safety certificate. The full car is checked, which includes the structure, body, engine, and chassis of the car, the windscreen, tires, brakes, lamps, reflectors, seats, and seatbelts etc.
A certificate of roadworthy is only necessary when you buy a car from a garage. It is the law, a garage only sells backpacker cars with such a certificate.
3. What kind of car should you buy in Australia?
There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to different types of backpackers cars. A small city car, a 4WD terrain wagon, a camper Van, or anything in between.
What are the best cars for backpackers to travel around Australia? That depends on what you want to do and where you want to drive. Let’s sort out which type of car is good for your Australia adventure!
2WD or 4WD?
You definitely don’t need a 4WD just to get from A to B. But a 2WD will restrict you in where you’ll be able to go. Up North, you can only travel the highways with a 2WD, but at the East or the West coast, you are as free as a bird with that same car.
If you are planning on traveling North in the wet season (Australian summertime, so European winter time), you better get a 4WD as a lot of roads will be flooded. With only a 2WD you possibly have to turn around many many times.
Don’t let the rules of hire companies scare you when you drive your own car. Hire companies don’t allow 2WD backpacker cars on unsealed roads, but if it’s your own car, you can just drive wherever you want (Just make sure you always have enough gas with you and a spare tire!). You don’t need a 4WD just because a road isn’t sealed… You only need 4WD on the tracks that are open for 4WD only. Whether a track is 4WD only or not, you can check it on this map of Australia.
Price difference between a 2WD and 4WD
There is no straight answer on the question “what is the price difference between a 2WD and a 4WD”. As the price difference has to do with many more variables than just the difference between being a 2WD or a 4WD. It depends on the age of a car, the brand, the motor, the kilometers driven and even more. But in general, you can say that a 2WD is cheaper in both purchase and consumption than a 4WD.
Where you can’t go with a 2WD
There are a couple of parts where you can’t go with a 2WD. Think of Arnhem Land, Frasers Island, and the Northern part of peninsula Cape York. When driving a 2WD you can’t access every single Free Camp, but don’t worry, there are many free camps you can access with a 2WD!
Also, in several national parks, the possible roads are very limited when you own a 2WD. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t visit these places. There are many tour operators that take you here in 4WD cars or buses.
A car, a Stationwagen, or a Van?
Then there is the question about what kind of car you can buy best for your road trip around Australia. This again depends on what you like to do. Do you want to be able to sleep and cook in your vehicle or do you just want to drive in it to get from A to B?
Car and Stationwagon
A car or Stationwagon is ideal for the traveler that wants to see a lot of Australia in just a couple of months’ time. Driving a lot of kilometers and not necessarily need to avoid accommodation costs. Also very handy if you want to travel with a larger amount of people. A Stationwagon fits up to 6 people!
The advantages of a car/Stationwagon:
- You can buy them quite cheap
- If you buy one from a renowned brand (like Ford) they are reliable
- You can find parts everywhere in case your car needs to be fixed
- They drive quite economical
The disadvantages of a car/Stationwagon:
- There isn’t a lot of space to stay or sleep in
A Van is ideal for living the Van Lifestyle. Sleeping in the back of your car and always having everything on hand. This type of car is most suitable for people that are traveling alone or as a couple.
The advantages of a Van:
- Always having everything on hand
- You are able to sleep, cook and live in your Van and save on accommodation costs
- Depending on the brand and the age you will find parts everywhere to fix it
- They consume on average
The disadvantages of a Van:
- You will only have 2 seats left, so no room for anyone else if you travel as a couple
- It’s easy to find a cheap Van, but a bit harder to find a good Van!
Tip: If you want to buy a Van, be aware that there are 3 different sizes in vans. There are short-wheelbases, mid-wheelbases and long-wheelbases. Between each of them is about 30 cm difference in length. This doesn’t seem much, but in a little space like a van, 30 cm can make a huge difference.
A 4WD is the best option for the die-hard explorer. This type of car is the ultimate way to see the bush and the real outback of Australia.
The advantages of a 4WD:
- You can explore every part of Australia
- You can travel in groups
The disadvantages of a 4WD:
- They are expensive to buy
- They use a lot of fuel
4. backpacker cars for sale
The best place to find a car in Australia is definitely online! Here are some websites you can use to find your car:
- Gumtree: The marketplace in Australia, where you find everything, including used backpacker cars.
- Car Sales: The largest online classifieds service for used backpacker cars in the country.
- Car City: Only for Melbourne and Sydney.
- Travellers Autobarn Australia: You pay a bit more for your car or van, but they give you a guaranteed buyback (for when you want to sell your car), 2 weeks warranty (optional up to a year), roadside assistance, and discount on several campsites.
- Facebook Marketplace: Let’s not forget this one, as all the backpackers that are trying to sell their car will do that on Facebook Marketplace! So, it might be your best option!
Besides online searching, you can also go to one of the locations of Travellers Autobarn or go to garages that sell used backpacker cars.
5. Car inspection tips
Before you decide to buy a car in Australia, you should inspect the car. If you are not comfortable checking the car yourself, here are some options:
- Check if there is a mechanic around that wants to come with you to inspect the car. In the larger cities, there are several mechanics that help backpackers to find and buy a proper car. It might cost you some dollars, but at least you know for sure you are buying a proper car!
- Make an appointment at a garage to check the car during a test ride. As you should always take a test ride in a car, you can use this time to go by a garage and let the car be checked. Tell the mechanic that you want to buy the car and that you would like him to check it on safety.
- Don’t rush! Take your time to find a car you are totally happy and satisfied with. It might take some time and you might have to visit several backpacker cars before you find a good one that is worth paying for.
Ask questions to the current owner about the car. For example:
- How many kilometers did the owner drive in the car?
- How many kilometers did the car drive in total?
- Is the car always serviced well and are there receipts available from the services?
- Has the car been involved in crashes?
- How much fuel does the car use?
- Is the vehicle currently insured?
- What features does the care have?
- What is the age of the car?
- Does the car come with any extra’s, like camping or cooking equipment?
- Is the price negotiable?
If your first feeling is good and the owner can answer all your questions it is time to check the car a bit more.
11 Things To Check Before You Actually Buy a Car
When you find a car you like, you have to make sure the vehicle is safe and proper. Below there are a few things you can check yourself:
- Make sure the car didn’t drive for a little while and start the engine. Check if there’s no black smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe when you start it.
- Check underneath the car if you see any drops, this might be caused by a leak.
- Check if the car still has REGO.
- Drive in the car and make sure it makes some speed. Check if you can change gears smoothly.
- When you drive also listen to the car. Turn off the radio and close the windows. If you hear any weird sounds this might be trouble. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is, but let’s it check anyway.
- Check if all the lights are working, including the breaking light and direction lights.
- Open and close all the doors and windows to see and feel if this goes smoothly.
- When the doors are open, try to move them up and down, if there is a lot of movement the car is probably worn out.
- Check the hand brake!
- When the engine is turned off try to move the steering wheel left and right, movement should be minimal, otherwise, the car is probably worn out.
- Check if the profile of the tires is still good.
Keep in mind that you are buying a used car. You will find things that are not good or that you don’t like. Make a trade-off from the money you pay for the car and the money you have to put in it yourself to make it just the way you like. And then see if it is all worth it.
Note: A broken light doesn’t make a car a bad one. If you can buy the car for a reasonable price, you can fix the light yourself.
6. Register your car (transfer ownership)
Once you have found the perfect car and you bought it from the current owner, it’s time to register the car in your name.
In all states, you will need to go in-person to a registry or service center. Only in Western Australia (WA), you can transfer ownership online. These are the websites where you can find where and how to register your car in every Australian state:
Tip: Ask the current owner to put a lower price on the registration form, as the transfer costs are based on the price you paid for the car. So, it can save you some money!
You have two weeks time to register the car in your name and you need the following documents:
- Part B of the registration form, which you receive from the previous owner.
- Drivers license
- Proof of address! Yes, you need a signed letter that you are allowed to use that address for your car registration. You can ask for this at a hostel, post office, or from your employer.
- Money to pay for the transfer.
7. backpacker car insurance australia
The Rego (registration of your car) includes the Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance. This only covers the costs for medical treatment, rehabilitation, and care services for all drivers and passengers injured during an accident you caused. Be aware that this does not cover any costs to your own car or the car of the other party.
You are not obligated to insure your car any extra besides the CTP insurance. But if you cause an accident this means you have to pay for all the costs to repair both your own car and the car of the other party.
Must Read: Brisbane to Cairns: The complete route guide
Besides the CTP insurance there are 3 options for car insurances which we will explain below:
1. Third Party Property (TPP)
If you cause an accident, this insurance will cover you for all the costs for repairing the other parties property, car and damage to other people.
2. Third Party, Fire, and Theft
Covers everything like the Third Party Property + damage caused to your own car caused by fire or theft.
Covers everything like the Third Party Fire and Theft + it covers damage caused to your own car by crash accidents and a wide range of insured events (e.g. natural disasters).
Where to get your car insurance?
There are many options for buying your car insurance for backpacker cars. Almost every national bank provides car insurance, as well as other companies. Easily search on the internet and you’ll find many possibilities. We have our car insurance with Woolworths.
When you buy a car in Australia, you can choose to get roadside assistance. This is a service for when you get stuck at the side of the road. You can get in touch with the service company and they make sure you get safely to a mechanic to repair your car. With roadside assistance, there are multiple extra options, like coverage for a replacement car or even hotels if your car can’t be fixed the same day.
It is not mandatory to have roadside assistance, it can just make it a lot easier for you if you have troubles and end up along the road. Just keep in mind that the phone network doesn’t cover all of Australia. So, if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere, the chance is big that you can’t reach your roadside assistance.
Tip: If you want to have roadside assistance, ask your insurance. Often they have an extra option for roadside assistance and with this you save money instead of buying it somewhere else seperately.
9. Our experience
We bought our Mitsubishi Express, a 2WD Van, in July 2018. It wasn’t the first one we checked. Actually, we have checked several Vans before we decided to buy this one. We bought our Van in Darwin, which might not be the best place to search for a car in Australia for backpackers, as there aren’t a lot of backpackers around that are selling their car.
In Darwin, there is a backpacker mechanic, which you can call to come over and check a car. It only costs AU$50 and he checks the car for around 30-50 minutes. In this time he tells you everything you have to be aware of and also if you get value for your money if you pay the price the seller is asking.
This helped us a lot, otherwise, we might have bought a car that we could barely drive for another 10K km.
We didn’t like how the Van looked inside, so we gave it a total make-over. We also installed solar energy on our Van. If you like to know more about this, check out our blog How to install an off-grid solar system in your car successfully
FAQ buying a car in australia for backpackers
Can you buy a car in Australia on a tourist visa?
Yes, a tourist can buy a car in Australia, this happens a lot. The reason for this is that it’s much cheaper than renting a car.
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I love to hear from you!
Did you buy a car in Australia and do you have any extra tips, or do you have a question? Leave a comment below! If you are all set and ready to go, check out what to explore in Australia!