Buying a car in Australia for backpackers can be very complicated and confusing. However, there is simply no better way to explore this large country. Once we started to seriously looking into getting a car in Australia we got really confused as there so many things you have to take into account.
Buying a car in Australia for backpackers guide will answer all the questions you might have in regards to purchasing a car in Australia:
- Why you should buy and own a car.
- The type of car you should get.
- Where you should search for a car.
- Everything you need to check when inspecting a car.
- How much money to spend.
- What administrative things you have to take care of.
- All about insurances.
If you are unsure about buying a car in Australia for backpackers, keep reading to help set your mind on the right track.
YOUR GUIDE TO: BUYING A CAR IN AUSTRALIA FOR BACKPACKERS
Most people who plan on traveling in Australia long-term either dream (or should be dreaming) of buying and owning a car. Backpackers or holiday travel makers in Australia are known for travelling around in a house on wheels.
WHY SHOULD YOU BUY A CAR?
We will outline a few points why you should have a car in Australia.
The best thing about buying a car in Australia for backpackers is to be FREE and FLEXIBLE. There is one thing we hate when travelling with public transportation. The lack of flexibility while crossing overland. In South America and Southeast Asia we always used buses, planes, trains etc. We could never say “let’s take a look around here along the way or let’s take some nice pictures.” There is nothing more enabling than the feeling that you can decide where to stop, where to go and so on.
Yes, you will have to spend some money first. But trust us, this investment will pay off big time. Guess what is the biggest cost factor while traveling in Australia! Right, it is accommodation. Hotels are expensive and even hostels are not exactly bargains in Australia.
So why not use your car not only as a means of transport but also as a home. Camping is one of the favorite things Australians do in their spare time so give it a try and save money while doing it. Be aware that camping is entirely free. At some camping areas you will have to pay but even the “high-end” ones will be usually cheaper than a miserable hostel room.
The most famous sights and landmarks in Australia are scattered all over the country and CANNOT be reached by public transport. That implies the only way to see them is by car. Sure, you can skip them, but then there is not much left to do in Australia.
Another aspect is that if you plan to work on a farm (which we wouldn’t recommend) you will most likely need your own means of transport to reach all the remote farms to be able to work as a slave for a miserable wage which is taxed on top of everything.
COMING SOON: We are writing an article about our experience working in Australia. So stay tuned. It. will. be. a. shocker.
TRAVELING IN AUSTRALIA? READ MORE: 8 Amazing Noosa National Park walks: Enjoy beach views and spot koalas
WHAT TYPE OF CAR SHOULD YOU BUY?
This is a very important question. There are many points when it comes to buying a car in Australia for backpackers. At first, try to answer some of these questions: Where do you want to go with the car?, Do you like to use it for sleeping?, How many people are you?, Do you like to drive with the car on the beach?, etc.
Now, depending on how do you like to travel, we help you make a decision by categorising types of cars in 4 groups: 4 wheel drives (4WD), vans/camper, station wagons and sedans/small cars.
What type of car you should get depends on several factors such as your:
- Preferred way of traveling?
- Where do you want to go?
- How much money can you spend?
- Where do you want to sleep?
Let’s assess the 4 options according to those and other factors.
This was our choice. If you want to access every remote place like beaches and the real outback this is the type of car you should chose. With a 4WD you can easily drive on a beach and other off-road terrain. Besides it has sufficient place to either have a bed in the back or a tent on the roof. No need to always take out your tent out and build it. Unfortunately, the price for such a car is relatively high and it usually has a higher fuel consumption. Nevertheless, keep in mind that petrol is ridiculously cheap in Australia. So why not listen to a mighty V6 rumble beneath you.
Prices for solid cars probably start at around $4.000.
More spacious than most 4WD it is a good way to go if you plan on camping extensively. However, you will pay usually even more than for a 4WD and you won’t be able to access remote places that are for 4WDs only. There is one exception though: Get a 4WD Van. They do exist but they are even pricier and hard to come by.
OUR TIP: The campers we saw on the various platforms were so far beyond our budget that it probably makes no sense for you neither. It might be better to rent a big camper for a short period of time rather than buying it.
A station wagon might be a good compromise if you are on a tight budget. They usually have low fuel consumption but still enough space to hold a self-made bed in the trunk. Typical examples are Holden Commodore, Toyota Camry and Ford Falcon.
You might get an old but solid car for $1.500-2.000.
This type of car makes only sense if you are one an extremely tight budget. It will be cheap to acquire and to drive. However, you won’t be able to fully experience a road trip in Australia. No space and no “all road” ability make this one the choice we don’t recommend. Like always it depends on what you plan to do and you could still camp with your own tent.
Prices start probably around $1.000.
Once you make up your mind what type of car is the right one for you the real fun begins. Read on and find out what the process could look like.
THE STEPS YOU WILL NEED TO TAKE BEFORE YOU CAN START TRAVELING!
WHERE TO FIND (USED) CARS?
There are few platforms where you can look into a buying a car in Australia for backpackers. A good start is to join a Facebook group such as Backpacker Cars Australia. Another good website is Gumtree. At Gumtree it’s easy to filter cars according to criteria such as price, type of car and location. A third option is Cars4backpackers. This one we haven’t used though. Observe what cars are offered and bookmark your favorites. Then move on to the next step.
CREATE A SHORT LIST WITH CARS BASED ON CRITERIA
This is very an important step! Therefore, make sure to check for the following criteria:
How does the car look like on the pictures? What brands are on offer? Obviously you have to like it, if not, keep looking. Toyota and Holden are the most common cars in Australia therefore it will be easier to find spare parts as for other brands. But don’t worry too much about that. It is just a way to help you make a decision.
What does the odometer say and how old is the car? Everything around and below 300.000km should be fine. If you plan on driving a lot make sure to get a car with lower kilometers.
Was the car regularly serviced? Every 10.000km is great. Available invoices are even better.
How old/new are brakes, tires and batteries? Does the aircon work well? If all those items are mentioned you can assume that at least the essential components are working.
What camping equipment comes with it? If it is fully equipped, i.e. tent, awning, camping gear, built-in bed etc you will not need to waste money and time on buying/building everything yourself. Our car is fully equipped and we saved at least $500.
CRITERIA THAT MAKE THE REGISTRATION PROCESS EASIER
Once you buy a car the registrations needs to be transferred from the previous owner (the seller) to you (the buyer). If the subsequent points are mentioned in the ad you know the transfer of registration will be less complicated.
Where is the car being sold and in what state is it registered? Two reasons: If you are in Brisbane it’ll be hard to check out or buy a car in Perth, right? Furthermore, if you buy a car in Queensland that is registered in Victoria you will have more to do when registering the car to your name. That does not mean it’s impossible. More on this in a chapter further below.
Is the car currently registered and if when does it terminate? If there is no registration you will need to figure out how to move the car to a place to actually register it. It is illegal to move a car that is not registered. Our advice: Don’t even bother! It’s too complicated. Read more HERE.
Is the seller the registered owner? Obviously only the actual owner can transfer the car. Make sure that’s the case.
Is it “roadworthy”? Once you register the car to your name you need to provide a roadworthy certificate (RWC) in QLD, VIC and ACT. This is the sellers responsibility. Read on to find out more on that topic.
OUR TIP: If some of those questions are not answered in the ad but you still like the car make sure to ask in an email/message before you move on to the next step.
ARRANGE MEETINGS AND INSPECT POTENTIAL WINNERS
We are by no means mechanics so view the check list below more as an indicator of what to look for.
This is the list which makes your life easier when it comes to a buying a car in Australia for backpackers. This list is definitely not complete and you should always consult an expert if you are unsure.
CHECK EXTERIOR (TIRES, WINDOWS, LIGHTS, ETC.)
Well, at first take a look around. Bumps, scratches will be no obstacle on your trip but bigger damages might indicate issues that lie below the surface you won’t be able to assess. So ask for previous accidents. Check the tread wear of the tires. Anything below 2mm is critical. Make sure the windshield has no cracks. Check if all the lights (blinkers, all brake lights) work.
CHECK FLUIDS (OIL, RADIATOR COOLANT, ETC.)
Is something there? Good. Motor oil should be golden (if new and clean) and brownish/blackish if it’s older. Never red. Transmission oil should be reddish. Brake fluid should be simply there as it should not be consumed by the car. Radiator fluid/coolant should be yellow/green; it helps to keep the engine cool which in turn makes it last longer.
TAKE A TEST RIDE
We highly recommend you to take a test ride. DON’T GO INSPECTING A CAR WHEN IT’S DARK! When there is something wrong with the engine you won’t be able to see any smoke coming out. Which usually is a bad sign. Make sure to listen if the car makes strange sounds (clicking, knocking etc.) while you drive.
OUR TIP: If a seller says NO to a test ride, you know that something is off and s/he is hiding something. Don’t buy the car.
CHECK IF THE CAR HAS ANY DEBT ON IT
You don’t want to inherit any outstanding depts. That is why you should note down the VIN number and check (for Queensland) if there is any debt attached to the car or if the vehicle is stolen.
BRING AN EXPERT
Bring someone who knows a thing or two about cars. If you are lucky (like us) you have an Australian friend that can help. If you don’t have that you can ask a professional to join you for the inspection. It might be expensive. In Queensland RACQ will ask $299. Honestly speaking, we wouldn’t have paid that much.
ASK FOR THE SAFETY CERTIFICATE
Make sure the seller takes care or took care of the safety certificate. However, this is not necessary in all Australian states. Check in the next chapter what documents you need to register a car.
PAY THE RIGHT PRICE
The price is what it all comes down to of course. Most prices on the ads communicated on the ads are negotiable. A lot of backpackers will probably add $500-1000 on the price they actually hope to get. So keep that in mind while you come to an agreement. Don’t show too much emotion if you really like the car. But I guess you knew that.
TRAVELING IN AUSTRALIA? READ MORE: Fairy Pools Noosa: Best guide to explore this nature wonder (with map)
TRANSFER OF REGISTRATION (WITHIN THE SAME STATE)
For us, this was the hardest part about buying a car in Australia for backpackers. Luckily our friend explained us exactly what we needed to do once we had our car.
If you buy or receive a vehicle, you will need to submit (in person) your registration transfer request to a transport and motoring customer service centre at the latest 14 days after you purchased the car.
Bring these documents with you:
- Part A of the vehicle registration transfer application (F3520).
That’s an easy one. Just fill it out (together with the seller) and take it with you. Part B stays with the seller. This is especially important to consider once you sell the car again. If the car is not properly transferred to the new owner you might end up getting their speeding tickets and other crap. No joke! It happens to people.
- A completed new customer application (F3503) if you are a new customer and it is your first time doing business with us (for example, interstate or overseas driver licence holder).
It’s unlikely that you have that it if you are new to Australia. Print it, fill it out and take it with you.
Ask the seller to provide a safety/roadworthy certificate.
OUR TIP: Don’t buy a car from someone who is not willing to provide a safety certificate. Who knows what he/she/they might try to hide. In the end you pay hundreds of $ just to get the car ready to be roadworthy. A driving car is not necessarily a roadworthy/safe car.
GOING INTO MORE DETAILS
In QLD, VIC and ACT (for cars older than 6 years) the seller is actually required to provide the certificate. To obtain the certificate a technical inspection is necessary and that costs money (in Queensland around $82) on top of what eventually has to be fixed.
In all other states/territories neither the seller nor the buyer are required to provide a roadworthy certificate to transfer the registration. However, in most cases you will need a check-up/ inspection from a mechanic to get the roadworthiness certificate!
- Your original licence or other evidence of identity.
Passport, ID, Foreign license, credit cards should fulfil the Category A and B requirements.
- Evidence of the Queensland address of where the vehicle is garaged—this can be your driver licence, property rates notice or either a gas, phone or electricity bill.
This one can be tricky. But if you plan on working in Australia you’ll also need to get a tax file number (TFN) and open a bank account. For both you need an address as well. So use either document for evidence of your Queensland address.
The registration cost (in Queensland) is split into 3 parts: registration fee, traffic improvement fee and compulsory third party (CTP) insurance premium. You can chose a 6-month or a 12-month period. Be prepared to pay several hundred $.
If you are lucky the registration of the seller is “active” for a longer period of time. Don’t underestimate the savings that could bring. Our car was already registered for 6 months. That alone saved us at least $400. To find out more and to get an idea how much you will need to pay click HERE.
Again make sure to check for the state in which you plan to purchase and register a car.
Yes, of course you have to pay a fee/duty (at least in Queensland) if you buy an old, used chunk car. Use this calculator to find out how much you’ll “owe” once you transfer the car. It basically depends on your car’s motor size and on how much you paid. One of those factors you can and should “influence”. Just make sure all parties involved are aware of that.
TRANSFER OF REGISTRATION FROM ANOTHER STATE
As mentioned before it is bit more work to buy a car that has license plates from a state other than the one you plan to buy the car in.
- What it comes down to is that the license plates need to be exchanged. Accordingly, both the seller and you (the buyer) have to go to a transport office. The old plates are handed over by the seller and you get your new ones. This is the case for ALL Australian states.
- Furthermore, in ALL states a safety certificate has to be provided. That means a technical inspection has to be performed to obtain a certificate that states that the car is roadworthy. Remember for the transfer of registration within the same state this was only necessary in QLD, VIC and ACT. Also remember that this was the sellers responsibility.
One more thing: the seller can claim a refund for the remaining days of the registration s/he paid once the plates s/he hands over the license plates.
WHAT ABOUT INSURANCE AND ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE?
There is still one last thing to take care of when buying a car in Australia for backpackers. And that’s insurance!
In Queensland (check HERE for other states) it is compulsory to have a CTP (Compulsory Third Party) insurance. CTP insurance covers you for compensation claims made by other people who were injured in an accident. It is included in your registration payment.
However, nothing else is covered since it is NOT a so-called comprehensive insurance. If you want to have more covered you have to pay more. This issue (in terms of financial duress) is approached differently by different people. We met people who had no additional insurance at all. Their argument: “We are only going to see kangaroos. Why should we have gotten an additional insurance?”
We can just share how we did it. We didn’t go for the expensive comprehensive insurance (no need to cover damage to our own car) and chose instead a Fire, Theft and Third Party Insurance from RACQ. The price we paid was $25 a month. Can’t do much wrong with that. Decide for yourself and make sure to compare insurances HERE.
Again it’s up to you if you want someone to help you if your car has a breakdown. For long road trips to remote places it probably makes sense. After all the typical backpacker car is unlikely to be an immaculate Porsche. Better save than sorry. Invest a couple of $ per month to sleep better.
We hope that we answered all questions about buying a car in Australia for backpackers. If you have any other questions or if you are unsure about something, please let us know your questions in the comments section. We are happy to help 🙂
We hope that you will have no problems and only fun during your trip.
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