Most of the backpackers on their working holiday in Australia do not want to spend all of their time in one place – but rather want to see as much of the country as possible. When choosing the mode of transport for traveling around Australia buying an own car has some significant benefits compared to other options and in my opinion it is the one and only way to go. There is a lot of amazing places and ‘hidden gems’ that are located outside public transport areas so the only way to reach these is by your own car. If you are planning to do some continuous trip from place A to B (like from Sydney to Cairns) and if you are two or more people, then buying a car is definitely the best option.
A lot of backpackers also rent a car for their road trips which is also a good choice if you don’t have that much time to spend on the road. If you are not in a hurry then buying your own car will very likely be cheaper than renting one.
There is always some things to consider when buying a vehicle, so here are my tips on how to buy a backpacker car in Australia!
Why buy a car?
There is also a lot of advantages in having your own car in Australia:
- Freedom – When having your own car you don’t need to stress about timetables. You can just spontaneously change your course if you see a street sign to some beautiful waterfall, or you can spend more time in some places than initially planned.
- Access – Outside bigger cities public transport is practically non existent. With your own car you have access to many amazing places you would not see otherwise such as national parks, beaches or some interesting small villages.
- Saving a lot of $$$ – The best part of having a car is that you save SO much money. There is a lot of free campsites and even the ones you have to pay for are around half price compared to hostel bed for 2 people.
- Farm work – If you want to do farm work to get your 2nd year working holiday visa, having a car will increase the amount of potential farms. Especially bigger companies don’t usually have accommodation on the farm so you need your own transport to get to work. Even in the ones that do have accommodation you still need a car to do grocery shopping etc.
So now when you are convinced that having an own car will increase your quality of life in Australia, you should take notice of few things before you start looking.
What type of a car?
Most popular car types among backpackers are 4 wheel drives (4WD), vans and station wagons. It is advisable to buy a car where you can sleep in since it makes road tripping so much easier when you don’t have to set up your tent every night.
If you want to see the outback and are planning to go some remote areas with no sealed roads then you might want to consider buying a 4WD. They are expensive (in decent ones prices start around 5000$) and many of them are also not big enough to sleep in. But, there are some places in here where you really need a 4WD, just be prepared to invest some money on it.
Vans are really (if not even the most) popular choice of a backpacker car in Australia. They are comfortable to sleep in and have a lot of space so you don’t need to bother moving your things all the time. Downsides in vans include that they are usually old, expensive and may be mechanically unreliable. However, there are still good vans out there it just may take some time (and luck) to find one.
Last but not least are station wagons which was our choice of a car. They are the cheapest option (around 1500$–3000$) and there is a lot of them on the market. One disadvantage in station wagons is lack of space so you have to but some effort in moving your stuff around. Though with a little bit organization this doesn’t actually take more time than few minutes. Mitsubishi Magna, Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore are the biggest models on the market and popular among backpackers. At least in Holden Commodore the back seats fold completely flat so it is very comfortable to sleep in.
TIP: It is advisable to buy a car of a make that is common in Australia. This makes it is easier and cheaper to find spare parts.
Where to look?
The biggest platform where backpackers are selling their cars is Gumtree. There are also some groups in Facebook designed for backpackers such as Backpacker Cars Australia or Australia Backpackers Buy/Sell where you can find some really good deals sometimes. Also, Australia Backpackers Facebook group has regularly posts about cars for sale.
What to look?
When you are looking the sales ads some things good to pay attention include:
Age of the car and how many kilometers driven
There are parts in the car that worn out in time and you have to replace them. The older the car and more kilometers driven the more probable it is that you will have to fix or replace some parts at some point. This doesn’t mean newer cars don’t get any problems – there is no such thing as a car that never gets any problems. Buying a car is always a bit risky and you can never be 100% sure of what you get, but with a little bit of research you can decrease the possibility of getting scammed.
It is good if the car has some rego left because it is expensive (for our NSW car about 550$/6 months). I recommend not to buy an unregistered car cause re-registering a car is much more complicated and more expensive process than just renewing the rego. In Australia registration policies vary from state to state but generally it is a good idea to buy a car which is registered in the state where you are planning to sell it.
Wikipedia has some useful information about vehicle inspection policies of different states. NSW requires an annual check up called pink slip for the car to make sure it is roadworthy. When time of the check up comes you have to do it in a state where the car is registered so in NSW.
Many of the backpacker cars are registered in Western Australia because it is the easiest and cheapest option. Everything can be done conveniently online and the registration doesn’t require vehicle inspections. WA cars are also easy to sell in any state. When buying a WA car you should keep in mind that the registration doesn’t require inspections at any point. If you want to play safe it is good idea to take the car to mechanical check before buying. It is actually good idea to bring a car registered in any state to a mechanical check before buying, especially if you’re planning to buy some more expensive car. It costs around 50$ but can save you thousands.
It is good if the car has a detailed service history and some evidence of recent repairs. Constantly neglecting car service is not good for the the car and especially for the engine.
This is one thing we did not know to appreciate when we were looking for a car. If the car does not have any of the camping equipment you can add few hundred bucks to your budget to get everything you need. We spent around 400$ buying all the camping stuff including a proper mattress.
Going for an inspection
When you find a good looking car and go for an inspection it is good to take someone with you who knows at least something about cars. When you are test driving the car try to listen if there is any clicking noises or suspicious sounds. Check under the hood that everything looks alright. Check also the fluids – it is not very good sign if the oil level or radiator fluid level is really low.
Don’t give up if you don’t find perfect match right away, it may take time and multiple inspections to find a good car. When you finally find the right one for you and have filled the paper work with the seller, the last step is to register the vehicle in your name. After this you are good to go!
Registration transfer policies vary state to state. In all states you have to do the transfer within 14 days from buying the vehicle. At least in NSW you have to also pay a transfer fee and a stamp duty. Transfer fees are dependent on the price of the car. For our car the transfer costs were around 100$ in total. Some states (QLD and VIC) also require Road Worthy Certificate (RWC) before the transfer can be made. RWC is a mechanical inspection of a vehicle to make sure it’s roadworthy.
In registration there is Compulsory Third Party Insurance (CTP/green slip) included. This covers only the damage for other people and does NOT cover other people’s property damage including the car. For this you can buy another insurance called Third Party Property Damage. It is not compulsory but good to have just in case. Also taking the Roadside Assistance is really advisable.
TIP: Avoid driving when it’s dark, because a lot of Australian animals are nocturnal. If you see a kangaroo on a roadside slow down, they have a bad habit to jumping on the roads in front of cars.
TIP: If you buy stuff with over 30$ from Woolies or Coles you get fuel discount coupon (4c/L) to your shopping docket which you can use on their petrol stations!