Buying a Car or Van in Australia: Complete Guide

by Flip Flop Wanderers
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Last updated on May 7th, 2020

Australia is a huge country, and the best way to explore it is by car or van. Renting a car or a van in Australia can be very expensive, especially when you visit for a longer period. That’s why it’s worth considering buying a car or a van in Australia to explore this amazing country. But how do you decide if buying is a better option than renting? And if you decide to buy a car or a van what do you need to know? How do you know what kind of car or van you want, how do you know it is reliable, what insurances do you need, and what about roadworthy checks? There are many things you have to keep in mind, and in this blog we will answer all your questions about buying a car or a van in Australia.

Find cheap flights to Australia here!

Quickjump

Buying vs. Renting a Car or Van in Australia

Are you buying or renting a car/van? That’s a question you need to answer first. What are your plans in Australia? Are you traveling for a couple of weeks or a couple of months? When you travel for less than a month we would advise renting a car, because buying and selling a car will take some time, and a month is a relatively short time to explore Australia so it’s better to just rent it and make the most of your time. Popular renting companies are Britz, Maui, Mighty, Wicked Campers, Spaceships, and Lucky Rentals. The cheaper rentals are often older vans with more milage on the teller so they can come with more problems too. Lucky for example is not a very reliable campervan company to rent, but it’s cheap.

When you are going for 2 or 3 months it is already worth to consider buying a car or van in Australia. A month’s rent will be easily over 1500 AUD ($1000/€900), so if you buy a car and sell it again, even with some loss, this will be the most profitable option.

You also have to consider what you want to see in Australia. The distances are huge, so if you have limited time you might want to fly to certain destinations, and you can’t take a bought car with you in your hand luggage. So if you decide to buy a car you should keep in mind that it will take more time to go to more remote places like Uluru or Darwin. But that’s all part of the adventure right?!

Arriving on a Working Holiday Visa in Australia and want to know what else you should do when you arrive?
Also read: Things You Need to Do When You Arrive in Australia

What Kind of Car or Van Do You Need?

There are many options when you consider buying a car or van in Australia, but what is the best option for you? Do you want a car to drive from one hostel to the next, or do you want to be able to sleep in it? There are many free and cheap camping spots all around Australia so being able to sleep in it will save you a lot of money, and gives you more freedom.

Many people in Australia convert a station wagon, a (mini) van, or a 4WD to a ‘campervan’. Simply put a mattress in the back of a station wagon or a 4WD and fill your car up with some camping gear and you are good to go. Or if you want a bit more comfort and luxury, then a van might be a better option. It has a lot more room and you can find some already made up with a kitchenette and storage space. You can really make it into a little home! Another option is to buy an empty van and build it up yourself exactly how you want it to be. We did this in New Zealand and can definitely recommend it!

So it’s mainly up to you what suits you best. If you really hate camping or if you mainly stay in a city and only make short road trips, then you should go for a simple car or 4WD without camping gear. If you like the adventure and don’t mind living in a small space, then a station wagon or minivan will do it for you. Or if you like to have some room to live in while adventuring in Australia, then a van might be the best option.

Also read: How to Build Your Own Campervan From Scratch – a Step by Step Guide

Is a 4WD Necessary in Australia?

Again, the answer to this question depends on your wishes. A 2WD can get you to almost every place in Australia, so you don’t need a 4WD to have an awesome time down under. Many roads are sealed, and lots of gravel roads are ok to drive with a 2WD. But If you really like adventure and want to discover the real Australia, then a 4WD is definitely the best way to go. With a 4WD you can drive over beaches and hit dirt roads where normal cars or vans can’t go. Especially in Western Australia it might be useful. Also, some roads in the outback are impassable with a normal car and then it’s nice to have a 4WD.

That being said, we never had a 4WD during our two years in Australia and never really missed it. So is it necessary? No, but it is a cool experience if you’re up to it.

Can you spot the crocodiles in this river?!

Where to Buy a Car or Van in Australia

There are so many cars for sale in Australia, but where do you find the best one? The easiest way to search for what you want is online. Online you can filter your search on criteria you find important like the year of manufacturing, mileage, make, etc.

  • Gumtree: One of the best sites to look on is gumtree.com.au. It’s an online market place where you can find almost everything, even jobs sometimes.
  • Facebook: Another good source to search for your perfect car or van is Facebook. There are hundreds of Facebook groups where people offer their car. Some examples are Backpacker cars Sydney, Melbourne Backpacker, and Perth backpacker. And then you also have Facebook groups for nationalities like Dutchies in Australia, Dutchies in Perth, and such. Plenty to search on. 
  • Notice board in hostels: In many hostels you can find a notice board where other travelers offer their car or van for sale.
  • Local dealer: Another option is to go to a local dealer, and there are many of them too. This usually is a bit more expensive, but it’s also a smaller chance to be scammed.

The good thing about buying privately through Gumtree, Facebook or notice boards is that you are often buying from other backpackers. This means that vehicles are often not too expensive and there is mostly a lot of camping stuff included. One time we even got a surfboard with our van and other times there were fishing rods and snorkeling gear included!

Always keep in mind that everyone can put things for sale online, so there might be some scammers active as well. As long as you think logically you should be fine. Just remember that both private sellers, but also the companies, want to get rid of the car. Therefore it’s important you know what to look for and check out a few cars to compare prices and such.

The Best Time to Buy a Car or Van

The best time to buy a car or van in Australia depends a lot on where you are in this huge country. At the beginning of the high season, many people will be looking for a car to hit the road, and with more competition the prices might be a bit higher than at the end of the season. But the benefit is that there are so many cars for sale during this time, that you will definitely find something that suits you. But even during low season there as still enough cars for sale, and they will be a bit cheaper. You might not have that much choice though.

So when is high season? Actually, kind of all year round. During the Australian spring and summer (that’s wintertime in the northern hemisphere) the south of Australia starts warming up and high season starts for that part. But in the northern part there is no winter or summer, they have dry season and wet season. When summer starts in the south, the wet season starts in the north which means that their high season is over. When it starts getting colder in the south during autumn/winter it will get dryer in the north and high season will start.

So in the end, you should be able to find a good car or van throughout the whole year.

Mechanical Parts to Check

When you go to see the car there are some parts that you can check for issues. These are the critical points:

The engine:

Have a look underneath the car to check if the bottom of the engine is dry or greasy. When it is greasy it is probably leaking which can be a big problem. Also check the top part for leakages. Check the oil level too, and while you do also check the color of the oil on the leveler. When it’s really black it needs to be replaced, when it’s a bit more brownish and clear it is good. When there is white in it, or on the inside of the oil cap, then it has been overheated and you should not buy it! Also check the sound of the engine to hear if it runs smoothly.

Tires:

Check all four tires to see if they have enough profile. In the grooves of the tires are some indicators (a small bump). When the outside of the tire is almost the same height as the indicator it means that the profile is too small and you’ll need to replace the tires. When the outside of one tire has less profile than the inside or vice versa, this probably means that the car needs wheel alignment. Also check the sides of the tires for cracks and such that might indicate that they are worn out.

Bodywork:

Check the bodywork for rust. A bit of rust around the windows is not a big problem, but rust at the critical points is. Check underneath for rust at the point where you can place the jack and around the suspension. When there is a lot of rust you should not buy the car.

Test drive:

Always go for a test drive to see how the car drives. After you have checked if the radio works you can turn it off so you can listen to the sound of the car while driving. Make sure you check all the gears. When you are on a straight part of the road release your hands from the steering wheel to see if the car tilts to one side. When it does, the car might need wheel alignment. Check the brakes by braking really hard (make sure there is no one close behind you) to see if they work well. Also try the brakes on a straight part of the road and release your hands from the steering wheel to see if the car tilts to one side while braking. If it does so, they might need some work.

Furthermore, check all the doors, windows, heaters, aircon, etc. It’s also good to ask a lot of questions to the previous owners, like: how long have you had it? Have you had to get anything fixed? How many previous owners have there been? And aks for the registration and roadworthy certificate.

Phew, that was a lot to check! It’s really important though and when all the above is checked and OK, then it looks like a trustworthy car. It is not a guarantee, but you covered the critical (and expensive) points.

Buying Your Car or Van in Australia: Rego, Roadworthy, and Insurance

So you have found the ideal car or van and are ready to start your road trip, but first there’s a couple of things you need to do before you can drive away. Depending on the state where the vehicle is registered, or the state where you will register the car, there are different rules. Let’s explain what those rules are and what you need to do.

Rego:

Registration of the car. The car has to be registered, and therefore have license plates (rego plates). There is a (big) fee you have to pay, but this is also your road-tax and in some states medical-third-party insurance is included. You can pay it for 3, 6, or 12 months. There is a sticker on the windscreen which tells you the day and month of when the registration will expire.

When buying a car or van in Australia, you will need to fill out a change of ownership form so that the van is now in your name. You have to have the registration transferred to your name within 14 days of purchase. For the registration you need a  ‘garage address’. It’s where the car will be parked when you are not using it. Usually this is your home, but for travelers this might be a bit difficult. Luckily most hostels are ok with using their address if you don’t have a home. This needs to be in the state where your car will be registered. The easiest way is buying a car that is already registered in the state that you want to register it OR one with WA rego, since that’s the easiest one to have as a backpacker.

If you want to change from registration state you’ll have to do it in the state where you want to register it. For example, if you buy a car with NSW registration and you want to change it to WA registration, you need to go to WA within a certain time to get it done.

If you need to renew the rego of your car, then you can easily do this at a post office.

Roadworthy:

Roadworthy, or RWC, is a check in a garage to see if the car is safe to drive according to the rules of the state. In some states you need an RWC when you register the car in your name. In other states you need to renew it yearly, and in WA you don’t need a road worthy certificate. Therefore, check the government website for the rules of the state (see the list below).

Insurance:

Needless to say that it’s always important to have an insurance with your car or van! In most states you already have compulsory third party insurance (CTP) included in the rego, except for NSW where you need to buy this in a separate step during the renewal of your rego. The CTP means that the insurance provides compensation for people who get injured or killed in an accident (not the car itself). To see what’s exactly included in the CTP check out the government websites listed below.

Because the CTP only covers the medical issues you probably also want a Third Party Insurance that covers the other party’s car and belongings. You can get this insurance via banks and roadside assistance. If you also want to be covered for your own car and belongings you’ll need all-risk insurance which costs a lot more.

Government Websites:

NSW – https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/  

VIC – https://transport.vic.gov.au/

QLD – https://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/ 

WA – https://www.transport.wa.gov.au/

SA – https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/driving-and-transport

NT – https://transport.nt.gov.au/

TAS – https://www.transport.tas.gov.au/

ACT – https://www.transport.act.gov.au/

What Else Do You Need to Be Aware Of?

It is common in Australia that people are buying a car or van with a loan. When they sell the car and the previous owner doesn’t pay the loan anymore the car might be repossessed and you end up losing the car. Another thing you have to check is if the car has been stolen. You can check both via this website.

Maintenance for Your Car or Van

When you have purchased a car, you don’t want it to break down during your journey. To lessen the chance of break downs you should maintain your car well. Every 6 months or 10.000-15.000km the car needs a service. During this service the fluids will be chanced (oil, coolant, etc.) and also the spark plugs, oil filter, and air filter. If you are a bit handy you can easily do this yourself. You can find the parts in one of the many stores all around Australia like Repco and Super Cheap Auto. At some stores you can also return the old oil and oil filter.

If you rather let a professional do the job you can search for a good garage in the area. They can also check for other problems. It’s well-advised to do a check like that before you visit the outback because you definitely don’t want to break down in the middle of nowhere.

Selling the Car or Van When You Leave Australia

When you leave Australia you need to sell the car again. Here are some tips when selling your car or van:

  • Same as when you were searching for it, the best place to sell your car is online. Advertise your car on the many Facebook pages and online marketplaces like Gumtree.
  • The best chance to get it sold easily is in the bigger cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, or Perth. 
  • The biggest chance to sell it quickly is in the beginning or during high season. 
  • It sells easier when your car is in good shape. So make sure you did a check before selling it.
  • It’s best to sell the van with at least a few months rego left on it. That way it’s more appealing for potential buyers.
  • When advertising list all of the extras people get with it, because this again will appeal to buyers.

And the most important tip:

Make sure you have plenty of time to sell the car! We would advise advertising your car at least 2 weeks before your departure. If the car doesn’t sell as quickly as you hoped for you better lower the price and take your loss. You can’t expect to get the same price for the car as for what you bought it, buy you always can take some photos and edit it with free photoshop. You had an amazing time, and it saves you a lot of stress to sell it a couple of days before you leave. We have been in the position that we sold the car on the day before we left and it was really stressful. So start selling it on time!

Where to Stay in Australia

When you travel around with your car or van the best place to stay is of course on campgrounds or free spots. This is ultimate freedom!

Want to know more about camping in Australia? We wrote an extensive blog all about it.
Also read: Camping in Australia: Everything You Need to Know

Before buying your car or van in Australia you’ll also need a place to stay though. Maybe you have just arrived in Sydney, Melbourne or Perth and need somewhere to rest before you can start your adventure?

Then find all hotels in Sydney here, in Melbourne here and in Perth here

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Read all our other blogs about Australia here!

We hope that this blog has answered all your questions about buying a car or a van in Australia and that you now know what to look out for. Let us know the car or van you bought in the comments! Have the most amazing time Down Under!

Check out all our other Van Life blogs here!

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