A Guide to Buying a Car in Australia (and what not to do)
Australia and road trips are a match made in heaven. You simply can’t visit without going on one and as there’s so much to see, getting your hands on a car or campervan is the way to go!
If you’re here for a short time then renting a campervan is a perfect way to explore and with some fantastic companies such as Jucy Rentals, Apollo and Wicked Campers to name a few (and I mean a few) it’s super easy and convenient to do so. However, if you are like me and are staying for a long period of time then buying a car or camper is going to be more useful for you.
But I’m going to be honest with you here, in the space of just one week I ended up buying 2 vehicles. Yes, that’s right, 2. And it cost me a lot along the way.
This is how my vehicle purchases have gone: 1) buy a campervan 2) drive 9 hours south down the coast 3) the camper nearly dies but luckily the guy we bought it from would refund us 4) drive 9 hours back up the coast to get said refund 5) buy another car
It’s safe to say that buying a car in another country was a learning curve and one that I want you budget travellers to avoid! So here is everything you need to know about buying a vehicle in Australia and the mistakes not to make. Then all you have left to do is plan your trip and hit the highway!
Rego and RWC
All vehicles need to have Registration (Rego) to make them road legal and all states apart from Western Australia require a car to have an in-date Road Worthy Certificate (RWC) which is like a service/MOT certificate in the UK, in order for it be sold. You buy Rego in blocks of 6 or 12 months and when a car is sold, the Rego goes with it. This means you can potentially buy a car and not need to renew the registration for it.
Mistake No 1:
The campervan we bought first did not have any Rego on it and the seller would only get the RWC done when there was a serious buyer. He was honest and said that he bought it from some backpackers who couldn’t afford to fix the problems on it but as he was a mechanic he had fixed it up himself. But as there was no Rego, he hadn’t been able to take it for a proper test drive to check it was all ok. Which it wasn’t.
The Number Plates
Sounds like a weird one but vehicles are registered by state. You need to be aware that when you buy a vehicle you will need to go to a transport office in that state. So if you buy a car in Queensland but it has Victoria plates on it, you will have to drive to Victoria to register yourselves as the new owner of the car. You have 14 days to do this but it can be a bit of agg.
Registering at the Transport Office
When you buy a vehicle you will need to go to a Transport and Motoring Service centre to register yourselves as the new owner. You will need the RWC from the previous owner and a receipt of payment. You will have to pay stamp duty which is calculated from the price of the vehicle and admin fee. 3rd party insurance is also compulsory so this will be added on too.
Make sure you bring your passport, bank cards as proof of ID and get a bank statement printed off that shows a local address on it.
Mistake No 2:
When we bought the Camper there was no Rego and no plates. It cost us about $150 for new plates and 6 months Rego along with any admin fees they chuck in on it. When we got rid of the camper we could claim the Rego back but there was a fairly hefty admin fee for this and we got nothing back for the number plates we had to return. So yeah, we lost quite a chunk of money here.
Car vs camper
Before I got to Australia I had been dreaming of hitting the road in a campervan and taking those dreamy pictures of my feet hanging out the door in amazing locations so this is why we bought one initially and for the short time it worked it was great! But since having the 4×4 I know that a campervan would be limiting in some ways and I’m so glad we have a car now. But make sure you pick what’s right for you!
Some Pros and Cons
- Campers have everything you could need in them and there are loads for sale
- The budget traveller campers are usually old and have done a lot of miles which increases the chance of things going wrong
- 4x4s are generally comfier and haven’t (hopefully) been ragged by backpackers through places they shouldn’t have been
- 4x4s are a lot smaller but you can go to places e.g. in the outback that you wouldn’t be able to in a camper
Here’s the point where you have to be realistic. If you’re only in Australia for a short time then I would recommend hiring a vehicle instead of buying one. But if you’re here for longer, then buying is definitely going to work out cheaper. Remeber, cars and campers are money pits no matter what or where you are. You have to be able to account for things going wrong and be able to afford things like services. Make sure you buy something affordable and don’t let your heart rule your head when you see that cute shabby chic campervan interior.
Where to buy
Gumtree is massive in Australia and both private sellers and dealers use it. Spend some time looking at different options and find something with low mileage, as new as possible and something that looks like it’s been looked after. Facebook Market Place also has loads of vehicles available too.
Before you buy
Just before Tom and I bought our 4×4 we were couch surfing and our host recommended getting a mechanic to look over the car before we committed. We were so glad for this as we were literally about to buy a different 4×4 but our mechanic friend said it was a no go! So if you can, I would 100% get someone to look over it.
Ask if there is any service history available as it’s just a good indication that it’s been looked after and if any work has been done ask to see the receipts. Also, find out when the next service is due and how long is left on the Rego as these will be another outgoing.
Test drive it and test everything in it
It’s pretty good here in Australia – you ask to test drive a vehicle and they go ‘sure’ and hand you the keys to go on your way. Very trusting, but I like that. Make sure you go for a good little route, test the breaks and listen to any strange noises. Also make sure you test all the gadgets on it as well as the lights, horn, reverse lights and locking system.
Mistake No. 3:
Because our campervan had no Rego we were only able to really quickly (and not exactly legally) take it round the block. This was not enough time to get a good feel of things and in reality alarm bells should have been ringing. We also didn’t realise until we went to pick it up after paying, registering and buying number plates that the main door didn’t shut properly, one of the windows didn’t always wind up, the tracking was off and the central locking was long gone **face palm**.
Barter the price
After having a good look at it and comparing it to other cars that are for sale, make sure you go in at a low price and see what happens. A smile goes a long way but being a bit cheeky can definitely help you grab a bargain.