Transport – Buy or Rent a Vehicle in Australia

September 9, 2005    

Travel Tips Page 3

Travellers Driving In Australia - As an overseas visitor, you are allowed to drive in Australia for the duration of your visa. (You must carry your licence with you at all times whilst driving.) If you obtain residency you must gain an Australian (state) licence within three months.

Buying A Car In Australia - Lots of people ask me about buying a car or van in Australia. This can be either the best or worst decision you will make during your travels. Most travellers’ budgets range between $1,000 and $3,500 which is naturally at the lowest end of the market and cars in this price range can be fraught with danger, but if you get a reliable one the benefits are fantastic.

Before you buy a car in Australia you can check for the current market value at various places. One well known car guide website is The Redbook.

There are so many different ways to buy a car in Australia and I will list a few:

  1. Car auctions – this is the cheapest way to buy a car, as this is where the dealers get them from. Usually they have no reserve price and you cannot pre-drive them or even mechanically inspect them. If you really think you know a bit about cars, go to the various Sydney auctions and get yourself a bargain!

    Having said this, most travellers won’t go there because it is a completely foreign world to all of us who have never been involved in the car industry. Garson, a Canadian guy who now calls Cronulla home, did go to the auctions and nabbed himself a great bargain. Some others have not been so lucky. It’s “your call”!

  2. Backpacker car markets - Australia’s largest is in Sydney at Kings Cross – The local council allows travellers to sell their cars in a parking station and there are usually many to choose from. This is where you will find many sad faced travellers trying to sell their cars before flying on to their next destination.

    Pre-drives and mechanical inspections are negotiable direct with owners. Naturally they are trying to get as much as they can but are secretly stressing-out as that they only have two weeks / two days / two hours before they leave Australia. If you can detect their desperation and make a ridiculous offer you might get lucky. These cars have usually gone around Australia several times past their normal life expectancy, and as you can imagine, most backpackers on a budget will not service them correctly so the risk could be high.

    A car wrecker once said to me that he takes about 100 cars per week from around Kings Cross and the airport long-term car park to the scrap metal yard – the cars that departed backpackers failed to sell prior to their flying out.

  3. Buying a car privately - This option offers the chance of excellent savings, but also the danger of financial disaster. The old saying “buyer beware” is paramount as there are no warranties and no comebacks – once you have paid the money, that’s it. Only consider this option if you or a travelling partner knows a lot about cars and can reliably inspect your prospective purchase yourselves.

    Even then I would recommend additionally paying $30-$50 to have it independently inspected by a local garage. I have seen many people saved at the last minute by an inspection report that reveals the car they were about to part with thousands of dollars for was in fact a “lemon” worth less than a tenth of this. Having said that I believe there are sound bargains to be found…

    The “Trading Post” – this is a Sydney weekly publication that has thousands of cars in it every week. The only problem is, in Sydney most of those cars in your price bracket are located in the city’s western suburbs, which can be a time consuming exercise inspecting several cars using public transport, not to mention booking it into an inspection station or mechanic to have it checked out. (Other cities will have their equivalent publications and car-centric suburbs.)

    Hostel and Internet Café Noticeboards – Sydney has over 70 backpacker hostels, and innumerable internet cafes. All will have noticeboards peppered with flyers for vehicles. All the previous cautionary advice applies…

    Anthony, a Welsh backpacker who stayed with us some years ago once bought a car in Perth, from a departing backpacker in a hostel for a couple of hundred dollars. He then discovered that fourth (top) gear didn’t work, and had to drive across the country heading for Sydney in third gear at a top speed of ~70kph (~45mph) with the engine screaming. He did well, making it nearly to Adelaide before it exploded!

    The best type of car is the 4-door family sedan. I know it’s not a van so you can’t sleep in it, but it’s reliability I’m stressing and the money you would save compared to buying a dud is amazing. Note that if you think you want to buy a van and convert it to a basic camper just bear in mind that it is probably an ex-commercial delivery van that has done hundreds of thousands of kilometres and is ready to fall apart. These vans are usually full of rust and have tiny 4 cylinder engines that quickly overheat on long hard journeys.

  4. Backpacker specialised car dealers - yes, they are making a profit out of you but generally speaking their buy-back systems are good value, plus you know they have fully serviced and re-registered the car for a long period of time, have a national service network, and can arrange insurance etc. to make sure you have a trouble-free journey.

    Most of these car dealers offer up to a 40% buy back and want you to spread the word to other travellers along the way. There have been quite a few travellers that have bought cars this way and all have been quite pleased. However note that even though the dealers are buying the car back, any damage, punctures or out of the ordinary maintenance items will have to be met by you.

Renting a vehicle – There are lots of car rental companies offering great deals to travellers for extended rentals. Naturally it depends on the size of the vehicle and the time of the year but the advantage you have is that they are almost brand new, have national roadside assistance, top quality facilities, and a no-hassle approach to travel.

Larger car rental companies also have drop offs in the major cities/towns so you don’t need to waste time backtracking. There are also specific backpacker car dealers that have very cheap long-term rental rates for older cars. If you wish to research before you arrive search the web for these companies and pre-arrange a deal over the net.

Next Page >> Australian Vehicle Registration (“REGO”) & Car Insurance