How to buy a used car in Australia….

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After arriving in Australia one of the first things I was told is that a very wise decision wold be to buy a car. Me not really being one for public transport… Well I’m not gonna argue with your wisdom on that one! So now it’s known I need a car, well there’s only one question, how to buy a used car in Australia?

Why should I fork out lots of money buying car?

This is a good question. You’ve just arrived and your’re all happy getting settled into your hostel, meeting fellow backpackers, getting your affairs in order I.e. Waiting for the inevitable arrival of your tax file number, attending your appointment to open up your new Australian bank account, deciding what mobile phone provider to go with etc. Do your really need to add the ball bag of finding a good reliable car to your already extensive to do list!?


In a word… YES!!


If your’ve read a few of my posts on this blog, by now I’m pretty sure that the picture I’m hopefully painting in your minds is that, without work, Australia is not, I repeat, is NOT cheap! As soon as, the necessary “initial drag your new life together and do a little partying” phase is over, the odds are your’ll probably be about $2-3k down and starting to worry about finding work. This happens to most new arrivals, who, like myself, have underestimated the fierce competition for backpacker friendly jobs in the cities.


Having a car on standby, not only means your can go on beer runs to the local “bottelo”, it gives your a massive edge when it comes to finding a job. Fair enough if working behind a bar in the city centre is your ideal gig, then maybe not needed but for most other jobs like say, construction, 90% of the time your’ll have to get yourself to different building sites around the local area (20 mile radius). Now if you’re a builder, offering a job and two people ring you up desperate for work, one has a car and the other one doesn’t, who are you going to employ?


Also, when the dreaded day to start looking towards getting your farm work done, rears its ugly head, well you’re not walking the 500 miles to the farm are ya!? Yeah there’s public transport but even once you’ve found a farm to get your 88 days, the odds are it’s still going to be at least 10 miles from the nearest hostel. In a nutshell please just take my word for it, having a car can pull your out of the brown stuff in many ways.


So what am I looking for in a car!?

To put it bluntly, your’re not looking for your future wife/husband, one thing

graffi car with smashed windows
As long as it gets you to the job!!

you’ll learn pretty quick is that backpackers don’t give a solitary shit what their car looks like, as long as it’s a trusty steed!

A lot of backpackers tend to go for station wagon type cars for one particular reason, you can fold down the back seats and get a small mattress in the back. So it’s handy for flying round the city finding work and also doubles as accommodation while out on the road trips. Win! Win!


Now, here in the UK, there’s been a bit of an unwritten rule that when looking for a used car your don’t want to touch anything with over 100,000 miles if it’s a petrol and 200,000 miles if it’s a diesel. Continue with that philosophy in Australia and your better have plenty queens heads in your wallet. I found mileage doesn’t really matter too much in Australia, as the vast majority of roads are wide open with no traffic, so less stop-start. All round easier on the clutch, gearbox and brakes.

A with any car purchase, your can only test drive it on the day and if it starts/drives well without too many rattles and knocks, it’s a “goer”. You could always ask the seller if it’s alright to drive it round to the local mechanics, get it a quick once over. Set your back maybe $50. What $50 when it comes to piece of mind!?

There is a couple of things I would say to avoid-

nearly empty fuel gauge
Get used to seeing this if you buy an automatic!!


AutomaticsMy experience, new ones are not so bad, little worse on fuel than their manual counter-part but to be honest out of most backpackers budget.

Now old automatics, downright woeful!! I bought a campervan that was automatic…. Jesus Christ!!! You’d be cruising along “happily” at 80kph in 4th (fastest it went on a flat) then all of a sudden there’d be the slightest of inclines and bam! Down to 3rd!! Honestly, your could watch the fuel gauge hemorrhaging your hard-earned cash as you’re slowed down to 60kph. Now I thought that is was just my knackered old van, no, no it wasn’t. Throughout the rest of my trip I drove a few more with auto’ boxes and they were just the same!



Big engines This is where the US influence starts on the humble Aussie. One of the popular manufacturers is Ford just like the UK, they also make similar cars for both markets. Aussie Ford Falcon = UK Ford Mondeo. One difference though, where your’d have say, a 1.8 litre petrol in the Mondeo, we’re talking a polar bear destroying 4.0 litre petrol in the Falcon. I wouldn’t mind but it isn’t even quick. Mate that 4.0 to the auto’ box and… Well if your’re heading for WA it’s going to cost ya $200 in jerry cans, never mind filling them!!

Cars from different states have different rules…

Now your know why your need a car and what kind of car your looking for, here’s the boring/ awkward bit!


In the next chunk of this post I’m going to be talking about “Rego”, so what is rego!? Rego, short for registration, is like the UK equivalent of road tax plus 3rd party insurance. So as long as your car has valid “rego” your are allowed to use the public roads and anyone with a current driving license can drive the vehicle with 3rd party insurance, regardless of who owns it.



Each of the 7 Australian states have different rules when it comes to roadworthy testing and registration of its vehicles, not really a problem until you take said vehicle out of its native state and the registration runs out. What do backpackers like to do? Travel!! This is where many people get caught out so be careful when buying the “right” car.



  • NSW: To transfer registration to yourself can be done fairly easily by filling out an online form. If done within 14 days of sale the cost is $32 and $149 if after the 14 days. To renew 12 months “rego” there is a $65 admin fee + the rego cost which goes by weight approx $300-$450. Also every 12 months if you car is older than 5 years it has to undergo a safety inspection, and have all faulty parts replaced before your can apply for another rego. You can find all information here.


  • WA: The whole process can be completed online or your can go into a WA transport office and do it there and then. There is a small cost to transfer the remaining registration and for 12 months rego it’s going to set your back roughly $420. On the plus side there is no yearly roadworthy test to deal with. Details on how to register can be found here.


  • SA: Again there’s a registration change over fee of $22 within 14 days or $82 after the 14 days. The actual rego cost varies quite a lot in South Australia due to engine size, cylinders etc but your generally looking around $550 for 12 months. Also, cars in SA are required to have yearly roadworthy tests. You should find everything your need to know here.


  • Vic: In Victoria the price to transfer registration is around $40 and 12 months rego cost $680 if your live out in the sticks, and $800 if you’re city dweller. Cars in Victoria must also pass a yearly roadworthy test before they can be sold or renew their rego. Info here.



rusty old fire truck for sale
This will not pass it’s roadworthy!!



  • NT: Transfer of registration fees are $17+ 3% of vehicle sale price in stamp duty. 12 months rego varies a little with engine size but for a 2 litre your looking roughly $740. Any car over 5 years old on Northern territory plates will need to undergo a roadworthy test every 12 months. All the info here.


  • Queensland: To transfer the owner in Queensland will set your back around $27 and 12 months rego will cost your $350 depending on the car your buy. Cars in Queensland also have to pass a yearly road worthy test. All the info here.


  • Tas: Registration transfer in Tasmania will cost $27 plus a small duty on top, while 12 months rego will cost your around $600 depending on the car you buy. All cars of a certain age must undergo a roadworthy test every 12 months and your can find all the info here.


So there’s a brief insight into what each state requires and a link to the individual states official websites where your can register your new vehicle. As your can see most states require your to have a roadworthy test every 12 months, if all goes well just for the test doing is going to cost at least $100. Let’s be serious backpacker cars rarely pass these things first time with no money being spent, it could quite easily cost well over a $1000.


The worst part of it is that if you buy a car from Tasmania and its roadworthy certificate runs out in say, Broome then your’ve got to get it to a test centre 3000 miles away in Tasmania. You couldn’t just get it tested, say in the Northern Territory.


You can always get the plates changed of the state that you’re in but that is pretty complicated and costs a fair bit.


Where to buy my trusty steed!?


As in any country, there are abundant places to purchase a car:


  • Backpacker car dealershipsMainly found in the big cities, there are certain “stealerships”, aimed at buying and selling backpacker cars. Yeh, you’ll get so many months warranty, so many point check and all that forecourt sales patter but at the end of the day your’ll pay massively over the odds for it. Me with my “short arms and deep pockets” would rather buy a car for half the price and if it blows up just buy another and still probably be in profit. The one saving grace these places do have is that they’ll offer to buy your car back after your’ve finished with it, obviously at a dispicably reduced rate. If your plan to go down this road, these are the best 2 to check out, Travelers Autobarn and Cars 4 Backpackers.


  • GumtreeI was desperate for a car to get to a job and managed to find plenty of cheap cars about all over Australia on Gumtree. Mainly other backpackers selling their own cars as they plan to leave Australia. This is where your bartering techniques come in, “your want $1500, your plane is booked for tomorrow morning, I’ll give ya $900 cash now!!”


  • Hostel notice boards/people in your hostelProbably the best place if your ask me, odds are if someone in your hostel is selling a car, you know them. Well if your’ve been there a while and networking as all backpackers do. You’ll know if the owner has had problems with it, your may have even driven it before. If there’s nothing for sale in your hostel then, it’s always worth a walk round to others to check out their notice boards.


From my own personal experience and researching to write this post, there is only one thing that your should take away from this…. BUY A CAR FROM WESTERN AUSTRALIA!!!!!!!!!!


To be fair cars from WA do tent to ask a bit of a premium because it can all be done online and your don’t have to get it tested at great expense every 12 months. It could be wise to take it to the “servo” and get it a quick once over… Be sure the wheels ain’t about to fall off.


So there you have it, that’s how to buy a used car in Australia…





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