The best way to see Australia is to hit the great open road with the freedom of a campervan. Forget the Greyhound or organised bus tours, a real Aussie roadtrip is the only way to do it.
We umm’d and arr’d about whether or not to buy our van for months but it turned out to be the best decision we ever made.
Should I buy or hire?
If you plan to travel via car or campervan for 6 weeks or longer I’d recommend buying. It costs a fortune to hire for a few week, so it’s worth taking the risk and buying.
We bought a VW Transporter for $5,500 which is almost as much as it would have cost to rent for 3 months. We then lived in it for a year and sold it (after driving all the way around Oz) for $5,000. We bought nothing more than a new tire and changed the oil once or twice. Admittedly, we were very lucky. We met a French couple who spent $10,000 on a campervan and the engine blew up after 5 days. Bad times.
If you’re going to rent, check out Travellers Autobarn. Wicked Campers look, well, wicked, but they’re overpriced for what you get.
Where to buy from:
Backpacker car markets
The biggest backpacker car market is in Kings Cross, Sydney, where you will find hundreds of cars being bought and sold by backpackers. The main advantage is that you can find a real bargain, especially if someone needs to leave the country in a rush due to flights or visa restrictions.
Backpacker vans usually come with everything you need from cookers and pots and pans to surf boards and guidebooks. The main downside is that backpackers cover huge distances and don’t look after their vehicles so you’re never sure what you’ll get.
You can find private sales online (like on Gumtree or eBay) or through ads in papers or hostel notice boards. You can sometimes get a better deal and avoid the salesman but this isn’t the best option if you have no idea what you’re looking for in a car.
Car dealers will usually add a hefty commission onto the price but if you’ve got the cash and you’re looking for something newer or more reliable, this could be a good option. Car dealers will often guarantee to buy the vehicle back from you when you’re ready to sell. They’ll give you a fraction of what it’s worth but it can take the stress out of buying and selling.
What to look out for:
Ask the owner:
- How often they change the oil? You want someone who changes it when necessary but if it has to be changed all the time, there is definitely something wrong.
- What has been replaced or fixed recently?
- When was the last time it was serviced?
- How many kilometres does it do to a tank?
- Black exhaust fumes
- Weird clunks and noises
- Oil leaks
Things you’ll need:
Vehicles need to be re-registered once a year and the ‘rego’ must be moved into your name within 14 days of buying the vehicle. This is similar to paying road tax in the UK. A vehicle must be re-registered in your name in the same state is was registered the previous time. Getting the rego transferred to another state is expensive and rarely worth it for a backpacker. You’ll need to register the vehicle to an Australian address and if you don’t have one, just send it to a trustworthy hostel.
If your rego runs out while you’re out of state you can renew online. Remember that it can be tough to sell a vehicle in a different state to the one it is registered in.
A pink slip is similar to an MOT and shows the vehicle passed a safety inspection and is in full working order. It must be renewed every year by law.
When you’ve registered your vehicle you get a green slip which will cover injuries to passengers if you are at fault in an accident. Technically, you don’t need any other insurance but you won’t be covered for any damages to vehicles or buildings etc or health care for yourself if you’re injured.
Insurance is much more expensive if you’re under 25 but I’d always recommend having if. Like they say, if you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford a car.
I’ve just spoken to my Aussie housemates who assured me that ‘only old people have breakdown cover in Australia, no one gets it.’ If you take the Aussie approach, you can purchase roadside assistance when and where you break down for an extra fee. If not, check out 24/7 Road Services.
- You don’t need an international driving licence unless you plan to stay in Australia for a few years. We never had any problems with our British licences and my cousin has lived out there for years without one.
- Driving in Melbourne can be tricky due to the trams. If you’re turning right, for example, you have to get in the left hand lane. Yes, it’s weird and takes some getting used to.
- Always carry water. Lots and lots and lots of water!
- When driving in the outback and rural areas, watch out for kangaroos, especially around dusk and dawn. Kangaroos are really stupid and will jump right out in front of your car without a second glance. Hit a big roo and you’ve got some messy road kill on your hands. Roo bars are strongly recommended.
- You’ll need air-con. I wouldn’t even think about buying without. You will melt.
- Unless you’re a fancy pants backpacker and have electric hook ups in you’re van, buy a battery powered fan for the nights. Absolute lifesaver. In campsites we’d often sleep with the windows open with mozzie nets up against them but if we slept in the middle of nowhere we didn’t want to do this. We’ve seen Wolfcreek.
- Make sure you have a gas cooker. This is also needed to boil up water when you’re in the outback.
- If you’re budget is tight, why not consider a station wagon, which is essentially an estate car. We met a lot of people who slept on an air bed in the back or had plenty of space in it to pack a tent. You won’t have as much freedom but you’ll save money on both fuel and the initial costs.
- 4WD or 2WD?
- 4WDSs are much more expensive but if you’ve got the budget I’d go for it. We had 2WD and there were a couple of roads our little old van just couldn’t handle.
Hopefully I’ve answered all the basic questions about buying a car or campervan in Australia. If I haven’t, just leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer it.
If you’re wondering where I went, check out my route during my epic Australian roadtrip.
Monday 11th of January 2021
Great tips!. Very useful and informative.
Friday 15th of September 2017
Does the backpack car market gone to online? Is it available any more in king cross, Sydney? Anybody could confirm if the market is still there?
Thanks a lot!
The Great Aussie Road Trip - The Travel Hack
Tuesday 17th of January 2017
[…] Monica’s mini guide to buying a campervan in Australia […]
Wednesday 11th of January 2017
Really good article, will help alot when I go out in September. Going for 8 weeks so thinking this might be the best way to go when i'm out there. How long did it take you to sell the campervan out of interest, and how did you go about selling it? Was it through gumtree again?
Wednesday 11th of January 2017
Yes we sold it through gumtree and it took about a week to sell it. We weren't in a rush to sell it though. I'm sure if you're in a rush you could reduce the price and get rid of it very quickly. Or you could take it to a garage. Good luck and I hope you have a great time!
Saturday 9th of July 2016
Great article, my only question is, what method of payment do you use? All my money is in a UK bank account, and ATM withdrawal limits would mean it taking ages to withdraw enough funds. I presume private sellers all want cash? If so did you use a money transfer service like Western Union to get a large sum, quickly?
Monday 11th of July 2016
We did a mixture of cash and online transfer. We did the online transfer at the guy's house and he watched us do it. I can't remember if he was trusting or we waited until he'd had confirmation from his bank that he'd received the funds. I think every seller will do it differently. You may have to call you bank and ask them to release the funds like you would in the UK.