Buying a car in Australia – What you need to know

Australia is a road tripping country! It is no wonder so many backpackers choose to buy cars and head out on their own adventure. We know getting everything organized to buy a car can be overwhelming, so we have had an in-house guest who recently went through the processes document her experience and her “what to dos”.

1. Where to find backpacker auto sales:

Cars for sale seem to pop up in all of the major Aussie cities. The best way to find a car for sale is word of mouth. Finding a friend who is selling often ensures they will tell you any major issues and give you a reasonable price. However, we know this is not always the case. Check Gumtree regularly for new car postings and backpacker Facebook Groups. For example, we have Backpacker Cars Australia or Australia Backpackers Buy/Sell and city specific groups such as Cairns Backpackers Buy and Sell.

Tip: Try to go at a good time of year for buying and selling. You want to sell your car at peak season, when there are many of backpackers in town. BUT you want buy when it is low season to get a better price. It is simple economics that can save you big time. I was able to get a car for a low price (when I was not in the market for one) simply because a friend of a friend could not sell.

The two main ways to get a car are through another backpacker or a car retailer. A car retailer provides benefits such as insurance if the car breaks down and (hopefully) more reliable cars. Because I purchased my car through another backpacker, this article will focus on this type of purchase.

2. What type of car should you get?

You have three general types of backpacker cars to choose from (in order from least expensive to most expensive):

-Station wagon

– Livable van

– 4×4

Depending on your budget and road trip plans, you want to pick the right car for you. If you will be heading to remote parts of Australia, you will want a 4×4 to get you through swampy lands and tough terrain. If you are happy with sticking to (mostly) the paved roads, a van will give you comfier living, but you will find a station wagon to be cheaper.

3. What to factor into the cost:

-Transfer fee

-Rego renewal (if it expires within your time of driving it)

-Mechanical repairs (especially if you are required to get a roadworthy)

4. The inspection and test drive:


Buying a car always has an element of risk, but you can hedge your bets by checking these things before buying.

– Where the car is registered

If the car is registered to a different state, you may be required to register it. Re-registering is doable, but it is more costly and complicated, compared to just extending the registration within the same state it was originally registered for. I had to re-register my car because it was registered to the Northern Territory and I was in Queensland. It required a new roadworthy, in which I had to make multiple repairs before I could get it on the road.

Tip: If you are re-registering the car, do it before the rego expires so you can easily drive to the mechanic or tyre shop, without having to make exceptions. Depending on the state, if your rego expires you will have to purchase your Compulsory third party insurance, take your plates off and only drive to the nearest mechanic. It makes getting the best deal on repairs difficult.

Policies for registration vary from state to state. The easiest thing to do is call or pop by the department of transport for the state you are in and give them the details (e.x. where the car is registered, what your plan is, etc.). They will tell you what you have to do to get the car on the road (e.x. get re-registered, to change your name over, or what paperwork is needed etc.).

I called the Queensland department of transport whenever I had a question and they were excellent at explaining.

Tip: Western Australia cars are some of the cheapest on the market. If you do purchase one in Western Australia remember they do not need inspections at any point. On the positive side, this means you will not have to pay for one, but it also means you should be cautious, backpackers are not known for taking extra car of their cars.

Here is a link for the vehicle inspection policies in all states of Australia.

– How long the rego (registration) lasts

You will have to buy more registration if it expires in the time you wish to keep driving it. Rego is purchased in 6 or 12 month intervals and varies in price depending on multiple factors.

What is rego? Your registration is very important! It gives you the ability to drive your car. Without registration you can face serious fines. Rego is often purchased at the same time as your CTP (more info on your CTP below).

– How long you have to transfer the rego

Just an FYI, make sure you can transfer the rego to your name within the appropriate time. Some states it is 14 days. Check your state policy here: NSWQLDACTVICSATASNTWA

– Recent road worthy and history of the car services

If the car has had a recent roadworthy, that is a good sign. It means mechanics have checked over the whole car and have deemed it safe for the road. Glance at the history of services. Look at what has been replaced. If you feel overwhelmed by anything car related, play it safe and pay for an inspection yourself. It could save you thousands. If the car has gone from backpacker to backpacker with little inspection, it may have some hidden issues that could bring your road trip to a quick stop.

– Age of the car

– How many kilometres driven

As a rule of thumb, people have trouble selling cars over 300,000 KM driven. Factor that into your decision. Hopefully the car is well under.

– The extras

Many backpacker cars come jam-packed with camping or living items! This is a huge bonus and could save you money down the road. When I bought my car I ended up with 5 tents. They were great leverage to sell or trade or give away. Having burners and mattresses and tents can save you big money.


Tip: Bring someone who knows something about cars. They will know the sounds that are a concern.

Tip: Do not go for the first car you see! Look for the best value and be patient.

5. Things to get before leaving the seller:

– A proof of sale

– Contact info (just in case you run into a jam and need a document from them)

A good seller is a seller that has recently done a roadworthy to be able to change it into your name. If they haven’t you will likely be stuck doing the roadworthy to get it transferred into your name AND you may be stuck doing another roadworthy when you sell, leaving you with all the repair expenses (this was my predicament).

6. Insurance

You will purchase CTP (Compulsory third party insurance) when you get your rego. OR you can purchase it through a third party insurance company. In my experience, the cost is exactly the same.

IMPORTANT: CTP only covers you for damage to other people (NOT PROPERTY). It is the only required insurance, however, if you hit a BMW or any car for that matter, you will be stuck with the bill. I decided to purchase thread party property damage insurance, just in case.

It may also make sense to get roadside assistance.

Tip: Insurance or no insurance, avoid driving in the dark! Aussie animals come out at night.

Hope this helped with your big purchase. Good luck and drive safe!

That is all for us on buying a car in Australia for backpackers. For more info check out this blog by Helena Travels.

Leave a Reply