Having your own vehicle will allow you to look for jobs even in remote locations, or to move quickly if the farm job you were hoping to get isn’t available anymore. Some people land in Australia almost broke and spend the first months working in big cities to raise enough money to travel. In my opinion, this may not be the wisest way to spend your year there.
Living in big cities is WAY more expensive than living in provincial or rural Australia. For me, getting a van first and working in regional areas in the beginning of my trip meant saving a lot of money while travelling quite a lot. In the end it’s up to you. 🙂
Where to buy a Van
The second hand market is pretty lively in Australia. Considering the the great number of backpackers that come and go, finding a van or a car should not be too difficult. Depending on your budget and your location you might have three options to find the vehicle that suits you.
Backpackers car markets
You will find backpackers car market in every major town in Australia, the biggest one in Kings Cross, Sydney. There, you will find hundreds of cars being bought and sold by backpackers. It’s easy to get nice bargains because people need to leave, but have a close look on the health status of the van, backpackers tend to have long journeys and not to take care of their vans properly.
Buy from a private
Like in every other buy-and-sell situation in Australia, Gumtree is your main reference. There you’ll find plenty of ads, no matter what your budget is. If you are lucky you may even buy a decent van from locals and not from backpackers.
Buy from a car seller
This is obviously the most expensive option, even if you’re buying second hand. On the other hand, you will be super sure that the van is a pretty good condition.
Our super equipped and super reliable Mitsubishi Delica 4WD
How to be sure that you’re buying a good van/car
Choosing the right registration
Buying a car might seem very easy, but if you don’t pay attention to some details you might find it very difficult to re-sell it later on. The most important thing is the state in which the car is registered. In most states you will be asked to produce a roadworthy certificate of the vehicle (done by a professional mechanic) in order to sell it. Spoiler: many, many cars and vans are far from roadworthy. This means that you will have to spend a lot of money to fix it in order to be able to get the certificate (requirements can be pretty strict, i.e. your vehicle has to have zero rust). The only way to get around the roadworthy certificate is to buy a vehicle that is registered in Western Australia. Don’t ask me why, but for some strange reason when a car comes from WA is automatically considered OK for roads. In the end, buying a WA plated car will make it a lot easier to sell it later on.
What to check?
- How many kilometres has the engine? (vans can range up to 300k+, watch out!)
- How many owners did it have? And how many of those where backpackers?
- Did they ever change the transmission belt?
- When was the vehicle serviced last time? Does it need frequent oil refills? (bad, bad sign)
- Don’t be misled by cosy hippie interiors. Check if the van makes strange noises instead, if it leaks oil, if it has evident rust signs (don’t forget to check the roof, rust on the roof = rain in the van).
- Do you want to explore the outback a little bit? Consider buying a 4WD. Even better if comes equipped with proper bullbars for close encounters with animals on the road (not even joking)
Which paperwork do you need?
A valid Rego: The vehicle will need to be re-registered under your name within 14 days of the purchase. You will also need to pay your registration-tax once a year. The rego works as a tax as well as a third part insurance. Which means that you won’t need any other insurance, but you won’t be covered for any damages to other vehicles/buildings or yourself if you’re injured. So my suggestion is to buy an extra cover like:
RAC – Road Assistance 24/7: buying this extra insurance will insure you that if broke down in the middle of nowhere, someone will come and tow you to the nearest mechanic at no further cost. Of course this only applies if you can get signal to call them 😀
Top Tips for driving in Australia
- When in the outback or in Western Australia, never, ever drive in dark. Farmland is often unfenced and the bush gets alive at night. Plenty of animals will come out with the chill. Which means that you will eventually have close encounters with cangaroos, giant cows, wallabies and every other sort of small to big sized mammals. Crashing with a small wallaby is very sad, crashing with a cow is terminal (for both).
- Get a Camp Australia Wide Atlas (now there’s also an app available) and plan your stops at one of the several free rest areas that you’ll find on the road. Those areas are usually equipped with toilets, running water and in some cases even with barbecues or showers. Rest areas can vary from just a parking lot on the roadside in NT to a beautiful campgrounds under the trees in NSW. In most cases you will meet other travellers and share beers and stories (in some places you can even build a fire)
- Try to avoid sleeping in your van when in the city. Rangers will eventually knock on your windows in the middle of the night and ask you to leave immediately (or fine you, in the worst case scenario).