Buying a car or campervan as a backpacker in Australia.

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Buying a car or campervan as a backpacker in Australia.

So you’ve saved the money, you’ve quit the job. Time to go on the epic road trip! But as a backpacker you got to ask yourself a few questions before you part with the hard earned dollars, do I buy or rent? Should I get a car or campervan? How far do I want to travel?! Well lets have a think and start answering those questions!

Buy vs. Renting

Renting in the short term is a quick fix, it gets you where you want to go in the quickest possible time, but if you can afford to buy. I suggest you do it. It opens up so many doors as to where you can go, where you can work and where you can stay! Aus is massive and a vehicle makes it slightly more manageable. Before you get all excited and buy the first car with the crazy paint job you see on gumtree there are a few things to consider…

Buying a vehicle in Australia

Like buying a used vehicle anywhere it can be a minefield, it’s always a bit of a gamble, especially in a different country. Have a read of this article and you’ll be able to reduce that risk. Who knows maybe when you sell it you’ll get out of it what you put in, that’s the aim. Everyone likes a free vehicle for the year!

There are a few simple things to remember and steps to take, that will make the experience easier and assist you in avoiding being ripped-off.

Set your budget

Set you budget and stick to it, take into account your insurance, transfer fees, unexpected breakdowns (they’ll happen), general maintenance, all the things that vehicles use to suck your money right out of your pocket into their greedy faces!

Swot up on the stats

Do your research, there’s no excuse not to. Think about what you want from your vehicle, find a model you’d would like to buy and get an idea of the market value, although vehicles that have been in backpacker hands hold their value pretty well. It’s that laid back attitude, ‘well I bought it for 3000 you can have it for that’. (Realistically it should be cheaper than what they bought it for!) Just keep that in mind when you go have a look at the vehicle.

Editor Tip: Check out Red Book, the authority on used car prices in Australia. It will let you know about the typical price you would expect to pay for a particular vehicle. – Korske

Find the right car

Look at as many vehicles as you can, if you can find one with one lady owner who only took her cat to the playground on a Wednesday, you can tell it’s been hardly used, although there’s few out there like that, be aware that these backpacker vehicles have been passed on year after year from person to person, the previous owners list probably looks like the line-up for the Muppets on tour. Try and buy a vehicle which has had as few owners as possible.

Editor Tip: When looking for used cars take a look on Car Sales, Drive and Gumtree. – Korske

Contacting the Seller

It’s always better to phone than e-mail.

‘Hey man got a van for sale?’

Yes they do, and they want to sell it. Ask as many questions as you can on the phone. Sound keen and interested but don’t give the game away. If you are less than a few minutes drives away ask them to come to you. Although if you’re buying from an Aussie, go to their home address and check it matches with the registration certificate.

Check the car’s history

No matter how cool the owner is. Check the vehicles history, take a note of the VIN number which is normally somewhere on the engine or chassis and do a REVS/VSR check. It usually costs around $35 but it’s worth it to make sure it hasn’t been wrote off, stolen, or used as a dune buggy on Fraser island.

Editor Tip: Check out Car History by Veda Group, they offer a simple solution to get all the background details you need about the car you’re looking at buying. – Korske

Looking at the car

Take a few notes from the advertisement and check if they line up in real life, such as the odometer reading, make, model and colour. Some sellers offer the package deal, where you get some camping gear with it, make sure that’s all in order as well.

Checking the car

  • Always look at a vehicle in clear daylight, so you can see everything the vehicle has to hide.
  • Look for rust under the floor mats or strange welds, it could be a sign its had a crash.
  • Get down and check if the front wheels line up with the back, if they don’t then your chassis is ‘crabbed’ – In other words, wrecked.
  • Check the engine for oil leaks, above and below, check the dipstick, if the levels low or the oil is dark and sticky, then chances are it’s not a well looked after vehicle.
  • Take a quick look at the oil filler cap, if there’s suspicious white stuff then the head gasket could be about to go, which is a pricey one to fix.
  • Look for plenty of tread on the tires
  • Check the body panels for gaps, if there is then it may have been in a crash.
  • Make sure the seatbelts work, there are no lose fittings, check bolts that sort of thing.
  • Start the engine cold, then give it some revs, look for plumes of dark or blue smoke, both aren’t good signs.

Test drive the car

Ok so you’re at the stage now where you going to test drive the thing,

  • Get in and move the steering wheel from right to left listen to for any strange noises.
  • Use all the gears
  • Try to creep off slowly with the handbrake on, you should be held back by the hand brake.
  • Listen for strange noises in the engine, don’t let the seller distract you by talking or turning the radio on.
  • Make sure the clutch has a good bite.
  • Drive on as many roads as you can, up hills, down hills, even the motorway if you can.

Make them an offer

This is the fun bit, you’ve found the one, now it’s time to buy it, don’t be afraid to bargain with the price, make a list of faults you’ve found on the car and knock them off the asking price, have fun with it, people warm to personalities, be pleasant, but assertive, after all they can only say no.

Payment and paperwork

Now that you’ve got the price where you want it to be, make sure all paperwork is present and original, you’ll need a logbook, service history and registration papers, but every states different, NSW rego’d cars require the most paperwork, where WA cars require the your research on what’s required from you the buyer and the seller depending on the state.

Editor Tip: If you’re buying a car with camping equipment or other gear, separate the value of the car and the value of the equipment. This will save you money on stamp duty (The government tax on car sales). – Korske

If buying with someone

If your splitting the cost with someone make sure you both agree on what course of action to take should you decide to go your separate ways at some stage. When that time comes and if one wants it and the other doesn’t buy the other person out, if you both want it, flip a coin and buy the other out, if neither want it..Sell it!


So guys follow these steps and you should find yourself the perfect travel partner, one that will get you everywhere you want to go, will be there when you need it, you’ll probably even name it, you’ll never forget the vehicle you traveled Aus in… You and your new set of wheels will make some awesome memories.

Editor Tips: Car buying resources:

Don’t forget the resources mentioned in this article.

Looking for cars? Check out the following website:


By | 2016-03-28T10:22:21+00:00 February 2nd, 2016|Travel Tips|0 Comments

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