Site logo

Buying a Car in Australia

a backpacker with a car in Uluru enjoying sunset with the text Buying a Car in Australia - Backpacker's Guide

As many backpackers can attest, the best way to see and experience it is by travelling around by car or van.

I think the most rewarding job opportunities and exhilarating adventures in Australia lie beyond the cities. With your own transportation, the possibilities are endless. Additionally, it’s often far cheaper to experience the “real-Australia” as you bypass the canned tour expenses, and camping tends to be either free or budget-friendly.

But you don’t want to break down too much either!

So buying a good car or van in Australia is pretty important!

In this article, I will show you where and how to make a great purchase and get you the freedom of being on the road and travelling at your own pace.

Jump Links

Before making that big decision, check out this awesome guide created by backpackers just like you!

1. Best Cars to Buy for Backpackers Australia?

Australia is a huge country, when you are travelling around it you will be covering big distances. Let’s go through the best and most popular options:

1.1 Popular Vehicles for Traveling in Australia


Station Wagons are popular amongst Budget travellers like myself (shown in the Video above). They can be purchased rather cheaply compared to vans and you can fold the seats down and sleep in the car rather comfortably. You will expect to pay $3,000 – $8,000 AUD for a decent Station Wagon.


Vans are great for travelling in as you have a lot more space than a Station-Wagon and more room to store your stuff. It is also a lot easier to cook and prepare meals in a Van than in a station wagon. 

However, ever since COVID, van travel has exploded in popularity here in Australia, not just with backpackers but with us Aussies too! “Van life” is all the rage, and let me tell you, it’s driven up van prices some increase. You would expect to pay $5,000 – $15,000 AUD for a low-end van but you can easily pay $20,000+ for a good one. 


Many vans have been kitted out inside but if you are handy you can pretty easily create a great space with a Youtube video or two.


If you are wanting to go off-road, into the outback, or cross the Nullarbor then a 4X4 is definitely the way to go. Some 4X4 can be converted for sleeping or often have a rooftop tent. 4X4 can be pricey however expect to pay upwards of $12,000 AUD for a reliable vehicle.


Second hand Toyotas are relatively expensive because Aussies love their reliability but Mitsubishi and Nissan also make very good 4x4s and you will find them in a similar condition and similar mileage for quite a bit less money. That said, if you buy a good one no matter what the make, you will get most of your money back if you look after it.


A Car is great to have when you are in Cities and Towns to get around. Me and my backpackers friends also travel by car around the country. We camp or stay in hostels or cabins along the way. Automatic cars are a lot cheaper than Manual cars (stick shift). You can get a good bargain if you know how to and prefer to drive a manual. Cars range in price but a reliable car can be purchased for as little as $2,500 – $7,000 state dependent.


If you don't have the funds for a 4X4 or station-wagon and you still want to do some travelling and camping a car - a roof top tent can be a good way to get to most places. Look for SUVs with quality roof racks that have a load rating of 75kg or 100kg.

Now you have decided on which type of vehicle you are after. Let’s go through the popular car brands (makes). There are so many different makes and models in Australia it is easy to get lost. However, most of the imports come from Japan and a very small proportion from Europe.

Photos of different cars with the text "Most popular travel Vehicles in Australia"

European Vehicles

If you are coming from Europe or North America you may be tempted to purchase a make or model that you are familiar with. While this may be your personal preference you need to take into account the following:

When buying a second-hand car it is best to purchase a popular make and model in Australia. For the following reasons:

an infographic: tips why you should consider buying a second-hand car in Australia as a backpacker

Based on my observations, these are the popular vehicles in Australia:

1.2 Popular Vehicle Makes and Models in Australia


There are a lot of these cars around and because they were produced in Australia sourcing parts and repairs are relatively cheap and easy compared to other vehicle makes. Although most have lots of miles on the clock, the Ford Falcon Station-Wagon is a pretty solid choice for many backpackers.


Holden (originally GM) was also produced in Australia until recently. Like Fords they are easily repaired as parts are still relatively cheap and mechanics know these cars really well. Check out the Commodore Station-Wagon which like the Ford Falcons will tend to have high mileage. 

Japanese Makes

Japanese Cars are one of the most popular vehicles here in Australia due to their reliability, and price and they are manufactured left-hand drive. Given the close geographical location, it is also a lot cheaper to import vehicles and parts. 

In my opinion, the most reliable Japanese car in Australia is Toyota but Mitsubishi and Honda are also very good choices.

Because of their popularity and great reputation, they are also generally slightly more expensive in comparing age and mileage.

Other popular Japanese makes listed in terms of popularity and reliability are: 

Other Asia Makes

The most popular Korean vehicle models in Australia are Hyundai, especially the Getz and i30 models and Kia. 

Chinese-produced vehicles do not have a great reputation with us Aussies thus you will find it difficult to sell.

European Makes:

You won’t find as many around but the most popular European vehicles are mostly German makes and models:

You should be careful when buying a European car due to the reasons listed above.

2. Driving in Australia, Rules and Other Important Stuff

Driving in Australia is pretty straightforward, but there are a few important things you need to take into consideration:

drivers license icon

If you are from a certain country, including the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy and New Zealand, you can get an Australian driver’s licence without sitting any other test. All you need to do is fill out a form and pay a fee.

a driver seated on the left side of the car

Many travellers don’t realize this, but the Aussies drive on the left, which is quite handy for those of you from the UK, Ireland, Japan and New Zealand!

a tired car driver yawning

Driver fatigue is one of the major killers on Australian roads – so make sure you rest regularly when driving for long distances.

a car with roo bars

You need to be alert while driving in the outback or in rural areas, as there are plenty of animals that might wander out in front of you. Kangaroos are notorious for this, so you really need to be cautious, particularly during dawn and dusk when the ‘roos are at their most active. It is recommended that you buy “roo bars” for your car or van if you plan on doing a lot of driving in the Outback.

weather icons

During the wet season, many roads can be closed for weeks, even months at a time due to flooding. Always check the weather if you plan on driving through the outback in the summer.

kilometre per hour vehicle graphic

In Australia, distance is measured in kilometres, not miles!

A scenery in Outback, Australia

While driving in the outback be prepared to go long distances without any amenities – this means taking lots of water, spare fuel and enough food should you break down. It’s also a good idea to bring a jerry can with you, just in case that service station you thought you could stop at is closed or out of business or fuel!

three cars in different colors

Traffic Fines are huge in Australia compared to other places in the world and there are cameras everywhere. Not wearing a seatbelt or using your phone while driving can be a fine of over $1,000. Speeding can cost you nearly $300 for going 11km over the limit.

3. Finding the Right Vehicle in Australia

In Australia, there are numerous different ways you can find a car for sale. I list the most popular ways below.

3.1 Regular Used Car Dealers Vs Private Sales

Buying through Dealers

There are plenty of used car dealers in just about any big town or city in Australia. The asking price is often a lot higher than the lowest price they would sell it so don’t forget to haggle with them. Be aware it’s their job, they make commissions and they’re very good at negotiating. They also buy also have only held the car for a short time so won’t have much history of the vehicle.

Buying Privately

You can find good bargains buying privately, sometimes people aren’t aware of what their vehicle is worth and list it too cheaply, or they’ve upgraded their car and just want to get rid of it. The owner has usually owned the car for a good length of time and can tell you what work has or needs to be done. You can buy a car privately through Gumtree, Facebook Buy and Sell pages, online notice boards like Backpacker Car Club, Facebook Marketplace or sometimes even through the notice boards at hostels. Aussies use CarSales but I find you can get better deals on the others suggested.

3.2 Backpacker Car Dealers

Some used car dealers in Australia specialise in selling backpacker cars. Most are only based in the bigger cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, and Darwin, but the best thing about them is that they usually offer buyback guarantees. 

This means that they are guaranteed to buy your car back off you once you’ve finished with it (for an agreed lower price, of course.) The best thing is that you don’t actually have to sell the car to them, so you could still sell your car privately for a lot more if you can. The most popular backpacker car dealers include:

Now that we have established where to buy a vehicle let’s look at the checks you should make before purchasing a vehicle.

3.3 Check the Vehicle’s History

When buying privately, it’s worth checking the Personal Properties Securities Register, so that you can check if a vehicle has been stolen or has money owed on it – you wouldn’t want to shell out thousands for a car only to have it repossessed! 

Always check the Registered Owner on the Registration Certificate matches the seller’s driver’s licence. If the names don’t match this is a Red Flag, it could be a stolen vehicle. They may be selling it on behalf of someone, if this is the case ask to see the registered owner’s licence to confirm. Remember you cant transfer the registration into your name without the Registered Owner’s Signature or permission (online). 

Ask for service history and any repairs they have done. If they don’t have a service history there will be a sticker on the windshield showing the last date and kilometers it was last serviced. The more recent repairs they have done the fewer repairs you will need to do.

You can also learn a lot just by watching a video on Youtube about what to look for in the make and model of car you want to buy. 

3.4 Test Driving and Inspecting

Always take a vehicle for a test drive, in Australia most private sellers and dealerships are quite trusting and will let you take the vehicle for a drive by yourself if you show or leave them a form of I.D. Some will request to come with you but this is less common. 

When testing and inspecting the vehicle, carry out these steps as a minimum

If unsure you can always take the car (with owner’s permission) to a mechanic or arrange a pre-purchase inspection. It could set you back $100-$200 but in the end, could save you thousands of dollars in repairs.

3.5 Negotiating and Getting the Perfect Vehicle

Once you are satisfied the car is in good order after doing the above checks the next step is to negotiate the price. This can take a bit of skill and practice but anyone can do it. 

Here’s a brief rundown of how negotiation works for vehicles in Australia.

an infographic on how to negotiate your car like a proDo your Research to Find a Fair Price

To be prepared for negotiating it’s a good idea to do your research, and find out what similar age and mileage vehicles are selling for using the vehicle searching methods above. Find a better vehicle (newer or fewer kilometers), one that is worse (older and higher kilometers), and one that is similar in age and kilometers to yours. This will give you a good idea of the price and a great negotiating position.

Asking Price

In Australia, most people will put an asking price higher than the final price they are willing to accept knowing that people will negotiate them down. Meaning you should always offer a price lower than the asking price.

How much lower?

This is up for contention but In general, usually 10-20% lower than the asking price is likely to be treated with respect i.e. vehicle listed with an asking price of $5,000, the seller would take seriously any offers over $4,000. However, every seller is different, but having personally bought and sold many cars myself it is a good rule of thumb. If you’ve done your research you can negotiate harder if you feel it is still reasonable.

Starting the Negotiation

The seller has already started the negotiation by listing an asking price. You should start the negotiation in person by making an offer lower than you are willing to pay. The seller may accept but most likely will make a counteroffer closer to (but below) their asking price. You can either accept this offer or make another counteroffer. This process will continue until either party accepts or no deal is made and you will need to walk away. 

If the seller is unwilling to budge, reference your research and why you only want to pay x amount this may get you the result you’re after.

4. Where is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Car in Australia

In general, you will find it a lot cheaper to buy a car within a city. There is more supply of vehicles and therefore more competitive pricing and a lot more options.

In small towns and especially remote areas you will find the prices of vehicles are a lot more expensive than in the cities; mostly because the only way vehicles arrive there is by being driven from a bigger city or town. For example, Broome is a lot more expensive than Perth. Cairns is a lot more expensive than Brisbane.


If you are doing a road trip you can even make a bit of money by buying a car in a city and driving it to a more remote area and selling it. I personally bought a vehicle in Brisbane for $3,500, did a road trip with it all the way up the East Coast to Port Douglas, and sold the car in Cairns 3 months after buying it for $5,500. The money I made paid for a huge chunk of my trip. Perth to Broome is another popular route for this idea. Make sure the town isn’t too small otherwise, you will be there a long time trying to sell it to a small population of locals.

5. Registering Your Car

When buying a car in Australia, it’s important to know how the registration (or “Rego” as the Aussie often calls it) system works. In Australia, it is the law that every car on the road should be registered. In most states, the rego fee will also include a minimum third-party personal insurance, which is compulsory in Australia.

If you’re buying a car that already has rego, then you will have to pay a transfer fee within 14 days of buying the car, this usually costs around $20-50 depending on the state you are in.

Each state has its own government website where you can look up fees and other rego and insurance information. Do your research before you buy and check out the website for whatever state you plan on buying your car in as they all have different rules and requirements see section 7 for more details and links to the government websites

Backpacker Tip

Different states have different renewal systems, with varying prices, so it’s a lot less hassle to buy a car that’s registered in the state you’re in.

Be Aware

Different states have different renewal systems, with varying prices, so it’s a lot less hassle to buy a car that’s registered in the state you’re in.

This means you will have to either get it towed or get special permission from the State Transport Authority to relocate the car to your residence or mechanic for repairs and/or compliance checks. In most states, you need to obtain a Roadworthy or Road Compliance Certificate before you can re-register a vehicle that doesn’t have registration. It can be a lot more money for potential repairs to get Roadworthy, more paperwork and hassle. 

So “Buyer Beware” that the cheaper price may not be worth the hassle. Don’t risk driving an unregistered vehicle there are cameras everywhere on the highways that capture your number plate and the fine is huge!

6. Insuring your car

When you register your car you are provided with Compulsory Third Party insurance (CTP) that covers personal injury but not damages to the vehicles involved.

As a minimum, we recommend you should get third-party accident insurance which covers the cost of damage to the other vehicle should you cause an accident. For a small amount more you can get Third Party & Theft which also covers you should your vehicle get stolen.

You can also get Full-Comprehensive insurance which covers the cost of repairs of your car (and the other car/s if involved) should you be in an accident.

Getting insurance is very easy, simply head to the website and enter your details, you will need your driver’s licence and vehicle registration number. Popular insurance companies in Australia in no particular order are:

7. Transferring Ownership

Transferring ownership, often called Transferring Registration, is usually a very simple process. You can do this online or at a Department of Transport by filling in a paper form and paying the appropriate fee, usually less than $20-$100 (state dependent). This needs to be done within 14 days of purchase (state dependent).

Depending on the state you are in you may require different documents but in general to transfer the Registration you will need:

Make sure to have these details before you drive away with the vehicle otherwise, you won’t be able to Transfer Registration.


When I buy or sell a vehicle I usually write a sale agreement on a blank piece of paper stating the date, purchase price, Vehicle Registration number and get both parties to sign it. I place my driver’s license and the registered owner’s license on the page at the bottom and take a photo of everything first with the front of the licenses then flip them over and get a second photo of the back. This safeguards you should there ever be a disagreement or problem in future.

Stamp Duty

You need to pay a stamp duty fee for a percentage of the value of the car as a buyer. Generally 3-7% of the purchase price (state dependent). When selling the car you don’t need to pay anything at all. 

You can find more information for each state here.

8. Maintaining Your Vehicle

To keep your vehicle running smoothly it is a great idea to keep your vehicle Maintained.

Basic Maintenance involves getting your vehicle serviced every 10,000 kilometers or 6 months the cost is around $100 – $300 for basic services.

Before heading on a road trip and throughout the trip it is always a good idea to check:

Before heading into the outback or remote area it is recommended to:

Remember Australia has some very remote areas and you don’t want to break down hours or days away from a repair shop.

Final Thoughts

I had one of the best experiences of my life travelling around Australia. I saw and stayed at some breathtaking places. If you follow the information in this article, you will have a great chance of buying your perfect vehicle and travelling all around Australia. You will experience everything this great country has to offer.

Safe Driving and Travels.

Yes, foreigners or tourists can buy a car in Australia however, there are things you need to consider before making a purchase.

Purchasing a car can be expensive or cheap, depending on the type, brand and condition you choose, but following our guide will give you a good chance of finding your perfect vehicle.

Forgot Password