VW Kombi

Buying a used car what every Backpacker should know- tips on buying a used car.

VW KombiYou have just landed in Australia ready to explore this wide brown country. You have been dreaming of doing a Road Trip in a beat up old VW Kombi van, but unless you have a lazy 20 or 30 thousand dollars lying around you will have to settle for a Toyota HiAce or Mitsubishi Express Van.

Everything you need to know about buying a used car in Australia you will find right here in this article: what to buy, where to buy, what to avoid, registration and insurance, and much, much more.

Buying a used car what you should know.

In Australia cars that drive on the road must be registered. License plates do not stay with a car for the life of the car as in some countries. Each time a car is reregistered a new registration number is issued. Of course there are fees accociated with this. Stamp duty (tax) and license plate fees can add up to almost $100 on top of the normal registration cost. Something to be aware of if buying an unregistered car.

When buying a registered car the seller has to provide a Safety Certificate. Western Australia is the exception here, vehicles registered in WA only need a Safety Inspection if the owner has let the registration expire. Also the great advantage of WA rego is that you can transfer the rego online. As each State has slightly different rules in regards to registration and roadworthy inspection it is advisable to check with the Main Roads department of the particular State a car is registered in before you buy it.

Registration includes Third Party insurance which covers the other party’s medical costs in the unfortunate event of an accident, however it does not cover any damage you might have caused to the other person’s vehicle. For this you nee to arrange a separate insurance called Third Party Property Damage insurance. At under $200 for a year this is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Where to buy?

Most major cities have a market place where Backpackers who are leaving the country can sell their beloved vehicle. This is often a good option as you can get all the necessary camping gear thrown into the bargain. Sydney has The Traveller’s Autobahn. Facebook and Gumtree are good online places to find used cars. Backpacker Hostels and Laundromats often have notice boards with For Sale adds.

By law car dealers have to provide you with warranty on any car you buy. Of course, you pay a lot extra for this little bit of ‘security’ (read the fine print of any warranty). Some have buy back schemes. This can be a good option if you plan to leave from the same airport where you arrived. Personally, I prefer to buy a used car from a private individual who has actually driven the vehicle for some time and knows it. It then boils down to judging the character of the seller. A good question to ask is: why are they selling the car?

Another option to consider is hiring a car or camper van. There are a few companies that specialise in Back Packer vans; Juicy, Hippy Campers, but that is for another blog, Car Hire Comparison- to buy or hire.

What to buy?

Toyota HiAce Campervan This depends largely on personal preference of course, but there are a few things to consider. If you prefer to socialise and party, and you plan to stay mostly at Back Packer Hostels, then a small sedan or hatchback could save you heaps of money on fuel. For example a Hyundai Excel is a cheap to run reliable car that has a surprising amount of space, especially the 3 or 5 door models. You might pick up a decent one under $1500. Parts and repairs are cheap.

If you prefer to be able to sleep in the back of the vehicle, a station wagon can be made comfortable. Traditionally travelers were advised to stick to the two major brands Holden (GM/Opel) or Ford) because parts are cheap, and easy to get even in outback towns. However, with EBay Motors only a click away this is less of a concern, however Europian car parts tend to be expensive. Japanese cars like Mitsubishi Magna’s can be picked up fairy cheap.

Toyota Landcruiser Pop Top CamperFor the more adventurous and nature loving a Van or Four Wheel Drive is a must. Mitsubishi Express Vans are popular and might be picked up for as little as three thousand dollars. Toyota has a range of vans that are reliable and reasonable economical. It is surprising how many beautiful remote places can be reached by Two Wheel Drive vehicles. See my blog post on free camping here, Free Camping in Australia; Home is where you park it.

As a Four Wheel Drive is much more expensive to purchase, run, service and repair, the decision to buy one should be carefully considered. It definitely does open up a whole new world of possible destinations, but it comes at a price. Not only financially buy also space wise. To overcome this, Rooftop Tents have become a popular option on Four Wheel Drives. One thing to consider however is that if you need to use the vehicle to drive to work everyday packing up it each morning might be a bit of a nuisance, especially on wet or dewy mornings.

What to avoid.

Avoid all Lemons. A lemon is a car that leaves a sour taste in your mouth. How to avoid buying a lemon? Buying a used car always carrier a certain risk. The best way to minimise that risk is to buy from someone you know and trust.

T-Model Ford, Old Car
A few miles on the clock

Preferably buy a car with low kilometres. Catch 22, the lower the kilometres the more expensive the vehicle is going to be. A well maintained high mileage vehicle might well be more reliable than one with lower mileage that has been abused. Unlike cars in Europe a car’s body tends to outlast it’s mechanicals. Rust is much less of an issue. Unless you are buying a Four Wheel Drive that has spent it’s life on the beach.

Try and look past the shiny paint and the flash stereo. Look at things like tyres, check for oil leaks, worn out driver seats (indicating that the vehicle might have done more k’ than the speedo suggest). A good thing to do is arrange for an early morning ‘cold’ start up of the engine. Lift the bonnet and check that the engine is indeed cold.


First consider your travel goals and finances. Buying a car is one thing, fuel, maintenance and repairs another. The bigger the vehicle, the more comfortable you will be, but what you save on accomodation you may well spend on fuel. Preferably buy from someone you know and trust. A fellow Backpacker may prove more trustworthy than some shady back-alley dealer. Warranty is often not worth the paper it is written on. “Education is what you get from reading the fine print; experience is what you gain by not reading it”. Pete Seeger.

More details about registration cost, Sper check and other things to consider coming soon. Make sure you check back.

VW Kombi rear

Happy Travels

Please share your experiences and leave a comment below.






About the Author: Wiebren

Wiebren was born in Australia and has almost two decades of fruit picking experience. He has traveled extensively around Europe and lived in Holland for almost 20 years.

11 Thoughts to “Buying a used car what every Backpacker should know- tips on buying a used car.”

  1. It’s really a good idea to buy used cars. Even those who want to purchase new models, they can go for 2-3 years old used cars than buying the new one because in that way they can save their money. On top of that, the depreciation value of the second-hand car will be much less than the first-hand car. So, whenever we want to sell our car, we no need to bear too much loss if we purchase second-hand car compared with the first-hand.

    1. Most Backpackers don’t have that much money to spend. There are many unscrupulous car dealers out there trying to take advantage. Best to educate yourself and do the research before buying. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment Derja.

  2. I never really thought about how it could defer buying a car in some other country. This is a really great article to get people thinking about the differences and how to go about buying a car smoothly. What a fantastic adventure, driving through Australia! Thank you for the post.

    1. You’re welcome, Lynne, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. It’s definitely worth buying a car if you are going to work and travel for two years.

  3. Excellent article. Brings up a lot of good points I’d never considered before. This is going to save anyone who reads it a lot of time, money, and headache! Thank you!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Freya, the aim of my website is to provide useful information to anyone wishing to work an/or travel around Australia especially Backpackers. The is so much misinformation out there.

  4. Wow, this is an eye opener. I have always wanted to explore Australia, I’m from the States, but I hadn’t thought about a road trip with a used car purchase. That’s a great idea. Go there, with the funds in hand, buy your used car, have a bunch of fun, sell it on the way out. Sounds like an adventure to me. Thanks for the tips. 🙂

    1. Hi Jamie, glad you found the information useful. Driving yourself is definitely the best way to explore the country.

  5. Great points on your article here! I agree that buy used can save you a lot of money down the road. Can you find “certified” rentals to guarantee that the car works as it should in Australia

    1. Hi Christen, thanks for your comment. I am planning to write an article on Backpacker car rentals in the near future. There are a few different budget rental companies in Australia, I would assume they would have reliable vehicles. Please check back in a week or two.

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