Girl in camper van

Car Hire Comparison Australia – to buy or hire?

Girl in camper van

Hippie Campers, Ace Rental, Spaceships, Wicked Camper, Travelers Autobarn and many other car hire companies specialise in cheap Backpacker cars, vans and station wagons. Most come equipped with all the necessary camping equipment, cooking gear and other stuff that you may need on your epic Road Trip.  Which one should you choose? There are many car hire comparison websites. Just type in your travel dates and type of vehicle you are looking for, and a whole list of different options will display. But with soooooo many options how do you choose which one is the best for you?

What to look for when comparing car hire companies?

The first thing to consider is your age. Most rental companies have a minimum age requirement of 21 years old. However, some will rent from 18 to 80. If you are under 25 years of age you might have to pay a higher amount to cover insurance.

What things are included in the hire agreement? For example, some companies include camping gear for free, others charge either a one time, or daily fee. One thing to consider is whether the vehicle has a fridge or an esky. Although cheaper to hire an esky will cost an extra $5 dollars every two days or so for a bag of ice.

Where do you wish to go? Most hire companies do not allow their vehicles to be driven on unsealed roads or on any of the islands including Tasmania, some do not allow their vehicles to drive in the Northern Territory. So it is very important to do your research and have a plan of where you want to travel before you book your rental.

Hi-top CampervanOne way hire is a popular option, and will incur and extra fee of anywhere from $160 to $300 or more depending on the drop off location. This is definitely worth considering if you are only in Australia for a short time and wish to make the most of it.


How long are you planning to stay in Australia?

The longer you hire a vehicle the cheaper the rent per day will get. In my research I have looked at hiring a Camper Van for a 3 month time frame. Prices for this vary from $3000 to $4000. Roughly around a thousand dollars per month for transport and accomodation (read my upcoming post on free camping here). That is not bad at all. Compare this to a backpacker hostel at $200 per week, then the figures start to add up. Nice things numbers, you can always count on them :). If you are planning a longer Road Trip then the option of buying a vehicle becomes very attractive.  For tips on buying a used car in Australia, see my post on buying a used care here.

Ford FalconA quick search on Gumtree  Gumtree Australia  reveals a choice of 179 Camper Vans that you can buy for under $4000. A station wagon can be bought for around two thousand dollars. This brings us to the age old question of buying versus renting?



To buy, or not to buy, that is the question.

So, let’s say we buy a Mitsubishi Express Van called ‘Mighty’ for $3000 with WA registration with 6 months registration (rego). As we bought it from another Backpacker it comes with all the camping gear we would need. We spend another $1000 on new tyres and a service. Initial cost $4000. Even if In 6 months time we sell Mighty for only a thousand dollars, all up we have spent $3000 on wheels and accomodation for our road trip.

Of course this is a simple comparison, and assumes that the Road Trip gods smile down on us and and bless us by not causing Mighty have have any major meltdowns. Road side Assistance like RACQ or NRMA cost between $200 and $300 depending on the level of cover. I would highly recommend that you consider this for peace of mind should you break down.

One thing I can not stress enough is that if you are driving an older car with a few miles on the clock it is imperative that you check the engine oil and cooling fluid on a regular basis. Preferably every morning on a big trip. This can save you thousands of dollars on repair bills.

Other Options…

Some of the hire companies sell their older vehicles with a buyback price guarantee. Often this is 50 percent of the purchase price. Check out some options here 

Backpacker VanMany people come to Australia for only a short time and therefore prefer to travel only one way and then fly out. For example, they fly into Sydney and drive the 3000 kilometres to Cains in tropical North Queensland where they either catch a plane back or fly to another destination. This presents an opportunity for the smart traveller.

Some hire companies offer cheap or free Camper Van hire if you pick up the vehicle from a remote location like Cains or Alice Springs and drive the vehicle to Sydney or another major depot. Your only expenses are fuel and food.

The fee for this can be as low as a dollar a day, with even a free tank of fuel thrown into the bargain. The drawback is that most companies allow only a short time frame for the trip. One example I came across was, Adelaide to Sydney maximum of 5 days. It is very important to be aware of this because you might be liable for a $500 a day fee for late delivery as often the vehicle has been already been booked. Of course you would have to catch a bus or fly to the pickup destination.


Careful planning can save you lots of money and make your stay in Australia so much more enjoyable. As always it is important to read the fine print and to compare your options. For a one or two month Road Trip there are many cheap hire options available. However, if you are planning to work your way around the land of Oz for an extended period of time then buying a car or Van is ‘far Kenworth it’.


Please leave a comment and make sure you check out my other post. If you have a car of van for sale feel free to leave a link or contact details in your comment.


Happy Travels

May the roads rise to meet you, may the winds be always at your back, and may the travel gods shower you with blessings.




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.

18 Thoughts to “Car Hire Comparison Australia – to buy or hire?”

  1. Wonderful information i hhave car camped becore in the united states but never thought to rent before. Might be something for me to consider in the future.

  2. Awesome! I’m saving this page, I really want to go to Australia maybe next year! and will probably be considering this for an option. I have a cousin that lives there now though so maybe I can get away with borrowing from him! lol

    1. Thanks for your comment Lance, yes borrowing would be the easiest option :). Depending on the length of your stay buying can work out cheaper than hiring. Let me know if there is anything I can help with. Where does your cousin live?

  3. Thank you for this great post,with lots of great tips and advice. We are planning to travel around Australia for a few months next year. As residents of the United States if we chose to by a van or camper to drive and explore for a few months do we need to have anything other than our US driver’s license and proof of insurance? I am also concerned about driving ourselves as in the US we drive on the right side of the road and use miles not kilometers and gallons not litres. Do foreigners have difficulty with these differences?

    1. Hi Heather, thanks for your questions, as you are from an English speaking country your US license should be enough, otherwise you would need an International license. Luckily our speedometers and speed signs are both in kilometres so that shouldn’t be too confusing :). I remember a holiday in England driving a left handed vehicle from Holland on the left side of the road. Very confusing. However, when I came to Australia and was driving a right handed vehicle it was much easier. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  4. Hi Weibren! Thanks for all the helpful information here! Australia is on my bucket list and I plan on spending a bit of time there, so knowing my options is very useful. What I didn’t realize is that there is a cost effective option of driving one way from a remote pick up for next to nothing! That’s fantastic news and very helpful in my planning. I look forward to seeing what else you post! Best wishes!

    1. No worries, glad you found the information helpful. Most hire companies have a section on their website where they advertise the available returns, but there is normally only a short window of opportunity.

  5. This will really help people when they are coming for a holiday to Australia, whether to hire or buy a car. Its good to see the example you used of buying a car. Like you say for longer trips, its worth buying a car.

    1. Hi Eden, yes it is all about planning your trip and knowing your options. I like to give people two sides of the story so they can make an informed decision for themselves.

  6. Thanks for this Wiebren. A camping trip through Australia is still on my 101 goal list. Didn’t know, there are so many things to consider and probably making a better deal when buying and selling a motor home.

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