Before we talk about vans you should know, this page may contain affiliates. However, I will never recommend resources which I do not find helpful or useful to myself. For more information on what this means please see my Disclaimers and Policies page.
If you are spending a year in Australia on your Working Holiday Visa, then you will likely be interested in seeing as much of the country as possible. The easiest way of doing this by acquiring a vehicle. Quite often you will see work vans that have been converted for travellers. These vehicles are typically older and a bit rougher around the edges. Sadly, the dream Kombi is quite expensive. But you can always sell your van and get some money back unless something goes terribly wrong. This fact does make it more financially practical.
On the other hand, renting a vehicle is a viable option if you are short on time or only want to see one particular area for a week or two. However, this can become a money drain as you will not be able to re-rent the vehicle and get back some of your expenses.
Perks of Renting a Vehicle:
- Firstly, the biggest perk is that you will not be responsible for breakdowns and repairs.
- Secondly, there is no stress about the rego.
- Thirdly, parking in cities can be horrendous.
- Finally, you could just fly to a new city and rent a vehicle for the weekend anyway. Or, do a tour of a desired area and be carefree.
However, I cannot vouch for any of rental companies as we purchased a van outright. But, always read reviews of the companies before you rent. There have been some scandals regarding rental companies providing vans that are not roadworthy to unsuspecting renters. Despite all of those benefits, I do still recommend buying a vehicle. The freedom is well, freeing.
Perks of Buying a Vehicle:
Buying a vehicle will afford you different freedoms which you will not have with a rental. You can decorate it as you please. If you do not like something about the set up, you are free to change it as well. You are in charge of driving plans or road stops. Some rental companies will charge a low fee for you to essentially move the vehicle to a new location. However, this means sticking to a stricter time budget.
If you decide to purchase a vehicle (Which I am super in favour of and have no regrets about our decision to do so), then you may have some questions about where to find the best vans.
What Are the Common Options for Buying a Vehicle?:
- 4WD: These vehicles are necessary for some of the Australian roads. However, space in the vehicle may be more limited. Often, people add a rooftop tent or camp on the ground. This means that there will potentially be more daily set up and tear down if you are living in the vehicle regularly. However, the ability to visit more places is definitely a bonus. Plus, from what we have observed, the rooftop tents do not take long to set up. Unfortunately, this is also one of the more expensive options.
- Caravan: Quite often you will see vans which have been converted to a living space. This is one of the most popular options. There can be more space and storage. The prices usually are not too bad either. Some of the common options are: Mitsubishi Expresses, Toyota Hiaces, or Mitsubishi Delicas. As a general rule, getting a more common vehicle will make it easier to find parts for it in the event something breaks down. We have been travelling in a van and it has been quite nice. There is minimal set up everyday and we can pack up and leave at any moment.
- Station wagon: There are some people who simply sleep in the back of cars as well. This seems a bit more cramped and again, would result in daily organization.
What Should You Watch Out for When Buying Vans or Any Other Vehicle?:
- Stick to your budget.
- Mileage- You do not necessarily want a vehicle with a ton of kilometres on it.
- Age of the car.
- Air Conditioning- We bought an older van without even having the thought cross our mind and there have definitely been a few times we would have liked it.
- Any odd noises- Take the vehicle for a test drive and listen carefully. Any noises that should not be there could indicate that something is wrong. Even better if you can find someone who knows a bit about vehicles to test drive with you.
- Look underneath the vehicle for fluid leaks.
- Check the fluids such as oil. For instance, low oil could be a sign that the previous owner has not maintained the vehicle.
- Comfort- Can you sleep comfortably in this space for weeks on end?
- Storage- Is there enough space to keep all of your things? Roof racks are quite expensive to add later but if you have over packed you may find you want them.
- Solar panels are a nice benefit if you happen to find a van with them (It can be expensive to set up otherwise).
- Where is the vehicle registered? This is important because at some point during your trip you may need to re-register the vehicle in its home state.
- How much rego (registration) is left? It is easier to extend a rego than to let it expire. Ensure that you can be in the state it is registered to before expiry.
- Check for a roadworthy certificate.
- Does it come with everything you need? Many of the vehicles listed online are being sold by other backpackers who are getting ready to leave the country. This means that they may come with all of the camping gear you need. Ultimately, this will save you a lot of money as acquiring said things can add up fast.
State Laws for Used Vehicles:
Each state has different rules about registering a vehicle. As these are subject to change, it is best to reference the websites directly. Sadly, I am not an expert on the differences between regos.
- New South Wales (NSW):
- Victoria (VIC)
- Queensland (QLD)
- Northern Territory (NT)
- Western Australia (WA)
- South Australia (SA)
- Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
Review the policies for the state you are planning on buying in and ensure that all necessary documents will be available to you before you purchase the vehicle. New South Wales requires a yearly roadworthy inspection in order to register the vehicle. While this is an added cost, it also means that the vehicles are inspected more frequently than Western Australia vehicles with no similar requirements. Some of the policies (like mandatory roadworthy certificates), while strict and annoying, may actually work in your favour.
So, where do you begin looking for vans?
- Gumtree: A buy and sell site which offers vehicles and plenty of second-hand items to get your van set up.
- Facebook Groups: Backpacker Cars, Backpacker Australia Cars Sales.
A combination of searching on these websites will find you the van you’re looking for. We found that vehicles tend to sell quickly. So, sometimes it takes a few tries to find the vehicle that is perfect for you. Do not be discouraged if the first car you test drive is not the ideal one, or gets sold to the next driver. The market constantly fluctuates. This is a major purchase so it is best not to rush into anything if you feel doubt. Have patience and keep searching till you find something that works for you.
What happens after you buy a van?:
Most sellers are willing to negotiate the price at least a little so make them an offer. Typically, the vehicle is the last thing holding someone up from leaving the country. Meaning, THEY WANT IT OFF THEIR HANDS!
Once you have purchased a vehicle you have 14 days to transfer it into your name or you will incur fees. The original owner will have some paperwork to fill out to transfer the vehicle over. Know the laws for your state (You might have to do it in person).
If at all possible, set aside a “Vehicle Emergency Fund.” Even the vehicle that appears to be the most sound could need repairs eventually.
What did we buy?
We decided that a caravan met our needs the best. As such, we purchased a 1998 Mitsubishi Express (New South Wales rego). We found our home on GumTree. Since it did not come with many of the necessary things we did end up spending a bit too much money picking up all of the things we needed. Some of our van essentials included: New Pillows, funky sheets, plastic dishes (Things break easily in vans), camping chairs from Bunnings, an esky (cooler), and of course a good book for the road (Hippie).
Did you choose to buy a car in Australia? What was your experience with shopping for vans like? Leave your answers in the comments