Before I came to Oz, I had never owned a car.
In the UK, it seemed an expensive and pointless purchase. Who needs the hassle of shelling out for insurance, and spending loads on petrol?
But in Australia, buying a car is a necessity a lot of the time.
But then there I was, the proud owner of an (eventually somewhat battered) little Kia Rio. It ran great, despite its run-in with a hefty kangaroo, and it saw more than 5000 kilometres of Australian highway. I couldn’t believe how easy the whole process of buying, insuring and running the car was.
So, I thought I’d put together an in-depth guide on how the whole thing works, from buying a second hand vehicle, to filling out the paperwork, to transferring the registration.
For every. Single. State.
This guide will also apply if you are looking to buy a second hand camper van, of course – the costs will just probably be higher!
Overview of buying a car in Australia
Before buying a used vehicle in Australia, it is useful to have a general idea of how the system works.
I’m not gonna lie, I found the whole thing hugely intimidating before I actually bought my car. I didn’t even know what a “rego” was.
(Rego is short for registration. Classic Aussie shorthand – why have four syllables when you could have two?)
In a nutshell, your car has license papers (a rego) which are specific to one of Australia’s eight states. When you buy a car, you have to apply to the transport authority of that state to transfer the ownership.
At the point of sale, all that happens is a form is filled out by you, the purchaser, and the person selling the car. This is usually done in person, but in some states can also be done online.
The seller sends off one copy of the form, and you send off the other. This lets the government know that the car has changed hands, and then you will pay a fee to cover the admin cost, plus a percentage of the car’s value in duty tax.
Not so hard, right?
I’ll explain the process in a bit more detail below.
Every prospective second hand car owner needs to consider the following:
- which state the car is registered in
- whether the car needs to have a valid roadworthy check or equivalent.
- whether the state you intend to stay in is different from the one the car is registered to
- whether you need to travel to their car’s state of registration in order to transfer the rego
The licensing system in Australia is different from the UK, in that cars are registered to a particular state, not the country as a whole. The license plates that the car has reflect the state that it is registered to.
It makes sense, I guess, since Oz is the size of like thirty UKs.
This does make things a little bit complicated when it comes to the huge and thriving market for second hand backpacker cars, unfortunately.
Backpackers tend to roam around the country as the fancy takes them, leaving a lot of vehicles outside of the state to which they are registered. This can make transferring the registration (rego) to a new owner a bit of a headache.
However, it is still doable – so don’t panic. Having a car is so useful that it’s worth a bit of hassle.
Generally you have a few choices.
One is to buy a car in the state it is registered to. Then you can go to the transport office and transfer the rego fairly easily. In an ideal world, most people would take this option.
The second option is to buy a car whose state you are planning on heading to pretty soon. Generally you have 14 days to lodge the transfer, from the date of sale – which might be long enough for you to travel.
The third is just dealing with the fine (around $100) which you will have to pay when you do get to the right state. This is actually not a bad price to pay if it means that you can take your time with your travels.
(And I guess another option would be just sticking to vehicles with WA registration, which can be transferred online, and are therefore generally the most hassle-free. More on this below.)
Where to buy a car in Australia
For backpackers looking to buy a used car, Facebook and Gumtree are inevitably the go-to sites. You should definitely be wary of what sort of junk is on offer – but in general, it works out all right. Used car sales online can be a bit sketchy, though, so follow the advice below if you’re not sure what to look for.
Some good car sales websites to check out are these, from Facebook:
There are heaps more, just use the Facebook search bar to find them!
Finding the right vehicle
I covered this in my guide to taking an Aussie road trip, but just briefly:
What are you looking for?
You need to figure out what it is that you want from your vehicle before you start looking. Are you just after something that will get you to work and back? Do you need a 4WD for off-road adventures on the west coast? Do you need space to sleep in the back?
Ask yourself all these questions before you start browsing adverts.
Where are you heading?
As mentioned, Australian cars are registered to particular states. So it makes sense to try to buy a car with the most appropriate plates for your journey. If you’re heading to Queensland, buying a QLD-registered car is a good plan, as it will then be easy to sell. If you’re going up the east coast, QLD or NSW rego would also make sense.
Be smart about this, because it will save you time and effort in the long run.
What is your budget?
Somewhat obviously, you have to figure out how much you want to spend on your vehicle before you buy. There’s no point in looking at adverts that are way out of your price range.
Something you might not have thought of, though, is the extra costs involved in buying a car. You will have to pay to transfer the ownership of the vehicle, plus probably get car insurance, plus potentially extend the rego… factor in these extra costs!
Checking it out properly
I’ll be the first to admit that I am no car expert.
I would recommend you watch these videos for a pretty good (almost too exhaustive) guide on inspecting a car before you buy it:
One extra step I would recommend would be to check out your car on the Personal Property Securities Register. This will tell you whether the car you are about to buy has any money owing on it (i.e. unpaid fines), or whether it has previously been stolen or written off.
It only costs $3.40 and if you are in any way uncertain about the car’s history, that is a minimal cost worth investing!
You will have to find out the car’s VIN (vehicle identification number) or chassis number in order to search the PPSR – and again, I went through this in my road trip guide. Check that out if you want a step-by-step version!
How to buy a car in Australia
In general terms, how it works is this:
- A car owner will have paperwork relating to the car’s registration. This includes the rego itself, and may also include a roadworthy check certificate, depending on the state.
- When the car is sold, the seller and the buyer have to fill out a form to confirm the transfer of ownership. This will consist of filling in name, address, driver’s license details and so on, as well as the relevant information about the car. There are two copies to fill out, or two parts of the form.
- The seller keeps one copy or part of the form, and the buyer the other.
- Both parties will then have to give this form to the appropriate transport authority, to confirm the sale. This might be through the post, in person, or online – depending on the rules for that particular state.
- In order to transfer the rego, the buyer will generally need an address in the relevant state. i.e. if you are buying a QLD-registered vehicle, you will need a ‘garaging address’ which is in Queensland.This is not to say that you can’t travel out of the state where your car is registered, but your base should in theory be the state where the car is registered. If you plan to stay long term in a state other than where the car is registered, you may need to change the plates over to the new state – which will cost you!
- The buyer then has to pay for the transfer of ownership. There will be two components to this charge. First, they will pay a percentage of the car’s value in tax. Then on top of this, they will pay a flat admin fee for the transfer.
And that’s it!
This may not apply in this exact way to every state, but that’s the general gist.
The Nitty Gritty
With that brief outline out of the way, let’s get down to the real stuff. Below I have outlined the process of buying a car in every state of Australia.
Let’s all pray for all the states to one day get together and unify their vehicle laws, for that will be a joyous day for backpackers.
For the sake of simplicity, I have assumed that you are buying a car from an individual, rather than an organisation, as this is the nature of most backpacker deals. If you buy it from a used car garage, the rules may be slightly different – but you are more likely to be looked after by them from a legal standpoint.
Still, it’s best to be sure, so check out the relevant state’s transport authority website.
I’ve also generally assumed that the vehicle that is being bought is a regular one – i.e. that it doesn’t have personalised plates, doesn’t have any concessions on it, and has no need for extras such as gas inspection certificates. If there is anything a bit more unusual about the vehicle you want to buy, this may add extra steps that I haven’t covered.
A few notes
There are two things that will apply to most in-person rego transfers. One is that you will need to prove your identity. The other is that you may need to prove your address in that state (or the ‘garaging address’ as it’s sometimes called).
To prove your identity, as a backpacker, you will usually need to provide three pieces of evidence. One of these must usually have a signature, and one must have proof of address.
The most likely evidence of identity you will have to hand are your Medicare card, passport, and bank card. However, the screenshot below provides a full list of possible options. It’s taken from the Queensland government website, but generally the same will stand for all states (but with ‘Queensland’ replaced by whatever state it is).
Providing proof of address is the only slight spanner in the works of the whole rego process.
Clearly, you will ideally have an address in the state to which your car is registered.
However, this might be tricky for the nomadic backpacker. And even if you are currently staying in that state, it can be hard to ‘prove’ that address unless you’ve been there a while.
Luckily, there is a way to get round this pretty reliably. This is to get a letter of confirmation from your bank. Simply go into your bank, inform them that you’ve changed address (if the address they currently have for you is in a different state), and ask them to print out a document confirming that you have an address in the new state.
If the address they already have down for you is in the right state, simply ask them to print out a letter confirming this.
This should be enough for the transport authority to accept the transfer of ownership.
Filling out the paperwork
When filling out the paperwork, there are usually three sections:
- Vehicle information (license plate number, year of manufacture, VIN number etc). Usually this info will already be on the current rego so you can just copy it).
- Seller details (name, address)
- Purchaser details (name, address, license number).
It’s usually pretty straightforward, but I’ve explained any extra complications in the individual sections below.
Anyway. Without further ado (at last!!), below I’ve laid out how to buy a car in every Australian state.
(FYI, each heading links to the relevant transport authority website. And they are roughly organised in order of easiest to hardest when it comes to rego transfer).
Disclaimer: I have taken all of the following information from the relevant state transport department websites. I don’t necessarily have personal experience from any of these, so don’t be mad if what I say does not work!
Sometimes the rules are different for backpackers – life ain’t always easy! If it’s not possible to complete it online, try calling the office on the numbers that I give at the end of each section.
WA makes things easy, as everything can be done online (yippee!).
Western Australia uses DoTDirect to deal with everything relating to the sale of motor vehicles. It’s pretty great. You can even do it on your phone.
(Why don’t they all do it this way, seriously?)
Basically you just go to the Department of Transport website, sign up for an online account, and go from there. You should lodge the transfer within 14 days.
You will need your driver’s license number, and the details of your car in order to get an account.
The information you fill in is similar to that of the other states, except that you can complete everything online.
You do not need any kind of roadworthy check to buy and sell WA-registered vehicles.
And by the way, you can also do the transfer in person the same as other states – just fill out this form, and send it off within 14 days of sale.
If you struggle to do things online, most people report that they were able to pay for the rego transfer over the phone. Just call the Department of Transport on 13 11 56.
You just have to go to the transport website and click ‘Transfer online’. Then you can log in with your MyServiceNSW account, or register. After that you just go through the process as you would with a paper form, filling in the relevant information.
And again, you have 14 days within which to transfer the vehicle into your name.
The number to contact the department is 13 22 13.
Tassie is one of the less common vehicle registrations to come across, obviously because Tasmania is an island. Not many people are going to bother moving their car across the sea, so you don’t get many on the mainland. Nonetheless, I’ll cover the process in the interests of thoroughness!
Not many people know that Tasmania is another state that allows you to transfer vehicle ownership online. Score!
The seller has to inform the transport department within 7 days of sale, and the buyer has 14 days to transfer the vehicle into their name.
If you want to do the transfer on paper, you can do so using a form which looks like this:
You can contact the department on 1300 135 513 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My car was SA registered, so for this one I can speak from personal experience!
SA registered cars must be transferred in person, at a Service SA office. Both you and the seller need to fill in the application for transfer of registration form. This includes all the usual information – driver’s license details, personal information, address and so on.
Then, both parties need to lodge their part of the form with the SA transport authority, within 14 days of the sale. The buyer will need to go in person to a Service SA centre, and give them all the relevant documentation.
You will need to have evidence of identity and proof of address in South Australia – see the ‘general notes’ section above.
Once you have the rego, you can then easily extend it online, by creating a MySAGov account.
The number to call for info on regos is 13 10 84.
Transferring a Victorian rego must be done in person. The buyer and seller both fill out the transfer of registration form, and each must submit their part to the Vic Roads transport authority. As the buyer, you have 14 days from the date of sale in which to do this.
Victorian vehicles also require a roadworthy check – called a ‘Certificate of Roadworthiness’ – which has been completed within the past 30 days.
When you submit your paperwork, you will need to provide evidence of identity and proof of Victorian address.
Again, check out the above section on proving your identity and address if you need help.
Call the department on 13 11 71.
You can only transfer online, however, if you already have a Customer Reference Number (CRN). You are unlikely to have one of these unless you are a longer-term resident of Queensland, because CRNs come on documents such as bank statements, electoral notices, and bills. So as a backpacker, you will probably to have to transfer in person.
If you don’t have a CRN, you will also need to fill out a New Customer Application form, which can be found here. (It’s probably also possible to get these from the transport office when you go to complete the transfer).
You might need to prove your identity, for which a full list of acceptable documents can be found here.
Then, you need to submit your part of the rego transfer form within 14 days of the vehicle sale. Otherwise, you will likely have to pay a fine.
Here is a link to the Vehicle Registration Transfer Application form, which looks like this:
As usual, you will need to provide evidence of Queensland address – see the section above for advice on how to do this.
The Queensland version of a roadworthy certificate is called a safety certificate. Assuming that you are buying from an individual, the safety certificate needs to have been done within the last 2 months or 2000km.
As the buyer, you need to have the original copy if the certificate is handwritten, or a printed copy if the certificate was electronically issued. Alternatively, the certificate number can be written down on the transfer form – but it’s best to make sure you at least see a copy of the certificate, just to make sure.
Both parties fill out the transfer of rego form, but the seller just needs to hold on to their copy until the buyer has lodged their transfer notice. They can also lodge the transfer online or in person, so that they don’t incur any fees or fines.
You can contact the QLD department for transport on 13 23 80.
In the unlikely event that you are one of the few who venture to the unexplored region of Canberra, you will have to transfer the rego in person at an Access Canberra location.
ACT registered vehicles require a Vehicle Inspection Report if they are more than six years old, before the rego transfer can be completed.
You should fill then out the transfer of registration form with the seller, which looks like this:
Or, as an alternative, you can complete the reverse side of the certificate of registration, or the certificate of inspection.
You have 14 days from the date of sale in which to complete the transfer.
Contact them on 13 22 81.
Last but not least, the NT!
Northern Territory licenses pretty much have to be transferred in person, because of the need to provide evidence of identity. So although the website suggests that you can apply by mail, email and in person, only one of these options realistically works. Especially considering the documented proof of identity has to be the original copies of everything (and I’m not sure how you’d email over your passport…)
So, you have to fill in a transfer of registration form, along with the seller (who can sign section 7 as proof of transfer of ownership). Then you submit the form to the Motor Vehicle Registry Office, along with proof of identity.
If the vehicle is over 5 years old, a valid roadworthy inspection will also be required. This should be carried out at 5 years old, 10 years old, and annually every year thereafter.
To contact them, call 1300 654 628 or email MVR@nt.gov.au.
A quick word on insurance
All vehicles in Australia must be covered by Compulsory Third Party insurance.
Sometimes this is an inbuilt part of the registration process (e.g. in South Australia, the cost of this is included in the rego fee). However, sometimes it is a separate charge. It may also be called something different – for example, in NSW it is called a green slip.
This type of insurance means that if you crash and someone is injured, the medical costs are covered. Which is good, I guess.
However, clearly this might not be quite the level of cover you would hope for, so it’s worth considering taking out extra car insurance with another provider. Third party insurance can be pretty cheap.
One good thing about Oz is that you are able to pretty easily get monthly insurance – which is a great thing for the short term road trips that backpackers tend to take. It means that getting insurance is less of a big outlay, and therefore financially viable even if you only have a car short term.
I just took out third party insurance through my bank (Commonwealth), to make sure that base was covered. It’s only cost me about $22 per month, which is worth it for the peace of mind!
Aaaand just a friendly reminder that the alcohol limit in Australia is 0.05% blood alcohol concentration. Which is absolutely nothing, so be careful!
And there you have it! How to buy a car in every Australian state.
It might be a bit painful to figure out exactly what you need to do to transfer your new car over to your name, but think of the benefits!
Road trips, days out, an alternative to pricey, slow public transport… the possibilities are endless.
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