The Ultimate Guide To Buying A Car in Australia

Are you considering buying a car in Australia and curious about the process?

For many expats, the Australian car market can differ from what they’re used to back home. This article will provide all the necessary details for a smooth car-buying experience.

In this article we’ll delve into crucial considerations, the necessary documentation to buy a car in Australia, and the best places to buy one. 

We have been living in Australia since 2022 and one of the first things we did was buy our car. Our car-buying journey in Australia taught us invaluable lessons, through this guide, we’ll share these insights, simplifying the process for you.

Key points

  • In Australia, cars are registered to a state or territory.
  • All states in Australia have their variations of laws and requirements to buy a car.
  • In some states such as NSW, the buyer is required to transfer the ownership of the new car.
  • To transfer a car’s registration to your name, you must have a permanent address in that state, as the registration document will be sent there.
  • In NSW, cars require an annual safety check, but you also need to visit the registration office in person within 14 days of purchasing the car.
    In Western Australia (WA), the transfer of car registration can be conveniently done online, making WA one of the easiest places in Australia to buy a car
  • Be wary of using Facebook marketplace or Gumtree as these can be full of scams.

How do I buy a car in Australia?

A woman wearing a black cap and sunglasses sits on the hood of a white SUV parked on a pebbly shoreline, with her legs stretched out, facing the sea. Trees line the coast under a clear blue sky.

In Australia, the car buying process starts with one decision: opting for a new or a used vehicle. This choice was particularly challenging during 2020-2021, as a shortage of new cars significantly inflated the prices of used ones in Australia.

However, industry experts now indicate a stabilizing trend, with the easing availability of new cars leading to a gradual reduction in used car prices, which is great news if you are on a tight budget.

Where to buy a car in Australia?

In Australia, major car dealerships offer brands like Toyota, Audi, Ford, Hyundai, Nissan, and Subaru, with most listing their stock online for easy comparison. For a broader range, Carsales and Carsguide are the top websites for finding new and used cars from both private sellers and official dealerships.

Money Saving Tip: The end of the financial year sales in Australia are huge, so if you want to find a new car at a bargain price, try looking around the 30th of June. This is when car dealerships are looking to sell off old stock to make way for new stock for the next financial year.

The market for buying a used car in Australia is broader, with options including dealerships, online platforms like Carsales, and private sellers on sites like Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace.

While purchasing from a private seller can be cost-effective, it carries risks, such as the lack of a warranty. Australian consumer laws protect buyers at dealerships, but these protections don’t extend to private sales.

Be cautious with platforms like Facebook and Gumtree, which can have scammers. It’s essential to do thorough research before making a purchase.

Before you Buy

Before you commit to buying any new or used car, make sure you check these important points:

  • Test Drive the car on varied roads and speeds and personally check the aircon and radio. I once trusted a dealership’s word about a working aircon that didn’t, a mistake especially important in Australia’s hot climate. Remember, verify everything yourself.
  • Check Service History: A well-maintained service record indicates a well-cared-for car.
  • Expert Inspection: It’s highly recommended to have the car inspected by a professional, particularly when buying from a private seller. This step can uncover potential issues that might not be visible to the untrained eye.
  • Negotiate the Price: Use redbook.com.au to assess the car’s actual worth. Knowing the vehicle’s market value equips you with better bargaining power – it helped me save $6k off the asking price!
  • Ensure you account for on-road and operational expenses, including registration fees, compulsory third-party personal injury insurance (CTP), stamp duty, and the costs of servicing and spare parts. (these will vary by state).

🛑 Is the car you are buying legal?

If you’re buying a car privately, make sure to check that it’s legal, not stolen, not previously written off, and doesn’t have any unpaid debts attached to it.

A $2 search on the Australian Government’s Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) will show you if the vehicle you want to buy is recorded as free from debt, stolen or written off.

All you need is the car’s VIN or chassis number, usually found under the bonnet, on a label on the driver’s door frame, at the bottom of the windscreen on the passenger’s side and on the registration documents.

Close-up of a modern car key fob on a blurred vehicle purchase agreement, with a stylish fountain pen aside, symbolizing the process of buying a car in Australia

What Documents do I need to buy a car in Australia?

  • Proof of identity (ideally an Australian driver’s licence)
  • Proof of income (if you are thinking about using car finance)
  • Proof of residence – required for vehicle registration.
  • Proof of insurance after you have bought the car in order to drive it away from the dealership.

How do I register a car in Australia?

Car registration, or ‘rego’, is a government requirement indicating vehicle ownership. It ensures that vehicles meet safety and environmental standards and acts as the car’s formal identification document.

Typically, rego needs to be renewed annually and is based on the state or territory where the owner resides.

Rego vs. Roadworthy Certificate (RWC)

While rego identifies the vehicle owner and serves as the car’s ID, it’s different from a Roadworthy Certificate (RWC).

In NSW, for instance, an RWC is known as a ‘pink slip’. This certificate, obtained from an authorised inspector, verifies the vehicle’s roadworthiness.

Grace Period for New Cars: New cars often have a grace period before needing their first RWC. For example, a new car in NSW doesn’t require a yearly safety inspection or “pink slip” for the first five years.

Annual Requirement for Older Cars: In many states, older cars must undergo annual roadworthiness inspections to maintain their registration.

How to Get Car Rego in Australia

Visit your state’s transport authority with proof of identity, vehicle ownership, and sometimes a roadworthiness certificate. Payment of registration fees is also required.

Additional Documents: You might need a vehicle identity check and a proof of purchase receipt. The requirements vary, so always check with your local transport authority.

Compulsory Third Party (CTP) Cover:

CTP cover is the minimum required insurance in Australia, covering costs for injuries caused to others in a vehicle accident.

In New South Wales (NSW), it’s known as a ‘green slip’ and must be purchased before registering your car. Victoria (VIC), Western Australia (WA), Tasmania (TAS), and the Northern Territory (NT) include the CTP insurance cost in the vehicle registration fee.

This insurance is essential for protecting drivers against financial liability in accidents that cause injuries to others. It is recommended that you get a more comprehensive insurance plan to cover damage to your own vehicle, though this is optional.

Buying a Used Car Without Rego

If the used car lacks rego, get an RWC check before purchase, as you can’t register the car without it.

Buying a car interstate

If you buy a car from another state, you’ll need to transfer the rego to your state and get new number plates. Therefore, it’s recommended to buy a car in the state you plan to drive in.

Each state and territory has a grace period for driving a non-locally registered car, which is normally around 90 days.

How can I pay for a car in Australia? (Car Finance)

Paying for a car outright in Australia is an option, but if you’re tight on cash after moving, finance might be your best bet. Here’s what to consider if you’re looking at car finance:

  • You’ll need three months’ worth of payslips in Australia. Our attempt to get finance in our first week in the country, despite having full-time work contracts, was met with rejection from both the dealership and the bank manager.
  • Shop Around for Finance: Don’t settle for the first finance offer from the dealer, who often earns a commission on higher interest rates. Compare rates and return to the dealer with competitive offers for them to match.
  • Check with Your Bank: Contact your Australian bank about secured car loans. Not all banks offer them, but it’s worth inquiring about the rates they can provide.

Not eligible for car finance? If finance isn’t an option, consider a personal loan from a family member with little or no interest. Or, as I did, opt for a more affordable car that you can pay for outright, then when you have 3 months worth of payslips trade it in against the car you want.

You could also consider hiring a car for three months before buying your car. Companies such as GOGet offer a great membership model that allows you to hire a car for the hours you need it.

What equipment is compulsory to have in your car in Australia?

In Australia, personal vehicles aren’t required by law to carry any compulsory equipment. This excludes motorhomes and caravans where it is mandatory to carry a fire extinguisher.

What driving laws should I be aware of?

Driving laws can vary from state to state in Australia, but here’s a brief overview of some common rules:

  • Driving with a blood alcohol level over 0.05% is illegal, and it must be zero for probationary or provisional license holders.
  • Driving whilst tired is an offence with serious legal consequences, including heavy fines and potential prison terms in case of accidents.
  • Using a mobile phone while driving, including for navigation, is prohibited and subject to heavy fines, particularly in Tasmania where you need to be parked even to put an address in your phone navigation system.
  • Drivers must give way to pedestrians when turning at intersections, except in roundabouts.
  • In NSW, QLD, and SA, making U-turns at intersections is illegal unless explicitly allowed by signage.

What kind of driving licenses are accepted in Australia?

You can drive in Australia with a foreign license for up to three months if it’s in English. If your licence is not in English, you’ll need an International Drivers Permit (IDP).

After three months, you will need to get a local driver’s license from the state where you are planning to reside and drive.

If you plan to live in Australia permanently you should apply for an Australian state driving licence long before the three months is up, It’s a helpful ID to have for essential services like Medicare and banking, helping you easily meet the 100-point ID requirement.

View from the driver's perspective following a white SUV on a serene Australian highway during golden hour, with vibrant sky and rustic countryside scenery, ideal for a road trip after buying a car in Australia.

Should I Import my own car to Australia or should I buy a new one?

I’m sure during the planning stage of your move to Australia you asked yourself “Should I import my car to Australia”?

Deciding between importing your own car to Australia or buying a new one there involves considering several factors, including cost, compliance with Australian standards, and practicality.

Considerations for Importing a Car

  • Costs and Taxes: Importing a car to Australia involves various expenses. All privately imported vehicles are subject to customs duty, Goods and Services Tax (GST), and, where applicable, Luxury Car Tax (LCT), similar to commercially imported vehicles. The customs duty is calculated based on the customs value of the vehicle.
  • Compliance with Safety Standards: You need permission from the Vehicle Safety Standards Branch to import a vehicle. This ensures the vehicle meets Australian safety requirements. Compliance can sometimes necessitate costly modifications, especially for vehicles not originally manufactured for the Australian market.
  • Timeframe and Complexity: The process of importing a car is often lengthy, involving detailed paperwork, inspections, and possibly vehicle quarantine.

Advantages of Buying a car in Australia

  • Australian Standards: Cars bought in Australia meet all local safety and environmental standards.
  • Easy Registration: The registration process is streamlined, often with dealership assistance, simplifying paperwork and legal requirements.
  • Diverse Range: The Australian market offers a wide variety of vehicles suitable for different lifestyles, from urban driving to off-road adventures. Whether you need a rugged 4WD for exploring the Outback, a compact car for city driving, or a family-friendly SUV. Your driving needs in you home country might be vastly different to your needs in Australia.
  • Financing Options: Various financing options are available, often with competitive terms.

Temporary Importation for Tourists and Temporary Residents

If you’re coming to Australia as a tourist or temporary resident, you can bring a vehicle (including motorcycles with attached trailers or caravans) for up to 12 months without paying duty and taxes, under certain conditions. The vehicle must be exported from Australia at the end of this period.

Useful Vocabulary when buying a car in Australia

Car Buying VocabularyAustralian Definition
New CarA vehicle that has never been owned or used before, typically purchased directly from a dealership.
Used CarA vehicle that has been previously owned and used by one or more owners.
Car RegoShort for ‘registration’; the official process of registering your vehicle with the government, indicating legal ownership and compliance with safety standards.
Pink SlipIn New South Wales (NSW), a ‘pink slip’ is another term for a Roadworthy Certificate (RWC), which is a document certifying that a vehicle is safe to be driven on public roads.
Green SlipAlso specific to NSW, a ‘green slip’ refers to Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance, which covers costs related to injuries caused to other people in a vehicle accident.
OutbackA remote, sparsely populated area of Australia, known for its rugged terrain and unique natural beauty.
ServoAustralian slang for a service station or gas station, where you can refuel your car.
UteShort for ‘utility vehicle,’ a ute is a popular type of vehicle in Australia with a cargo tray in the rear; similar to a pickup truck in other countries.
000Australia’s emergency phone number.

Still got Questions?

If you can’t find the answers you need about buying a car in Australia in this article, comment below, and I’ll get back to you.

Useful Sources

Remember, the rules for buying a car in Australia vary by state, so be sure to check out the below sources for the state you will be purchasing in.

Motor vehicle sales and repairs – an industry guide to the Australian Consumer Law

National Roads and Motorists’ Association (NRMA)

ACT

Buying a motor vehicle – ACT Government

New South Wales

Buying a Vehicle – NSW Government – Buying a vehicle

Northern Territory

Buying a new or used vehicle – NT Government

Automobile Association of the Northern Territory (AANT)

Queensland

Rules for buying or selling a vehicle – Qld Government

Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ)

South Australia

Buying and selling a vehicle – SA Government

Royal Automobile Association (RAA)

Tasmania

Buying, selling or transferring a vehicle – Tas Government

Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania (RACT)

Victoria

Car Buying – Vic Government

Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV)

Western Australia

Buying a vehicle – WA Government

Royal Automobile Club of WA (RAC)

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