Before embarking on the recent roadtrip around Australia, Heather of theresnoplacelikeoz.com fame and I gave quite a bit of thought to the process of buying a campervan. We really had no idea how much we should expect to pay, what sort of features we should expect or how roadworthy they would be, but after conducting heaps (in other words next to zero) research, we went ahead and bought a campervan. After having travelled in said van and speaking with other campervanners, I’m quite confident now with the state of buying and selling a campervan in Australia and these are my expert (done it once – I’m an expert!) observations.
Most of the vans we looked at when purchasing our van looked like bombs. Since that time, most of the backpacker campervans we’ve seen are bombs. We thought ours was bad, but it had nothing on most of the vans out there. Most have a lot of rust, dodgy tyres and bits hanging off them or taped on. This poses a bit of a problem in that many of these are unsafe, but more importantly for people on a tight budget, they are hard to get registered because of mandatory roadworthiness inspections. The only way to avoid this is to pay a lot of money for a van that will easily pass the pre-registration roadworthiness inspection or try and find a dodgy mechanic to pass it for you.
In most Australian states, vehicles over 5 years old require an annual inspection to verify that they are roadworthy. If they don’t pass this check, they can’t be registered. The question is, how do most of these vans get registered if they are unroadworthy? Well, it would appear that there are “ways” to pass vehicle inspection checks. Most cheap backpackers seem to be willing to take a few safety risks for the sake of some money. I understand that.
The process of transferring registration from one party to another after purchasing the vehicle is quite simple. You need to make sure that the registration papers are with the vehicle and that the reverse side of these is filled out when handing over the cash as this is how the vehicle registration people know that ownership has been changed. Once this paperwork is filled out, both parties must submit their half of the paperwork to the relevant state registration authority and pay a fee for the transfer (based on sale price – about 5%). It’s quite a simple process.
Aside from issues of roadworthiness and safety, there are also a multitude of mechanical issues that can arise with an old beat up van. We had to replace our engine before we hit the road because it was so badly damaged. Even a mechanic wouldn’t have been able to determine this prior to it going into a workshop. Most of the vans we’ve seen on the road go OK, but some blow smoke and we’ve heard of countless people breaking down and having to conduct repairs in remote towns.
I guess the point here is that the purchase price of the van is just the start. You are almost guaranteed to have to fork out more money to have it repaired as you go. On top of this, regular servicing will be required as well as run of the mill maintenance issues such as new tyres, wiper blades and cracked windscreens. We saw plenty of vans with pieces of cardboard for windows!
Most vans we saw were simply an empty shell with a bed and some storage built into the back of them. Most of these vans can seat 2 or 3 people. Ours could seat 5 as the bed could be folded away whereas most beds are permanent fixtures. Most vans also don’t have fridges or external electricity supplies, so keeping stuff cold and charging electronics can be a pain. We regulalry bought ice and used an esky whenever we needed to keep stuff cool and utilised long life milk all the time. We also had a power inverter which allowed the charging of electronics through the car lighter.
So really, none of these vans have any features at all! Most of the stuff inside is just basic camp equiment that can be picked up at Kmart such as camp stove, tent, storage containers, chairs, water canisters and pots and pans. For example, a 3 man tent can be had for $15 brand new as can a portable stove.
Where to Look
There are basically two ways to do this. Either go onto gumtree.com.au and search for vans there or head down to Kings Cross in Sydney and look at all the vans on Victoria Street. There are heaps of them and they all seem to be for sale.
So for a featureless campervan that is unsafe, mechanically unsound and an allround nightmare, what would you expect to pay? We had heard $3000 bandied around as a price to aim for and this region proved to be correct for us. Cars with 300,000km+ will generally go for $3,000 and those with 200,000km+ will go for about $4,000. Add fridges, air conditioning and other luxury items and the price climbs VERY quickly to $5,000. Most people are content with the basic deathtraps and hence try for campervans closer to $3,000, although some vans we have seen on the road are definitely not even worth that much. The people inside them have been pretty trashy too. Next time I buy one, I will plan on spending $6k all up. $3k purchase and $3k for repairs up front.
How do the costs stack up to renting a van? Well, let’s just say you did spent $6k in total on a van (purchase + repairs + rego) and sold it for $3k. It cost you $3k out of pocket. Hiring a van is sometimes as cheap as $80 per day. So it would be cheaper to rent a van if you were going for for anything less than 37 days. That’s not really that long. But there is hassle in buying and selling plus the stress of mechanical issues. Realistically, I’d look at renting for anything up to about 45 days. More than that and buying would be my choice. Better than renting altogether would be buying a cheap station wagon and camping… Plenty of people do that too.
So there you have it. My uber-comprehensive guide to buying a backpacker-style campervan. I’m happy to field questions or provide “expert” advice.