Buying Betsy – Our first backpackers car

Buying Betsy – Our first backpackers car

For the first leg of our trip around Australia, Emma and I had made the general plan of travelling North up the East coast, working our way towards Cairns. However, we’d only booked our first four nights and had planned to wing the rest upon arrival, and I’m so glad we did.

When we realised we had to wait a week before we could collect our bank cards, we decided the best plan would be to travel south down to Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise before coming back via Brisbane a week later before we set off on our travels North.

Looking into the Greyhound bus tickets, they were fairly reasonably priced, costing $370 to go down to Byron then back up to Cairns on a hop on / hop off ticket that’s valid for 6 months. While that sounds fairly good, it means that we have no flexibility to go see the things that are off the beaten track (such as Mooball, the cow themed town – more on that to come in a separate post). We also were advised from Greg that its much easier to find your 2nd year visa jobs with a car, obviously providing you the flexibility to drive to and from farms every day.

So, by day two, we were on the hunt for cars. I had a browse of what was available on Facebook backpacker community groups and on Gumtree, before being told that hostels often have advertisements up. So on our way back from an afternoon wandering Brisbane, we stopped in at two hostels, plus our own to check for advertisements. We found a big pile of advertisements at the first hostel we stopped at, taking photos of the adverts that were within our price range; anything up to $2500.

Upon return to the hostel, we texted 10 different car-owners to see if they were still available. We had a few reply saying it was gone, a few didn’t reply and one girl text us back saying we could see the car straight away. It was a year 2000 Mitsubishi Magna Station Wagon, priced at the high end of our price range, but we went for it anyway and arranged a viewing for the next day.

We made ourselves a list of what to check for when inspecting the car. We then went out the night before, got drunk and our phones were out of battery when we went to inspect it… However, we still managed to remember most of it, and texted her anything we forgot.

Our checklist was as follows:

  • Tyre tread
  • Under bonnet for rust
  • Ask about recent servicing / new parts
  • Run engine for ~10 minutes, to listen out for strange noises and any smoke from the exhaust
  • Air con works (essential in Australia!)
  • Heater works
  • Spare tyre
  • All lights work
  • No water or oil dripping from bonnet
  • Check windscreen for chips
  • Window washers work
  • Check current mileage

We also asked when the service was due – only to find out the servicing and MOTs work differently in Australia. It’s not a legal requirement to have them done on a regular basis as it is in the UK, however it had last been serviced by the owner at the end of February, with new tyres being put on at that time as well. You do however have to register the car, so we’ll have to renew that ourselves at the end of September.

We are by no means car experts, and the list I’m sure isn’t exhaustive, but we were very happy with the condition of the car and decided to just go for it. The car had a mattress in the back, as the previous owner had been sleeping in it, but with my long legs it had to come out before I’d be able to drive it, as it prevented the seats from going back any further. We also had a ton of equipment provided, including;

  • Pots and pans
  • Cutlery, plates and cups
  • Dried foods
  • Gas stove and spare gas canisters
  • Fuel can
  • 10L water bottles
  • Table and camping chairs
  • Yoga matt
  • Picnic matt
  • Waterproof clothing
  • Sat nav
  • Travel books
  • Spare tyre, toolbox, oil, coolant etc
  • … and the list goes on

Despite being at the higher end of our budget, were very impressed at value for money considering all equipment provided. We bartered down to $2300 and decided to just go for it! Greg said it was the best condition backpackers car he’d seen in his two years in Australia, so we took that as a good sign, met the girl the next day and made our purchase.

We made a two small mistakes. You need to print out the transfer of ownership form and fill it out together, so remember to do that before you go meet them for the sale, as we had to wait around for 40 minutes while the owner drove to somewhere with a printer (not many places open on a Sunday). The second mistake was that our bank set a $500 withdrawal limit without our bank cards, so I had to ask Greg to withdraw money for us to bank transfer it back over to him. So make sure you take any money out you need in plenty of time.

We were very lucky in that the first car we saw was perfect for us. Purchase made, we set off in our beautiful new car, drove back to the hostel and got to work organising the back into what we did and didn’t need and re-packing it to our liking. All we need now is a tent and we’ll be all set for camping during our trip as well, which we’re going to look into doing at some National Parks as we get further North if possible.

In terms of car insurance, we’ve since found it’s also not a legal requirement in Australia. As neither of us know anything about cars though, we decided to purchase insurance, breakdown cover and windscreen cover, so we’re all sorted should anything go wrong. We thought it was a bargain at $440 for the year.

We’re very happy with our car, who we’ve named Betsy and she’s treated us well for the first few drives anyway! Heres hoping that continues for the whole way around Australia!