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12 Mar 2013 | by Lisa Cockerill

Backpacker Vehicle Buyers Beware




In 2013 Australia has seen a significant increase in the backpacking tourism industry due partly to economical issues plaguing Europe as well as other continents across the globe. It is often more economical for Europeans to have a working holiday in Australia as the wages are among the highest in the world. The rise in unemployment in Europe is also a contributing factor to the influx in the backpacking tourism industry.


Australia is one of the most attractive backpacking destinations to international backpackers for a working holiday. Many visitors will arrive in a major city down under and find their way to the smaller towns to enjoy all that Australia has to offer. Being on the road is one of the best ways to see the country and experience the people, culture and nature, purchasing a camper van for the trip is highly popular.


One of the biggest pitfalls that many backpackers fall into is that they are paying premium prices for vehicles that are not road worthy. After the vehicle has a Safety Certificate Inspection it is becoming common where the vehicle is completely unsafe to drive. The international owner’s are left with no choice but to have them scrapped due to the extensive and expensive repairs list to just have them legally driven on the road. This doesn’t mean that the vehicle is going to survive the trip.


Keeping in mind that the buyer is most likely driving on some of the toughest in the country. It is a lot more expensive to have repairs done in the outback than in the cities. That is if in fact the vehicle doesn’t break down literally in the middle of no-where.


At the end of the holiday the vehicle is sold bringing the cost of accommodation and travel down considerably. If the vehicle cannot survive the trip the money lost in the resale is significant if it can in fact be fixed for sale at all.


Here are some of the most common safety issues with the vehicles, which have been converted into campervans for backpackers.


  •  Seatbelts frayed                                                                                         
  •  Seat Upholstery Torn
  • Rust
  •  Oil Leaks
  • Lights – Not working or damaged


The vehicle with these issues will NOT pass a Safety Certificate in the state of Queensland.


If a vehicle is being sold in Queensland and it is registered it must have a safety certificate before it is sold. Usually if a vehicle is being sold unregistered then this is the first sign for alarm bells to start ringing. The likelihood is that the previous owner has seen the long list of expensive repairs for the vehicle to pass the Safety inspection and they are trying to cut their losses.


It is often left to the last minute when backpackers are leaving the country due to this is also their accommodation and the sale is urgent so remember to allow enough time to get the safety certificate before it is advertised for sale. If a registered vehicle is advertised for sale without a Safety Certificate there is a risk that the Department of Transport or Queensland Police issue a $550 fine for not having one. A Safety Certificate is valid for 2 months or 2000kms whichever one comes first.


This being said - Buyers beware: Just because the vehicle has a Safety Certificate, it doesn’t mean that the vehicle is automatically in premium condition. This is a certificate saying that the vehicle meets the minimum safety standards.


The best advice for backpackers who are setting out on their desert trekking adventure is to get a qualified mechanic to do a Pre-Purchase Inspection on the vehicle.


They will be able to report on the exact condition of the vehicle and advise also on how to drive to Australian conditions especially in the outback. They will also inform you of your rights by Australian law as a buyer. Unfortunately international tourists visiting Australia can be exploited in the price to pay for a vehicle not only by locals but also by other tourists leaving the country.


Everybody has heard of the stories of visitors in Bali and the coloured bag system among the market shops. If you have a red bag then the other shopkeepers know that you are willing to pay full price and a yellow bag indicates that you drive a hard bargain.


Australia is no different from any other market. There are many honest Australians who will most certainly give tourists the same treatment as locals but unfortunately there are people out there who see tourists coming from a mile away.


Always do research on what the market is. In Australia, a great way to check this is by searching on This is a very popular Internet sales tool used by majority of Australians who are selling vehicles online.


This will give a true indication of what the market value is. Couple this with a Pre-Purchase Inspection there is little to no chance of being taken advantage of.


Here is a real life example of a bad situation turned around.


Tobias and Lena had arrived in Melbourne ready for their 6 week touring adventure. They brought a Mazda E2000 for AUD$3000 from a car yard and drove it to Queensland approx. 2000kms. The van had the following issues when inspected for a Safety Certificate.


Oil leaks, Diesel leaks, Rear shackles bushes, Tail lights discoloured and broken, No rear view mirror, Seatbelt frayed, Bald tyres, Ripped seat, Windscreen cracked, Coolant leaks through to Handbrake not working and the list just went on and on.


Tobias and Lena were advised that the vehicle was so far from unsafe that they would be better off selling the vehicle for scrap rather than carry out on $2000 worth of repairs on a vehicle that essentially was worth $500. These repairs were only to bring the vehicle to a safety certificate standard.


They took the advice of the workshop doing the inspection and sold it for scrap.


Two weeks later they contacted the same workshop to conduct a pre-purchase on a Holden Jackaroo from a fellow traveller who was on his way out of the country.


The inspection conducted showed that there was a wheel bearing that needed to be replaced and oil leaks. The pre-purchase saved them considerable money as the seller had to cover the costs of these repairs before the vehicle was sold.


They brought the Jackaroo and enjoyed their safe trip around Australia.


Remember these tips:


  •   Check what the actual value is for the vehicle
  •      Does it have a Safety Certificate?
  •     Have a Pre-Purchase Inspection completed before purchasing


Safe Travels…









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