We’ve chosen to be a one-car family here in Australia. Although we’ve settled in the more suburban Northern Beaches area of Sydney, the numerous transit options make this a much more feasible endeavor than it would have been back in San Diego. Plus, the thought of investing in two cars, paying two registration fees, and doubling our insurance costs was just too much to bear alongside all of our other relocation costs.
During our last few weeks in the States, while we were walking around town, Matt and I would point out different cars to each other and comment about which ones we thought would be a good car to get in Australia. We pretty quickly narrowed it down to a mid-size hatchback type vehicle. It needed to have decent gas mileage, but we also wanted something with some decent cargo space for beach or camping gear.
A few weeks before our flight we reserved a rental car for our first two weeks. We scheduled to pick it up the day after we arrived and took a taxi to our Airbnb from the airport (without a toddler and loads of luggage it would have been much easier and cheaper to pick it up directly at the airport when you land, but I think it was a good decision for us since our crew would not have been up for another hour standing at the rental counter).
We spent our first few days in Sydney combing through used car websites looking for cars that fit our criteria. The two main websites are Gumtree.com.au and carsales.com.au. A lot of cars are cross-posted on those two websites too. There are also lots of used car lots around Sydney, most of which seemed to be concentrated in the Western Suburbs area. If you don’t know what you are looking for, it might be easier to go to a car lot where you can see lots of options at once. After making a list of about 8 options and comparing the price and mileage of each car, we scheduled test drives for two of them.
Both cars we looked at were Toyota Corolla wagons (such a mom car, but we are forever practical people and Toyota aficionados). One of the cars was much cleaner than the other, had about 30K fewer miles and had only had two previous owners despite being a 2004. It was also $2K more. Matt did some hard-core negotiating via text later in the day and we got the more expensive car owners to come down $1K in their price, so we accepted!
Background Checks and Avoiding a Scam
A vehicle registration and history check is helpful when buying a secondhand vehicle. The search will provide information such as whether the car has been recorded as stolen, the number of previous owners, and whether it has been used as a taxi, police car or business vehicle. It will also tell you if the status of registration is current or cancelled, the compulsory third party insurance (CTP), including the expiry dates. The registration check is free and the history check costs $21.
Purchasing and Transferring Registration
A couple of days later, cash in hand, we drove back to pick up the car. The seller filled out their portion of the Certificate of Registration and retained half for their records. They are required to lodge a Notice of Disposal at the office of Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) within 14 days.
You must also transfer the registration for the vehicle within 14 days of the purchase. To transfer registration, you’ll likely need to visit an RMS office to do it in person unless you have a New South Wales driver’s license, in which case you can do it online. On the RMS website, there is a list of information you must bring with you:
- Certificate of Registration
- Proof of your Identity (i.e. Passport)
- Proof of Residence (utility bill, copy of your lease, etc.)
There are RMS offices in various suburbs around the City and they are quite similar to our DMVs. You check in at a kiosk indicating what task you are there to complete and are given a ticket with a letter and number. There is a wall with all of the various forms you might need to complete and you should complete your form prior to your number getting called (to transfer registration you only need to complete the Application for Transfer). We visited the RMS office in Manly at lunchtime and had about a half hour wait. I can imagine that the office in downtown Sydney would have a much longer wait. Make sure if you change anything (date, purchase price, etc.) on the Certificate of Registration that the seller initials it, otherwise the seller must have lodged the sale prior to you transferring the registration.
All information regarding transferring the registration can be found here:
New South Wales Driver’s License
While we were at the RMS office, Matt also filled out an application for a New South Wales driver’s license and was able to process it at the same time. You can pay for either a 2, 3 or 5-year license. It isn’t necessary to have a NSW license, but it has come in extremely useful for things like setting up our utilities where they need to do a credit check (i.e. 100 point of ID check). It is also great to have if you plan to make large withdraws at a bank, since they don’t accept an international driver’s license as identification and require you to have your passport (which we prefer to not carry around with us at all times). They required the same information needed for the transfer of registration, plus his driver’s license (he got to keep his US driver’s license since he was applying for a temporary license). He had to do an eye test and have a picture taken, but no driving test. You can also transfer a motorcycle license by simply checking a box.
More information about getting a NSW driver’s license can be found here:
Toll Road Passes
Our final task at the RMS office was setting up our E-Toll account. You can choose to get either an E-Toll Tag or Easy Toll Tag (see here for a comparison). If you are renting a car or only in Sydney for less than 30 days, you can sign up for a casual travel pass called the eMU Pass.
A quick note about car insurance in Australia…
There are two types of car insurance in Australia – Compulsory Third Party Personal Injury (CTP) insurance (aka green slip) and Comprehensive Insurance. CTP is purchased in conjunction with your registration and automatically transfers to a new owner when the car is purchased. This covers the owner and any driver of the vehicle for any liability claims made, but not damage. If the registration is still current on your vehicle, when you go to transfer the registration you do not need to purchase CTP. When you renew your registration, you will need to pay for the next year of CTP at that time.
Upon purchasing a vehicle, you may elect to purchase Comprehensive insurance immediately. This covers any damage to your car or another car that may be your fault. Numerous private companies offer comprehensive insurance, but some of the biggest in Australia are NRMA, Allianz, and Progressive.
And now the hard part…get comfortable driving on the left hand side of the road!