The Guide you need to drive in ‘Straya

There really isn’t a better way to see Australia than by embracing the freedom of a good old fashioned road trip. A quick Google search will reveal thousands of amazing itineraries filled with small, but marvellous places to see along the way to your dream destination. Whether you just want to venture a couple of hours out of Sydney, or have the courage to embark on the wanderlust journey to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road, having the ability to jump in a car and set off on your travels makes for some of the best memories a traveller can have. But before you grab your keys and set off, take the time to familiarise yourself with both the rules and driving etiquette on Australia’s roads.

Self-explanatory rules

  • Wear a seatbelt.
  • Don’t use your phone while driving. Mobile detection cameras are in use in some areas.
  • Don’t drink and drive. (The legal limit is 0.05%)

To the left, to the left!

This is probably going to be the most difficult transition for anyone from Europe or America (North and South). Not only will you be driving on the left, but the steering wheel and gear stick will also shift over. This will definitely require some getting used to, so we recommend sticking with an automatic transmission and taking a day or two to adjust, before heading off on a road trip. Don’t worry, once you get used to it, you won’t even notice it anymore. Tip is to constantly remind yourself to hug the median strip and that on-coming traffic is passing on your side. Take extra caution whenever you approach a roundabout or are pulling out of driveways, reminding yourself to stay left (sing Beyonce if it helps). It’s also easy to revert back to old habits on big, open roads, so ask friends to stay alert in case you slip up!

Give way to your right

This may be the single most important rule to avoid an accident. Always remember to look right and give way to anyone coming from this direction. This rule mainly applies in roundabouts and intersections where you have oncoming traffic travelling towards you. Don’t take chances, slow down and always give way!

Follow the signs

There are plenty of signs, from roadwork, speed limits and wildlife warnings, and it is important to always follow what they are telling you as it ensures safety for you and for others. Speeding or breaking other road rules such as no right turns, are considered serious offences and can incur heavy fines and loss of licence. Don’t risk it, always follow the rules and you won’t have any issues.

Brown signs show you the popular tourist routes.

Right lanes are for overtaking only!

Whether you’re on a highway or freeway, always try to stay in the left lane. Especially on motorways where speeds exceed 80km, as the left lane is reserved for overtaking only. Take this rule seriously as fines apply for sitting in the right lane, not to mention the que of angry drivers who will be behind you!

Watch out for wildlife

This may come as a shock once you leave Sydney, but the roads can be littered with roadkill. As many Australian animals are nocturnal, they become more lively at night and may wander on to the roads. Be on high alert when driving at night and look out for wildlife crossing signs as they will notify you that you’re in a high risk area.

Waving is a thing

Driving is a shared privilege and therefore, without cooperation and consideration of others, you may end in an argument, or worse a crash. In Australia, we use a wave to help communicate with other drivers and most importantly, say thanks (or sorry!). Here are most common scenarios to help you master the wave:

  • When you want to switch lanes and someone slows down to create room for you. Pop your hand up when they let you in as a thanks, and they’ll return one in good manner.
  • Narrow streets where there’s not enough room for two cars. If a driver pulls over to let you through, return a wave to say thanks. The general rule is the driver with no room or has an obstruction on their side of the road stops. But a good general rule is to just always be patient and you won’t have any issues.
  • When giving way when the right of way isn’t clear.
  • Apologising for making a mistake! Accidentally cut someone off? Maybe, you misjudged how far away they were. Saying sorry with a wave can get you out of hot water and avoid any unnecessary road rage.

Beware of tolls

Most tolls are found in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and will charge you for using the motorway. The easiest way to use toll roads is to purchase an electronic tag which can be used over time and will save you money in the long run. Head to Linkt to sign up for an account or purchase day passess for less frequent drivers. Some, but not all, rental companies provide an e-tag, however for those who don’t, watch out for the extra $30 surcharge per notice. Tolls make long distance trips shorter and easier, however, if you’re really stuck, change the settings on your GPS to avoid tolls to dodge the hefty bills.

Road conditions

The main roads around the coast are well maintained. However, if you are driving in the outback or to national parks and campsites, you will find many unsealed roads. Check the conditions in advance, especially in the Northern Territory during the wet season (November to April). Don’t take the risk if a road is flooded and turn around instead. 

Plan ahead

With so many places to visit and things to see, you’ll most likely be on the roads for large amounts of time. Remember that driving requires lots of concentration, and therefore is actually extremely tiring. It has been calculated to take approximately 2 weeks to drive the whole way around Australia without stopping. That’s how much ground there is to cover. With this in mind, being realistic with how much there is to see and the time you have available to see it. Avoid driving excessive hours to reach further destinations and make sure to be taking plenty of rest stops along the way. Driving at night is also not recommended, as wildlife becomes more lively and you become more sleepy! Staying safe on our roads should always be your priority, which means taking naps at rest stops, cancelling plans if needed or booking accommodation ahead of time to ensure a good night’s rest.

Parking

Fines for false parking can be very expensive, so try to avoid them. In the cities, there are signs with a “P” that specify the duration of how long you can park.

  • 1/2P, 1P, 4P: You can park for half an hour, one hour, 4 hours. Only “P” without a number means that it is a permissive parking zone.
  • “Ticket”: You have to buy a parking ticket and display it inside the windscreen on the passenger side. Parking machines can be found in the parking area.
  • “Permit Zone”: You can only park here if you have a special council permit.
  • “S” behind a diagonal red line within a red circle: No stopping.

The legal stuff

In Australia, there are different laws in each state for buying cars as each vehicle is registered in the state/territory it’s purchased. Easiest way to check where a car is registered is from the licence plate. This means you’ll need to double check the laws and follow the specific rules of the state you live in. We recommend purchasing a vehicle in the state you reside as transferring registration from state to state can be difficult.

Once you’ve found the perfect freedom machine, you’ll need to check for 3 things: a certificate to prove its roadworthiness (every state will require one in some shape or form, for example “Pinkslip” in NSW), registration papers (known as ‘rego’) and purchase / service history. Don’t buy any car that doesn’t have all three, as it may have been stolen or defected. We also highly recommend taking the car to a local mechanic for an inspection, which costs around $200. If the car hasn’t been driven in a while and needs a roadworthy certificate, they can also provide one. If you can’t spend the money for this, at least inspect the car with someone who knows a little bit about cars, like a friend.

If all is clear, you had a test drive and you’re ready to seal the deal, make sure to get a purchase receipt and have the seller’s information. Each state has a slightly different process, so make sure to double check the procedures. *Tip – Don’t be afraid to haggle! It is a known fact in Australia that private sellers will advertise a higher price than what they actually seek. Ask them to knock a thousand off and save some money!* Once you’ve obtained the car, head to the motor registry, where you can begin the transfer. You need to do this within 14 days, otherwise you might have to pay a fee. Here you will pay a transfer fee (depending on the value of the car) and if the annual registration has expired, you’ll need to pay that too. Cars with extended existing rego are good options but usually more expensive as sellers will factor this into the final price.

All states also require a Green Slip (CTP insurance policy) which covers for medical injuries in the event of an accident. The CTP is included in rego fees for every state except NSW, which is obtained through private insurers such as AAIM, NRMA and Alianz. The CTP costs around $350-$750 depending on your age and driving experience as well as the duration of the cover. You can usually purchase a CTP for 6 or 12 months, depending on the state.

We recommend you invest in an additional car insurance that covers damage to help protect you from any unprecedented events including accidents, breakdowns and other damage to your new dream machine.

Specific laws for each state:

For more detailed information we’ve linked the laws and processes for each state below.

NSW QLD ACT VIC NT WA

FAQs

Can I use my licence from home?

If you have an unrestricted licence and are staying for less than three months, you can use your country’s licence to drive and hire cars (six months in Victoria). As long as your licence is in English. If not, you’ll need to obtain an International Drivers Permit (IDP) or a formal translation of your licence before you leave your home country. If your licence does not contain a photo, carry your passport with you to ensure the licence is valid. For anyone wishing to stay longer than three months, you’ll need to obtain an Australian drivers licence in the state you’re residing in. Depending on your visa status, you may be able to hold off on applying for an Australian licence for longer. If you are in NSW, you can drive with your licence from home as long as you are a temporary visitor and your licence remains current (this can even be years), however, if you have a permanent visa, you need to get an Australian licence after three months. The easiest way to find out is to read the guidelines specific to each state.

How do I fill up?

In Australia, it is mainly all self service and pay at the counter. A little trick to remember which side your fuel cap is on is to check your fuel gauge for an arrow, which will point to the direction of the pump. Due to the vast distances between places, especially in rural areas, keep in mind the range you have before the next petrol station and maintain a full tank on long trips. Also, many service stations close overnight and in some areas you might have to travel a long distance to get to the next service station (192km from Balladonia to Norseman), so make sure to plan ahead.

What about rental cars?

If you’re planning on renting, Australia has some strict rules before they hand over the keys to your shiny road trip dreams. First, you need to be over 21 and hold a full drivers licence. Having an international driver’s permit will make things go extra smooth, so look into obtaining one if you plan to rent. Drivers under the age of 24 will need to pay an excess for insurance, this can be costly so consider having someone older to rent the car. Most importantly, always get a high level of insurance and pay for extra if you need to. Skipping this may be enticing to budget travellers but in the event of an accident, you may have to pay the full repair costs for both vehicles and potentially even medical bills! It is also important to mention, only let those who are listed on the cover drive, otherwise your insurance is automatically void!

There are many rental companies out there so avoid renting from the first one you see. Do some research and check out the competitive pricing most rental agencies offer. The average cost to hire a car in Australia is $80 a day. However, you may be able to receive discounts for booking online or during a promotion. And lastly, don’t sign before you’ve read the contract, all of it! Car rentals are notorious for secret charges and unnecessary extras. Make sure you ask every relevant question, especially about anything you don’t understand.

KAYAK is a great place to start, with exclusive deals and price comparison of all the best rental agencies in one easy to navigate site. Other sites you can also consider for the best rates are:

For campers, vans and motorhomes check out:

Relocate and Save!

Sometimes, rental agencies need a little hand getting their cars and vans back to other branches. And in return, they offer great deals for your service, including $1 a day rentals! They may even throw a tank of gas on the house! But what’s the catch? Well, because these deals are so good, they are often hard to come by and are snagged as soon as they’re listed. You’ll also only be booked for one way, which can sometimes be beneficial for longer trips giving you the option to fly back instead. Insurance policies may also still need to be purchased or upgraded, always check before signing away! Deals are very dependent on the company, with some offering half price on rentals, petrol only fees or even all on the house. Check out this list of companies needing relocations for the best deal:

Do I need a car?

This may seem a little tricky at first, but if you’re looking for the best way to see Australia, buying a car will give you the most freedom. But before you whip out all your life savings, there are a few steps you need to follow to ensure your purchase is safe, legal and ready to take on any adventure.

Where can I buy a car?

A great place to purchase quality, second hand vehicles are Gumtree, Carsales and even Facebook marketplace! But always be careful when inspecting and buying cars, taking precautions, especially if the offer is too good to be true!

Which vehicle should I buy?

When picking the type of vehicle, consider where and how you will be travelling. Will you be camping? Going off road? Other considerations are fuel economy, safety readings and accessories.

  • Car:

A car is the best option if you are planning to stay in the city for a while or just doing a few short road trips as it is the cheapest vehicle to purchase and lower on fuel consumption than other vehicles. You can find used cars for around $2,500, but it’s a good idea to spend a few more dollars as cheap cars often require some repairs, which can cost you a lot.

  • Camper Van:

If you plan to be on the road for a few months and want to save money on accommodation, a camper van is the best solution as you can sleep in it. They cost on average around $5,500. They mostly come with all necessary equipment for camping, cooking, etc. Otherwise, you can buy this stuff cheap on marketplace.

  • 4WD:

If you plan to go off road or drive on beaches (check if this is allowed), some areas, especially in the Northern Territory, require you to have a 4WD. Prices start at around $6,000. However, you can visit most places with a normal vehicle and just rent a 4WD for a few days to explore some of these specific places. This will be cheaper.

Check out this guide to find out what to check before you buy a car.

What do I do in the event of an accident?

First of all, stay calm. If possible, park on the side of the road, so that you don’t block other cars. If you are in an accident with another vehicle, walk to the vehicle and first check that no one is hurt. Call 000 if someone is hurt. You need to report the accident to the police, unless it is minor. The police will tell you what to do. You also need to contact your insurance company immediately.

Write down all details of the other driver and witnesses (names and addresses) as well as all vehicle details (plate number, brand and model), and take a lot of photos of the vehicles and damage.

We hope after reading our guide you are ready now to set off and discover all the beautiful places around Australia.

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