Buying a car to drive round Australia (ish), any recommendations please?
April 22, 2009 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Buying a car to drive round Australia (ish), any recommendations please?

I'm making the big trip up the coast from Sydney to Brisbane in August and I want to get a decent car that's not going to die.

I'd like to get a Saab but I'm scared that rural garages won't be able to fix it if it all goes wrong?

I have been told it's a good idea to get a Japanese car as they are reliable, but I think I would rather have somethign built like a tank in case there are rogue kangaroos / drunk children driving on the road.

Any help would be great.
posted by debord to Travel & Transportation around Australia (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have been told it's a good idea to get a Japanese car as they are reliable, but I think I would rather have somethign built like a tank in case there are rogue kangaroos / drunk children driving on the road.

Combine these and you end up with a Toyota Hi-lux, which are near indestructable, and should be easy to get parts for. Not the most comfortable of vehicles though.
posted by pompomtom at 5:17 PM on April 22, 2009

A few bits of necessary information to consider: How many other people on the trip? How light or heavy will you be travelling? Are you just going to whip up the Pacific Highway or are you making coast-and-inland side-trips and taking your time?

If it's just one or two people, you can't go past a used hatchback/liftback Corolla. They're as reliable as you're ever going to get, parts are plentiful, they're not bad at highway speeds, not too thirsty and you can pile amazing amounts of stuff in the back with the seats folded. I've driven a few Corollas and they're like miniature, more-comfortable utes.

There oughtn't to be too many roos between Sydney and Brisbane, by the way, especially if you stay off the road at dawn and twilight. If you hit a decent sized one at speed it'll make a mess of any car, Japanese or otherwise, so don't make wildlife too much of a factor in your decision.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:27 PM on April 22, 2009

The most common cars on the Australian road are probably any model of Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon, followed maybe by the Toyota Camry. I don't see too many Saabs about the place. But then, Sydney to Brisbane is practically walking distance and it's a stretch of country with a very high population density so, honestly, just about anything you like will get you there.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:32 PM on April 22, 2009

Yeah, what Turgid Dahlia says is true. There's not a lot of genuinely rural country on the coast road so you should be fine with whatever you want to drive. August might be a great time of year for a convertible of some sort?

Buying roadside assistance sounds like it might set your mind at rest about mechanical problems.

Also, there aren't going to be many drunk children driving, at least not until you get to the Queensland border. After that, it's wasted kids behind the wheel as far as the eye can see.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:45 PM on April 22, 2009

But then, Sydney to Brisbane is practically walking distance

It's true. I'm going to take my little hatchback from Melb to Bris in a couple of months. She'll be right...
posted by pompomtom at 5:47 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry---ignore that part of my comment. August is a terrible time of year for convertibles.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:48 PM on April 22, 2009

Response by poster: Great stuff. Thanks.
That Hi-Lux looks like a monster, but I don't know if I could live with myself if I bought a 4x4 style thing!
posted by debord at 5:58 PM on April 22, 2009

Also, there aren't going to be many drunk children driving, at least not until you get to the Queensland border.

You haven't been to Nimbin then?
posted by pompomtom at 5:59 PM on April 22, 2009

You haven't been to Nimbin then?

Not that I recall. But then, I wouldn't, would I?

To add to this discussion, I'd definitely recommend a left turn at Coffs Harbour and a drive through New England, stopping at Armidale and Glen Innes before you get to Queensland. Lovely country.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:03 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

My friend had a Peugeot. His battery went flat and the battery was locked into some sort of box that required a specially shaped tool to get it open. So after calling roadside assistance, he had to be towed, rather than jumpstarted (in the middle of Melbourne). Not a Saab, but that is the sort of issue you might have with something less common.

Do you have a budget for this car?

Definitely get roadside assist.
posted by AnnaRat at 6:27 PM on April 22, 2009

I've taken small and almost sketchy cars on that route. You're never too far from civilisation, particularly if you stick to the pacific hwy. Added benefit of that is that you get to drive past all the 'big things'
posted by kaydo at 9:49 PM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nth-ing the fact that the coast road is hardly 'going bush' - it's probably the 2nd-most-travelled highway in Aus, you're never too far from some sort of civilisation that can fix cars, and almost anything you could buy with a real roadworthy cert will make it no worries.

If it were me, I'd spend $2000~$3000 on a older Holden or Ford. And I'd turn left north of Newcastle, head inland through Maitland etc, and up the New England. If I was feeling adventurous, I'd then either go on to Moree and Goondiwindi before heading back to east to Brisbane, or take the New England up through Tamworth & Tenterfield before taking the Mt Lindsay Hwy back through the range and coming out at Beaudesert, south of Brisbane. If I were less adventurous I'd still go through Tenterfield, but continue up the New England to Warwick before heading back to Brisbane. The coast road is nothing special (though I have a soft spot for the Myall Lakes & Buladelah), but there's a wide range of beautiful country along those inland highways.
posted by Pinback at 11:02 PM on April 22, 2009

Seconding Pinback, but if you head for Goondiwindi you're going to meet many many roos.

Also, seriously, if you stay coastal it is nothing special (you're always a fair way from the water), BUT you can see the big prawn in ballina, the big oyster in taree (now a car yard), the big banana in coffs, and probably something other huge that I'm forgetting.

Now that's a road trip

(also, if you wander just a bit further north, you can see the Big Pineapple / Big Macadamia in Nambour, which are the best of all big things)
posted by kaydo at 11:15 PM on April 22, 2009

There's a Big Guitar in Tamworth.

Ballina is one place you definitely want to drive through around twilight. As you drive in, you see the Big Prawn on the skyline (as in kaydo's picture) but in each eye, there's a great big glowing red lamp, as if it were possessed by the anti-Christ of prawns. Satan's crustacean.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:32 PM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

My former girlfriend and I spent 1995 driving all the way around Australia. We did it in a clapped-out $2000 Volkswagen Kombi (not the pop-top version, just the standard roof one).

Actually we'd left Melbourne hitching with backpacks, but by the time we got to Adelaide it had become obvious that we wouldn't get where we wanted to go without our own car. So we bought Rufus the Wonky Bus from a dodgy dealer in Adelaide.

We didn't actually get him checked out mechanically until after doing a couple of weeks touring the Coorong and the Flinders Ranges, during which I exercised my carpentry skills and made his back end into a bedroom. Lots of corrugated road around the Flinders Ranges. Got back to Adelaide, booked him into a mechanic (not the original dealer) and found out that he had only one engine mounting bolt in place.

Every time we bought fuel, we put the same amount we'd just spent on fuel into an old coffee tin under the bed. That funded all necessary repairs and maintenance except for the time the oil filler cap got left off before we drove the Gibb River Road and the motor vacuumed it entirely clean of bulldust. Spent about $800 getting all his rings replaced in Darwin. Chose not to replace the crankshaft bearings and seals. Poor choice.

By the time we got back to Melbourne at year's end, Rufus was drinking almost as much oil as fuel. We gave him away to a friend. Oddly enough, given the amount he ended up costing the friend, we're still on speaking terms :-)

Rufus was good because anybody can fix a tall 1600 VW motor, because he had lots of ground clearance allowing us to drive him to some places that only 4WDs really ought to go, because he didn't use vast amounts of fuel as long as we kept our speed at 80km/h or less, because with a queen size futon occupying his nether regions he was very comfortable to sleep in, and because Kombi drivers are bound by Federal law to wave cheerfully at each other as they pass.

Being aircooled, he didn't like the heat much, though.

Still, if I was going to do the same trip again, I'd probably try to find another old Kombi to do it in. Either that or a pushbike.
posted by flabdablet at 11:41 PM on April 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

Speaking as a Saab lover and prior owner, and as a regular traveller on the Sydney-Bris route (a mere blink of an eye if direct). do not buy a Saab. They hate the heat for starters, are usually f&*k^d if they are for sale and are exxy in time and dollars to fix in both rural and city Aus.

Buy a Toyota Corolla/Corona or Camray for under $3k. Better still, catch the bus and spend your saved money on other great adventures.
posted by Kerasia at 1:51 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bless! That's not really rural. It's the main road! I've done the other end of that highway, from Brisbane up to Cairns and Cooktown, and back, a couple of times in a Toyota Echo hatchback and I was fine. The road trains thundering along at 140 and grey nomads puttering around the country with their caravans at 20km less than the speed limit, whatever it might be, are more likely to give you grief than kangaroos or drunk teens. Both of those come out mostly at night, btw.
posted by t0astie at 2:30 AM on April 23, 2009

N-thing "completely not rural". We live about halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, and have made the trip many times each way.

Now, if you were perhaps planning to keep going, and circumnavigate the country, well ... then that's a different kettle of fish. But for Sydney-Brisbane? Get whatever's cheap and reliable, a mid-90's toyota anything.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 4:08 AM on April 23, 2009

Syd-Bris is an overnight trip for a lot of people. Stick the kids in the car at 9pm, and they wake up at Surfer's Paradise. It is really quite built up so you rarely get stretches without sizable towns.
If you are on a tight budget, there are backpackers selling cheap cars in a parking garage in Kings Cross. They are often desperate to sell, as they need to get on a flight "tonight" and they would rather sell to you than a used car dealer.
Of course, these cars are bombs, but likely will make it where you are going.
Also consider there is a not unpleasant train (although sometimes unreliable), buses and dirt cheap air fares. It will cost more to transfer the registration of any car to your name than the air fare!
Also, there are a couple of web sites that do cheap return leg deals on modern RVs and normal cars. If you want to do the trip in two or three days and can be flexible, they will give you the car for free. See here. Note I can't endorse them, just interested in the offer.
posted by bystander at 4:24 AM on April 23, 2009

1972 Holden Kingswood. Built like a tank. Parts available for next to nothing. Worked for me ;)
posted by gergtreble at 8:42 AM on April 23, 2009

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