Finding and Buying a Van in Australia
On 31st May 2017 we fastened our seatbelts ready for take off. We were on board Qantas flight QF1 from London Heathrow to Sydney. Amazingly, we were one of the lucky winners of Heathrow’s 70th Birthday short story competition. Soon we be finding and buying a van in Australia to travel across this incredible continent.
The prize included a fabulous 5 night stay at the ParkRoyal Hotel, Darling Harbour. Although afterwards, we were on our own!
We were ready to set out on an incredible road trip across Australia, having extended our return flights by 6 months.
Thinking it more economical to buy an old van, this is what we did. First, we had to find a van before doing a quick van conversion into a basic campervan from Ikea products!
However, it wasn’t quite to go to plan. Soon we realised that sourcing that perfect vehicle was not an easy task. Finding and buying a van in Australia was to be the most difficult part of the journey!
Sourcing a Van – Finding and Buying a Van in Australia
This is where the hard work really began. Without a vehicle to drive whilst searching for a van, we initially relied on walking and public transport. These both proved time consuming in a large city, venturing across various districts of Sydney was difficult.
We’d been told about a one-stop, used car market for the backpacker folk. This was located in a multi-storey car park in the Kings Cross area of Sydney, known as Sydney Travellers Car Market.
Finding and Buying a Van in Australia – Sydney Car Market
On arrival, the place seemed deserted, consisting of an empty car park with a small office area. Dutifully manned by a German traveller named Eric, he informed us of a shortage of stock.
However, Eric happily offered to drive us towards Botany Bay, where a campervan sales business was located. Best of all, he was willing to help the search.
Jumping into his workhorse of a car, Eric explained how the social media groups were now selling various private vans, cars and campervans.
This had begun to take its toll on the previously thriving Car Market. At one time, the backpacker vehicles were known to change hands in quick succession, all in an undercover section of a multi-storey car park.
Happily chatting to Eric along the way, we learned he was soon venturing off on his own road trip across Australia. He’d bought his own backpacker van, which is quite normal in this busy backpacker community.
Pulling in at a busy industrial estate at Botany Bay, on the airport side of Sydney, we passed the big boy sites of Maui and Britz. Surprisingly, these were full to overflowing with rental campers of all shapes and sizes.
We then arrived at the campervan rental and sales depot of Travellers Autobarn
Soon, this was to become the best find for us, in the sequence of events that followed.
Finding and Buying a Van in Australia – Searching High and Low
First though, the small selection of ex-hire campervans for sale didn’t tick any boxes for us. Mainly because they were old, dirty and spray painted with graffiti. There was nothing to get excited about, so we instead made our excuses to leave.
Luckily, obliging Eric drove us back to the car market, saying our farewells and wishing him well on his ventures.
Next, some private adverts took our fancy. Followed by hastily arranged viewings across Sydney. Amongst the sellers was Mike from Boston. He was at the end of his road trip across Australia. Unfortunately for him, the tired looking Toyota van was not for us.
Viewing Private Adverts – Finding and Buying a Van in Australia
Quickly dashing back across the other end of the city by train, we met with a young Slovakian couple. By now the heavens had opened, unleashing a torrent of torrential rain upon us. There was nowhere else to shelter other than the back of their cramped Toyota self-build campervan.
The desperate Europeans tried their best to sell the good points of the van to us. This mainly seemed like the metal fruit bowl – used for washing in the morning! Yes that’s washing in, not washing up in!
We soon learnt that so many youngsters do this type of trip. They buy a van, or a campervan, possibly a basic self-build, but then fail to sell it in time before their return flight home. This then leaves them no option but to move it on, often at a rock bottom price to a dealer.
Winter in Sydney is difficult for Selling
Winter in Sydney has fewer vans on offer and far fewer buyers. Meaning even more anxious sellers who are all trying to get rid of their vans for the best price.
We were told that the Summer months are a different story, with role reversals in the fortunes of sellers compared to buyers. It’s totally different market, where even the worst choice vans are snapped up!
Searching Campervan dealers
Changing tactic, having given unwelcome news to the now soaking wet sellers. We decided to source Campervan dealers, rather than any more private ads.
Next on our list was Sean at Travellers Wheels, who agreed to pick us up from Central Station. Soon we were viewing his selection of used ex-rental Toyota campervans and cars.
Having high hopes here, with online pictures looking perfectly presentable, some with heavier price tags of up to $20,000. We thought we’d be falling head over heels for a shiny ex-hire model!
An industrial unit full of campervans greeted us, unfortunately, the wheels of Travellers Wheels didn’t appeal to us!
As much as we hoped for some good campervans, we just became more frustrated at the lack of perfection available. Were we just being too fussy?
Tackling the Garage Forecourts
Fed up with strange mould smells, worn out fitments and more stains and sticky patches than a Wetherspoons table top. We’d just had enough. So after a week of searching, the decision was made to visit some garage forecourts in search for an empty van.
With our legs giving up the will to walk, it was time to invest in a taxi to drive us over to Parramatta Road. This busy stretch of Sydney suburbia is home to miles of car dealerships, rental outlets and home stores.
Endless searching proved unsuccessful. The vans were not cheap and certainly not particularly clean looking. Worse still, most had a really high mileage.
Buying Was A Costly Mistake
Just as we were about to give up hope of ever finding a van to suit, we stumbled upon what we thought was a perfect find for us. A 2002 Toyota Hi-Ace van at a dealer.
Proving super clean and tidy, despite a mileage of 360,00KM it looked ideal. With a price tag of $6600 and dealer warranty, we’d soon have it converted to a cosy camper!
Shaking hands on a deal after a quick test drive, we paid our deposit and agreed to collect it the next morning.
Before long we were heading back to the city centre to buy an Australian Sim card from the Telstra store. Followed by the online purchase of Third Party Fire & Theft insurance from Coles supermarket.
Driving off in our New Van
Happily driving off the next morning with the balance paid and forms filled out, we felt quite pleased with ourselves. Having the handover done, we took the keys for our soon to be converted Toyota van.
A quick diversion with all our dealer paperwork, took us to register the van at the local RMS office. Here, the very helpful staff guided us through the process.
Registering the van
Our accommodation address as well as a PO Box address that we’d already set up, was needed for the registration.
In addition, a fee of $30 per $1000 on the purchase price of the vehicle had to be paid. We were also needing 2 forms of identification, both showing the full name of the new owner.
However, a UK driving licence wasn’t permitted as identification, which then resulted in a bit of a panic moment.
Fortunately, after being told to log on to our online banking account for a bank statement, we got it sorted. The RMS accepted a print out of our details, so this was used as recognition of our full name.
A straight forward process
The whole process was pretty straightforward. Unlike the DVLA thankfully, the New South Wales Registration document from the RMS office was instantly printed out.
We couldn’t believe it when the new vehicle registration document was given to us straight away. A PO Box was needed for any fines to be sent to.
Without further delay, it was off to Bunnings DIY store for supplies, ready to begin the build of the van into a basic Campervan.
First we needed tools to do the job. Including: a saw; screw driver; a hammer and all the basics that we’d usually have in a tool box back at home. Without the luxury of a workshop – the hotel car park soon doubled up as our work area!
As I relaxed in the hotel pool, Nigel got to work on the conversion.
First he lined the walls with foil insulation, then applied MDF boarding to the floors. IKEA tables were used to form the bed base and a rattan screen finished off the rustic look to the walls and floor. A really handy IKEA rolling mattress, fitted neatly across the newly formed bed base.
Thank goodness for IKEA
IKEA provided brilliant finishing touches at reasonable prices. A bed throw threaded through curtain wire for curtains. Bright fabric storage pouches and loose colourful rugs for the floor co-ordinated with storage containers for clothes, fitting neatly under the bed.
We also bought a portable camping stove and water containers, along with a gas bottle. These stored easily, in the newly formed rear kitchen section, which was accessible from the rear tailgate door.
Before we knew it, after a few days hard work, the van was transformed. Except, that is, for one small problem!
An ageing smell filled the air
We’d overlooked the fact, that most ageing vehicles in Australia come with emissions to match!
Despite the 2002 year of manufacture, smells coming from the otherwise perfect van, reminded us of days spent travelling in the back of my parents old Morris Minors from the early 70’s!
The van had little in the way of a catalytic convertor, bringing strong fumes from a forgotten age heading our way.
None the less we persevered. Paying for an extra service to be carried out and investing in new tyres, amongst other repairs. Before we knew it we’d paid $1500 on repairs.
Hoping this would ensure our travels ran smoothly, as we drove off into the sunset, we were disappointed when things didn’t improve.
As much as we tried, we couldn’t adapt to the van.
I’d been sceptical about not being able to stand up inside it and yes, we are of an ageing time in our lives! Also, the idea of cooking outside for 6 months, was slightly disconcerting in the early, dark cool nights of Winter.
There’s only one thing to do when you make a mistake…..fix it and move on!!
The more we thought about it and tried to get along, the more we drifted apart. That’s the van I’m talking about, not the two of us! After all our efforts, we took the big decision to carry on without our purchase. Instead, choosing to source a rental camper for our big adventure across this vast continent.
We visited the main rental dealers, of Apollo, Britz and Maui. With few vans available and horrendously expensive prices, for the length of time we needed, all were very quickly dismissed.
Remembering our visit with Eric at Travellers Autobarn, we returned to their depot. Enquiring what they could offer us to rent for such a long period of time and at a reasonable price.
Luck was on our side
Luck was on our side. Thankfully, parked up in the storage yard was the van that was to become our home and travelling buddy. Taking us across the amazing landscapes of Australia for duration of our trip.
There was a choice of just 2 campervans available. As we checked inside the nearest van, we were overjoyed. It was clean, tidy, smell-free, bright and cheerful. Better still, it had just enough room to house the two of us.
The Kuga 2-3 Berth Toyota Hi-Top Hi-Ace camper, would do us just fine.
A Quotation was printed off, luckily with low season discount and a last minute, long term rental rate offered. The price of $53 per day, inclusive of added protection bond was ideal. Better still, we could pick it up the next day and we’d be ready to go.
What about our own van
That was except for just one problem – our own van!
Although we couldn’t park it in the yard at Travellers Autobarn, thankfully, we could park it on the road outside. It was insured and with the New South Wales Rego, it would be fine to leave parked up until our return.
Finally, we were ready to begin our trip, both happy and relieved and ready for action!
We took possession of our Travellers Autobarn rental camper on the 16th June 2017. It was the best outcome, in what had been a pretty stressful couple of weeks. From that moment on we never looked back.
A Trip to Remember Forever
We went on to cover an incredible 23,208KM. Covering vast expanses of Australia, with experiences that overwhelmed us. Seeing, feeling and being part of the most incredible journey, both physically and mentally, it was liberating.
We learnt so much from the rawness of it all. The delights of meeting the most interesting individuals and seeing first hand, the glories of nature, witnessing the most amazing wildlife imaginable.
Australia superseded all our previous expectations. It instilled in us a desire and ambition for more adventure based travel, across the globe. The need to visit new shores that we’ve yet to explore.
Our own van was left safely parked up on the road outside the depot, where it stayed until our return in the November. It just needed a quick wash at the local car wash, before selling it on, just a couple of days after our return to Sydney.
We realised that at our age, we were too fussy – probably used to the finer things in life. It was too much to adjust to the little basic van that we thought would work when we bought it.
How Life Has Changed Because Of This Trip
So all’s well that ends well and as I write this today, we wouldn’t change a thing. Life is all about learning and progress, as well as adapting and adjusting.
The way we challenge ourselves in various circumstances can be a positive thing. Above all, it’s about being better people ourselves and providing an inner encouragement to each other. Enhancing our experiences of life and of those that we meet along the way.
It’s only afterwards that we look back and realise those little hiccups were there to test our resilience and make us grow stronger, happier and more ambitious for the next new challenge ahead!
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