No matter where you hail from, you'll realise that Australia is a vast country, and everything is very, very widely spread out.
No doubt Victoria has a good public transportation system that will satisfy your needs if you're staying in the city, you can't deny the fact that driving is still one of the most convenient way to get around a colossal like Australia.
For those of you considering to buy a car, we have a few starter tips if you have never bought one before, let alone buying in a foreign country.
Will you be able to drive? First things first, you need to make sure that you're legally allowed to drive: time to get a license.
Getting a driver's license for Victoria
If you have a full license in your home country, you are allowed to use that license for as long as your student visa lasts.
For licences in foreign language, be sure to keep a certified and translated version, and your passport on you at all times for your overseas licence to be valid.
If you have a probational licence — depending on the type — you are required to take a Victorian driver’s test and transition to a local Victoria license. Normally you will be allowed to drive for 6 months on your overseas probational licence but do check with Vicroads before you can be sure.
For those of you who have never driven but would like to start, then you’ll need to go through the Victoria licensing system, which starts from L-plate for learners, then P-1, finally P-2 before you can progress to a full licence.
For over-21s, you might be able to directly apply for a full license test. The test consists of 3 written tests and a driving test.
Should I buy a new car?
New or used — that's the age old question for every newbie driver. Of course, new cars are generally more expensive, but it will ensure that there are no hidden problems and maintenance costs, and you'll get full warranty and services right of the bat.
Hidden costs can sometimes be extremely high if you are unlucky and run into what is called “lemons”. A lemon is a substandard car that just keeps having problem after problem, and no amount of repairs seem to make the car function properly. Luckily, we're protected by lemon laws that apply to both new and used cars! Even so, buying a new car will eliminate that risk factor.
Also, when you want to resell the car, it will maintain a better resale value compared to a pre-owned vehicle. If you are willing to spend a bit of cash for a hassle-free driving life, then a new car might be the best option for you.
Now, when you decide to go for a new car, first thing you need to understand is that it's a very lucrative and competitive market. Unlike many other things in this country, buying a car is where you can actually save if you know the market well. Besides specific delearship sites (when you know which brand you want), check out Carsales, and Redbook to obtain accurate market value.
What about buying a used car?
Now used cars obviously will give you a cheaper price for the same model you are after, but the trick is picking a good quality, well maintained, and major accident-free vehicle.
Same bargaining mechanics apply as when buying a new car, but this time you will have more wiggle room. As most sellers are more flexible with prices depending on the market, make sure you wait a while and see how the market prices fluctuate before you call the seller up for a test drive. A few good guidance include the Kelley Blue Book and Carsales.
Remember to take all factors into consideration including the milage on the car, condition, availability of full service reports, and check against the Vicroads public system if it’s been written off and if it’s under finance. It is almost always better price-wise to buy from a private seller than a used car dealer, as the dealer will have a higher profit margin, but if you really have no clue how to tell if it’s a good condition used car, then a dealer might be the best for you.
Inspections, negotiating price, and finally buying the car you want
When settling on a price of the car, don't be afraid to negotiate. Tell the salesperson and sales manager that you'll sign the paperwork the minute they hit your target figure.
Politely decline any counter-offers, give them your phone number, and leave. If the price you've proposed is within the realm of possibility, they'll call you at some point.
When you go for the inspection, you can check the basics on your own, such as the speedometer, the wear condition of the brake pads, the tyre and wheels, scratches, dents, etc. It is also important to check under the hood and see if any screws and bolts have been unscrewed - you can sometimes spot certain unscrewed bolts where the paint job is inconsistent. When this happens try to be very alert, because the engine bay will not be taken apart unless the car has been in a major accident and requires repair.
For a few hundred dollars, you can even hire a mechanic or a shop to do the checking. In this regard, they will give a thorough inspection including cylinder pressure and ECU error codes checks. Personally, it's worth the investment, especially when one is buying a high maintenance cost car like a BMW.
When you do the deal, make sure you ask for road worthy certificate, which as the name suggests, states that the car is capable of driving safely. Other necessary documents include a proof of sale with the car details, VIN number and agreed price. Make sure the seller signs all sections of the title transfer agreement, which is available from Vicroads, either in person or online for free of charge. Make sure you have all the spare keys, users manual, and in most cars, the spare tyre and emergency repair kit. Lastly, also check the remaining registration period, it is normally a $700-$800 fee annually.
Okay, I bought the car. Now what?
Now that you have the car, don’t get too excited just yet. We have just a few pointers left. Unlike in the US, insurance is not required in Australia. It is however, still highly recommended.
Use comparethemarket.com.au to obtain the best value.
Furthermore, traffic offences and fines are very hefty in Australia, a simple over-time parking fine will easily exceed $140, so make sure you understand all traffic rules and laws. There is also a demerit point system in place; for instance, over-21s are allowed 12 demerit points in 3 years.
Now explore the country on wheels and be safe out there on the road! Don’t ever drink and drive, and don’t ever text and drive!