Even though I’m a huge public transport advocate, having taken trains all over the world, there are some countries where you really need your own wheels to get around; Australia being one of them.
Many long-term travelers to Australia opt to buy their own cars, so they can experience one of the country’s best road trips. However, if you are only in Australia for a limited amount of time, renting a car in Australia is a much cheaper, hassle-free option.
Driving vs. Public Transport in Australia
This one isn’t really a conversation we need to have – to properly see Australia, you need your own (or at least your friend’s own!) set of wheels. I’m such a fan of public transport, I’ve taken trains all over the world, but Australia is somewhere where public transport can’t be necessarily relied on.
The only place where taking the buses is ok is the East Coast, where Greyhound and Premier buses serve the main tourist spots, but if you explore the East Coast by bus you’ll miss out on so many hidden beaches, amazing camping spots and local favourites.
Train travel in Australia hasn’t really taken off; you can explore the cities and their local areas by rail, and if you have a spare few thousand dollars I’ve heard that the Indian Pacific Railway and the Ghan are both worth doing – but it’s certainly not feasible to explore the entire country by rail.
Renting vs. buying a car in Australia
I’ve both rented and bought a car in Australia, and there are very significant pros and cons to each. There are also very certain situations when a car should be rented and others when a car should be bought.
When I first arrived in Australia, I was living in Byron Bay and wasn’t sure if I wanted to purchase a car. At the time, I was enjoying not having the responsibility of any significant financial possessions, so I decided to just rent cars for short trips that I wanted to take.
I rented a car in Byron Bay and enjoyed some of the best Byron Bay day trips. This was normally split between three or four friends and we saw a lot of Northern New South Wales/ Southern Queensland during that time.
However, as I started driving around more and more, I realized that I wanted to see the whole of Australia – and the only feasible way was really for me to buy my own car. So I made the huge financial commitment of buying a car that took me around the whole country, and ended up selling it for a fraction of the price.
Do I regret it? Not at all. However, I definitely wouldn’t recommend everyone buy a car in Australia. There are plenty of pros and cons, one being that if your car ends up broken down you’ll have to sell it at a loss, whereas if you have hired a car, you’ll get a replacement. It’s allll about expenses.
The Pros of Renting a Car in Australia
There is no better way to see Australia than on a fantastic road trip through the country. While some of Australia is connected by bus, there are countless places where driving is the only realistic method of transport – and some where renting a 4WD is the only good option.
Renting a car means that you have a lot less paperwork to fill out than purchasing one, you don’t have to do endless searching to find the perfect hire car for you, and you don’t have to deal with roadworthy tests and getting your car registered (‘getting the rego’ is the bane of every car owner in Australia’s life, it’s a process and it always costs about 5x more than you think it will).
Obviously, renting a car in Australia for short holidays is a lot cheaper – meaning that for those in the country for two months or less who want to get out and see some of Austalia’s amazing nature spots – it’s a no-brainer.
The Cons of Renting a Car in Australia
There are, however, some cons of renting a car in Australia. You obviously have the responsibility of having someone else’s car under your control. (This actually happens quite often in Australia, where you can drive other people’s cars under their insurance, but is pretty intimidating nonetheless).
If anything happens to your car, you bear responsibility – unless you take out full coverage, that is, which is higly recommended when renting a car in Australia.
Also, make sure that you read the fine print! There are a lot of unsealed roads in Australia, and you’re not permitted to drive a rental car on some of them.
It’s completely possible to rent a 4WD car in Australia, but make sure you are fully aware of what you can and can’t do.
When to rent a car in Australia
- If you’re visiting Australia for under two months, car rental is definitely your best friend.
- If you’re staying in Australia longer, but only want to do limited road trips (like me in Byron Bay at the beginning), renting a car is also the way forward.
- If you don’t want to make a huge monetary commitment, and to deal with the hassle of rego, roadworthy tests and other fun and games, go for rental.
When to purchase a car in Australia
- If you’re staying in Australia for longer than three months, and are happy to set aside time at the end to sell the car (which can take a while), you might want to think about buying a car.
- If you want to do some epic off-roading, I’d recommend getting your own car. My Subaru Forester ended the Gibb River Road slightly worse for wear, and it would have cost me a lot more to fix if I was doing it through a car rental company.
Decided to go for car rental in Australia? Here’s where to rent the car
To find the most budget-friendly car rental, you’ll want to use a car rental search engine. Discover Car Hire are a great option for Australia; they search for the best rental options for you in thirty cities across the country, including all capital cities.
Using trusty providers like Hertz, Enterprise and Europcar, Discover Car Hire trawl the web to find you the best car rental for you in Australia.
You can filter depending on the size and type of car you need – if there are just two or three of you on your road trip you might opt for the smallest size to keep costs down, whereas if you are a family with lots of luggage you can search people carriers and vans.
You can also rent SUVs with Discover Car Hire. These vehicles have some off-road capacities but aren’t fully kitted out 4WDs that you’ll need for crazy off-roading in the North of Australia. However, you’ll definitely be able to do some tracks with SUVs (just make sure you know exactly where you are allowed to go with your car!).
Australia uses both manual and automatic cars – but rental cars are most likely to use automatic. If you’ve only ever driven manual, it doesn’t take long to pick up automatic and then it quickly becomes a lot easier, but do spend a little time getting used to where the pedals are!
To rent a car in Australia, you’ll need either a license in English or an international driving permit.
Driving in Australia: Crucial Tips
There are a few important things to know about driving in Australia, but on the whole it’s not a bad country to go behind the wheel in.
Which side of the road?
In Australia, people drive on the left – so the same as the UK and Ireland. Europeans and people from the US sometimes struggle with this, but I had plenty of right-driving friends who took to the left side of the road in no time.
It’s also worth noting that you can get a fine for parking on the wrong side of the road in Australia – parked cars must face the direction of traffic! A little quirky, I know, but a few of my friends got fines for this.
City driving in Australia
City driving in Australia is like city driving anywhere in the world; although driving in the centre of Sydney or Melbourne is much more chill than the centre of London! However, because there aren’t that many big cities in Australia, sometimes the driving can be slightly questionable, so do watch out for that!
Outback driving in Australia
Outback driving, however, is rather different and I’d really recommend doing some short practice runs before heading off to drive in the outback for 8 hours on your own.
It’s very easy to get fatigued and to even have hallucinations while driving in the outback, so be sure to have regular stops (I went for one an hour when I first started driving), keep hydrated, and stay alert. Don’t do an outback journey alone until you know how to drive.
When overtaking road trains, be sure that you can see very far into the distance, and overtake on the other side. Sometimes to drivers will indicate to tell you that you can go, but I would advise to never go unless you can see in front of them and be absolutely sure that there is nothing going the other way.
I actually almost got myself into a very dangerous situation when I thought the road train driver was indicating that I could go. Luckily I averted it, but accidents on outback roads are not uncommon so please do take caution when overtaking here.
4WD driving in Australia
If you’re driving on 4WD roads, you’ll need to do a bit more research – I’m definitely not a 4WD expert and won’t pretend to be, but you’ll need to remember things like the following:
- Let your tyres down if needed (I went to a tyre shop and asked for advice, and was actually advised not to let mine down due to the tyre type and weight of the car, but you may be advised differently)
- Don’t hold onto the steering wheel too tightly, let the car find the route
- Obviously don’t drive too fast
- Open your windows for creek crossings, know the depth of them first (but don’t walk across them if you’re in a crocodile area!). It’s best to see another car drive through or ask people who have drove through in the opposite direction, but this may not always be possible.
And last but not least – listen to the pros (ie. not me). Chat to someone working at the local garage, read forums (although take what people say there with a pinch of salt) and consult the fabulous Travel Outback Australia website, written by people who really know their stuff.
Because, while I did successfully drive a Subaru Forester down the Gibb River Road, it could have gone pretty awfully wrong.
Where to go in Australia with a rental car
With a rental car, Australia is your oyster. Here are just some of the fantastic road trips that you can take with a rental car in Australia…
Cairns to Brisbane – recommended time 3 weeks
This fantastic Aussie road trip will take you from tropical Cairns all the way down to Brisbane, Queensland’s capital. You’ll see rainforest, amazing beaches, get to go on boat trips, and with your car you can have the flexibility to see some of Queensland’s outback towns. Check out my East Coast Australia Road Trip itinerary for inspiration, or my Adelaide to Cairns road trip itinerary which has some ideas for outback QLD.
Brisbane to Sydney – recommended time 1 week
On this trip, you go from state capital to state capital, visiting the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and New South Wales’ world-famous surf beaches on the way. You can also head inland to check out some of the country’s best waterfalls on the Waterfall Way.
Sydney to Melbourne – recommended time 1 week
This is one of Australia’s most-loved road trips, and is perfect in the summer. It’s a great one for first time Aussie road-trippers, as there are plenty of things to do in towns like Jervis Bay and Eden, as well as restaurants and accommodation options.
The Great Ocean Road – 1-4 days
The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most famous ocean drives, and stops off at various small towns and ocean landmarks along the way. The Great Ocean Road trip can be done in a day, so is a great add-on to your Melbourne itinerary (you can rent the car in Melbourne) – or you can add on a few more days and check out the beautiful Grampians National Park and some of Victoria’s regional towns. Here’s a sample Victoria road trip itinerary.
The Nullarbor – 3 days – 1 week
Do you fancy driving along a really straight, really long road with not much else to see or do? For some reason, that compelled me while in Australia, so I drove along the Nullarbor Plain, which is located in Southern Australia, with a couple of friends.
It took us a while (we were driving the whole way from Melbourne to Perth) as we stopped at Mount Gambier, the Eyre Peninsula, and then South-Western Australia. If you’re just factoring in driving the Nullarbor, it’ll only take a few days, but there are fun things to do at each end!
Esperance to Perth – 1 week
South Western Australia is a little gem, and somewhere that I want to return too as my time there was rather rushed. The beaches are wonderful here, there are some amazing national parks like Cape Le Grand, and several magical Karri Forests. Plus there’s the charming Margaret River, and wonderful Fremantle before you reach Perth City.
Perth to Broome – 3 weeks
The West Coast of Australia is a really special place. Driving from Perth to Broome in three weeks means that you can enjoy visiting national parks like Karijini and Kalbarri, snorkel and dive in Australia’s other coral reef, and see the most epic sunsets every single night. You don’t need a 4WD to see the highlights of this road trip; although there are some extra parts that you wouldn’t be able to do with a 2WD.
Broome to Darwin via the Gibb River Road – 2 weeks
As I mentioned, I did this road trip in my Subaru Forester, which may or may not have been a terrible idea. I made it, my car made it only missing its spare tyre, but if it had gone very wrong it would have been a very expensive mistake (getting towed off the Gibb River Road is one of the pricier things you can do in Australia). Still, what’s life without a little adventure?
Nonetheless, the Gibb River Road may be my favourite place in the world. Be sure to talk to your car rental provider before venturing out on the road to check that your car is ok to take on it, and what responsibilities you have if anything goes wrong.
However, if you can do the Gibb River Road, I couldn’t recommend anything more. Here’s my Broome to Darwin drive itinerary.
Darwin to Adelaide via the Red Centre – 2 weeks
The Darwin to Adelaide road trip is another Australia highlight for me. I met many people who decided to not visit Uluru because they thought it would be too touristy and overrated, but honestly, seeing the rock in person is an experience like no other. It’s a magical place.
The Darwin to Adelaide road trip also includes Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, various outback towns, Alice Springs and the enticing town of Coober Pedy where everyone lives underground.
It’s the best road trip you can do to learn about Aboriginal culture and heritage, and camping out in the red centre is an experience like no other.
There you have it: everything you need to know about car hire in Australia. Do you have any questions? Please leave them in the comments below or reach out over on Instagram!