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Budget 4WD Travel

Updated on September 18, 2008
A less than A$10,000 setup
A less than A$10,000 setup
A 1985 Toyota Landcruiser will take you anywhere
A 1985 Toyota Landcruiser will take you anywhere

How to travel off-road for less

When planning our recent trip around Australia I struggled to find information on cheap but safe off-road or 4x4 travel. Certainly there was lots and lots of information on expensive caravans, off-road trailers and lovely new Toyota Landcruisers - but a) we didn't have the amount of cash and b) if I did have a spare $100,000 I'd have better uses for it than investing it in equipment which was going to get very dirty and dusty!

I was surprised by the lack of information on cheap 4WD travel compared to say backpacking or flashpacking around the world - there is so much of that stuff out there I had just assumed that I would be able to find similar information for 4x4 adventures but no. So I guess I am just going to have to write my own "how to" guide!

Do I want a 4WD or a 2WD ?

As we travelled we met a few overseas travellers, usually younger backpackers in panel vans or station wagons (estate cars to the Poms) or families in vans. Very few seemed to make the step to a 4WD. I think in most countries in the West 4WD's are viewed as status symbols usually driven between the shopping mall and the school. Most 4WD's in these countries rarely go off sealed road and never off-road. Australia is a little different, although some city based 4WD's certainly don't get off road, in the country or the bush, they most certainly do.

Even the sealed roads can be subject to flooding and once it rains the dust turns into mud which will close the road to any but a decent clearance 4WD. True if your itineary only includes Kakadu, Ayers Rock (Uluru), and Sydney Harbour Bridget you don't need a 4WD. If however you want to drive to the top of Cape York, into the heart of the Kimberleys, or even the short cut from Ayers Rock to the Western Macdonald Ranges - you need a real 4WD.

So should I hire a 4WD?

Should you hire or should you buy? Some companies will hire you not only a 4WD but a 4WD camper - which is a vehicle which has been modified to include a kitchen a sink and a bed - or possibly a roof top tent. There are a couple of downsides with hiring - the first is the cost - up to A$200/day can be a downer, but the less obvious problem is that some vehicles are restricted as to where they can go - if you have an accident in a remote location its possible that the insurance won't cover you. Towing fees of several thousand dollars are really easy to acquire if you have an accident a few hundred or thousand kilometers from a garage.

The rule of thumb appears to be that if you are planning on a trip longer than a month or 6 weeks it might be worth buying - but remember that your total cost of buying will never be known until you sell the vehicle at the end - including any maintenance and repair costs. Also remember to factor in some time at the end of the trip to sell the vehicle.

Advantages of hiring:

  • certainity of costs
  • no down time at the end of the trip on selling or during the trip when undertaking servicing or repairs
  • can fly between remote locations if you want to see several regions but don't have the time drive between them

Disadvantages of hiring:

  • the cost
  • limits to where you can take the vehicle - check the insurance details

Should I buy a 4WD?

To buy a 4WD seems a bit scary, if like us you have never bought one before and avoid buying cars as often as possible. In fact, as is usually the case the internet provides a useful source of information regarding the types of vehicle and watching sites such as EBay Australia will give you an idea on the going pricing for vehicles. The buying process is relatively straightforward but be warned that you will need to pay sales tax (amount varies by state) and you might need to think about what you can use as a local address: local hostels will often let you use their's.

Advantages of buying:

  • it should work out cheaper particularly if you are staying for months
  • you can take it anywhere you dare
  • you can customise the vehicle if you want to

  • if you decide to stay longer for example if you are allowed towork, it will cost you little more to keep the vehcile

Disadvantages of hiring:

  • paperwork and hassel and time required for buying and selling
  • you dont know what it will cost you terms of maintenance and repairs and loss on sale
  • additional costs involved with registration and insuring the vehicle. Even if you don't insure the vehicle you should insure for third party loss

Click here if you are interested in buying a cheap 4WD in Australia


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    • locaj profile image

      Loca Orr 2 years ago from Tyler

      Very informative.

    • Apepperson profile image

      Apepperson 8 years ago from Texas

      I love off roading here in the U.S. It's cool to see that it doens't change much no matter where you're at in the World!