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Cars and Motoring

With big distances to cover, lots of “suburban sprawl” and often very little reliable public transport, for many people it is necessary to own a car in Australia. Licensing, vehicle registration, insurance and the rules of the road are all determined by the various State and Territory authorities. Check out this article for more information to keep you safe on the road and on the right side of the law. Oh, and don’t forget Australians drive on the left.

Driving Licences

You need a driving licence to drive on the road in Australia. All States and Territories have different rules, administered by the respective State Governments. To find out the rules about who can and can’t drive in Australia, and how to obtain an Australian drivers licence, check out the rules in the state where you plan to live on the list of authorities controlling driving licences. You can also look on the Australian Government’s registrations and licences website. What kind of vehicle you can drive is also restricted by what kind of licence you hold.

As a general guide, you can get your licence in Australia and drive on probation from 17 years old. This involves taking both written and practical tests, organised through the departments named in the list above. If you already have a driver’s licence in your home country, most State and Territory governments will let you drive for the first three months after your arrival, if you are a permanent resident visa holder (the licence will need to be current and either in English or with an official translation). However, if you are moving to Western Australia, please note the three-month period begins when you are granted your permanent residency visa, rather than when you arrive in Australia.

Importing a Car

Importing a car to Australia is probably not the cheapest or easiest way of getting a set of wheels. First you’ll need to obtain a Vehicle Import Approval from the Federal Government. Then you’ll be charged tax on the value of the vehicle. Then you will have to clear customs, including an inspection to ensure the vehicle meets National Standards. The Australian Customs and Border Protection website has a full explanation of process, including all the forms you’ll need.

Buying a Car

There is no shortage of car yards where you can buy a new or used car in Australia. Most makes and models of major Asian and European and some American cars are available. You’ll certainly find Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, Peugeot and Ford. Then, of course, there is Holden – a great Australia brand name that is now owned by General Motors. If you’re from Britain you’ll notice several Holden models that are simply rebadged Vauxhalls.

It is also possible to buy a car second-hand, from a private seller. This is often a good place to look for a cheap vehicle but you have to be careful because there’s very little protection if you buy “a lemon”. You can look at car “for sale” advertisements in most daily newspapers or online, perhaps at a website like

To ensure you don’t buy “a lemon”, or get ripped-off, many of the state-based automobile associations offer a pre-purchase inspection service. These do cost, but could save you a lot of money in the long run. You can find more information, including links to separate state organisations, on the Australian Automobile Association website.

Running a Car

Of course the cost of a car doesn’t end when you hand over the cheque at the car yard. That’s just the beginning. Apart from the obvious – being oil and petrol and general maintenance, like trips to the garage for a service or new tyres – there are also a few bills you will get occasionally. Unlike the UK, there is no regular MOT inspection Australia.


In each State or Territory it is necessary to pay for the registration of your vehicle. That is, the vehicle itself has to be licenced to be on the road. This is likely to come either annually or every six months and will be several hundred dollars depending on the type of vehicle, what it is used for (business or personal use) and your jurisdiction. For a state-by-state look at registration fees and structures, check out the list on the Australian Government’s registrations and licences website.

Car Insurance

Insuring for damage and theft of a vehicle is an owner’s responsibility. How much that will cost will depend on your age, your driving history, your driving experience, you claim history, which company you’re insured with and any number of other factors. It’s best to shop around.

However, if you injure a person on the road, that is quite different. In South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia third party personal insurance is included either in your vehicle registration or your driver’s licence fee. These cover personal injury liability.

Young and Learner Drivers

In most states it is possible to get your learner’s permit aged either 15 years and nine month, or 16 years. Drivers are then on probation for a year or two before they get their full licence. There is a good run-down of the rules and restrictions in various states on Wikipedia’s Driver’s Licence in Australia page.

Speed Limits

Speed limits in Australia are controlled by State and Territory Governments, although there is usually input from the local authority, or council, about the specific speeds allowed on each road. The rules differ from state to state but the general upper limit on the open road is 100km’h (or 110km/h in Western Australia and the Northern Territory). In residential areas the speed limit is likely to be 50km/h or 60km/h and most states have slow zones outside schools during certain hours of the day, during school term.

Police and Fines

Each State has its own traffic laws and these are enforced by the local State police service. Police have the power to pull you over on the side of the road, check your vehicle for roadworthiness, check your sobriety, issue warnings, give you an infringement and arrest you.

Throughout Australia there are a variety of speed cameras to make sure motorists are sticking to the limit. These might be set-up on the side of the road where you least expect it, they might be a permanent fixture on a given road, they might be hand-held by an authorised officer, they could be within a police vehicle or they could even be on a plane flying overhead (they do this on country roads).

The Australian Automobile Association has a list of road rules in Australia by State to help you stay on the correct side of the law.

Visit our Life in Australia section for more articles related to Daily Life in Australia.

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