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Buying a car interstate: Costs, insurance and other factors to consider

People driving, laughing and smiling after buying a new car interstate.

Buying a car, whether it’s your first set of not-so-slick wheels or a shiny new upgrade, can be a big emotional and financial commitment. When scouting around for your ideal ride, you might first look at car yards and independent sales within your immediate vicinity.

But for some people, the option of buying a car from another state or territory may come into play. This could be for a number of reasons – perhaps you’re set on a rare vintage model, or have found your dream car at an affordable price across state lines.

If you are considering buying a car interstate, you’ve probably got questions about the practicalities of inspections, transportation and car insurance. So, let’s address them in one fell swoop.

Can I buy a car from another state in Australia?

Yes, you can buy a car from a state or territory which you don’t live in. Be aware this may be more complicated than purchasing a vehicle locally, as checking the car out and getting it home can be difficult and costly to do remotely. Changing registration to your name and state could also come with a few extra steps.

Interstate car inspections and background checks

You should always check out a car before you swap keys for cash, even if you are buying it new or from a dealer. Doing this remotely might take more effort than showing up (perhaps with a mechanic or a car-wise mate) and having a geez, but it’s not impossible.

For a few hundred dollars (usually $200-$400, depending on what level of service you’re after) you can have your soon-to-be car inspected by professionals. They’ll look for things like mechanic and engine faults, issues with the air conditioning, tyres, suspension and general wear and tear, and can road-test the vehicle. 

There are independent companies which offer this service, but the major road and insurance authorities relevant to each state are a good benchmark for price and inclusions. In each state and territory these organisations are:

If you’re planning a roadtrip with a copilot to retrieve and drive the car back, you can still do this yourself  – just keep potential border closures in mind in light of COVID-19.

Beyond the physical state of the car, you’ll want to check its background, particularly if you’re buying a used vehicle from a private seller. Using the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), you can check if it’s been written-off or suffered previous damage, has been reported stolen, still has money owing on it, if it’s passed roadworthiness tests, and how accurate the odometer reading is.

Confirming this information can give you better insight into the quality of the vehicle and help you avoid getting tangled up in a crime or debt-related issue. You can use the VIN to search for this information via the government’s Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) for a $2 fee online ($7 assisted over the phone), or through private organisations.

How to get a car home after buying it interstate

While you might be able to enlist the help of friends and family, the two main options for getting your interstate-purchased car home are driving or shipping. Both come with costs that naturally increase the further the car needs to travel. 

If you or a friend drive it from the seller's address, you’ll need to factor in petrol and accommodation (as well as your valuable time). Alternatively, there are plenty of private companies dedicated to shipping cars interstate. Fees will vary depending on the seller and distance, so be sure to get quotes and compare your options.

In both cases, make sure you take into account any COVID-related travel restrictions which could delay the process or cost your more cash.

Where do I register my new car?

In all states and territories, you need to register your car at the residential address where the vehicle is most commonly garaged or parked. So, interstate buyers looking to drive their new car home have a few things to consider.

The old owner won’t be able to transfer you their state registration unless you also have a registered address there. Typically, most owners will simply cancel any remaining rego once they sell you the car. 

In this scenario, buyers who are planning to drive their new ride home can apply for an unregistered vehicle permit. This allows you, for a limited time, to drive the unregistered vehicle (with CTP insurance) from one place to another so long as it’s been deemed roadworthy.

In some cases you and the seller might come to a deal to let the rego remain in place (under their name) for a limited period so you can get the car home, but only if you provide a statutory declaration accepting liability for fines or damage you might incur along the way. You’ll then have to move the registration to your name in your state. 

If you’re getting the car freighted in, this should be a simpler process of signing the rego papers over. With either transport method, it’s important to check what you’re required to do with licence plates, as you’ll be issued your own state plates once you register the vehicle.

Registration and other levels of car insurance can differ from state-to-state, so make sure you’ve got your bases covered using these specific state and territory car insurance guides:

What type of car insurance should I get?

To drive on any Aussie roads, you need to register the vehicle and take out compulsory third party (CTP) car insurance (these may be charged concurrently depending on state regulations). 

As mentioned, this can be covered temporarily in a state where you don’t live if you or a friend are driving your newly purchased car home. Otherwise, it’ll need to be done before you can start driving in your local area.

However, CTP only covers you for costs related to injuries you might cause another person or yourself while driving. If you want insurance extending beyond this, you’ll need to take out third party property damage or comprehensive car insurance, which are both optional levels of insurance.

  • Third party car insurance: Damages you cause to other people’s vehicles and property are covered by this insurance (up to a dollar limit that can differ between policies) but not your own. You can add fire and theft protection on top of this for an additional premium.
  • Comprehensive car insurance: This is the highest level of car insurance in Australia, covering your own car and others’ for events related to accidents, natural disasters and crime. Inclusions and price caps for certain circumstances vary between policies and providers, and there are often optional extras which you can tac on at an added cost.

If you want to learn more about your insurance options, head to Mozo’s car insurance hub for all the details.

Olivia Gee
Olivia Gee
Money writer

As a personal finance writer at Mozo, Olivia investigates insurance, banking and property. After completing a double degree in journalism and media and communications, Olivia became a lifestyle editor at Time Out Sydney and freelanced for notable publications such as Guardian Australia and SBS News. Now she is Mozo’s resident car insurance enthusiast, and is certified (ASIC RG146 Tier 2) to provide general advice in general insurance. She also creates audible finance adventures as co-host of Mozo’s podcast, The Finance Burrito.