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Driving in Australia - Frequently Asked Questions for Backpackers

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Kangaroo on Road - Kangaraoo Jumping Across Road, Mallacoota, Australia

Kangaroo on the Road - Mallacoota, Australia

© Kathleen Crislip

Driving in Australia - left side, right side, wrong side:

Here's the thing: you drive on the left side of the road in Australia, and the wheel is on the right side of the car. Kinda hard to practice for that -- key is to try it on an uncrowded street in Australia; don't pick up a rental car at 8:00 a.m. in downtown Melbourne and learn how to drive on the left from the right in morning rush hour traffic (yeah, I did that).

What's the speed limit in Australia?:

Contrary to some beliefs, speed limits in Australia are not pedal to the metal (well, there is the Nullarbor Desert). Australian speed limit in cities is generally 60 kilometers per hour (35 mph), and the speed limit on Australian highways is generally 110 kph (68 mph).

How old do I have to be to drive in Australia?:

You must be 18 years old to drive a car in Australia. Australian teens go through a very rigorous driver training program, and drivers are pretty good here -- courteous and sensible. You should be the same.

What do I need to drive in Australia?:

You need your own local (US) driver's license to drive in Australia. If you're going to be in the country for more than six months, you can get an international driver's license before you leave home, or you can apply for a license in Australia when you're there. If you're going to rent a car, you will need your local, unexpired driver's license (that you've held for at least one year) and a credit card -- not a debit card.

How old do I have to be to rent a car in Australia?:

The minimum age for renting cars in Australia is essentially 21 years old, but drivers under 25 may have to pay an extra charge. Check with the car rental agency before you set your heart on a particular model -- if you're under 25, you may not be able, or may have to pay extra, to rent vans (may be called 8 seaters or 12 seaters), for instance.

Can I rent motorhomes in Australia?:

Yes -- motorhomes and vans (caravans or campervans when down under) are a great way to get around Australia if you have tons of time -- remember that Oz is huge; driving from Melbourne to Brisbane is like driving from Florida to Maine. Wicked Campers is bare bones basic (like a mattress in a cargo van) and meant for freewheelers and backpackers (they'll rent to travelers under 21), Autobarn is mid-level, and Britz rents high-end motorhomes and camping vans.

How much does gas cost in Australia?:

Gasoline is called "petrol" in Australia (you should call it petrol, or risk confusion), and it's sold by the litre. One gallon equals 3.785 litres. And petrol in Australia is spendy -- expect to pay between $3.25-4.50 per gallon -- the more isolated, the more the petrol may cost. (The first time I filled up in Australia, I read the sign [$1.28] with delight -- wow, cheap! Yeah, no, that would be $1.38 per litre.) Gas stations are self-serve, and you can find 'em anywhere, just as you can in the US.

Can I buy a car in Australia?:

Yes, you can buy a car in Australia. There are outfits that advertise themselves as backpacker car dealers and some will buy a car back, but you need to understand that process -- BUG has a good page on buying a backpacker car in Australia (they've included sources for renting campervans, too). Your Australian hostel's bulletin board is an excellent place to look for a backpacker car for sale. And do everyone a favor: don't abandon your car when you're done with it -- townspeople actually have town meetings to decide what to do with abandoned backpacker cars.

Australian driving resources::

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