Be legal - the convoluted mess that is car registration in Australia

Be legal - the convoluted mess that is car registration in Australia

Australia is a land of extremes, of animals that want to kill you and nature that wants to hurt you and (despite there only being 25 million people in this wide, brown land), a convoluted mess of state-based registration authorities that will make you want to get intimate with some of those aforementioned deadly creatures. 

MCM is based in Sydney, the capital city of the state of New South Wales, which has a roads department called the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) who control vehicle registrations. They now call it 'Service NSW', it changes names more often than some politicians change their underpants.

Unless you own a car under 5 years of age all NSW-registered cars have to pass an annual roadworthiness inspections (called Pink Slips).

Basically, you take your car to a nominated mechanic who then goes through a list of basic safety checklist to make sure you're not driving a complete dunger on our comprehensively overcrowded NSW roads (which are filled to the brim with drivers who couldn't drive a well-greased piece of timber into the cavity of a... well.. you get the picture). For vehicles new to NSW roads, like Marty's Super Turbo (which is freshly imported from Japan), a more serious roadworthy inspection is required, called a Blue Slip.

A Blue Slip records all the the key details of the car, which sets the base info the RMS uses to register the car. It ensures the car Marty is registering actually is a Super Turbo, records the engine number and VIN, number of seats, and ensures the car complies to all relevant Australian standards. Workshops can qualify for this and then you pay them to check over your car. The system works pretty well, and checks are made by auditors to make sure what goes through the workshops is actually legitimate. These are the same workshops that can clear defects!

CTP, Compulsory Third Party (also known as a Green Slip) is an insurance policy New South Wales requires all car owners to purchase before the RMS will process your registration. This covers you if a passenger, or other third party, is injured in a crash involving your car - thereby covering their medical bills, it's a 'everyone pays' system that ensures the public system has the money supplied by the insurance companies to help fix up anyone who has stacked it!

While you can re-register cars online now, if you have a car needing a Blue Slip then you must visit The Halls of the Cursed, otherwise known as Service NSW... which I'm sure our American friends know the feeling of with their DMV offices. While the experience of visitng Service NSW is painful, it is many millions of times better than the previous bureaucratic hellhole known as the Roads and Traffic Authority, a cursed black hole for time. In recent years, it's improved, like the message finally made it's way up the chain, or more likely, someone who worked there actually tried to rego their car and failed after waiting 4 hours to do so.

Registration fees are calculated on a scale of a vehicle's age and weight, with big old cars charged more than tiny new cars. Cars in the city and metro areas are also more expensive to register (thanks to their CTP cost), and commercial vehicles in metro areas owned by under-25s are more expensive than a scale replica of the moon made out of high-grade diamonds. An average car in Sydney will typically cost approximately $1500 per-year to register.

So all our driving around in the Superturbo was to get a weigh bridge slip. This is required on cars that aren't already in the database (like imports!) and has to be an official part of the engineering paperwork that is also required on a freshly imported car like this one. Engineering is one step further than the aforementioned blue slip and is a deep dive into checking that the car passes all the required Australian Design Rules. If it does, it can then be registered and driven on Australian Roads, which all going well our Superturbo soon will be!

In order to complete some of these steps we had to get ourselves and Unregistered Vehicle Permit, which is a temporary slip that allows you to drive from point A to point B, with temporary insurance cover. Doing a trip like that without pre approval can get you fined close to a thousand bucks or more!

Check out the video of us heading to the weigh bridge here:



  • Ondrej

    Not sure about other countries in the post-communist era bracket, but bureaucracy in Slovakia can shake hands with NSW authorities. For a few years now we’ve had registration tax based not on any relevant data like CO2 emissions or whatever, but power.

    Cars under 80 kW only cost 66 EUR for registration plus a mandatory insurance (as low as 100 EUR), than a MOT-style check after 4 years and then every 2 years after that. Doesn’t cost much, but whatever over 80 kW is taxed. e.g. 257kW Focus RS is in the highest category meaning a 3900 EUR registration tax. As a paradox, the insurance is mostly displacement-based so being a 2.3 it would only a couple hundred EUR to insure (mandatory insurance only, but it would be road-worthy).

    Old cars are are a bit better, the tax is only payed out using a coefficient based on how old they are. For 16 years old and older, the coefficient is only 0.06. They obviously have to pass the MOT-style check and comply with our rules, but if a car is brought over from mainland Europe, it’s usually quite cheap and easy to make it roadworthy. Mind you, not from Japan or UK, as we drive on the right.

  • Matt

    It sounds like (?) the “green slip” is the minimum basic insurance required on the car, which is built into that $1500 per year cost? Is that normally considered part of Registration?

    Someone has already outlined what it’s like in Quebec, here is how it works in Alberta: any car that is driven, or even parked on the street or in an alleyway, must have a basic liability insurance (Public Liability and Property Damage, or PLPD) which covers basically everything but the car itself. Coverage for damage to the car in an accident, and for fire/theft/vandalism, is optional. This is all provided by third party companies, and all rates vary wildly based on a number of factors including gender, age, relationship status, address, type of use, the car itself, and especially driving history. My wife’s 2015 Ford Escape (fully covered, minus the windshied) costs us around $900 per year to insure, while our Vanagon is charged at around $380 per year as it’s generally only used for camping and recreational purposes (plus it’s only got the PLPD coverage). Because I have room to park “summer-only” cars on my property, I can phone my insurance company at any time and add or reduce coverage as required – down to a $30-per-year fire/theft/vandalism charge just to hold the car in their system, and up to full coverage when I want to drive it. For example, we generally only insure the Vanagon for driving in the summer and park it for the rest of the year, so we only pay that proportion of the $400-per-year coverage. My pickup stays parked for most of the year and I’ll only insure it for the weekend if I need to run to the landfill or pick up some lumber.

    Once you have insurance on your car, then you can get it registered. This costs around $90 per year. While insurance coverage is provided by a third party, the registration is Provincial. Licence plates and registration numbers may be swapped from car to car for a fee, and registration is only required for cars being parked or operated on public roads or property. I recently finished a restoration on a car and for the years it was in my garage it was unregistered and only insured with fire/theft/vandalism. When it was finished I phoned my insurance company to bump it up to full coverage, paid up the registration for the remaining portion of the year, and was legal to drive it.

    The first time you insure a car that is older than 10 or 15 years (depending on the insurance company) you must get a very basic roadworthiness inspection, checking tires/brakes/lights/horn and not much else. As long as the vehicle remains insured by that person and with that broker, the car needs not be inspected again. Modifications, or more worryingly neglect, can be carried out at any time and nobody needs know about it. This inspection can be done by any licensed mechanic, even done on the side of the road.

    If the car is new to the province however, a much more thorough inspection is required, not by the insurance company but by the province. This goes over the car with a fine toothed comb, but again only needs to be done the once as long as the car is not registered in a different province. If a car was last registered in Alberta and registration is allowed to lapse for any length of time, as long as it is still in the system it can be re-registered without another Out Of Province inspection at any time as long as the owner has insurance. This inspection may only be done by and at registered third-party facilities.

    TL/DR: in Alberta insurance is mandatory, coverage is by third party providers, and costs a lot or a little, depending on who you are, how you drive, and what you drive. Registration is handled by the province, and costs peanuts. If you’re sensible with your modifications you’re free to do whatever you like.

  • phuzz

    The equivalent of registration in the UK would be our Road Tax, which varies according to when the car was built, and how polluting it is. Newer cars are based on how much CO2 they produce, but an older car like the SuperTurbo would be charged based on engine size. Having only a one litre engine, it would probably be in the cheapest tax bracket! :) Cars over 40 years old get free tax.
    In addition, each year you need to past a road-worthiness test (MOT). Again, the tests depend on when the car was manufactured, so (for example) if your car was manufactured without side mirrors, they don’t have to be present.
    Finally, you also need to buy at least 3rd party insurance. It’s not tied to your registration, but the police will be grumpy if you don’t have it when they stop you. (Well, you get 48 hours to take all your documents to a police station).

    No idea about importing cars, although I’ve heard importing Japanese cars is usually quite straight forward, for the same reasons it is in Australia (steering wheel on the correct side, similar safety laws etc.).

  • Gerardo Molleda

    As a comparison, here is the system in Spain:
    When you buy a new car, you must pay registration tax. It’s a percentage of the final price (0%-14,75%) based on emissions (CO2 g/km). Every year you must pay a municipal tax for “the use of roads” based on engine capacity, which varies by city. Mine it’s 143€/year for a 1.9L engine.
    You’ll need a mandatory insurance to drive.
    After 4 years, you must pass a vehicle inspection (ITV, 60€) and the every two years until the car is 10 year old, then pass to a annually check.
    If you buy a used vehicle to an individual, you must pay a transmission tax which varies by state (0-8%).
    Importing a foreign vehicle: If the vehicle proceeds from other CEE country i.e: Germany you must pay VAT and transmission tax.
    If the vehicle it’s not a Europe homologated model, you need an engineer to make an exam and make the paper trail to convert to EU specs (1.000-3.000€).

    How the system works in your country?

  • Jenn

    Wow, $1500 for registration. When I move to Quebec, My jaw dropped at $250 car registrations, but most of that is injury insurance, and the private insurance that covers vehicle damage is considerably less expensive than other provinces. It means that I can afford to run two cars. I don’t think that I could justify the insurance cost to own two cars in Ontario. I’m also shocked that a vehicle that is considered safe in one state can be considered unsafe in another. I don’t think that’s the case in North America. Police will remove licence plates from cars that don’t meet common national and continental standards, but not local. For example, in Quebec, we must have winter tyres on our cars between December 1 and March 15. A vehicle from out of province or the US is not bound by that rule, but a vehicle with worn tyres can be removed from the road or given 72 hours to become compliant. It does seem complicated down south, but it appears like you guys have a grip on the rules. Keep up the good work.

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