Our customers always ask questions like “What ute do you recommend” or “How much should I spend on a ute”? They are great questions with no straightforward answer.
The problem is that everyone has a different situation with different versions of perfection. So what it comes down to is what factors matter the most to you and picking the best option in your price range.
Whether that’s a small ute with an impressive payload or a larger ute with more capabilities, you will be happy with your choice as long as it checks all your boxes and fits within your budget.
To help you get to this happy place, we have spent a lot of time considering the factors that play the most significant role in choosing the best ute. We also have talked with thousands of customers.
And it is our opinion that if you consider these factors before committing to any one ute you are most likely to be happy with your purchase.
So hold on tight as we cover everything you need to know about which ute to buy here in the Outback. Stick with us as we break down this daunting task into five topics to help you make the best decision.
This five-part series includes:
- Camper dry-weight – Do the Math
- Budget – Listen to your wallet
- Horses for courses – Buy what you need, not what you want
- Stats, figures and facts – Play the numbers game
- Upgradability – Adding “fries” to the order
Car ownership is a huge investment. Trust us, it is worth the homework!
Budget – Listen to Your Wallet
A key piece of advice for choosing the best ute for you is to listen to your wallet. This is especially important if you plan to use car loans to pay for it. It is never a good idea to buy more than what you can afford. If you end up in debt chances are the ute will begin to feel like more of a burden than a blessing.
This is one of those simple facts about buying a vehicle in general. There is a bold line between your finances and the utes that you can’t afford. It is in your best interest not to cross this line, no matter how badly you want the luxury interior or the larger cab. Car loan repayments are a big responsibility to have.
Do not lose hope though. You can still find a ute that is perfect for you. There are options available to you to get a great bang for your buck.
Picking A Ute For Your Camper
If you have a camper with low dry-weight (like the Trayon Camper), then you can get a smaller ute (consequently a cheaper ute) and still have room for the creature comforts you don’t want to leave behind.
The Trayon Camper has the unbeaten record for the lowest dry weight since 1994. There is simply no other class two slide-on camper available with the same dry weight when you compare the included specifications directly.
But that’s a story to be covered in a different article. If you haven’t yet, make sure you read the first part of this installment which covers the topic of camper dry-weight in depth.
Don’t Be Too Cheap
Now, back to the budget. You can always overspend on a ute and give yourself stress and anxiety. But don’t swing the pendulum too far to the other side, because on the flipside, you can also be too frugal and end up with a cheap ute.
A ute is a big investment even if you are spending money on the low end of the spectrum. Don’t sabotage yourself by trying to pinch a little too many pennies. There is a reason why cheap utes are, well…… cheap.
Is an underperforming ute what you want to rest your slide-on camper on for long-term touring and extreme conditions?
You might need to be extra wary of mechanical breakdowns. There may also be a lack of spare parts—possibly one of the worst-case scenarios, ending up with an overloaded vehicle because of payload inadequacies.
If you practice enough due diligence in researching before purchasing, you can avoid many of these headaches down the road.
So you see, there is no silver bullet when it comes to price. It is up to you to use the criteria we are laying out to help guide you to which ute will be enough to do the job you want to be done while staying within your financial limitations.
This way, you can afford your ute and still have enough wiggle room in your budget to fill up the fridge and fuel tank for your first trip.
Set Your Budget and Stick to It
You will have your budget in mind for what you want and how much you are willing to spend on it to travel in the fashion you desire. And that is completely fine. What is a lot to you might not be that much to someone, and that is why choosing the suitable ute is ultimately a personal decision.
Spending a large portion of your budget on your vehicle might limit how much you can spend on the eventual upgrades.
If you have plans to do any upgrades, say a GVM upgrade, you may want to include that in the total price of your ute. Otherwise, you may end up having to sacrifice the slide-on camper of your dreams because there isn’t a large enough slice of the pie left to afford it.
Keep in mind that having a specific target slide-on camper might also limit your ute choices.
There are so many variables to consider when looking at the price ranges between utes. For example, a mid-range ute and class-2 slide-on camper can cost anywhere between $95-$120k. This price fluctuates from the base model vehicles to top-end model camper specs.
A class-1 slide-on camper will be a cheaper option since they are easier to make and contain less of the comforts of class-2.
Ultimately, the best way to answer which ute to buy is to listen to what your wallet says. Also, think about what you want to spend to get what you need.
Decide On What You Need
Your needs and wants for your vehicle are two very different things. You will need to recognize the difference when it comes to choosing the perfect ute. For example, a ute that can handle your payload effectively should be more essential than just a snazzy-looking one.
Data since 2020 shows that utes are the second biggest selling vehicle type behind medium SUVs, showing just how much Australians love their trusty, versatile utes.
Most 4×4 utes are used not only as work vehicles. A significant number of customers now want a truck that can double as a workhorse and a versatile family car. However, this can quickly get expensive. So you need to take into consideration the functionalities you really need and how they translate into the price.
You should take into account the purchase price of your ute. But also include car loan repayments, fuel costs, servicing, tires, on-road costs, upgrades and add-ons, registration, insurance, and any auto club memberships, to name a few.
After taking all of this into account, you can find yourself averaging a price of around $1300 per month to own and operate a top-selling 4×4 ute. The top-selling 4x4s can run as high as $1500 per month.
The most affordable manufacturer in each category is Mitsubishi.
When it comes to 4×4 utes the Mitsubishi Triton GLX tops the list as the most affordable model. It costs an average of $1340 a month.
It is followed closely by the Isuzu D-Max at $1465 a month.
The Volkswagen Amarok TD1420 Core, while typically seen as a more premium vehicle, takes third place. Its monthly costs averages at around $1486.
The most expensive 4×4 ute on the list is the 70-series Toyota Landcruiser Workmate. It is given a monthly cost average of $2087. It is the third most expensive on the list of vehicles to own and run.
The Mitsubishi Triton is not even on that list even though it is the cheapest – as we said above; cheapest is not always the best option.
Recent studies have shown that Australians could spend as much as $7963 per year maintaining their vehicles. The costs are higher if you are driving a ute or other similar larger vehicle. These types of vehicles generally have higher ongoing fees. They spend more on things like their insurance policy, fuel consumption, car loan payments, and fines.
According to Budget Direct, the average cost of transportation for Australian families makes up 13.8 per cent of total annual income. This can vary wildly depending on the ute you drive and where you live. Apart from the final sale price of your car, you will have ongoing costs to keep.
Third-party car insurance is a mandatory minimum in Australia. It covers you for any liability if you cause injury or death to others. A higher level like comprehensive car insurance is always recommended, though.
You can shop around Australia’s car insurance market to find the best insurance rates. Some statistics show that you can save as much as $2643 a year by choosing the right insurance provider.
Don’t get comfortable letting your car insurance coverage policy roll over without assessing it every time. Compare different car loan products that are being offered. See what other deals or options are available to you before you pay a high car insurance premium.
Fuel and maintenance costs can burn a hole in your wallet fast. The average Aussie driver uses around 1366 litres of fuel per year. If you overpay by $.20 for your petrol, you can throw away $273 per year in annual costs. Fill your tank when you find a cheap fuel price. Petrol Spy is a good site to use in the hunt for fuel-savings.
Registration and licensing are both required for any vehicles that drive on a public road. They must be licensed by your state or territory’s department of transport and can only be driven by a licensed driver.
After car insurance, vehicle registration costs are often the most expensive part of the running cost of car ownership. They are different depending on where you live. For example, it will cost you $1274 to register an 8-cylinder Jeep Grand Cherokee in New South Wales, but it will cost $646 for car owners in South Australia to register the same thing.
Deciding What You Need
So, now that you know the details involved in choosing a ute including the sale price, the ongoing costs, etc, you can start to really break down your own personal details to find the best ute for you.
You can start by making a simple checklist of the features that you NEED to come with your ute – the non-negotiables.
You can also create a list of the features you would like – features that will be nice to have but will not be nearly as important in your final decision.
Your list might look completely different from your neighbours, but it is a great starting point for determining which type of vehicle and price range you are headed towards. If you have items like cruise control, a sunroof, and off-road capabilities on your must-have list, then you should be prepared to spend the extra cash.
Next, you should take the time to consider how much of your annual income you are willing to spend on your ute. This will help you to stay realistic and within your budget.
It is easy to get carried away thinking of all the possibilities in front of you. But to avoid overspending, you need to be completely honest with yourself about your financial situation. Groceries, rent, bills, and unexpected expenses take up a huge chunk of everyone’s pocket change.
Base your projections for the entire year accounting for things like other loans or any big expenses you expect to have soon. This way you won’t be over your head with a ute that was too expensive for you. You’ll want to choose an option that gives you enough flexibility to cover the cost down the road.
Some people recommend you only spend 10 to 20 percent of your annual household income on a car. Consider saving for a bit longer if you plan to buy a higher-end car that would take up more of your household income. That way you have a buffer for unexpected expenses.
Don’t forget; your car will begin to lose value as soon as you buy it. So, while we are all for helping you to find a ute that you love, you don’t want to spend your retirement on it.
If you are interested in buying a used car there are some big advantages. The most obvious one being the savings you’ll be able to achieve.
On average, most used cars in Australia are priced almost 50% lower than brand new ones. If you find the right one, you can get a ute with relatively low wear and tear. Most cars experience their sharpest drop in value in the first three years. So if you find a second-hand option that is just around three years old you can score a great ute for a fraction of the price. It is a great way to save money and skip out on interest rates.
This is always a risky option though. You need due diligence to ensure the ute you are considering is in good condition. Take it out for a test drive. But don’t just stop there. Have a qualified mechanic look at the car. Get a professional opinion about its condition. Also, have the seller provide a copy of the car’s history and VIN number.
You can search the personal property securities register to make sure there are no outstanding debts owed on the vehicle and the car is not stolen. This will cost $2 to complete and is well worth the price.
There is the large potential of spending money on what you don’t need. For instance; if you want a trayback camper but buy a second hand ute that has a tub and canopy on it then you will have to have it converted to a trayback which means extra costs but also loss of the canopy and tub that you would have paid for in the purchase price of the ute.
Lastly, used cars may eat up some of the money you saved on the sale price with high maintenance costs, lower resale value, or higher car insurance premiums. And they normally don’t include a warranty. Take extreme caution if considering this route so you don’t end up stuck in a relationship with a ute you didn’t want in the first place.
If you commit to a brand new car, there are also a few perks you can look forward to.
You will get a full warranty that will protect your new vehicle from any mechanical issues that may show up after you drive off the lot. You will also be able to use free post-purchase servicing in most instances. And you will have more of a say when it comes to things like paint colour, engine specs and optional extras.
Find Your Ute
Whatever your options may be, whether you are looking to get a new or used car or ute to carry your Trayon camper, you should have a better idea about how much you are willing to spend on it. Remember, the most important thing is to be realistic with your budget.
Make a shortlist of what you absolutely need and another one for the things that you like, and see if you can afford them. Then start to narrow down your options from there.
In the next article of this series, we will cover the horses for courses information. We will walk you through what you need to know to buy exactly what you need, not what you want.
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