Down Under In Mel: Driving XC60 in Melbourne

This is actually my very first time driving in a foreign country! I’m sure that driving overseas is one of the top items on a Singaporean mind, especially those avid drivers. No speed limit, long straight roads and no traffic. These are actually not a wild man fantasy but actually really happens in the real life, not always, but it happens. Let me share a little on my take in driving overseas. I am also very fortunate to have a local friend whom gave me a little tip and also details on driving in Victoria. Before I get into the real adventure let me give my take on renting cars first. First there are the huge brands like Hertz, Avis and Europcar! Renting from these companies usually provides you with frequent flyer point and also a great after sales service, they are also more transparent with the rules and they also have their own loyalty membership. Then there are the other small rental companies that you can rent from such as a budget company call Sixrentals. Being the first time and after comparing prices, I actually went for Europcar, I find it to be fair in their pricing and a balance between the quality and also the rental fee. I even get to earn miles on it. Furthermore, their after sales service are great, which helped me a lot, since I actually ran into some issue after my rental. I would share in details later on. Now, this is how I ended up in to this safe, comfortable work horse car, Volvo XC60!

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Europcar Melbourne

After some comparison and looking at the rental company location in town, even though actually Avis is much more convenient for me since it is actually right at my hotel, I decide to go for Europcar instead. Since their prices are much more cheaper and also their opening timings fits me better. A bulk of car rental company are located in Franklin St, conveniently located near Queens Vic and nearby the trams stop, here you can find all of the big 3 Europcar, Hertz and Avis. When looking at cars, it is important to pay attention to what the rate include, the collection and return timing, the insurance coverage. Also, when you are collecting the cars, do ask about the fuel requirement and also the tolls. Usually in Australia, some cars are limited by the mileage, like maximum of 200km per day or limited mileage. Usually I prefer those that are unlimited. A day of rental will usually be counted for 24 hours, for example renting from 8am today to 8am the next day. Thus it will be the same price to return at 5pm today or 8am tomorrow. In the end I decide to pay for overnight parking and return the next day since it gives me more freedom and I need not rush back just to be in time to return the car. Read on to know how I prevent from incurring expensive parking charges in town! The fuel requirement are stated in the contract, so makes sure it is specified and also check with the staff. Where est for Europcar, their vehicles are already supplied with the electronic tags and tolls will automatically be paid and it will be credit to your rental and pay when you settle the finally bill. Although do check about driving into other state, I believe it to be the same too!

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It is like a check in process, where the staff gets your credit card that you use to reserve the booking and then your driving license followed by your loyalty program. Then you have to confirm the contract. It is usually a quick process since all the details have been given upon booking. You could and should always ask for an upgrade, although my booking was car specific, so I didn’t ask for it. Cars are always located nearby, be it at the garage underground or probably just right outside! The keys are usually placed in the car, at the glove box or the middle compartment. It is also important to briefly check the car to see if there is any defect, point out immediately to prevent them from accounting it under your fault. Something that I really love about Europcar are their flexible terms and conditions. You could actually make a online reservation and fix on the rate you want together with the promotion. Then you can choose to pay later. Cancellation are also allowed up to the point of pick up. These means that you can change your plans and also if after your booking you find another great promotion, you can immediately  sway for the cheaper rate. The company also have great after sales service and followed up promptly, I had actually served an infringement for speeding while on the way back from Twelve Apostles. While being impressed by their system where you could actually view their evidence online, the fine was also hefty! Singapore should implement this and prevent people from grumbling 🙂 After this, we liaise through email and advise what are the steps for me to take and also understand my take to appeal it and give me the steps to do so.

Volvo XC60

One very important thing to note about car rental are the cars that you will get, although you could check the company and even the store fleet or models that are available. Many times, even though you have reserve a particular category of car online and they even show you are particular model of the car the chance of you getting it is actually quite low! Usually they will offer you something different upon collection, sometimes they even offer you a manual car when you have reserved an auto transmission one. Always insist on the same transmission! What I love about Europcar is their Luxury+Fun or Selection feature, for this when you make your reservation the exact car model is shown to you and will be reserved for you. With this you are confirmed of the car. Models such as Golf or like the car I rented, Volvo XC60 are offered. Since I wanted a SUV and after comparing the rental fee and taking into consideration that this XC60 comes with GPS, it seems like a great deal. If not GPS comes with an additional fee. My rental fee come up to about 193AUD for two days.

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I will definitely recommend renting a SUV over a sedan when doing road trip or travelling long distance. An intercontinental car is also preferred as they are heavier, more stable and thus safer when driving at high speed. Furthermore, Volvo is famed for it’s reliability and safety. Although I am used to driving a sedan in Singapore a SUV is preferred, it is larger more stable more fit for the rugged roads that you may be travelling over. The higher clearance between the car and the road is also higher thus good for clearing the bumps on the road. Then it is the leg space you have inside, you must compare it to be siting in a bus for 4 to 5 hours, the SUV gives you more space to stretch your legs and also more space for your stuffs. However those who are used to driving sedan must get used to it at start, SUV vehicles are larger, need more space to manoeuvre, longer braking distance. The legs are also more tiring for the driver! This car that I rent was fairly new, it drives super smooth and powerful. It is also very stable. Although SUV usually use more fuels given it’s size and engine capacity, it is a small price to pay for. For this XC60, it use about 13 litres per 100km, the capacity is also huge, enough for me to go Twelve Apostles and back in a single tank!

Driving In Victoria

Let’s just say, driving makes your trip much more fruitful and you definitely get to see more things and visit more place with ease and also flexibility. Despite the CBD being such a chore to drive with the traffic, trams and expensive parking, most of the locals here own a car. With this being said, I will still recommend you to make use of the super great and extensive tram system in the CBD area. You definitely shouldn’t drive, furthermore the trams are free in the CBD. If you think that the parking in Orchard Road here is expensive, expect valet kind of prices for parking in the CBD area in Melbourne, a hour of parking can easily cost up to 20AUD. Street parking are cheaper, although the lots may be take up by others quickly.  One good tip to prevent incurring hefty parking fees is to make use of parking garages in building, most of them are maintained by wilson, which provide promotions if you enter after a certain time or leave before a certain time, for example, I only pay 8AUD for parking overnight using the Book a Bay, where I reserved the lot online and pay for it, with this I can enter after 5pm and exit before 7am. They also gives you a +- 1hr allowance. As mentioned earlier, rules may be rarely enforced, but it is definitively not loose, in fact Victoria traffic rules are super strict with little leeway and allowance. Do not infringe by speeding, parking without a lot or driving on bus lanes. It is also important to take note that you must always give way to the trams and stay clear of trams lines unless it is allowed. All the roads, even in rural areas are well maintained with signs, lights or deflector. Something unique in the CBD area would be the hook turn. This is due to the trams lines in the middle of the road which is why if you are doing a right turn you got to do it from the most left lane instead of from the right which we always do here. This is to prevent waiting in the tram lanes. Just follow the sign and see how others do it, it definitely isn’t hard.

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And then there is the all the advantages to have a car when you are heading out of the central in the suburbs. Given the wide land they have in Australia, Melbourne and Victoria is no different, outside the CBD, many of the places outside only have busses and it is a common thing to wait for one hour for one bus if you have miss it. Given the well maintained roads and cheap vehicle prices, a car is very popular or even a necessity for the locals. Furthermore, let’s just stick to Victoria or even Melbourne, there are many many worthy attractions that are located out of the city, where you can only probably visit if you are driving. GOR, Twelve Apostles, Brighton, Yarra Valley, Puffing Billy Railway, Dandenong Ranges and Philip Island these are only some of the places that I have in mind. In contrast, parking are usually widely available in the suburbs some are even free on the streets.

Previously I have mentioned that my friend Roy have been living in Melbourne for about 10 years, both his parents and him have their own car. Let me share a little, Victorians can start learning to drive at the age of 16, only with a parent or guardian beside him and he has to display a learner sign. Then there is the probation period which I think start at 18 and in this period there are limited to the types of car that they can drive, limited by the horsepower of the car.  If I am not wrong the whole period last for 5 years, from a red label to a green one. Their license also run on a demerit point system, similar to us and you will get deduct when you commit an offence such as speeding. It is always good to pay close attention to the speed limit. Roy was really right on this point that somehow many people that come to drive in Melbourne will get some sort of fine! Drivers here love to charge upon the lights turning, then keep to the speed limit. Victoria is famous for being a transparent strict state, the limits and what is allowed is high, but from then, definitely no allowance. This is also the basis why Victorians are such polite drivers, making this place such a gem to drive.

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Street parking signs look something like this in Melbourne. You must really know how to read it in order to get the meaning from it and there is really alot to understand. Lets just say this sign above tell us that on the left of the sign, no stopping and parking is allowed. While on the right you are allowed to park 1hr from 8am to 8pm, 1P means 1hr while 2P means 2hr. When it is outside of the hours labelled on the sign, parking is free. Petrol cost are much cheaper in Melbourne than here, although it fluctuate. Also keep your supermarket receipt as it sometimes provide discount at the petrol company that it partner up with. Unleaded 98 is about 1.30 – 1.50AUD and for the 95 and 92 it is cheaper. In all Australian state accept for the Northern Territory, you are able to drive with your overseas license as long as it is current, you are allowed to drive on the type of vehicle you are qualified on. While for the Northern Territory, you got to get a International Driving Permit. One bad thing I feel that they have to many different kind of speed limit and it changes too fast, for example from 70km/hr here to 100km/hr ahead in the highway. It is really hard to slow down. It ranges from a strict 40km/hr in the CBD up to 110km/hr in the highway. There are always speed traps in the freeway, while in the rural areas and country side road……cough……cough. Drive save though!!! Always take not to prepare for the journey, things may not be widely available in the rural areas, stock up on water and also pay attention to the signs and watch out for wildlife at night especially. Mobile connection may not be available in some rural areas, so don’t over rely on the GPS although the signs are straightforward.

I’m really glad that I managed to appeal against the fine! HAHA, although slap with a warning that will stay for 2 years! Do let me know on your experience in driving in Melbourne!

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