If you are planning to rent a car in South Africa you’re going to have a fantastic time. Having a car in this country gives you ultimate freedom. There’s so much to do and places to explore in South Africa you are going to want exactly that – freedom.
We’ve rented a car in South Africa more than five times and think it’s a great option for getting around. It’s an affordable option for getting around, and as long as you’re okay driving on the left side of the road it is a very ideal option. Here are our best South Africa rental car tips to know before you get there!
1. Renting a Car in South Africa is Affordable
Every time I travel to South Africa I am reminded of how affordable it is to rent a car there. Seriously, you can get some fantastic deals on a car in South Africa especially if you are renting in a major city like Johannesburg or Cape Town.
Depending on the month it’s possible to get a car for as low as $10 a day! Compare car rental prices here.
2. What Car to Rent in South Africa?
We found Hertz and Avis to be the most affordable for a long-term rental, but had the best experience was with First a Sixt affiliate. We also tried out Rent-A-Cheapie in Cape Town and had a mixed experience with them. Read more about renting a car abroad and compare car rental prices here.
If you want a new experience camping in Africa is a fantastic way to explore. Happy Campers have now launched a branch out of Cape Town. Check them out! We partnered with Happy Campers in Iceland and had a fantastic experience.
An extremely popular way to explore Southern Africa is by renting a 4×4 truck. Not everyone has the time, patience, or want to purchase a truck like we did, so you have companies like Bushlore that rent out a fully kitted 4×4. If you plan to drive into the real African bush like Botswana or Mozambique this is the way to go but prepared to spend money as the rentals are expensive. We didn’t need a four wheel drive vehicle anywhere in South Africa, but once you travel cross borders you’ll want one.
3. Car Rental Insurance in South Africa
If you have a US credit card, or equivalent in another country, it’s possible you already have CDW (collision damage waiver) insurance for rental car coverage and don’t know it! It’s worth it to check your documentation and call your credit card company to find out. It’s even worth considering signing up for a new credit card that does offer this so you don’t have to pay for car rental insurance in South Africa. See our favorite travel credit cards here.
Bringing me to my next point – credit cards with primary rental insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my favorite travel credit card for many reasons, but the primary rental insurance is one of its best perks (including Priority Pass membership). When you put your car hire on your Chase Sapphire Reserve card you get primary rental car coverage around the world up to $75,000.
Car rental companies in South Africa and around the world love to scare customers and upsell all their insurance packages. You need to make sure if you need it or not before falling victim to their trap. Call your credit card company and always find out before you get to South Africa.
If you don’t have a credit card that covers rental car insurance, it may be worth adding on insurance to your package. That way if there is an accident you won’t be stuck paying for a car hire out of pocket.
4. Fuel Prices in South Africa
Fuel cost around $15 ZAR a liter ($1.10 a liter or $4.15 a gallon) at the time of writing.
5. Expect a Hold Charge on Your Credit Card
Every single one of our forty or so rental cars has put a hold on our credit card for the rental period. Holds can range anywhere from a few hundred bucks to $1000+ in some countries. The “excess charge” as it is called is typically stated in your reservation details, but it is easy to miss.
We are aware that they must put this hold on our card, but it can be a huge shocker if you are unsuspecting and end up over your credit limit on your credit card. These excess charges are for scenarios where you disappear with the car and are never seen again, or get in a crash and refuse to pay. Stuff like that.
6. Inspect Your Rental Car
Often, the rental car agent will ask if you’d like them to show you around the vehicle or whether you’re happy to do it yourself. Always accept the offer of being shown around the vehicle, even if you feel a little silly doing so.
The agent will generally start with the outside of the vehicle, pointing out any bumps or scratches that already exist, make sure all the damages are noted. This will also assure you of the roadworthiness of the vehicle.
On the inside of the vehicle, make sure that before you leave the parking bay, you know how to operate the headlights, indicator lights, and hazard lights. You should also know the location of the windscreen wipers (an absolute must in Scotland), as well as the horn. Make sure you know how to alter the position of the driver’s seat, how the parking brake works (is it a traditional manual one you pull up, or a newer electronic one), and how to engage reverse gear (which often requires you to push a button of some sort first). They will also help you set up the GPS if you’ve opted for one.
Remember that if you’re not happy with anything you see, you should insist on an alternative vehicle. If you find cigarette burns, broken mirrors, or windshield cracks these need to be noted before you leave the parking lot. Otherwise, you could be charged for the damages once you return the rental.
7. Get a GPS, a Sim Card, or Download Google Maps
We always pick up a local SIM card when we arrive in a new country. It’s always a good idea to have a working phone in case of emergencies. We picked up a SIM card with Vodacom in South Africa and we were able to top up our phone from their website with a credit card. That way we always had data to run a GPS from our smartphone.
Google Maps is a good GPS option in South Africa and you can download the map right to your phone when you are in WiFi. Having a map downloaded to your phone means that you don’t need internet for turn by turn directions.
8. Watch Out For the Goats
When traveling around Africa it’s best to always be on the lookout for all kinds of animals. Whether that’s cows, sheep, chickens, or goats be on the lookout. The big thing we saw driving in South Africa were goats. Goats will roam the side of the road and may jump out in the road when you least expect it. If you’re driving in rural areas at night this can be a big issue.
9. The Roads are Well Paved
If you’re continuing on an African road trip after South Africa you better enjoy the roads because they are the best you are going to come across. The roads in South Africa are, in general, pretty great. They are paved and aren’t the pothole-ridden roads you’ll find in many other nations.
10. Don’t Let Your Guard Down
You may feel like you’re traveling in a secure country when you’re driving around South Africa, but it’s important to never let your guard down. South Africa can be a dangerous country to drive around. Carjackings and muggings used to be common. Since the end of the apartheid regime, things have gotten better, but it’s not completely safe. Don’t flash your valuables and always lock the doors.
11. Take Caution at Night
I would advise against driving at night in South Africa if possible. This is when most of these muggings and carjackings occur, especially if you aren’t in a great neighborhood. Be extra aware of your surroundings at night, always lock the door, and be wary when stopped at stoplights at night.
12. Hide Any Valuables
I should mention one more time to hide your valuables when you are driving and when the car is parked. That means zipping up backpacks, putting valuables in the trunk, and covering things like cameras with clothing items and blankets. Thieves are opportunistic, and there’s no reason to give anyone an incentive to break in.
13. Don’t Fill Up Your Own Gas
It’s not common to fill up your own gas in South Africa. There will always be a gas station attendant to fill up your car just like the good old days. They will often ask if you want your windows cleaned too. There’s no reason to ever get out of the car when filling up.
14. Tip Those Gas Station Attendants
It’s expected to tip those lovely gas station attendants that fill up your car and clean those windows. South Africans usually tip anywhere from 2-5 ZAR, but tourists seem to tip more around 10 ZAR. Any amount is acceptable!
15. Leave Your Car with Car Attendants
In South Africa it’s very common to have car attendants outside grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses – (yay job creation).
Almost anywhere we parked in SA was monitored by a “car guard” to ensure that vehicles remain safely parked while you go and do your business. Expect to tip these guys anywhere between 2-10 ZAR, and don’t try to stiff them. They will literally block your car with their body until you give them something.
16. Prepare for Toll Roads
If you plan on doing a big South Africa road trip you need to prepare for toll roads. Most South African rental cars will already have a system set up in the car so you don’t have to do anything, but it’s still best to have some extra rand on you just in case.
17. Crossing Borders
Most car rental companies in South Africa will allow you to drive your car over the border if you want. That opens up a whole world of travel to Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Namibia. Just make sure to tell them your travel plans as you will need a letter from the owner of the vehicle (ie the rental agency) stating that you can drive across the border. Almost all rental car companies charge anywhere from $50 to $150 per border crossing letter.
18. Check for Restricted Mileage
Make sure that your South Africa rental car has unlimited mileage before signing your contract! If you plan on doing a lot of driving a car with restricted mileage will severely limit you or cost an arm and a leg once you go over and start getting charged per kilometer.
19. Drive on the Left-Hand Side in South Africa
Depending on where you’ll be coming from you could be driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in South Africa. That is on the left-hand side of the road rather than the right, like in North America. That means the steering wheel is on the other side of the vehicle to what you may be used to, with the gear shift (in manual transmission vehicles) and parking brake on the opposite side to you as well.
That said, the pedals are in the same order as in the US, with the clutch on the left (for manual vehicles), foot brake in the middle, and gas pedal on the right.
20. There’s Always Uber
If you don’t feel comfortable driving around the cities Uber is a very popular option. In cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town Uber is everywhere and it is very affordable!
21. South Africa is a Great Place to Road Trip
All in all, South Africa is an awesome place to road trip! We spent three months in South Africa traveling to all the best places and hope to return one day and do it all again. There is so much to see, so much to do, and the best part of all is you can road trip South Africa on a modest budget!
What to Pack For Your South Africa Vacation?
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
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