Especially in Rio, the anarchic side of the Brazilian personality emerges from behind the driver’s wheel as lane dividers, one-way streets, sidewalks and pedestrians are disregarded.
All vehicles in Brazil must carry the registration document and proof of insurance. To take a vehicle into or out of Brazil, you might be asked for a carnet de passage en douane, which is a kind of vehicle passport, or a libreta de pasos por aduana, which is a booklet of customs passes. Contact your local automobile association for details about all documentation.
Your home-country driver’s license is valid in Brazil, but because local authorities probably won’t be familiar with it, it’s a good idea to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) as well. This gives police less scope for claiming that you are not driving with a legal license. IDPs are issued by your national motoring association and usually cost the equivalent of about US$15. It is illegal for foreigners to drive motorbikes in Brazil unless they have a Brazilian license.
Ordinary gasoline (called combustível or gasolina) costs around R$4.60 per liter. Travelers taking their own vehicles need to check in advance what spare parts and gasoline are likely to be available.
A small four-door car with insurance and unlimited kilometers costs around R$100 a day (R$130 with air-con). You can sometimes get discounts for longer rentals.
To rent a car you must be 25 years old (21 with some rental firms, including Avis), have a credit card in your name and a valid driver’s license from your home country (not just an IDP).
Minimum insurance coverage is always tacked onto the cost of renting, though you can get extra protection (a wise idea) for another R$20 to R$40 per day.
In Brazil, 4WD vehicles are hard to come by and can be quite expensive (over R$200 per day). Motorbike rental is even harder to find. Riders planning a long trip might have better luck purchasing a bike in Brazil and reselling it at the end of the trip.
Brazil is a dangerous place to drive, with over 43,000 people killed in automobile accidents each year. Some roads are especially hazardous, such as the busy highways between Rio and São Paulo. The cult of speed is insatiable.
Owing to the danger of robbery, at night many motorists don’t stop at red lights but merely slow down. This is particularly common in São Paulo. In big cities, keep your windows closed and doors locked when stationary.
Driving at night is particularly hazardous; other drivers are more likely to be drunk and, at least in the Northeast and the interior, the roads are often poor and unreliable. Poorly banked turns are the norm. To save a bit of fuel, some motorists drive at night with their headlights turned to low beam or turned off completely.
Brazilian speed bumps are quite prevalent. Always slow down as you enter a town.
Further headaches for drivers in Brazil are posed by poor signposting, impossible one-way systems, tropical rainstorms, drivers overtaking on blind corners, flat tires – common, but there are borracheiros (tire repairers) stationed at frequent intervals along the roads – and, of course, the police pulling you over for bogus moving violations.
For security, choose hotels with off-street parking; most midrange and top-end places offer this option.