Self-drive ‘holidays’ don’t really exist in Iran unless you bring your own car, which is exactly what a steady stream of travellers used to do en route between Europe and Asia. The trail is largely empty these days, thanks to the dangers of travelling in southeastern Iran and (more particularly) southwestern Pakistan. When it was still a well-worn trail, most reported the country driving was great and the city driving was not. If you’re considering an overland journey these sites have the stories of those who’ve gone before:
If you are driving your own vehicle, you should always slow down and get ready to stop at roadblocks. Usually if you wind down your window, smile nicely, and give the officials your best ‘I-don’t-know-what-to-do-and-I-don’t-speak-Farsi’ look, you will be waved straight through. At worst you’ll have to show your passport, licence and vehicle documents. Be sure to find a hotel with safe parking when in the southeast.
Hossein Ravanyar of Iran Overland is a guide/fixer who specialises in helping people with carnet trouble and getting their cars across the border at the Astara crossing.
To drive in Iran you need an international driving licence. Get one from the national automobile association in your home country.
While fuel in Iran is not as dirt cheap as it once was, it will still be a bargain compared with what you pay at home. Except in the desert, you’ll find large towns with benzin (petrol) stations at least every 100km. Not all stations sell diesel and there is usually nothing written on the pump to differentiate it from benzin – be sure to ask. Fuel quality is poor – drivers told us most benzin was just 71 octane – so don’t expect the same mileage as at home. More problematic, though, are the long queues in towns within 100km or so of a border, where well-organised smuggling operations leave little for locals. Iranian motor oil can also be of dubious quality. International brands are safer.
Expect to pay around IR10,000 to IR12,000 per litre.
Even the tiniest settlements have repair shops. The price for repair work is open to negotiation but you won’t have much choice when it comes to spare parts. In the height of summer, scalding heat makes tyre blowouts fairly common.
It’s theoretically possible to rent a car but unusual. Instead, ‘car rental’ usually means chartering a taxi and/or private driver, either privately or through a travel agency.
Your vehicle will need a carnet de passage and a green card, both of which you should organise before you arrive.
Road surfaces are generally excellent. On the other hand, driving at night is more dangerous because of occasional unmarked potholes and the risk of running into tractors and other vehicles crawling along the road with no lights. On intercity roads most signs are in English and Farsi. All cities have street signs, many in English and Farsi.
Iranian drivers in the cities... Camels in the deserts... Unmarked speed bumps everywhere. The last, often at the edges of towns, are both highly annoying and dangerous, and you’ll often be completely unaware they exist until your car suddenly gets airborne as you launch over the bump.
If you’re in an accident the Iranian involved will probably call the local traffic police. If you’re alone, call the emergency number – 110 for police, 115 for ambulance. You should never move the vehicle from the road until the police have come to make their report. As a foreigner, you’ll probably be held responsible.
Lanes? What are they? Driving across Iran is not a task to be taken lightly. In theory, everyone drives on the right but this can’t be depended upon; faced with a one-way street going the wrong way, the average Iranian driver sees nothing wrong with reversing down it. Take 10 Iranian drivers and an otherwise deserted road and they will form a convoy so tightly packed that each can read the speedometer of the car in front. ‘Optimum braking distance’ is not widely understood.
Take comfort, however, in the knowledge most foreign drivers make it across Iran without too much trouble.