Driving in Malaysia is fantastic compared with most Asian countries. There has been a lot of investment in the country’s roads, which are generally of a high quality. New cars for hire are commonly available and fuel is inexpensive (RM2.20 per litre).
It’s not all good news though. Driving in the cities, particularly KL, can be a nightmare, due to traffic and confusing one-way systems. Malaysian drivers aren’t always the safest when it comes to obeying road rules – they mightn’t be as reckless as drivers elsewhere in Southeast Asia, but they still take risks. For example, hardly any of the drivers keep to the official 110km/h speed limit on the main highways and tailgating is a common problem.
The Lebuhraya (North–South Hwy) is a six-lane expressway that runs for 966km along the length of the peninsula from the Thai border in the north to JB in the south. There are quite steep toll charges for using the expressway and these vary according to the distance travelled. As a result, the normal highways remain crowded while traffic on the expressway is light.
It’s technically possible to bring your vehicle into Malaysia, but there are reams of red tape and the costs are prohibitively expensive – a hire car is a much better proposition.
A valid overseas licence is needed to rent a car. An International Driving Permit (a translation of your state or national driver’s licence and its vehicle categories) is usually not required by local car-hire companies, but it is recommended that you bring one. Most rental companies also require that drivers are at least 23 years old (and younger than 65) with at least one year of driving experience.
Major rent-a-car operations in Malaysia:
You'll also find local operators in individual cities.
Unlimited distance rates for a 1.3L Proton Saga, one of the cheapest and most popular cars in Malaysia, are posted at around RM190/1320 per day/week, including insurance and collision-damage waiver. The Proton is basically a Mitsubishi assembled under licence in Malaysia.
You can often get better prices, either through smaller local companies or when the major companies offer special deals. Rates drop substantially for longer rentals. The advantage of dealing with a large company is that it has offices all over the country, giving better backup if something goes wrong and allowing you to pick up in one city and drop off in another.
The best place to look for car hire is KL, though Penang is also good. In Sabah and Sarawak there is less competition and rates are higher, partly because of road conditions; there’s also likely to be a surcharge if you drop your car off in a different city from the one you rented it in.
Rental companies will provide insurance when you hire a car, but always check what the extent of your coverage will be, particularly if you’re involved in an accident. You might want to take out your own insurance or pay the rental company an extra premium for an insurance excess reduction.