South Africa is a spectacular country for a road trip. Away from the main bus and train routes, having your own wheels is the best way to get around, and if you’re in a group, hiring a car is often the most economical option.
Road maps are a worthwhile investment and are readily available in South Africa.
Automobile Association of South Africa offers a vehicle breakdown service, which can be useful if you’ll be driving in the areas it covers.
Its fleet of emergency response vehicles operates nationwide, with AA-approved operatives available elsewhere and numerous other benefits offered to members. Membership costs from R111.50 per month. Check the website for motoring news, information and tips.
Members of foreign clubs in the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (www.fia.com) group have access to AASA – contact your club to find out what is available to you in South Africa.
In addition to the companies listed, check with backpacker hostels and travel agents, as many offer good deals. Local companies are usually less expensive, though they tend to come and go, and their vehicles are often older.
Argus (www.arguscarhire.com) Online consolidator, covering South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Around About Cars Covering South Africa and Swaziland, this recommended budget agent secures low rates with other operators, including Budget, Tempest and First. One of the few companies offering unlimited mileage.
Avis (www.avis.co.za) Covers South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Budget (www.budget.co.za) Covers South Africa and Swaziland.
Europcar (www.europcar.co.za) Covers South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
First (www.firstcarrental.co.za) Covers South Africa.
Hertz (www.hertz.co.za) Covers South Africa.
Sixt (www.sixt.com) Covers South Africa.
Tempest (www.tempestcarhire.co.za) Covers South Africa.
Thrifty (www.thrifty.co.za) Covers South Africa.
Insurance for third-party damage and damage to or loss of your vehicle is highly recommended, though it's not legally required for private-vehicle owners. Generally it is only available on an annual basis.
If you're renting a vehicle, insurance with an excess should be included, with an excess waiver or reduction available at an extra cost.
Check that hire-car insurance or the rental agreement covers hail damage, a costly possibility during summer in the highveld and lowveld regions.
Insurance providers include the following:
Old Mutual iWyze (www.oldmutual.co.za)
South Africa is the best place in the region to purchase a vehicle for a Southern African, or larger sub-Saharan, journey. It’s worth buying a vehicle if you plan to stay longer than about three months.
Jo’burg is the best place to buy; prices are often lower here, and cars tend to build up rust in Cape Town and coastal towns. Cape Town is the best place to resell; the market is smaller and prices tend to be higher.
In Jo’burg you’ll find a good congregation of used-car dealers on Great North Rd, Benoni; in Cape Town, look on Voortrekker Rd between Maitland and Bellville metro train stations.
Buying privately, prices are considerably lower, though you won’t have any dealer warranties and shopping around is likely to take longer. Dealers can advise on the arduous process of registering the car, and they may have some of the forms you need. You may find one willing to agree to a buy-back deal, though the terms are likely to be unfavourable.
Prices are high. Lonely Planet readers and writers have paid R124,000, at a Benoni dealership, for a four-year-old Nissan 2.4 4WD bakkie with a canopy and 135,000km on the clock; R70,000 to a private seller in Cape Town for a seven-year-old Toyota Corolla with 95,000km on the clock; and most recently, R60,000 to a private seller in Cape Town for a 10-year-old Renault Clio with 120,000km on the clock.
Make sure the car details correspond accurately with the ownership (registration) papers, that there is a current licence disc on the windscreen and that the service-history book is up to date. Check the owner’s name against their identity document, and check the car’s engine and chassis numbers.
An up-to-date roadworthy certificate is required when you submit the change-of-ownership form and pay tax for a licence disc. Roadworthy test centres issue certificates for a few hundred rand and will generally overlook minor faults. In Cape Town many test centres are found on Oswald Pirow St (also known as Christiaan Barnard St), near the Civic Centre.
Registering your car is a bureaucratic headache and will likely take a couple of weeks. Officials have told travellers they cannot register a car without South African citizenship, but this is untrue.
The forms you need to complete should be available at vehicle registration offices and dealers:
Submit your ANR8 as soon as possible, as this registers individuals to drive on South African roads. Without this piece of paperwork, you cannot register a car in your name; it takes several weeks to process. You generally need a proof of your permanent address, such as a utility bill in your name; check what is required, as this has proved to be an obstacle for foreigners.
To submit your RLV/NCO5, present yourself at a vehicle registration office along with the following items:
Ideally get photocopies of IDs and other documents certified at a police station before submitting them.
Charges rise annually and typically start at around R400 to register and license a car.
If the licence has expired, you will have to pay a penalty.
Auto Trader (www.autotrader.co.za) Car ads across South Africa.
Cape Ads (www.capeads.com) Car ads around Cape Town.
eNaTIS (www.enatis.com) Forms and information on registering vehicles.
Gumtree South Africa (www.gumtree.co.za) South African car ads.
Mahindra Benoni (www.msmdealer.co.za) Jo’burg dealer offering car and bakkie sales and trade-ins; has experience selling to foreigners and helping them register vehicles.
South African Government Services (www.gov.za) Information on applying for a traffic register number and driving licence. Click on Services, Services for Foreign Nationals and Driving.
Suedafrika-forum.net (http://suedafrika-forum.net) A forum in German.
Western Cape Government (www.westerncape.gov.za) Forms and advice on registering a vehicle in the Western Cape; click on Directories then Services and search for the Licences, Permits and Certificates link. Also details of vehicle registration offices in and around Cape Town; click on Directories then Facilities and search for the Motor Vehicle Registering Authorities link.
In Jo’burg and, to a lesser extent, in the other big cities and elsewhere in the northeastern provinces, carjacking is a danger. It’s more likely if you’re driving something flash, rather than a standard rental car.
Stick to speed limits, as speed traps (cameras and guns) are increasingly common in South Africa, although limits remain widely ignored by locals.
Signage is good in South Africa. Signposts are sparser on secondary and tertiary roads, sometimes only giving route numbers or directing you to nearby towns, rather than the next large town or city.
Roads are normally numbered (eg R44). When you ask directions, most people will refer to these numbers.
On some South African highways a toll is payable, based on distance. You can usually pay with cash or card. Many rental cars have a transmitter attached; you will automatically be charged and the fee added to your final rental bill. If this is the case, the transmitter will beep and the toll gate will open automatically.
There’s always plenty of warning that you’re about to enter a toll section (marked by a black ‘T’ in a yellow circle), and there's normally an alternative route (marked by a black ‘A’ in a yellow circle).
Calculate journey tolls at Drive South Africa (www.drivesouthafrica.co.za).
Parking is readily available at sights, eateries and accommodation throughout South Africa. Particularly in Jo’burg and other locations where crime is a problem, secure parking is often offered.
If you are parking in the street or even a car park in larger South African towns and cities, you will often be approached by a ‘car guard’. They will keep an eye on your vehicle in exchange for a tip: R2 for a short period, R5 to R10 for long stays. They may also offer to wash your car for an extra R20. Do not pay them until you are leaving, or if they did not approach you when you arrived. Ensure you give the money to the right person; in Cape Town, for example, approved car guards often wear high-visibility vests.