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Car & Motorcycle

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 Associations

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.

Driving Licence

  • You can use your driving licence from your home country, provided it is in English (or you have a certified translation).
  • For use in South Africa, your licence should also carry your photo. Otherwise you’ll need an international driving permit.
  • Police generally ask to see foreign drivers’ passports, so keep a photocopy in your car.
  • You can be fined for not being able to show your licence, passport or other ID.

Fuel & Spare Parts

  • Unleaded petrol costs about R12 per litre.
  • An attendant will fill your tank and clean your windows – tip R2 to R5; if they check your oil, water or tyres, tip R5 to R10.
  • Along main roads, there are plenty of petrol stations. Many stay open 24 hours.
  • There are petrol stations in most South African towns.
  • In rural areas, fill up whenever you can.

Lesotho

  • The main petrol stations are in Maseru.
  • Other major towns have limited facilities and unreliable fuel availability.
  • Carry a jerry can, as fuel is not readily available in remote areas.

Swaziland

  • Mbabane and Manzini have the best facilities.
  • Manzini is the best place for sourcing spare parts.

Hire

  • Car rental is inexpensive in South Africa compared with Europe and North America, starting at around R200 per day for longer rentals.
  • Many companies levy a surcharge for drivers aged under 21.
  • Most companies ask for a credit card and will not accept a debit card. Many use a chip-and-pin machine, so you'll need to know your credit card’s PIN.
  • For low rates, book online months in advance.
  • Many companies stipulate a daily mileage limit, with an extra fee payable for any mileage over this limit. This can be a drawback if you’re planning a long road trip. Four hundred kilometres a day is generally sufficient. If you plan one- or two-day stopovers along the way, 200km a day might be sufficient.
  • A few local companies offer unlimited mileage. If you rent through an international company and book through an overseas branch, you may get unlimited mileage for no extra cost, except at peak times (such as December to January).
  • Make sure that quoted prices include the 14% value-added tax (VAT).
  • One-way rental is charged according to the distance of the relocation.
  • There are rental operations in cities, major towns and airports, but it’s generally cheapest to hire in a hub such as Jo’burg or Cape Town.

Rental Companies

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.

Campervans, 4WD & Motorcycles

  • Some campervan and motorhome rentals include camping gear.
  • One-way rental is not always possible.
  • ‘Bakkie’ campers, sleeping two in the back of a canopied pick-up truck, are cheaper.
  • Mopeds and scooters are available for hire in Cape Town and other tourist areas.
  • For Lesotho and provinces such as the Northern and Eastern Capes, with many gravel roads and national parks, consider a 4WD.
  • Besides standard rental-car companies, check Britz in Cape Town, Jo’burg and beyond for 4WDs; Drive South Africa (www.drivesouthafrica.co.za) in Cape Town for 4WDs and campervans, and Maui (www.maui.co.za) in Cape Town and Jo’burg for motorhomes.

Insurance

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:

Automobile Association of South Africa

Old Mutual iWyze (www.oldmutual.co.za)

Outsurance (www.outsurance.co.za)

Sansure (www.sansure.co.za)

Purchase

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.

Paperwork

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.

Registration

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:

  • ANR8 (application and notice in respect of traffic register number)
  • RLV/NCO5 (notification of change of ownership/sale of motor vehicle)

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:

  • your passport and a photocopy of it
  • a copy of the seller’s ID
  • the registration certificate (in the seller’s name)
  • a roadworthy certificate
  • proof of purchase
  • proof of address (a letter from your accommodation may suffice)
  • a valid licence
  • your fee (in cash)

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.

Contacts & Resources

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.

Road Conditions

  • A good network of highways covers the country.
  • Major roads are generally in good condition.
  • Outside large towns and cities you may encounter gravel (dirt) roads, most of which are graded and reasonably smooth.
  • Check locally on tertiary and gravel roads’ condition, which can deteriorate when it rains.
  • In rural areas beware of hazards such as dangerous potholes, washed-out roads, unannounced hairpin bends, and livestock, children and dogs on the road.
  • The N2 highway through the Wild Coast region is in poor condition.

Road Hazards

  • South Africa's roads can be treacherous, with a horrific accident rate and well over 10,000 deaths annually.
  • Notably dangerous stretches of highway: N1 between Cape Town and Beaufort West, and between Polokwane (Pietersburg) and Louis Trichardt (Makhado); N2 between Cape Town and Caledon, along the Garden Route, between East London and Kokstad, and Durban and Tongaat; N12 between Springs and Witbank; N4 between Middelburg and Belfast.
  • The main hazards are your fellow drivers. Motorists from all sections of society drive sloppily and often aggressively. Be particularly wary of shared-taxi drivers, who operate under pressure on little sleep in sometimes-shoddy vehicles.
  • Overtaking blind and with insufficient passing room are common.
  • On major roads, drivers coming up behind you will flash their lights at you and expect you to move into the hard shoulder to let them pass, even if you are approaching a corner and regardless of what is happening in the hard shoulder. Motorists often remain hard on your tail until you move over.
  • Drivers on little-used rural roads often speed and assume there is no other traffic.
  • Watch out for oncoming cars at blind corners on secondary roads.
  • Despite roadblocks and alcohol breath testing in South Africa, particularly in urban areas, drink driving is widespread.
  • Do not be seduced by the relaxed local attitude to drink driving; you can end up in a cell, so nominate a designated driver.
  • Farm animals, wildlife (particularly baboons) and pedestrians stray onto the roads, especially in rural areas. If you hit an animal in an area where you’re uncertain of your safety, continue to the nearest police station and report it there.
  • In roads through townships (such as the N2 from Cape Town International Airport to the city), foreign objects are occasionally placed on the road and motorists robbed when they pull over after driving over the object. Continue to a garage and police station to inspect your car and report the incident.
  • During the rainy season, thick fog can slow you to a crawl, especially in the higher areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
  • In the highveld and lowveld, summer hail storms can damage your car.

Carjacking

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.

  • Stay alert, keep your taste in cars modest and avoid driving in urban areas at night; if you have to do so, keep windows wound up and doors locked.
  • If you’re waiting at a red light and notice anything suspicious, it’s standard practice to check that the junction is clear and jump the light.
  • If you do get carjacked, don’t resist; just hand over the keys immediately. The carjackers are almost always armed, and people have been killed for their cars.

Road Rules

  • Driving is on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers.
  • The main local idiosyncrasy is the ‘four-way stop’ (crossroad), found even on major roads. All vehicles are required to stop, with those arriving first being the first to go (even if they’re on a minor cross street).

Speed Limits

Stick to speed limits, as speed traps (cameras and guns) are increasingly common in South Africa, although limits remain widely ignored by locals.

  • 120km/h on most major highways
  • 100km/h on open roads
  • 60km/h in built-up areas
  • 40km/h in most wildlife parks and reserves

Signage

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.

Tolls

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 & Car Guards

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.