Car rental in South Africa: a brief guide

A self-drive safari in South Africa is a very popular way to see this vast country. You can choose your own departure time, schedule and route or book a self-drive tour through South Africa where accommodation is included. Choose the right vehicle and plan your route well.
Limit yourself to about 300km per day – this will allow for about 3 – 4 hours of driving with enough time for rest stops and sightseeing. Here are some guidelines for renting a vehicle in South Africa.

Some general rules

Drive on the left side of the road.
Bring your driver’s license preferably in English with a photo or an international driving license.
The blood alcohol limit is 0.05g/100ml. This equates to two-thirds of a beer, 75ml wine or 25ml of spirits per hour.
Do not stop for hitchhikers, to feed wild animals or at an accident scene – unless you caused it…

Which car?

Most rental vehicles have manual gears. Specify an automatic gearbox when you book, but it might cost more. You want enough space for luggage and possible purchases – where will you put the 2m wooden giraffe?
If you are going into rural areas or off the beaten track, consider a larger (higher ground clearance) vehicle, 4×4 or even a bakkie (pronounced ‘buckey’).
The smallest vehicles often do not have airbags and power steering while a larger vehicle is a better option for long distances and varied road conditions.


Rental costs are charged per day = 24 hours.  Although some companies have a ‘grace period’ in which to return the vehicle after the 24 hours, most companies will charge a full day rate extra.
The price per day should include local tax, collision damage waiver, theft protection and the South Africa tourism levy. It also includes a fixed distance per day (starting from 200 km). The cost of additional mileage is charged per kilometer and a ‘young driver surcharge’ may be added if a client is under a certain age – most often 22 years.
If you will travel on gravel roads, consider including a tyre and windscreen cover (daily charge). If travelling long distances, considering paying a little extra (once-off fee) to add an additional driver to the rental agreement.
Some highways in South Africa have toll gates and fees (cash and credit cards) range from R10 to R200. In the Gauteng province, e-toll fees apply on certain highways. Rental vehicles are fitted with e-tags and e-toll fees will be automatically added onto your invoice.
Extras such as baby seats, GPS sets and bicycle racks can be rented as well.

Fuel and maintenance

Fuel stations are everywhere and are manned by attendants who will fill up the car, wash the windscreen and check engine fluids. Tip at your discretion. Most vehicles will use unleaded petrol. At these stations are toilets, shops and ATM’s. Check tyre pressure and emergency equipment.


Keep doors and windows closed while driving and always lock the doors when you leave the car. Do not leave items visible – rather stow it away in the trunk. Switch on the lights when driving and try not to drive at night, when pedestrians and animals may stray onto the roads.  Drive very careful on gravel roads and ensure visibility on dusty roads by switching on the headlights. In emergencies, phone the emergency number supplied – usually on the key ring. In case of an accident, stay calm. Rest often while driving and never drive after you have consumed alcohol.
Dial 112 from a mobile phone.

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