16 Things You Need To Know When Renting A Car In South Africa

You have decided to travel to South Africa, one of the most colourful and exciting countries in the world. However, you are not entirely sure about getting to and from your planned destinations. Below we tell you everything you need to know about renting a car in South Africa.

1. Do I Really Need To Rent A Car In South Africa?

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For a visitor, a vehicle is essential. The public transport system is not as streamlined as European or American countries, and there are often not many bus or suburban train systems operating regularly or timeously. 

Distances between towns and cities dictate that a rental vehicle is the safest and most affordable way of travelling within the borders of South Africa. While you can use Uber to travel to your destinations, it can become highly costly depending on the distance between the points.

2. When Should I Rent A Car In South Africa?

Always, a rule of thumb to book well in advance, especially over the peak summer holiday seasons. At peak periods there are often shortages of rental cars available. 

Star Car Rental offers a booking service which does not require payment in advance, nor even your credit card details, provided that the car is for collection at the airport or an inner city branch wherever you are in South Africa. Should you have to cancel for whatever reason, there are no penalties. Rather be safe than sorry and be assured of a rental car on arrival.

3. What Are The First Steps To Take Before You Rent The Car?

Decide what type of car you want before renting a car. Think about whether you want a hatchback or sedan, a manual or automatic, and consider how many people are travelling in the car. Study the car rental websites for pictures of the vehicles on offer and the features for guidance.

Once you select the type of vehicle you would like to rent, request a quotation from the rental company concerned. It is recommended that you try a few. Star Car Rental offers a wide variety of vehicles from several of our internationally renowned suppliers. We can advise as to the most suitable type of vehicle and will always offer the most competitive prices. Beware extremely low prices for obvious reasons.

4. How Do I Evaluate The Car Rental Quotations?

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Most car rent quotes provide the bare minimum of details, so firstly check to see exactly what the price includes. This often will include unlimited kilometers; TLW [Theft and Loss Waiver] and CDW [Collision Damage Waiver] and possibly vat. That is the easy part but leaves you pretty much in the dark realistically. 

The next and vitally the most important….Check to see what the quote does not include. This is often like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack.

Does it include windscreen or tyre and rim damage?
These are the most common damages that occur.  Damage to a windscreen depending on the vehicle can cost you a few thousand rand that you have not budgeted for.

What is the amount of the waiver?
Clients often discover too late that if they have an accident that the waiver is as high as R10, 000, and even a lot higher. This is always the most difficult figure to obtain in the quotation, particularly in an automated quote.

Another thing to look for is what are you covered for third party damage as part of the car rental insurance?
Airport surcharges, if not included, can set you back an extra 11% of the rental value. The cheaper the price quoted is often the most expensive in the long run, as car rental is no different from any business pricing model. 

It is often difficult when booking online to get the finer details as it is often not disclosed. This can result in a financial shock should you be involved in an accident or have the vehicle stolen. Star Car Rental provides a detailed quotation that is rare in the industry.

Are the rental vehicles new models?
There are many smaller companies that fail to disclose that the vehicles are several years old with very high mileage.
Most reputable companies in South Africa will have cars that are no more than 6-9 months old with mileage generally no higher than 50000 kilometers.  

From November onwards, most companies re-fleet so that a high percentage of the cars are in fact brand new over the peak summer season.

What refundable deposit is payable on arrival? 
Not knowing in advance can have an impact on your travelling budget. Often you only find out on arrival. We provide these details with the quotation, so that you know exactly how much you require on your credit card when taking delivery.

5. Should I Pay For My Rental In Advance?

Knowing how and when to pay for car rental is important. Our advice is never to pay in advance for the simple reason that, should you experience unforeseen circumstances or have to cancel your trip, then you are saddled with the inevitable hassle of trying to get a refund. Several rental sites insist on up-front payments but it is certainly not recommended.

Car rentals can be booked and confirmed without having to make any advance payments and bookings can be cancelled without penalty provided cancellation is made before arrival. With certain types of vehicles, such as the super luxury vehicles, there are terms and conditions which require a minimum cancellation period.

During peak seasons, some car rental companies will require you to provide your credit card details in order to confirm a vehicle; however most companies will only debit your credit card on the day of your arrival.  This should be made clear in the quotation you receive.

Time is not an issue as you still have to finalise the contract, pay deposits, and fine-check your vehicle.

6. Does The Car Rental Company Provide Country Wide Back-Up Service?

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If you are travelling long distances and want to hire a car in South Africa, it is important that should something unforeseen occur, such as a breakdown or at worst an accident, you need to have the peace of mind that help is never too far away to get a replacement vehicle. 

Smaller companies do not offer this facility, and many do not permit their vehicles to travel outside of a specific radius from their depot. All vehicles booked with Star Car Rental, however,  have full countrywide backup within the borders of South Africa and in some cases beyond.

7. What Level Of Car Rental Insurance Cover Is Necessary?

Up to 70% of South African car owners and drivers are not insured so it is vital to have insurance for your car hire in South Africa. When renting a car, it is important to understand that you remain liable for the damages to the car, irrespective of where the fault lies.

The rule of thumb is to take the best possible insurance available. A lower price generally reflects a much lower insurance package in terms of coverage. Star Car Rental offers the lowest excesses and often zero excess for international visitors, making us a more affordable option. Insurance is a grudge expense, but you cannot do without it.

8. What Should The Car Rental Insurance Cover?

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Most rental insurances do not cover glass and tyre cover, undercarriage damage, hail and water damage, and single car accidents where no other vehicles or animals are involved.

Some car rental insurance excludes drivers who are not on the contract, reckless driving, and driving under the influence, amongst others. Star Car Rental quotations always specify what exactly is covered and the cost to cover any item not generally covered.

9. On Arrival What Do I Need To Do When Collecting My Rental Car?

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Go directly to the designated car rental office and ensure that you have with you the following:

  • Your driver’s license which must have a photo and description in English, or must have an accompanying English translation if in another language. An international driver’s license is another option.
  • Your passport
  • Your credit card must not be a debit or cheque card.
  • Any additional drivers must accompany you with their respective licences and passports.
  • Ensure that the time you actually sign for the car is entered on the rental contract.

When having the car handed over, check, check, and check again and ensure that every mark, scratch or imperfection is noted on the hand over sheet and this includes chips on the windscreen. You can take pictures, if necessary.

Be sure to inspect the tread on the tyres and that the spare tyre and the tools are included, and ready to be used if necessary. This sounds a bit pedantic, especially when you are tired and irritable, but it is vital if you are to avoid being held responsible for damage you did not cause.

It goes without saying that you do the same when you return the car, so leave enough time to do so.

10. Will I Be Expected To Pay For Speeding Fines While Using A Rental Car?

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If you are not a resident of South Africa, but are renting a car in South Africa, then you are not expected to pay for speeding fines. Most traffic fines are received by the rental company, as the registered owner of the vehicle, and will only be seen once you have departed from the country. 

However, all car hire companies in South Africa will levy a charge against your credit card of an average of R300 to R350 for administrative fees, in order to prove to the authorities who was the driver at the time by means of providing them with an affidavit, as well as certified copies of the original rental contract. Your contract provides for this. 

Should you receive such a debit after you have left the country, we can provide you with a copy of the traffic fine for your records, on request.

11. Are There Kilometer Limits Or Does This Only Apply To Certain Instances?

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The limit can be anything between 300 km per day and unlimited kilometers depending on our specific supplier and length of the rental. Ultra Luxury vehicles are limited to 200 km per day with a rate per kilometre once that is exceeded. Your quotation will specify exactly what is included in the price.

12. Which African Countries Are Visitors Allowed To Visit With Their Rental Cars And Which Are Prohibited?

This can change depending on political and risk situations in neighboring countries, but Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland are normally allowed, subject to getting prior cross border clearance and the necessary paperwork.  

Zimbabwe and Mozambique are allowed on request. Make sure to always ask before renting a car in South Africa if you are able to continue your cross-country journey, so you don’t have to cancel your plans.

13. What Would Disqualify Someone From Renting A Car?

One of the major factors would be the age of the person wanting to hire a car in South Africa. Depending on the suppliers of the vehicle, anyone under the age of 23 is not eligible for vehicle hire. 

If you do not have a valid driver’s license or a valid form of identity, you will be disqualified from renting a car in South Africa. Always make sure that your driver’s license has an English translation if it is not in English, for both the rental agency and for any traffic police you might meet on your journey

14. What Process Should Be Followed If I Am In/Cause An Accident In The Rental Car?

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 By law, you are required to report to the South African police within 24 hours of the accident happening. If anyone has been injured, you are not allowed to move the vehicle until permitted by a police or traffic officer. 

You will also need to immediately notify the rental agency and provide as many details as possible. Avoid making any admissions of liability to anyone and take photographs of the scene if possible. These will be used for any insurance needs that may arise.

15. What Are The Road Conditions Like In South Africa?

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The road conditions in South Africa vary according to the area. In more rural areas, you might find that the roads are more dirt-based than tar-based, and there are likely to be more potholes. 

You may also find that road signs and traffic lights are few and far between in these rural areas, so be sure to watch your surroundings before stopping and slowing down. 

In residential areas, the roads are more built up but there are some instances of potholes and dangerous areas around traffic lights. Be sure to ask advice from locals about areas where there are larger holes in the road and where there might be other potential issues.

16. What Are The Rules Of The Road?

The rules of the road in South Africa are quite different to other countries, especially if you are from a country that drives on the right-hand side of the road. In South Africa, you will need to adjust to driving on the left-hand side of the road. 

If your journey will be taking you on any highways in South Africa, be sure to practice driving a little before you head out. There will be speed limits posted along almost every major road, including residential roads. It is important to adhere to these, as the traffic fines can become exorbitant. 

The average speed limit is 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour) in built up areas and 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) to 120 kph (75 mph) on highways.

There are tolls on some main highways between provinces and within provinces. These tolls must be paid in order to continue your journey, and can cost anything from R13 ($0.78) to R96 ($5.77). Remember to keep cash on you, as not all are able to be paid with credit cards. 

The four-way stop street is common in South Africa, and it works on a first-come-first-served basis. These are often seen in residential areas but can also be used in more rural towns to relieve traffic. 

One important thing to remember is when you are using a petrol or gas station in South Africa, you will not be able to fill your car yourself. Workers known as petrol attendants will fill your car with fuel for you, and it is common practice to tip these workers R5 or R10.

So...Should I Rent A Car In South Africa?

The rules of the road in South Africa, and the road conditions, might be daunting to some drivers but by renting a car, you are able to have a more exciting experience in this sun-soaked country. It is also practical, as public transport in South Africa can be difficult in peak season times. 

If you are planning on going on a long cross-country drive or want to explore a province, it is much more economical to hire a car to drive yourself around. It is important to remember that most cars in South Africa are manual drives, so learning how to handle this is a good idea before arriving in the country. 

If you would like to hire a car for your next journey in South Africa, speak to Star Car Rentals to find out how to start our process.

This post was updated on the 30 October 2020.