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All about Car Rental in Cape Town South Africa

Renting a car is the most convenient way of transport in South Africa. Public transport options are limited and with plenty of options for rental car companies right inside Cape Town Airport, finding the best deal and starting your road trip with a rental car is the best way to travel in Southern Africa. We live in Europe now but go to South Africa regularly to travel and visit family.

Rental Cars Cape Town

driving clarence drive to hermanus between mountains and ocean
Driving the beautiful Clarence Drive on a day trip to Hermanus.

We usually pick up a car for long-term rental at Cape Town International Airport. Car rental in Cape Town is affordable, roads in South Africa are mostly paved and road quality is good in the Western Cape. For us, it has always been a quick process to collect and drop off the car at the airport.

How to Rent a Car at Cape Town International Airport

Picking up your rental car is simple. There are several rental companies at Cape Town Airport, making pickups easy for travelers with clear signs for the car rental centers at the arrivals area. Since there are a limited number of vehicles available, I will recommend that you reserve a car beforehand. 

When collecting your rental car, it is important that you have a valid credit card, driver’s license, and passport. A credit card is usually a requirement, a debit card will not be accepted. Be prepared that a block for a rather large amount will be placed on your credit card as a deposit, this is standard practice in most countries when renting a vehicle.

We prefer to use Rentalcars for renting a car in Cape Town. 

The platform compares the cars available for all the main car rental agencies with several specifications to choose from; price, agency, manual or automatic, even meet and greet, and more. Booking cars through rentalcars a full insurance option has always been available for me upon checkout.

Is it Necessary to Rent a Car when traveling from Cape Town?

Renting a car will make your trip a lot easier. The public transport in South Africa is really limited and of the must-see places in Cape Town are not in the city. To get around the Cape Winelands, explore the Garden Route, visit National Parks, or enjoy the world-famous scenic drives from Cape Town, you need a car or go on a tour. Renting a car will give you a lot of freedom and going on tours every day gets very expensive. 

The V&A Waterfront Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background
The V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain are two amazing places to visit driving around Cape Town in South Africa.

The average price to rent a car in Cape Town.

This obviously varies a lot, the season also plays a role. We found small car hire (Suzuki Swift/Kia Picanto) for about $530 per month or $30 per day, medium-sized cars (VW Polo or Toyota Corolla) for about $750 per month or $40 per day and if you need a larger car (like a VW Tiguan or Toyota Urban Cruiser) you are looking at about $1300 per month or $85 per day. 

Additional Charges When Renting a Car

Additional Drivers – remember to add additional drivers If you want other people to drive as well, there is a cost to this, and is important for insurance.

Baby Seat – very convenient to pick up your rental car at the airport with a baby seat/booster seat/child seat.

Fuel – you will receive the car with a full tank of fuel, you have to return the car with a full tank or you will be charged for the fuel plus a refilling fee.

Insurance Excess – If there is damage to the car, the excess charge is the amount you have to pay towards the overall cost of an insurance claim.

Companies do sometimes say online that extras that are payable at pick-up, are not guaranteed, and that prices can differ. We have not had a negative experience regarding availability but note that this is possible.

What type of car is recommended for driving in Cape Town?

Car Type – the exact model car that you booked might not be available at the time of rental. In this case, you will get a different car of the same type (class). This happened to me more than once, I was initially a bit annoyed that I could not get the car that I booked, but ended up being happy with a similar type of car from a different manufacturer 

Since the roads in the Western Cape is good quality a standard car big enough for your requirements will be sufficient. You are not supposed to drive off-road or on gravel roads with standard cars with some agencies, this can affect your insurance. 

gravel roads on the country side of the Western Cape
If you are visiting farms or going to drive on gravel roads it is better to rent a SUV than a small car.

If you are going to National Parks consider renting a medium or large car type. A Jeep or a mid-size SUV, or a four-wheel drive vehicle should be suitable, you can confirm with your rental agency. Most of the time you do not need a 4×4, just more ground clearance (a higher car). We booked game drives in Addo National Park since we did not want to drive with our medium-sized hatchback on gravel roads. The roads in the park turned out to be mostly paved and well-suited for any kind of vehicle. You can always phone the park and confirm. We did however have a much better view from the safari vehicle. 

For driving off-road, camping, and exploring surrounding countries like Namibia and Botswana it is very popular to rent an equipped 4×4 with a rooftop tent. We spent 3 months on a fantastic road trip through Namibia camping with a small SUV. 

Renting a Car for Your Family (Car Seats)

Renting a car with car seats In South Africa – children below the age of four are required to sit in SABS-approved child seats as passengers in a car. We usually just rent a vehicle with an appropriate child car seat installed in the rear of the car. Through Rentalcars the cost of a car seat or booster seat was about $30 for us for a whole month, so it was not worth it to carry our seat with and we did not need to borrow or purchase a seat. In South Africa, we were very happy with the quality of car seats we got from the rental car providers.

Chapman's Peak drive with amazing ocean views
Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular day drives from Cape Town.

Driving License Requirements to Rent a Car in South Africa

To drive in South Africa, foreigners must have a full license issued by their country of residence printed in English. You have to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) with your driving permit if the license is in any other language. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is an international travel document that allows you to drive in a foreign country. You must apply before you travel in the same country that issued you a national driving license and must always carry the IDP with your driver’s license. My IDP has always been issued on the spot, with no waiting period. My European license is in English and I have never needed my IDP in South Africa, but we always get it issued just in case it is requested during rental or by a law officer at a roadblock. 

Some Unique Experiences Driving in Cape Town

Car Guards – You will quickly get used to them. Car guarding is a unique employment activity in South Africa. A car guard offers to guard vehicles in public car parks or private parking areas for a donation. Give this protector to your car R5 or R10 depending on how long he looked after your car.

Petrol Attended – at fuel stations in South Africa you do not fill up your car, but have petrol attendants that fill up your car and upon request will check your oil, water, and tire pressure.

Table Mountain from Bloubergstrand Beach Cape Town
The perfect white beaches and beautiful views of Table Mountain make driving to Bloubergstrand a great day trip from Cape Town.

Is it Safe to Rent a Car in South Africa?

There are some challenges when driving in South Africa. Driving Hazards, Wildlife, and Roadside Crime all present risks foreign drivers might not be used to.

Driving Hazards

  • Many foreign drivers are not used to driving on the left-hand side of the road. Driving on the ´wrong side` of the road is a challenge if you are not used to this. A tip that worked well for me was to always just focus on the driver sitting in the middle of the road. If you are driving and you are not sitting in the middle of the road you are driving on the wrong side! 
  • The majority of cars in South Africa are manual transmission, book an automatic transmission car if you are not used to driving a manual car. There are many steep hills in Cape Town that can be difficult to drive with a manual car if you are not used to it. 
  • Minibus Taxis are the main way of public transport in Cape Town. These drivers use the road with their own set of rules. Try not to drive close to them and don´t lose your temper. Try to smile and stay away from them. 

Roadside Crime

Unfortunately, beautiful South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries many people will ever travel to with robberies, carjackings, and violent crime happening daily. Living here for more than 30 years the worst that has happened to me was a break-in into my car, but you have to be careful, crime is a daily occurrence, I will give you some tips to follow here. 

  • Keep your doors locked and windows rolled up at all times, this is very important and something to focus on.
  • Don´t leave Anything on your car seats, remove all valuables when you park somewhere, especially at night. Your windows can be broken for anything that looks like it might be valuable.
  • Try not to Drive at Night, especially around the more dangerous areas with high crime rates like Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain.
  • Be careful of any debris and objects on the road. It is often placed there purposely in an attempt to get vehicles to stop. Never Stop!
  • Don’t pick up hitchhikers.
  • Don’t stop next to the road.
  • It is not a good idea to drive in rural areas, road quality is not good, road signs are limited, there are many minibus taxis, and a high crime rate.
  • Park in a secure area, such as a parking garage in parking areas near grocery stores, and avoid street parking. There are paid parking garages in the city center. 
ocean scenery from Chapman's peak drive
Beautiful scenery driving Chapman’s Peak drive from Cape Town.

Speed Limits and Traffic Fines in South Africa.

There are many speed cameras on South African roads. Upon receipt of the traffic fine, the rental car company usually redirects the traffic fine to the renter. The traffic department will then re-issue the traffic fine to the renter, who is liable for payment thereof, so you might receive the fine months later.  The general speed limits in South Africa are 60 km/h when driving on a public road in an urban area, 100 km/h on a public road that isn’t a freeway, and 120 km/h on the freeway.

Speeding SMS in Rental Car

Many rental cars are equipped with a Telematics system that can note the speed that the car is traveling as well as its location, so don’t drive where you are not supposed to. I have received speed warning SMSs while traveling that were not correct. As a result, I was worried about speed fines when I returned the car. I was told by the agency not to stress, that there are no fines and that there are problems with the telematic system. 

Rental Companies in Cape Town Airport. 

There are several car rental companies at Cape Town International Airport so if you reserve a car it will be ready for collection outside the airport entrance in the dedicated car rental area in the car parking. Rental providers include Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, National, Thrifty, Payless, Alamo, Hertz, Dollar and SIXT.

Should I Get Rental Insurance when Renting a Car in Cape Town?

The majority of drivers in South Africa are not insured. When renting a car, you remain liable for the damages to the car, so it is very important to be properly insured. Car insurance is also called Collision damage waiver (CDW). We always take the full insurance package. You will still be responsible for paying for the damage when you return the car, but the insurance company should refund you according to the contract. That peace of mind just makes my trip much more relaxed.

World Nomads travel insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers. If you leave home without travel insurance or your policy runs out, you can buy or extend while on the road.

Returning your Rental Car at Cape Town Airport

When you come to the Cape Town International Airport, signs direct you to the large parking area where you can return the car. Using handheld terminals the car is quickly inspected. They check outside the car for any damage. There are baggage trolleys around that you can get to use as you walk to the terminal. Allow about 45 minutes to return the car.

What about returning your rental car if you fly late at night or early morning?  I prefer to drop the car off while the agency is open and be present during the inspection. Hotel Verde Cape Town Airport is an excellent hotel very near the airport with a free shuttle. This makes it very easy to drop off the car and stay the night at the airport. 

Car rental locations in Cape Town

There are Cape Town car rental agencies with cheap car rentals in the city center. We find it the easiest to just rent a car at Cape Town International Airport and in our experience, the prices are the same. With late-night flights, I prefer to drop the car off while the agency is open and be present during the inspection. Hotel Verde Cape Town Airport is an excellent hotel very near the airport with a free shuttle. This makes it very easy to drop off the car and stay the night at the airport. 

Toll Roads

Most rental cars are nowadays equipped with an e-toll tagging system. You do not need to pay in cash for any tolls, the gate will automatically open as your car approaches. Any toll fees incurred will be charged at the end of your trip. 

Crossing South African Borders with your Rental Car

Inform the rental company if you plan to leave the rental country, this is allowed by many rental companies. You can however break the rental agreement if you don’t tell the rental company before you drive into a new country, and void your insurance/protection. You will be liable for all repair costs and damages. A fee may be charged for crossing the border to cover extra insurance costs.

gravel roads require SUV  driving in Namibia
We traveled mostly gravel roads for about 3 months around Namibia, we started driving in Cape Town. You will need an SUV with good ground clearance to drive around here.

Some rental cars have a distance limit per rental that makes leaving the country impossible, check that you have unlimited mileage. 

Make sure the rental car type is suitable for driving in your destination country. Road quality in neighborhood countries is not as good as in South Africa, In Namibia many roads are gravel roads and you will need an SUV or vehicle with good road clearance.

One Way Drop off

One-way car rental allows you to pick up your rental in one city and drop it off in another. When you make your reservation, just enter your preferred drop-off location to see the availability of cars that this service is offered for. There is usually a fee involved for one-way car rental.

Driving in Game Parks with a Rental Car – Self-Drive Safaris

A self-drive safari is a game drive where you drive yourself and your family around the park or game reserve. We have done several self-drive safaris in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. The Kruger National Park, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and Addo National Parks are well suited to self-drive in South Africa. 

2 hippos fighting on a self drive safari
Fantastic nature experiences on a self-drive safari.

You can easily drive a standard car around Kruger National Park. The road conditions are good and the places are well sign-posted. If you don’t have a car with you, there is a car rental agency at Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger National Park.

Renting a car makes a massive difference to your South African holiday allowing you to visit destinations such as Kruger National Park, the Penguins of Boulders Beach, and Cape Point and drive around Chapman’s Peak with ease. 

In Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we did not find a 4×4  required to drive the roads between the traditional camps. A vehicle with good ground clearance is recommended to drive on most roads in the park. A 4×4 is a requirement for some areas. A 4×4 vehicle is necessary to access the Botswana side of the Park. At least two vehicles must travel together everywhere on the Botswana side. See our complete Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Safari Guide

Many tourist roads in Addo Elephant National Park are paved roads, there are some gravel roads, and these are all of a good standard. Normal sedan cars can be used on all tourist roads. There are 4×4 routes in the park. Around the rainy season from February – March and again in October – November a lot of growth in the park makes it difficult to see much from a small car.

Not to Miss Places with your Rental Car in SA

It is possible to explore the Western Cape without a car by booking tours. A car will make life a lot easier and give you a lot of freedom. Explore Cape Town itself or do amazing day trips like exploring the spectacular coastal Clarence Drive to go whale watching in Hermanus, see the penguins in Betties Bay or drive the amazing Durbanville wine route. Here are some incredible trips not to miss self-driving around Cape Town!

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