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Renting a car in South Africa is a must! Not only does it end up being the cheaper option than local transport, but it gives you the chance to be spontaneous and have the freedom to choose where you want to go, when you want to go.

Some people might be a bit wary about renting a car in a country that has some of the highest crime rates in the world.

We received lots of advice from the locals in-country and drove through South Africa for 5 weeks without having any problems. I highly recommend it to everyone.

renting a car in south africa

Here’s our list of tips for staying safe on a South African Road Trip.

Note: it’s imperative to ask for local advice about where (and where not) to go, and always do your own independent research to keep up with the current political situation in South Africa.

1. Gas Up

It’s important to be aware of your gas tank gauge and top up on petrol when you see a station.

We were dangerously low on fuel one day and thought there would be a gas station coming up, but it was much farther away than we had thought. You don’t want to be stuck out on the roads here, so keep an eye on the amount of gas you have.

renting a car in south africa
If you’re driving for long distances or going off the main roads, make sure you have enough gas!

2. Older Is Better

Your vehicle at home may be nice and new, but on this road trip, you want the opposite.

You don’t want to have a flashy, new looking ride while in South Africa. Nice cars = money. If given the choice between a BMW and a Chevy, go for the Chevy. It doesn’t have to be a small vehicle, just don’t go for anything flashy. 

renting a car in south africa
The less flashy the car, the better. We opted for a little Chevy Spark

3. Don’t Pick Up Hitch-hikers & Don’t Stop For Anyone

We were told this numerous times by the local people.

There are scams in South Africa targeted at drivers. Someone will act as though they need help with their broken-down vehicle and as you pull over to help them out, their friend jumps out of the bushes and steals your car, and/or robs you.

Stop for no one.

4. Lock Your Doors

Always lock the doors to your vehicle, even while you’re driving. Again, you could be a target for a robbery or carjacking when you pull up to a stop sign or a red light. 

And, of course, lock your doors when you get out of the vehicle as well. 

5. Don’t Drive At Night

Figure out how long it will take you from where you are to where you want to go, and then leave early enough to make it there before dark.

Being out on the road in South Africa at night can be a dangerous place.

And in fact, due to the high number of carjackings, there are even laws that say you can run a red light or a stop sign at night!

During the day, due to carjackings, slowly pull up at the red light if you see if from a distance — this way, you’ll avoid being at a standstill for longer than you need to be. 

road trip in south africa
This is probably the fastest anyone has changed a flat tire! Good thing we were driving during the day when this happened….

6. Watch Out For Pot Holes! 

The main roads and highways in South Africa are really good. However, when you get off of them and are heading to some smaller towns and villages, the roads can be quite poor.

The potholes become more like canyons, there’s no shoulder and many people are walking along the roads, so you have no choice sometimes but to hit the craters head-on.

Our car was the victim of 2 massive potholes.

going on a road trip south africa
Our little Chevy being picked up for some repairs after hitting a massive pothole

7. Pay The Parking Attendant

When you go to a grocery store, restaurant, shop, mall or anywhere like that, there will almost always be a man standing outside wearing a neon vest. He’ll likely say “Watch your car?”

Basically he keeps an eye on it while you’re away and makes sure no one vandalizes or steals it.

He may even top up the parking meter for you! When you get back to your car, he will ask you for some money, typically about 2-5ZAR is appropriate.

8. Have A Local SIM Card

If you have a breakdown, are lost, need to call the rental company, or have an emergency, being able to call a local number is a must. 

Local SIM cards are easy to obtain and as long as your smartphone is “unlocked”, you’ll be able to add the South Africa SIM card. Get some data and calling minutes as well. Click here to find out where to pick up a SIM card in SA.

As a note, while you’re waiting for a tow truck or anything, it’s not a good idea to get out of the car and wait on the shoulder, stay in your car with the doors locked.

9. Get a Cooler (Ice-Box)

It’s a good idea to always have some food and water in case of breakdowns, or if you get lost!

Being able to keep food cold while on the road is great. We had cheese, leftover dinner, cold chicken, fruits and veggies and of course, cold drinks.

car rental in south africa
Get a cooler. Having a picnic at a National Park is a great idea

10. Have a Good Map

Having a proper map is key to your road trip experience.

There are so many different routes you could take in South Africa. By having a good map, locals can show you the most scenic and fastest routes from point “a” to point “b”…and of course, you won’t get lost.

These days, most people use Google Maps or some other sort of navigation. This is good, but it won’t’ always show you the scenic routes to take. I recommend always asking local advice before setting off. 

11. Keep Your Windows Up

One of the great joys of driving through South Africa is seeing the beautiful landscapes and feeling the wind blowing in your face.

Which is what you should do, until you arrive in the city.

Then, it’s time to put the windows up, and turn the air conditioning on! Having your windows wide open makes it easy for someone to reach in and steal something.

backpacking road trip south africa
Enjoying the beautiful views in South Africa with the windows down…once in the cities, windows up!

12. Watch Out For Wildlife

Livestock and wildlife often roam the roads here. Be aware! You don’t want to go head-on into an antelope, you’ll lose.

road signs south africa
Watch out for wildlife on the road!

Enjoy your trip to South Africa

There you have it. Some great tips to help keep you safe while driving in South Africa.

I hope I didn’t scare you off from renting a car here! Having said all of this, we spent 5 weeks in this awesome country and drove from Cape Town all the way up the coast to St. Lucia and veered into Swaziland before ending our trip in Pretoria.

We had nothing but great experiences and if you follow these guidelines, you will too!

renting a car in south africa

Have you ever done a road tip in South Africa? Did you feel safe? Leave a comment below!

SOUTH AFRICA TRAVEL BLOGS

SOUTH AFRICAN SAFARI: NATIONAL PARKS YOU CAN AFFORD!

BUDGET GUIDE TO BACKPACKING SOUTH AFRICA

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Nick Wharton & Dariece Swift

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Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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16 thoughts on “12 Top Safety Tips For a South African Road Trip

  1. We love your blog! We are currently planning a road trip through South Africa and are evaluating cars to rent. We appreciate the advice that cheaper is better. Two questions: 1) How difficult was it to learn to drive a manual car with everything reversed from what you are used to at home?; and 2) Did your Spark have room to “hide” all of your luggage while you were underway – from a security perspective, did you feel this was necessary?

    Cheers and thanks!

  2. Hey Terra!

    That’s so exciting that you’re about to embark on a trip through South Africa! So fun.

    It was a bit difficult to figure out the gear shift, but Nick drove around the rental parking alot a few times until he felt comfortable and then took off. We had no issues with forgetting what side of the road we were on or anything like that!

    As for hiding your gear while you’re driving, we felt it was a good idea. The Chevy had enough room in the “trunk” to put our bags and we just had the ice-box (cooler) on the back seat stocked with snacks and water.

    There are a lot of “rules” for driving in South Africa, but at the end of the day, we were there for 5 weeks and had no issues! Just a flat tire :)…oh ya, so hopefully one of you knows how to do some basic maintenance like that?\

    Have a great time!

  3. Thank you so much for your reply, we greatly appreciate it. We leave April 1st and are in South Africa for about 7 weeks. Your blog was really an inspiration for this trip. And yes, my husband is quite handy at basic maintenance items so we are good there (not my strong point!). Happy travels to you in Mexico!

  4. Have a great time in South Africa! Glad we could help you out. Let us know if you have any questions while on the road 🙂

    Cheers & Happy Travels.

  5. Hi there from a Portuguese travel blogger! 🙂 We are starting a RTW in 2 months and SA is our first stop, where we’ll also do a roadtrip . I’m worried about leaving ou belongings in the car while we do short walk or even hike while driving… (i was once robbed in Sarajevo, they took all of our stuff!)
    What do you guys reccommend?

    Cheers!
    Tiago

  6. Hey Tiago.

    We didn’t find that we went on many short walks away from the car when driving. We made many pit-stops, but we could drive to most of them and have a view of our car from there. Just make sure to lock the doors and leave your belongings in the trunk (the boot) so they aren’t visible.

    The main issues with robberies are during the night and in bigger cities. If you’re in the middle of nowhere doing a walk, I’m sure your stuff would be fine.

    I hope this helps. Be safe and have fun! Road Tripping in S.A. is amazing 🙂

  7. Hey Guys

    Great site, love the content!!
    We are heading to South Africa and would like to rent a car for a month also. Where did you pick up and drop the car off? Using the link provided they continually say they don’t have any cars available in Johannesburg or Cape town which I find very odd?

    Cheers

  8. In any case renting a car in a foreign country is preferable. When taking into consideration how much you are driving during that time, you see that car rental costs are not so much.

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  11. Thanks for sharing this. Your tips are very helpful. I am a travel freak and travel a lot. Next year Alaska is on my card.Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness., and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Next year I definitely want to explore Albany.
    People often have a theme that they base their worldly travels on, but how about a mental mantra for your travel? Out of a cheerleading event that consisted of our family shouting supportive words at our daughter who was attempting to kill a rather monstrous spider that the rest of us were too chicken to get close to, came this great quote, “If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!”

    This quote came back to haunt me when on vacation in Seattle. I thought it would be a great idea to take the kids on the Seattle Great Wheel, the ferris wheel overlooking the ocean, but as we approached it, I realized how high it went and immediately panicked! Just as I had decided to put the kids on it on their own, my daughter says, “Come on dad…If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!” What could I do at that point?! She was telling me to stop thinking and creating more fear about the situation and just get on the thing!
    “If you don’t think, and you just do, then it’s done!” We all now keep this quote in our back pocket, ready to whip out at any time to push one of us forward into an adventure we know they won’t regret. No hesitations, don’t allow any time for fear to set in, and be prepared for your kids to turn your life advice back on you

  12. Hi. I am a South African enjoying your website so I thought I would throw my two cents in in answer to people’s questions. First off about leaving possessions in an unattended vehicle. As long as your stuff isn’t visible it’s probably fine. Especially don’t leave phones, wallets or computers lying on the seat. Where possible park in less isolated areas. Regarding the smaller car – I don’t know if this is vital. A huge number of South Africans drive SUVs, the rationale being that you might need them if you are travelling in rural areas where the roads could be bad. You certainly won’t be spotted as an obvious tourist if you choose something commonplace and not especially high luxury like a Nissan X-trail.

  13. Hello dear, The post was awesome. please share the information like his. I really like it. We are from Aashi Holidays Jaipur, leading Taxi and Cab service Provider Company in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Jaipur is India’s most famous destination for tourists. We work as a taxi and Cab service in Jaipur, provide car rental services in Jaipur for local use, tour packages, outstations taxi.

  14. Loved this article answers a lot for me:) just wanted to ask how much money you had on you when you started you’re journey as I’m just finishing paying off some debt and will start a savings account to start my adventure. My goal is to have enough by the end of my years leese just looking for an idea of what’s the safest amount to have beforehand?

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