Buying a Car vs Renting a Car in South Africa

If you are planning a long trip through Southern Africa – 2 months or longer – you may well have asked yourself: “Should we rent a vehicle for the trip, or would it be better to buy a car, drive it all over Africa, and then sell it again at the end of the trip”. This is an important consideration. We hope to help you answer this question in this article. We offer some pros and cons of buying vs renting, we review the best places to buy a car in South Africa and we explain why we believe it is more favourable to rent a car if you are travelling for 2 months or less.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Car in South Africa

Pros of buying a car:

  • Buying is generally cheaper than renting if you are travelling for 2 months or more
  • Ability to travel across borders with fewer restrictions
  • Ability to fit custom camping or 4×4 equipment to your own vehicle

Cons of buying a car:

  • Vehicles are likely to be older / higher mileage than car rental
  • Older vehicles run the risk of mechanical breakdowns which could result in unforeseen costs and time delays
  • Paperwork. It is difficult, not impossible, to register a vehicle in the name of a foreign citizen in South Africa
  • It takes time to find the car you are looking for, cutting into valuable travel time

Essentially – your decision will be determined by your sense of adventure and your adversity to risk. If you are happy to be flexible with your time, if you are not bothered with delays or if you have a very limited travel budget, then buying a vehicle may be more suitable for you – rather than renting a vehicle. If you are looking for a hassle-free trip and would like to opt for the security of a well maintained, low-mileage vehicle – then renting a car, renting a 4×4 or renting a camper for your trip is the best option for you. Once you’ve weighed up the pros and cons of renting vs buying a car, you then need to consider where to buy your car, should you wish to do so.

Where to buy a vehicle for your self-drive trip through Africa?

Used Car Dealers

Let’s face it; used car dealers do not have the best reputations. We only recommend this option, if you have a sound mechanical knowledge of vehicles. Buying from a used car dealer is useful because they are easy to find, they generally have a wide selection of vehicles and they are able to assist with the licensing of the vehicle etc. If you are going to buy from a used car dealer, we strongly suggest:

  • Thorough test drive of the vehicle
  • Thorough vehicle inspection
  • Check vehicle service history
  • Take the vehicle for an independent AA roadworthy test if you unsure or lack the confidence
  • Make sure the vehicle is not a Code 3 on the registration papers (accident damage)

We have heard many sad stories of travellers who were told that the dealer who sold them the car, would buy the vehicle back from them at the end of their trip, for a “guaranteed price”, only to find that the dealer offers them much less than agreed, knowing all too well that the travellers would not be able to find an alternative buyer because of the precious little time they have before they have to jump on a plane to travel home. This can be most unfortunate. Bottom line: Proceed with caution unless you know your way around, under the hood of a car and you are not pressed for time to get rid of your car at the end of your trip.

Private Sale

It is quite possible to buy a car privately in South Africa through newspapers, popular websites or notice boards at backpacker/hostels/ hotels. Generally speaking, privately sold vehicles will be cheaper than vehicles bought through dealers. The same precautions should be taken, however, as vehicles are usually sold “voetstoots” which is a South African legal term for “as is”. I.e. if something goes wrong with the vehicle 5 minutes after driving off with the vehicle – then you have no claim against the person who sold it to you. You have bought the vehicle “as is”. When you buy a vehicle privately it is your responsibility to do all the paperwork for registering the vehicle into your own name, forgetting all necessary documents for border crossing and to ensure the vehicle appropriately. Bottom line: We suggest that you take the same precautions when buying a car privately as you would if buying from a dealer – and make sure you have enough time at the end of your trip to sell the vehicle back to other travellers, privately or to a dealer.

Vehicle Buyback

There are a few companies in South Africa that offer a service to tourists whereby they sell a vehicle to tourists, with a guaranteed buyback price after a fixed term of use. This is probably the most preferable method of buying a car for most tourists planning a long trip through Africa (two months or more). Similar precautions, as above, should be taken when choosing your vehicle (mechanical inspection, service history, etc) to make sure your vehicle is mechanically sound for the trip you have in mind. Two other things to keep in mind:

  • Read all terms and conditions carefully – especially details about the mechanical warranty of the vehicle
  • Most buyback dealers will not charge you for regular “wear and tear” on the vehicle. Find out exactly what is and IS NOT considered “normal wear and tear” so that you do not have any nasty surprises at the end of your trip.

The effectual cost of a vehicle bought through a buyback company is likely to be more than if you bought and sold a car privately or through a dealer. However, at least you have the peace of mind that you have a guaranteed buyer at the end of your trip. Most buyback companies will handle the paperwork for crossing borders and transferring the vehicle into your name etc. Bottom line: If you are prepared to take good care of the vehicle during your trip, and are happy to pay a little bit more (with the peace of mind of a buyer upon return), then buybacks is for you.

When is it better to Rent a Car in South Africa?

If you are travelling for 2 months or less, then it simply makes sense to rent car or rent a 4×4 for your trip through Africa. Why?

  • Over a relatively short period of 2 months, rental costs are generally lower than the “difference between buying and selling”
  • Less capital outlay
  • Rental cars are much newer, low-mileage vehicles
  • Road-side assistance for any breakdowns or mechanical issues (varies from company to company, but most offer this service)
  • Most vehicles are still under the manufacturer’s warranty, so you are covered if a major mechanical failure occurs.
  • No hassles with vehicle registration, border crossing paperwork and insurance
  • You have the peace of mind that you are renting through an established company with branches all over South Africa and its neighbouring countries

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