What it comes down to – when aiming to save some money on a car rental – be that in South Africa, or be that in any country, for that matter, is to try to be a little bit flexible. In South Africa, car rental is a competitive market, thus the prices are generally lower because of this.

However, if, for whatever reason, you have a preference for some form of vehicle that is not quite mainstream, or you’re intent on something that comes with a bit more complexity than the run-of-the-mill auto, you’ll pay that much more for it.

All the same, let’s consider some pointers – ten in all – to get you on the right track to saving some hard-earned when it comes to car rental in South Africa.


Location matters (a lot!)

Those car rental operators you see at the airports, well they have to pay very high rental fees for their shop slot, and those rents are far higher than shops that are located whereby the land is not at such a high premium. Naturally, that higher fixed cost will be passed over to the customer in terms of far higher rental fees.

And it is true that some companies have an “airport rental fee” clause that must be paid up front. Thus, even if the franchise is among the major ones, you could still pay more when renting from the airport that you would otherwise.

So, why not avoid that excess fee by doing an online search for rental companies that are located within a small radius of your destination airport? Car rental companies quite frequently provide a shuttle service – free of charge, it might be added – between an airport and their base of operation. Sure, it’s less convenient, but you could save a bunch if you go down this route.

On a similar note, car rental operators with a city centre locale will tend to cost that much more than dealers outside the central urban area. It can be quite a bit cheaper to hop in a taxi and head on over to an out of town rental company. Or you can try giving them a call to see if they’d shuttle you out from central city.


Avoid those hidden extras

It can prove to be frustrating to find that, when you arrive to collect your rental car, if you wish full coverage, you have to pay more for it. It’s frustrating, yes, but because the accident rates on South African roads are so high, it’s certainly a wise precaution to agree to it.

The insurance issue is one thing, but there are others, such as the “necessary” luxuries. Likely they’re not necessary at all, though that’s your call. Such “luxuries” include the likes of the addition of a second driver, GPS or sat nav (certainly worth having if you’re intent on doing a lot of motoring). And there’s even the option of local mobile phones. Obviously, if you skip any or all of these, it equates to lower costs on your part.

There’s something else here that’s worthy of some consideration: If you return the rental to a different locale than you originally hired it from, you’ll pay more – sometimes substantially more – for doing so. Thus, if you can, try to plan a circular route so you can avoid dropping the car off at a rental base 1,000 miles distant to where you picked the auto up.


Go small size

Booking a smaller vehicle will, obviously, save you some cash. On the other hand, if you’d prefer something larger than you’ve pre-booked, you could sit back and wait it out, in the hope that there’s a free upgrade on your arrival.

Of course, that’s taking a gamble, but if you keenly want for a larger vehicle, it’s probable that, even if there’s no free upgrade, you can still pay for it. And do bear in mind that free upgrades generally mean a single class of vehicle higher in the range. If you want for more, you’ll have to pay for it.


Loyalty discounts on car rental

If you have a preference for one particular car rental company, you’re in for a better deal in one way or another. You may avail of a discount, you might get loyalty points, you could be in for priority service, or possibly you’ll get some free extras.

And, if you’re a regular, chances are good that you’ll get regular free upgrades, too. Fact is, because there are so many different car rental franchises available in South Africa, it’s likely not going to be overly difficult to stick with the same one, time after time.


Take the free upgrade?

If you have no real need for a free upgrade when/ if it’s offered to you, then stick with what you got already. A larger, heavier car, will generally mean higher fuel bills, though there is an exception: If the auto is diesel-powered.

A diesel engine car will tend to use less fuel on a per-mile basis than even particularly small petrol-powered cars. And, added to that, diesel is the more affordable option than petrol in South Africa, making your fuel costs lower still.


Going diesel

If you are on a budget, then opting for a diesel-powered car could prove to offer relatively substantial savings, given you are travelling a fair distance. Currently, in South Africa, diesel costs around 12 percent less than petrol on a per-litre basis. What’s more, add in the fact that diesel-powered autos afford 25 percent more fuel economy, and you’re onto a good thing.

Occasionally you’ll find that a car rental company will have an availability of diesel and petrol vehicles in the same range. Fact is that not as many people want to drive a diesel car, so there’s a good chance there will be some availability, and all you need to do is ask.


Opt for manual

In South Africa, manual transmissions are preferred, though that’s certainly not the case in every country. If you do have a license that permits you to drive a manual transmission vehicle, then get one (in South Africa, it’s standard practice that you’ll be provided with manual unless you specify otherwise). Automatic transmissions are costlier to drive, given that they rely on more fuel to power them.


The rental broker

Before you book a rental car, go online to check out some prices. A car rental broker can prove to be a cheaper experience in comparison to renting directly from a rental company. Plus, you may have some extras thrown in free of charge, like a sat nav and/ or child seats – child seats being a legal requirement for younger children in South Africa.

If you have a tendency for going with one particular company, make a comparison of the price you’re offered by your favoured company to that of a couple of car hire brokers. If you find that the price being offered by the broker is lower, give your company of preference a call and see if they can better it. There’s a good chance that they will, since when you go direct with a rental company, they can avoid paying commission fees to a broker. Thus, everyone wins in this scenario.


Pre-pay on the rental charges

By paying the rental charges up front, you can avail a discount of between 5 and 10 percent. Thus, if you use your credit card to make the payment, pay-off said credit card within the interest-free period, then it’s a worthy approach to be made to save some money.


Hire for more

If you’re in it more for the long-haul, and you are mixing and matching long distance driving with city stays, it’s possibly worth sticking with the same car over the entire duration, given that you’ll probably benefit from lower daily rates.

There’s a further benefit here, and that is it’s less hassle, as you can avoid going through the hiring process over and over.

In conclusion

As is often the case with respect to many forms of travel, having some flexibility in terms of what you want can lead to sizable savings in car rental prices. Maintain some flexibility over the car that you want, the transmission, and the location from which you pick the auto up. In turn, you’ll be in good stead in terms of making some good savings.