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Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

Norwich, UK
9 posts
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Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

I'd really appreciate any recommendations on self drive rental companies in Sri Lanka. Casons Rent-a-car seem to have a good range; I was going to enquire about a 4x4.

Any helpful recommendations or experiences would be welcome. We don't have a tight budget.

I've read lots of "do not self drive in Sri Lanka" posts, so am aware of the dangers, but I am a very experienced driver and feel safer driving myself.

Look forward to your replies.

Thanks,

Dan

Edited: 5:19 pm, January 12, 2011
272 replies to this topic
Timbuktu, Mali
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185 posts
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1. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

I suggest that you use local drivers for a day or two to acclimatise and to find your way around where you are staying. Meanwhile go and see the car hire films that you have already found plus any that are suggested locally. You will get a chance to see the standard of repair of the cars.

You will probably get a better deal locally if you are willing to to haggle ( point out that they pay commission to online agents and you are paying up front in person )

Outside of the main destinations and routes such as Colombo- Negombo - Kandy - Galle etc. Its a bit less chaotic on the roads.

My main reasons for not driving myself are that you can't enjoy the views and the spectacle when concentrating on not getting your vehicle damaged. A car with a local driver is so cheap that self drive is pointless - In my opinion.

Enjoy your trip and please report back - I don't see many reports here from those who have self driven.

Ian

Edited: 8:47 pm, January 12, 2011
london
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216 posts
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2. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

Hi !

If you are really set on going Self Drive, wherever you get your Vehicle, Check Out the Engine compartment as well as the General Handling plus Brakes.

In most Car Rental places, the Vehicles are Not maintained properly.

Also, shop around a few places before you decide and sign.

Read the Agreement well, before you sign it.

Cheers !

Richard.

Colchester
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898 posts
202 reviews
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3. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

As one who has done lots of self drive in SL in the past, I would very much endorse what has been written in the previous posts. My reasons for favouring self drive were that it gave me greater flexibility. As a former resident of Sri Lanka, I knew the roads and driving conditions quite well and as most of my holiday trips involved visiting friends rather than the usual tourist activities it was much easier not to be concerned about a driver, who would need accommodation and meals etc, - not so easy when you are visiting someone's house.

So why did I stop driving? There are a number of reasons:

First and foremost the difficulty of getting a decent hire vehicle that was well maintained and roadworthy. Hire companies are reluctant to hire out their best vehicles to visitors who have little or no experience of driving in SL. Vehicles are in any case much older and less well maintained than they would be in the UK. Common problems are bald tyres, non- functioning seat belts and lights, worn out suspension and loose steering because of the road conditions. On one occasions I had a car which was described by a garage as a bomb on wheels due to a leaking petrol tank onto the exhaust pipe. A number of times I had to reject vehicles and get involved in lengthy negotiations for a replacement. One of the worst cars I was offered came from the local agent of a very well know international car hire organisation. Cars also broke down, meaning I had to wait around to get them repaired or for another vehicle to be sent. This is hardly what you want when time is limited.

My second reason for stopping self drive is that, over the years, driving conditions have deteriorated in SL as the amount of traffic on the road has increased. The result of this has been to make driving very tiring and stressful. All the hazards of driving in a country like Sri Lanka mean that you must maintain a very high level of concentration when driving which is quite exhausting. On holiday do you really want this? In addition, finding your way around is not easy. Yes, there are better road maps these days but road signage is very poor or non-existent outside the city areas. If you do not speak Sinhala, you can forget about asking for directions. If you do speak Sinhala ask two different people for directions and you will get three different answers. I have to say that I got lost on numerous occasions and I am sure ended up doing a much greater mileage than necessary.

Then we come to the possible consequences of having an accident. The risk of this is obviously much higher for someone driving in SL. I was lucky and got away with only a couple of minor incidents but on one of these, which basically was being clipped by a bus, I had to spend ages at a police station and revisiting the scene of the accident in order to get a 'note of first report' required by the hire company for insurance purposes. Without this I would have been charged for the damage to the vehicle. However, there are much more sinister outcomes in accidents which result in injury to persons. Then things can turn very nasty indeed. I was once turned back by the police on the outskirts of Colombo where a large traffic jam had built up after someone was knocked down on a pedestrian crossing. Locals had come out and were stoning cars on the road - the main highway to Kandy. I've heard reports of horrific reprisals taking place in rural areas after accidents. Do not think that as a foreigner you would be immune to this.

Given that self drive is no cheaper than a car with driver, is there really a reason for driving yourself? If there is, does it outweigh the possible complications I have outlined above? You may say, I’d rather trust my own driving ability than risk some lunatic local driver and there are quite a few in SL. My answer to this is make sure you get a recommended driver (DEs can do this) or, if it is an agency, check if they have a drivers' code. In extreme cases where you feel uncomfortable with a driver who will not modify his driving style when you complain then simply refuse to travel any further with him. I have had drivers who speed and overtake unsafely but find that in most cases they will adjust their driving if you point out to them what you are concerned about. Afraid you just have to put up with the never using first gear and constant on-off, on-off the accelerator pedal which some drivers think improves fuel efficiency- it is not life threatening.

If you still decide to go ahead with self drive, you will need not only an international driving licence but also a Sri Lankan driving permit which can be obtained from the AA in Colombo. Some hirers will do this for you but more waiting around whilst they do so.

Whatever you decide to do, good luck and enjoy your holiday in Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, in my opinion much better enjoyed without the hassles of driving.

David.

Fredericia, Denmark
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37,532 posts
7 reviews
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4. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

Very well said, David. It's the best description why not to self drive in Sri Lanka I have come across in this forum.

Hans

St Austell
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3,519 posts
32 reviews
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5. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

Yes, couldn't agree more. Brilliant report David.

I particularly like "If you do speak Sinhala ask two different people for directions and you will get three different answers." Oh so true, and that is not only relevant when driving. It also applies when asking advice at bus stations! Ask lots of people for advice, and only when a clear pattern emerges, go with it!

Sue

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Destination Expert
for Sri Lanka
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54,957 posts
196 reviews
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6. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

Is even worse when asking for directions in English, or Singlish for that matter ;-) Four different answers from 2 people, both in terms of distance/travel time and direction itself.

Have fun,

<Erik> & [Sandya]

Norwich, UK
9 posts
1 review
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7. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

Hi David,

Thanks for your reply. I understand your points and appreciate your views. For us, as crazy as it sounds, most of your points are exactly why we WANT to self-drive!

Firstly, I ENJOY driving in challenging conditions. We have been on Driving/Riding holidays since we were 18 years old, riding Motorbikes in North Africa, Gaza strip, Spain, Italy, Off-roading through the dolomites, Bali plus I'm a qualified, experienced racing driver... To have someone joining us on our holiday and dictating the routes HE prefers is not our idea of a holiday. Getting lost is part of the fun, the adventure- some of the best places we've found was when getting lost off the beaten track! We don't want to go where all the other tourists go! We just take our time, go at our own pace, and if it gets stressful, we pull over. If it breaks - we check into a nice hotel and relax whilst it's being repaired.

There was a lot of scaremongering on this subject when we went to Bali a few years ago. We still hired a cheap 4x4 which wasn't in great condition, but got us everywhere we wanted to go and had a fantastic holiday. I actually found the driving to be very relaxing! We got to places that no other tourists were, found some very scenic roads that others didn't.

Of course, an accident is not my idea of fun, but I honestly feel that if we're taking our time, going at our own pace, being a highly experienced driver, I've less chance of an accident than a crazy local. We have a 15 month baby boy on board, so I'm taking no risks with dangerous driving.

So, back to my original question, rather than ending this post like 100's of others with the same subject on tripadvisor - Rental companies - you'd recommend sorting whilst we're there rather than before we go? I was going to ask my hotel where we're staying for the first two nights to recommend something?

I'm also presuming that hotels won't be too full in March, so we can just pick and choose en-route?

I don't mean any disrespect by the way to your advice David, or any others on tripadvisor and I really appreciate you taking the time to post.

Thanks & regards,

Dan

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Destination Expert
for Sri Lanka
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54,957 posts
196 reviews
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8. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

Won't comment on your driving plans, my opinion has been loud and clear enough.

Just on hotels: read the FAQ item on topright corner of screen on booking acco. Walk-in rates for guest houses are okay, walk-in rates for hotels tend to be BAD BAD BAD even if they're empty; prebook if you want star-class quality, and not directly with the hotel (site)...

All the best,

<Erik> & [Sandya]

Fredericia, Denmark
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37,532 posts
7 reviews
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9. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

You will not be racing in Sri Lanka. Average speed on even the best roads is 30-40 km/h.

A driver will not be dictating the routes HE prefers. He will go exactly where you want to go.

I would not worry about your driving, but the driving of buses and lorries in Sri Lanka. The bigger ones dictates the rules.

Hans

Norwich, UK
9 posts
1 review
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10. Re: Self-drive car rental in Sri Lanka

I plan only to take my time, drive slowly and carefully and explore Sri Lanka on our own. The only thing we need is to source a good quality rental company.

Any advice would be appreciated.

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