How to Rent a Car and Driver in India
We’d like to share our experience, and a few of the stories we learned about renting a car and driver from our two week tour of Rajasthan. Like arranging other things in India, it is not always as simple or easy as you may first imagine.
There is no one solution to meet every individual's needs, so we've outlined the main car rental options. Here are some travel tips about hiring a driver and or car based on our recent trip.
Is it best to book my driving tour in advance of arriving in India?
It depends what your budget is and how long you plan to be with your driver. We think the lower your budget and the longer your trip the more it makes sense to meet your driver and negotiate the costs in India. There are no shortage of cars, drivers and companies offering this service in the major cities of India.
If your just spending seven days in India for the trip, and you’re not overly concerned about the cost, then booking in advance with a reputable company before your arrival is probably the most sensible option as this will save you time. We think paying the premium of booking with an established reputable tour operator is highly recommended for peace of mind in this situation.
Travel Planning Essentials: Decide on your India Driving Itinerary
Firstly, do your research and decide on how long you want your tour to last and where you want to visit by car. You can just do a quick tour of the main golden triangle cities, or decide to do this at a more leisurely pace over a week. You can quite easily visit the major cities of Rajasthan in 10-11 days by car, but this is quite intense and if for whatever reason you want to stay an extra couple of nights in certain places this doesn’t allow for much time.
We took a 14 day trip which allowed us to stay longer in places we liked; you can see our Two Week Rajasthan Driving Itinerary here
. Once you’ve decided on the route for your road trip its best to get some quotations.
Is it worth hiring a car to drive to Varanasi?
If money and time are no issue then why not include Varanasi on your driving schedule. Although we don't really see the point as its relatively easy get to Varanasi by either flying, bus or train and think that driving their doesn't represent much value. Varanasi itself is best explored on foot, cars not being able to access the central ghat areas.
A few Questions to ask when renting a car and driver in India?
- Does the hire charge include all parking fees, road toll fees, and fuel (this is usual)
- What happens if the car breaks down or my driver falls ill (how long to get a replacement car/driver)
- Does the tour include entrance fees to any particular sights (some companies offer “free” safaris, and entrance to places like the Taj Mahal)
- When do I have to pay? Some companies will ask for full payment upfront, we think it is best to pay part of this in instalments throughout the trip so if you are dissatisfied you're more likely to be listened to.
- How long has the driver worked for the company and being driving? Experience counts.
- Does the fee include all the drivers food and accommodation (this is most common, just check as you don’t want to be worrying about your driver)
- Check insurance details are adequate
- Check the age and model of the car (they will all claim to be brand new, but this may not be the case in reality nor should it be if you are opting for the Ambassador)
Beware if a quote is too cheap, it probably isn’t good news. The person or company may have another plan for parting you from your cash!
Should I include hotel accommodation in my India driving tour package?
If you’re using a tour operator or company that specialises in driving tours then you will usually be asked if you want to include accommodation into the package. Theoretically, the tour operator should be able to negotiate good room rates with hotels and pass some of these savings on to you.
Again, if money is not an issue and you decide to book in advance, ask for the names of the hotels and check out the hotel reviews and prices on-line. If you’re not satisfied with the standard of accommodation or the price, get the company to change your itinerary before paying. Check the location also, as many of these hotels maybe located in isolated places where you are forced to use the restaurant and bars at exorbitant prices.
In our experience, we think it is best to select the hotel yourself on arriving at the destination. You can negotiate room rates in person and make some great savings. Equally important is your own ability to check out the facilities before check-in. However, make it clear from the onset that you will be selecting all the hotels based on whatever your budget for accommodation is before selecting a driver. Your driver will expect and want you to stay at his recommended establishments, as he will receive a commission.
Where can I hire a car and driver to tour Rajasthan?
Most people start their tour from either New Delhi or Mumbai. Here you will find many companies offering India car and driver tour packages. Also enquire at the many travel offices located in these big cities, and hotel travel desks, do this independently after some research. Remember most things in India work on a commission basis, which is not always clear, and nothing is ever free in India. People will not hesitate in being able to offer you a package, but always negotiate on price, and seek recommendations from a reputable source.
Driving in India is chaotic, for that reason it’s probably best to hire an experienced driver that is used to the road conditions than attempting this yourself.
Which Car to Hire?
Based on our limited research we found modern cars to be much cheaper than hiring the older type ambassador cars. However, after test driving a few around Delhi and being old romantics we went for the Ambassador, we didn't regret this choice one bit. The car suffered two minor problems whilst on our tour, which were quickly rectified and did not inconvenience us. We would not hesitate hiring an ambassador to tour India again, as we were very impressed with the comfort levels for two passengers
For larger groups minibuses and people carriers can also be rented.
The most popular time for taking a tour by car is in winter, particularly over the Christmas period. As the temperatures do not get exceptionally high we think that windows provide ample ventilation and we didn’t use air-con once.
Things to consider before you hire a chauffeur in India
If you have time to interview drivers after you’ve made a short-list from the quotes you received. Ask several to do a half day tour of the city you are in, in the car you’ll be touring with. You can do three tours in a day and pick the best car and driver. It is very worthwhile taking a day or two to arrange this and will significantly increase the enjoyment of your trip.
Make sure you can communicate with your driver, in your chosen language. Before interviewing several drivers we were told they all spoke English, this just wasn’t the case, and communication is very important when you are spending a considerable amount of time with a person. I heard a story were one guy kept saying to his driver “too late.... too late” so the driver kept accelerating. In the end the client had an accident, he was actually saying to his driver “toilet” but he didn't understand or had the ability to communicate this misunderstanding.
Ensure your driver doesn't use his horn excessively; this could potentially send you mad and would suggest the driver doesn't have that much road experience.
Trust your instincts, if you’re not comfortable with your driver, chances are things will only deteriorate as time goes on.
India Taxi Driver Scams
The word scam maybe a bit harsh as no real malice is intended, just a desire to get a bit of cash from ‘rich’ foreigners. Here are some common practices employed by the drivers.
You will be taken to your driver’s home to meet his family, and share in a meal or get a henna tattoo, the variations are endless. We refused, but our driver said he needed to pick up his laundry at 8am, and breakfast was waiting for us. All drivers do this, some people offer money for the meal, or give the family money to help with school fees, or enhance their tip as they have bonded with the driver’s family etc. Others view this as pure emotional blackmail and give nothing. Whatever your own view, there are many people who struggle for money in India, but the luxury chauffeur taxi drivers don’t fall into this category and the overwhelming majority are extremely affluent compared to many here.
Small alterations to your itinerary can lead to excessive charges by some unscrupulous drivers or companies. Check and agree prices before making any changes ideally agree these before the start of your trip. A driver may suggest an extra destination or small detour, always ask the cost.
Clearly state when hiring a driver your accommodation requirements and that you will not be using his recommendations. Otherwise you will end up paying vastly inflated prices, with substandard food and service and high mark-ups. Drivers earn massive commission and it really isn't good value as the hotels rely almost solely on customers brought to their doors by drivers.
Your driver will earn commission on everything, although this is not known by many tourists. If you ask your driver to take you for a massage it will be substandard. The obvious place is shopping.
Don't go shopping with your driver, unless you are very kind or have deep pockets. Our experience was that the products were poor quality, offered at the most ridiculously inflated prices whether this be for jewellery, bedspreads, rugs, clothes, cushions, or whatever. The driver will usually get a few hundred ruppees just for taking you and then anything from 20-30% of what your spend.
Roadside refreshments and restaurants are again of a poor quality. The driver will tell you he needs to eat and gets free food, the prices are again ridiculous by Indian standards, taxes, services charges, and everything else will be added. We refused to eat and drink in these places, but were happy for him to get his fill. We did offer to buy him lunch but he said he would get food poisoning and told us some horror stories. We have not any food poisoning the whole time we have been in India. Don't fall for it – it’s all about commission, and your driver has adequate allowance provided for. What they choose to spend their allowance on is up to them.
There is nothing some drivers won't try to sell you (including themselves) just be careful!
Some more India travel tips from our tour
- Get a WiFi Internet sim card. It may be a hassle at first but access to the internet when looking for hotels or things to do from the back seat of the car during long journeys is very useful.
- Guides, most often they aren't needed at the main tourist sights in Rajasthan. However, if a place is very large or complex such or your on an extremely time critical itinerary, clearly set your price before starting a tour and the price is for everybody in your group. Don’t buy tickets from guides.
- Keep your entrance tickets after visiting places. Never place in the box or return, or give to anybody, especially not children. These tickets are resold and remember the children are being exploited doing this work.
- A lot of hotels work on a 24hr room fee basis so if you check in at 3pm your room is paid for until 3pm the following day, no late checkout fees. So if you dont need the room for 24hours use this to negotiate a lower rate.
- Never discuss any plans in front of your driver about purchases, prices or changes, it will give them time to scheme before you have finalised your plans!
Driving Around Rajasthan is a Great Experience
Having said all of the above, we didn't get ‘scammed’ by our driver, although it was sometimes tiresome thwarting his never ending quest for commission. We became friends with him, as most do, when spending many days with their driver. Many are oblivious to the workings of the drivers, and quite frankly don’t care. However, if like us, if you have a very limited travel budget, some of the tips offered above should make for a smoother journey.
We would recommend this tour as a great, cost effective and efficient way to experience the undeniable delights of this part of India. Would we do it again, of course we would.
If you want to read about our Rajasthan car and driver hire experience have a look at these blogs
Useful Travel Resources for Planning a Trip to India
India Mike is a comprehensive and useful forum about all things India
The Lonely Planet has an active travel community with relevant information relating to planning a trip to Rajasthan.