Namibia information

Self-drive - Car types

Several factors should influence you choice of vehicle, including budget, the number of people in your party and where you are going. Here we will try to cover some of the more common issues and offer some guidance.

Which car to hire: ground clearance

The first decision to make is a choice between:
  • A normal car with lower ground clearance . Saloon cars for hire in Namibia include the Toyota Corolla, which is classed as a Group C on our car hire groups page.
  • A vehicle with higher ground clearance. This means a vehicle with more space between its undercarriage and the ground, usually one with slightly larger wheels than most saloon cars. Our choice of higher-clearance vehicles range from a 2WD (two wheel-drive) Mitsubish ASX or similar Group K vehicle to a full 4WD (4x4 or four wheel-drive) off-road vehicle such as a Toyota Hilux or similar in Group 1M.
A couple of pros and cons are worth noting here:
  • Namibia’s car-hire companies rarely include insurance for undercarriage damage, so should any occur, you may be liable. Although it is a relatively small risk if you drive carefully (and in our experience, careful drivers have very rarely been penalised for undercarriage damage), having a higher ground clearance helps to mitigate this risk.
  • If you are travelling to Etosha, a vehicle with raised ground clearance will usually have higher seating positions, allowing you to see further into the bush, and perhaps over other vehicles or obstacles, for better game viewing. That said, many photographers maintain that lower viewpoints offer better photographic angles if you do get close to game.

Which car to hire: 2WD v 4WD?

If you decide to go for a vehicle with a raised ground clearance, the next decision is whether it should be 2WD or 4WD.

In a 2WD vehicle, two of the wheels are powered by the engine. In Namibia these are usually front-wheel drive vehicles, where the front wheels take on the tasks of both steering and propelling the car.

In 4WD or 4x4 vehicles, all of the wheels are powered by the engine. This generally offers more grip, which is particularly valuable when you are driving on loose or slippery surfaces – like mud, sand or gravel.

Many 4WD vehicles that we hire for our travellers in Namibia come with a second (extended range) fuel tank, but other than that they are usually fairly standard vehicles with no special off-road adaptations or tyres. We often recommend a Toyota Hilux or similar Group 1M for those wanting a 4WD in Namibia. See our car hire groups page for more details of the vehicle types we offer for self-drive trips in Namibia.

Expert Africa team members have been driving themselves around Namibia since 1989, criss-crossing the country on a very regular basis, and driving normal saloon 2WD cars more often than not. This has led us to the conclusion that a 4WD is not necessary for the vast majority of our travellers during the dry season. With roads that are generally in good condition, it is easy to travel in a 2WD vehicle, particularly one with raised ground clearance.

However, for self-drive trips during Namibia’s rainy season– and especially for trips which cross the Caprivi Strip, visiting lodges off the tar at that time – we do recommend a 4WD vehicle. It will give extra control in slippery conditions, and flexibility in places where the gravel has been washed away.

It’s worth observing here that most modern vehicles have brakes applied to all four wheels, so taking a 4WD will not usually allow you to stop any quicker.

Which car to hire: manual or automatic?

Once you have considered all of the above, there is the question of automatic v manual (or ‘stick shift’) transmission.

If you are only licensed to drive an automatic vehicle in your home country, this is probably the only kind of vehicle that you can legally drive in Namibia.

However, if you are licensed to drive a manual car at home, you can probably rent either a manual or an automatic in Namibia.

Both manual and automatics have their pros and cons:
  • Comfort: On journeys that require frequent gear changes, such as those in crawling traffic, with lots of starts and stops, automatic cars can make driving a lot easier. However, Namibia’s roads (outside Windhoek’s brief rush hours) are almost never like this.
  • Control: Automatics do not offer the same level of control as their manual counterparts, particularly on loose surfaces such as gravel. For instance, it is not as easy, and often not possible, to use your gears to slow down in an automatic – which is a key driving technique when slowing for corners or coming down hills on gravel roads.
  • Cost: As a rule, cars that are more complex are more costly. This rule holds worldwide, so automatic cars are usually more costly to purchase, to maintain and thus to hire than an equivalent manual car.
  • Availability: Automatic cars are less popular and so less commonly available to hire in Namibia than manuals. There’s usually less choice.
Our advice is clear: if you can drive a manual car confidently, then hire a manual car for your trip. Only hire an automatic if you have to.

For more information on car hire and Namibian roads, see also:

Self-drive - road types.
Self-drive - driving tips.
Self-drive - hire groups.