Ours is a beautiful country and one best experienced by road. Sure, a lot of our roads can be character building, but more often than not, the journeys become the destination. While there’s great comfort (and a lot of financial sense) in making such journeys in one’s own car, it may not always work out. You could be limited by your car’s abilities or seating capacity or maybe just short on the time needed to go exploring the opposite end of the country in your own vehicle. Rather than compromising or even aborting your plans altogether, you could consider the option of hiring a self-drive car. While the concept isn’t new to India, it’s picked up steam over the past few years with the incoming of new
entrants offering a full fleet of varied cars at some pretty inviting prices. So, if you’ve always wanted to drive up to Leh in a Toyota Fortuner, this is one way to do it. Sounds interesting but want to know more? Leave it to us to address your doubts.
Who Can hire a self-drive car?
The short answer is just about everyone with a valid driving license. But there are some other requirements too. Most car hire companies have a minimum age limit for the hirer. It typically varies from 21 years to as much as 25 years. Some even require the potential hirer to have held the license for a stipulated period, say two or three years. In addition to this, you also need to furnish a government-endorsed identity proof and proof of residence. Most services also require credit card details at the time of booking, if only as a safeguard for future payment. Interestingly, even your friends from abroad can hire a self-drive car to vacation in India. A passport and valid international driving permit will be required for them.
Whom can I hire from?
As mentioned before, there are quite a few players in the business of self-drive car hire now. So, if you are based in a large city you shouldn’t have an issue finding a service that suits your requirements. We’ve listed some of the operators in the table on the next page. The best place to start your search, as always, is the internet. Smaller taxi services are also opening up to the idea of providing cars for self-drive but they may not be the best option in terms of cost or conditions. Either way, you can whittle down your list as per your travel needs. For instance, not all operators have 4x4 SUVs, something you could need on the journey to that wildlife sanctuary. Still, you’ll be surprised to find the range of cars on offer. While you’ll find the typical array of hatchbacks, sedans and MPVs, there’s actually everything from Mahindra e2os to Mercedes-Benz S-class sedans. Look hard and you could even find specialist cars such as the VW Beetle or even a rally-prepped Maruti Gypsy!
How much will it cost?
The basic cost of hire is typically proportional to the price and value of the car. For instance, in Delhi, you could hire a Ford Figo from Zoomcar at Rs 80 per hour (or Rs 1,920 per day) or opt for the swanky Mercedes-Benz GLA for Rs 220 per hour (Rs 5,280 per day). However, before you book, you need to study the costs well because each company has a different pricing policy. While many services give you the option to pay by the hour, for long drives, it’s recommended to hire for full days. Also, make a note on restrictions and costs of usage. Some operators allow for unlimited mileage within the hire period while others charge an additional sum per kilometre over and above a certain stipulated distance allowance. Some give a free allowance for 10km of driving per hour of hire, post which, additional charges apply. So be sure to do the math and compare options wisely beforehand, because these incremental costs can burn a hole through your wallet post a long driving holiday. As for other costs, note that most operators also require the cars to be returned clean and with a full tank of fuel (they are provided so as well), failing which penalties can be levied. While on the subject of the financials, it is crucial to note all operators require you to make a refundable security deposit. Again, this varies from operator to operator. Some companies such as Zoomcar have a flat rate for all cars while most charge on the basis of the car being hired. For something like a BMW 7-series, you could be required to shell out Rs 8 lakh as deposit! Do account for this when making your holiday budget.
How far can I drive?
This is also something you must clarify when booking. Most larger operators have national permits and don’t restrict usage by territory. The cars are registered with commercial number plates so you are required to stop at RTO check posts at state borders and pay the requisite visitor permit fees. At present, very few operators in India provides the facility to drop off a car in a city other than where it was picked from.
What if I crash the car?
This is a sticky subject and one we hope you don’t have to deal with. Anyway, the general custom of ‘if you break, you buy’ doesn’t apply, at least at most of the operators we spoke to. Some do require you to pay for all damages but at most others, your liability towards repairs is to the extent of the deposit alone and no more. All the cars are insured but still need to be driven with utmost care. However, in case of a mechanical breakdown, the onus of having the car towed and providing a recovery vehicle lies with the operator. Do still read all the terms and conditions carefully before signing up.
Time to pack?
Given Indians are becoming ever more adventurous, the business of self-drive car hire is only going to grow. Increased competition should hopefully result in lower costs, making the prospect of hiring a car more affordable. Even today, you can manage to get a good self-drive car for not-so-much money. In fact, if you are willing to do the driving, a self-drive can work out to be significantly cheaper than a chauffeur-driven hire car and that’s even before accounting for the extra seat you’ll also gain. For many, the privacy aspect alone makes the whole self-drive concept appealing. But forget all else. If you love driving holidays, this is an idea you should definitely give a shot.
Chennai-based Shrinidhi Hande does not own a car. But he has probably more driving holidays to his name than people who do. Yup, you guessed right. He’s been big on the idea of self-drive cars for long. In fact, over the past seven years or so, he has hired over 100 self-drive cars from a dozen or so companies across the country. Shrinidhi primarily hires cars for travel and his trips have included a 2,000km tour of north India.
While Shrinidhi is content using a motorcycle for his 10km weekday commute, he is also of the view that, given his requirements for a four-wheeler, the pay-per-use costs of car hire work out much less than the expenses involved in buying and owning a car. That does give rise to a question. For families with limited use for a second or third car, could need-based car hire be a substitute to buying a new car? The calculations certainly make a great deal of sense.
|Desire to Hire|
|Zoomcar||Carzonrent||Eco Rent a Car||Avis|
|Where||Bangalore, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Pune||Ahemdabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Manesar, Mangalore, Mumbai, Mysore, Noida, Pune, Udaipur, Visakhapatnam||Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune||Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Mumbai|
|Fleet||BMW 3-series, Ford EcoSport and Figo, Honda Amaze and City, Mahindra e2o, Scorpio and XUV500, Mercedes-Benz A-class and GLA-class, Tata Nano and Safari.||Ford EcoSport, Endeavour and Figo, Mahindra e2o, Scorpio and XUV500, Maruti Swift, Dzire and Ertiga, Mercedes-Benz C-class and E-class, Nissan Sunny, Tata Nano and Safari, Toyota Etios, Fortuner and Innova, Volkswagen Polo and Vento||Audi A6 and Q7, BMW 3-series, 5-series and 7-series, Mercedes-Benz E-class and S-class, Toyota Etios, Corolla Altis, Camry, Innova and Fortuner||Toyota Etios and Innova|
|Deposit||Rs 5,000||Rs 5,000-70,000||Rs 40,000-8,00,000||Rs 50,000-60,000|
|Rate - Lowest||Tata Nano - Rs 456 per day (plus Rs 5/km over 240km)||Tata Nano - Rs 450 per day (unlimited km)||Toyota Etios - Rs 2,000 per day (unlimited km)||Toyota Etios - Rs 3,200 per day (unlimited km)|
|Rate - Highest||Mercedes-Benz GLA - Rs 5,280 per day (plus Rs 16/km extra over 240km)||Mercedes-Benz E-class - Rs 9,500 per day (unlimited km)||BMW 7-series/ Mercedes-Benz S-class - Rs 36,000 per day (unlimited km)||Toyota Innova - Rs 4,600 per day (unlimited km)|
|Fuel||Reimbursement for up to 240km||Return with full tank||Return with full tank||Return with full tank|
|Size of Fleet||800||800||400||NA|
|Age requirement||21 years||18 years (Nano), 23 years (others)||23 years||23 years|