Iran is becoming increasingly popular as a backpacker destination. Rightfully so if you ask us, because this beautiful country deserves more positive attention. Although public transport in Iran is well arranged, we chose to rent a car in Iran. The freedom that comes with a rental car ensures that you arrive at places where normally tourist will never come. Traffic in Iran is very chaotic and sometimes unpredictable, but we survived! During our road trip in Iran we got a pretty clear picture of what to look out for and what you need to know before immersing yourself in the game that is called traffic in Iran. If you’re from the ‘west’ it is something totally different from what you’re used to! Read on about renting a car in Iran and traffic in Iran
Renting a car in Iran
When we made plans to go to Iran, we quickly got the idea to check out the possibility of a rental car. The freedom we had on the motorbike in Vietnam and with our Ford Falcon in Australia was wonderful. The number of rental companies in Iran is not very large, so I only had a few shots at a company which had reasonable prices and the possibility of a different drop off location. The prices of Europecar are very high, so that possibility was quickly dismissed.
Then I came across Saadat Rent. This is an Iranian rental company with very reasonable prices. Many rental companies only rent out cars with drivers, so you do not really have the freedom you want. Via Whatsapp we made agreements about the rental and for €33,- per day we would rent a Peugeot 206 for a period of 13 days. When we wanted to pick up the car, however, it turned out that the hatchback 206’s were all rented out and so we got a free upgrade to a Peugeot 206 sedan which would normally cost €37,-. So, great! In 13 days we would drive from Tehran to Siraz in the south; about 1000 kilometers. Keep in mind that a different drop off location costs extra.
Traffic in Iran
At first glance, traffic in Iran is not really different from many other place in Asia where we have taken part in traffic. It is a jumble of vehicles and there seem to be no rules and that really sums it up. There don’t seem to be a lot of rules to keep in mind while driving in Iran.
Traffic in the city
Our first experience in Iranian traffic was a hectic one. Saadat Rent is located in Tehran, so our first driving experience was getting the car our of the city. Everyone seems to go their own way without taking anything else into account. You also see the most strange things; five lanes where three are actually meant, cars reversing in the most strange places and parked cars in the middle of the road. You’ll be relieved when you finally make it out of the city.
Traffic outside the city
Everyone seems to calm down once they’re out of the city. People seem to stay in their lanes and overtaking is mostly done on the left side. The highway has a speed limit of 110km/h which is ensured by a lot of speed cameras. The cameras only seem to be active when the police actively controlling for speeding, because after about twenty kilometers of speed cameras, each car was stopped by a policeman who then passed on the license plates in a radio. Fortunately, we were waved through.
Many roads in Iran are toll roads. Make sure you have enough change in the dashboard when you hit the road. We have been to a toll booth three times where we had to pay 5,000 and 20,000 rials. The third time the toll operator only wanted to know where we were from and with a smile he slapped my hand away when I wanted to give him a 20,000 bill. Free pass! Iranians are so nice.
The law of the jungle seems to apply here. If you want take a turn into a side street then you shouldn’t wait until someone is kind enough to let you through, because that would take ages! Inch your way to the turn and at one point someone has to stop to let you through. Another good trick is to wait for an Iranian to take the same turn as you and then use him as a guide to get you into the street. Pretty scary at first, but you’ll get used to it. Almost no Iranian uses their indicators, which adds to the chaos. I’ve always used them though. A little extra direction indication never hurts.
Lights should be on.. always. In The Netherlands we are thought to turn on our lights before starting the car. In Iran this is a weird thing to do. When, with my Dutch logic, I was driving through the city with the lights on during the day, half the people were signalling like I was some kind of maniac. So, better keep your lights off during the day. It gets even weirder when it gets dark. Only when it is really dark (about one hour after sunset) everyone turns on their lights. “The more light the better”, Iranians must think, because one in ten drivers has their high beam on. Constantly, even in the city. Very annoying if you ask me. Luckily we did not drive after sunset that often.
Traffic signs in Iran are fairly clear, although the amount of speed limits can sometimes cause confusion. In Iran they have virtually no ‘end speed’ signs. When you leave a village you won’t see a sign with a crossed out “50”. You will also notice that the speed limit often changes. 80, 110, 70, 85, 95. All of them within the stretch of 1 kilometer. Going with the flow of the traffic seems to be the best solution here.
The motorways in Iran run through villages. Here, the speed limit is displayed on the signs (usually 50). Pay attention because there are always speed bumps in towns. They are poorly marked and have all sorts of dimensions, from a low bump to launch size.
The motorways in Iran are generally very good. The roads are well maintained so you do not have to worry about sudden holes in the asphalt. When you go off the ‘big roads’, you’ll have to pay more attention as the chance of running into a badly maintained roads is a little higher.
The gas station attendant most often fuels up your car, but not always. I had to refuel by myself once, which resulted in gasoline soaked shoes. So pay attention! No sensors in the nozzle that makes the gasoline flow stop when your tank is full. Gas is cheap. About €0.25 per liter (November 2017).
The traffic signs in Iran are clear and almost no different from ours (and the rest of the world). Traffic signs with text are all bilingual in Farsi (Persian) and English, even in rural areas.
Is it advisable to drive in Iran?
In my opinion, yes! Although I get that it is not for everyone, I think it is a great experience to drive in Iran. The most difficult thing was getting out of Tehran, because I had no experience in Iranian traffic apart from being a pedestrian. As mentioned, traffic outside of the big cities is quite mellow and easily drive-able. Apart from the traffic in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz it was not difficult or scary at all.
Do you also want to travel to Iran? Feel free to ask for advice about renting a car in Iran if you need any advice.