Renting a car and driver in India is a great way to move around. We just came back from our trip to India, and we thought we would give some tips to ensure the trip remains hassle-free if you decide to take this option. Having a car and driver has a lot of advantages. No time lost in public transports, you go from point A to point B at your convenience. You eat when you are hungry not when the bus reaches destination, you go the bathroom whenever you want, no need to rush for breakfast or wait under pouring rain for a rickshaw or bus. There's no queuing and hassles to get bus/train tickets. You reach remote locations or sites of interests quickly and with no problem. This is the first time we do that, and though it does not facilitate encounters with people, it was really useful when visiting Rajasthan.
There are a lot of people travelling to India and renting a car has become a popular option. Let's face it, though the majority of drivers or travel agencies are honest, one can still encounter less honest ones. There are scams, and travellers sometimes report problems with their drivers. So best is to be prepared.
The price you are quoted should include: the rent of the car, car's insurance, fuel, illimited kms, driver's salary, driver's accomodation, driver's food, road taxes, and parking fees. You thus agree on a price, and you should not worry about anything else afterwards.
Car type: The car you'll be proposed often is a Tata Indica. It's a small car, with not so much space to put luggages. Another popular option is the Ambassador. Of course, ask the owner how old is the car and number of kms. (roads are not good in India, and cars deteriorate quickly) There are taxes to pay when entering a state, so if you plan to visit several states, the price you'll be quoted will be higher. Check if you want a car with A/C or not (the difference between the two is around 2 usd per day). Price varies, quality also. If you are being quoted an excellent price, it's likely there's something wrong. Either the car is not great, or the driver plans on making his profit during the trip (by getting commissions from places where he'll push you to stay). It's definitely best to pay the normal price and then have a hassle free journey.
Currency : you'll be quoted in US dollars or Euros. Rates being different, make sure you're not being ripped off here.
If you start your journey straight away, you can ask to be picked up at the airport. This service can be complimentary. If you wish to use the car in Dehli, you can have special price for those days (we got 10 usd per day in Dehli and free pick up and drop at the airport)
Don't pay anything before arriving. Upon arrival, it's customary to pay half the price, and pay the balance at the end of your trip. If you pay everything upon arrival, you're stuck with your driver (and unlikely to get your money back) if you experience any problem - whether with the driver or unforeseen events.
Important thing to make clear from the onset: you are the one in charge. So you decide your itinerary, you decide where you stay, where you eat, and how you use the car. Drivers often try to save their accomodation allowance (1 or 2 usd a day) by "advising" you where to stay. Be aware that competition between hotels and guest houses is fierce. Most hotels "recommended" actually offer free food and accomodation to drivers. Be firm with your driver on where you want to stay, and bear in mind recommendations are rarely genuine. Don't overlook this, drivers can be very insistent.
- Drivers also try not to stay on parkings, as it increases their company (or their own pocket) cost. Make clear with your driver that it's ok, as long as you don't end up waiting hours for him to show up. (it happened to us...)
Tipping: drivers usually get very low salaries. Tipping a driver in India is common place. But it's not mandatory. Of course, if you're not happy with the service, don't tip. Otherwise I'd say it's between 1 to 3 usd a day. To give you an idea, we gave a 50 usd tip for a 19 day trip.
The company we've used is the one managed by Bobby Thakur. That's the best price we've found, with good service. Bobby can be reached by email and he knows what he's talking about. He'll do anything he can to ensure the customer is happy (the fact that travellers could complain on travel forums about poor quality of service is a strong incentive to provide good quality service). Though our driver was not perfect, we found Bobby to be very helpful and he sorted out our - small - problem. We thus have no hesitation to recommend his company. (this should not prevent you from ensuring the above is followed). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
What did we pay for renting our car? We were quoted 475 USD for 14 days, that included 4 states. Any additional day would be 32 usd (provided it's within the same states), and 10 usd for any day in Dehli and free pick up at the airport. It was an Ambassador with aircon.
Drivers know about travel forums and they will often propose their service through that channel. Some are more subtle (to put it politely) and pretend they are travellers and recommend a driver who actually is... themselves! So if you want a reliable advice, make sure the advice is genuine.
We'd recommend to use a company rather than a independant driver. If you face problems (mechanical problem with the car or the driver is not nice or too pushy) a company will be able to solve the problem (change the car or the driver). With an independant driver, it's going to be difficult to sort out any problem.