In Turkey a driver's license issued in most foreign countries is acceptable. While Turkey has one of the world's highest car accident rates, driving is an excellent way to explore regions outside the major cities and having a car allows you the freedom that traveling by bus, train, or plane does not. Turkey has 40,000 km (25,000 miles) of paved and generally well-maintained highways, but off the intercity highways, surfaces are often poor and potholes frequent. A system of four-lane toll roads is now in place around Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir, but most major highways are two lanes, and cars overtake with some frequency. Sometimes roads have a third lane meant for passing; although the lane is usually labeled with which direction of traffic is meant to use it, drivers don't always follow this rule, so be extremely careful when passing. In general, always expect the unexpected. Don't, for example, assume that one-way streets are one-way in practice or that because you wouldn't do something, such as trying to pass in a dangerous situation, the other driver wouldn't either.
In major cities it's possible to hire a driver along with a car. In some remote places, a driver is usually included in the package with the rental car and will either be the owner of the car or an employee of the agency. If you're particularly happy with the service you may wish to give a tip in addition to the price you pay to the agency. Around 20 TL for a day's driving is reasonable.
Driving in Istanbul and other major cities is best avoided. Urban streets and highways are frequently jammed with vehicles operated by high-speed lunatics as well as otherwise sane drivers who constantly honk their horns. In Istanbul, especially, just because a street is marked one-way, you never know when someone is going to barrel down it in the wrong direction. Parking is also a problem in cities and larger towns. In these places it's best to leave your car in a garage and use public transportation or take taxis.
If possible, avoid driving on highways after dusk. Drivers often don’t use their lights and vehicles may be stopped on the roads in complete darkness. Carts and other farm vehicles are often not equipped with lights.
Highways are numbered or specified by direction (e.g., the route to Antalya). Trans-European highways have a European number as well as a Turkish number (European Route E80 is also known as Turkish Route O-3, O-2, O-4, and D100 as it passes through Turkey, for example). Note, though, that route numbers may be inconsistent from map to map. Archaeological and historic sites are indicated by brown signposts.
Road rescue service is available on some highways; before you embark on a journey, ask your car rental agency or hotel for contact numbers to use in case of an emergency. Most Turkish gas stations have someone with some knowledge of car mechanics who can diagnose problems and provide "first aid" or advice, such as directions to the nearest mechanic. Make sure to take all car-related documents with you if you leave the car in the shop.
Gas costs about 4.7 TL per liter, making Turkey one of the most expensive places in the world to fuel up. Many of the gas stations on the main highways stay open around the clock, others generally from 6 am to 10 pm. Almost all Turkish gas stations provide full service and have unleaded gas. Many attendants will clean your windows while the car's tank is being filled. Tipping is not obligatory though not uncommon if the attendant has been attentive—1 or 2 TL is usually enough. There may be long distances between gas stations in rural areas, so if you're heading off the beaten track, don't allow the tank to run too low. Most gas stations in towns and major highways take credit cards, though you may need cash in rural areas. Many gas stations also have small shops, or just a cooler, where you can buy snacks and chilled drinks.
Renting a Car
In many places, such as Cappadocia and the Turquoise Coast, you may want to rent a car so you can explore on your own. When traveling long distances, however, you may find it easier to take public transportation (either a bus or plane)—unless you plan on sightseeing en route—and renting a car at your destination.
Car rental rates begin at about 160 TL ($60) a day and TL 950 ($350) a week for an economy car with unlimited mileage. The majority of rental cars are equipped with manual transmission, though it's possible to get an automatic (usually for a much higher price). Car seats for children are not compulsory and are often difficult to find, although offices of the multinational firms in larger cities may be able to provide them. A wide variety of mostly European car makes are available, ranging from the locally manufactured Tofaş (the Turkish licensee to build Fiat models) to Renault and Mercedes.
Check the websites of the major multinational companies to see if they have offices at your destination. Many reliable local agencies also operate throughout Turkey.
Hotels often rent cars or have a relationship with a local agency—the local agency is usually anxious to keep the hotel happy by providing a good service, and it's not unusual for the owner of the agency to be a relative of someone at the hotel. The rates for deals done through the hotel, which will include insurance, etc., are often much lower than rates charged by multinational firms.
The rental agency will usually tell you what to do if you have a breakdown or accident and will provide a contact number—often the personal cell number of someone working at the agency—if they don't, ask for one. It's worth remembering that in the case of an accident, Turkish insurance companies usually refuse to pay until they have seen a police report. It is particularly important to obtain a police report if another vehicle is involved, as the driver will need to submit the report when filing a claim with his or her insurance company or with your rental agency. In such a situation, call the contact number for your rental agency and allow a representative to handle all the procedures.
Most likely, agencies will ask you to contact them before attempting to have any repairs done and will usually bring you a replacement car. Most major car manufacturers in Turkey (for example, Renault, Tofaş, and Opel/General Motors) also have roaming 24-hour services and rental agencies may ask you to contact one of them.
Avis. 800/331–1084; 444–2847; www.avis.com.tr.
Budget. 800/472–3325; 216/444–4722; locations.budget.com/tr.
Enterprise. 216/680–0690 ; en.enterprise.com.tr.
Europcar. 216/427–0427; www.europcar.com.tr.
Hertz. 800/654--3001; 212/334–2926 ; www.hertz.com.
Throughout rural Turkey, roads are often not well marked, lighting is scarce, and roads are sometimes rough. City traffic is generally chaotic. The top speed limit of 120 kph (about 75 mph) is rarely enforced on major highways, although it is not unusual for the Turkish police to set speed traps on other roads. Drive carefully and relatively slowly. Be prepared for sudden changes in road conditions and be alert to the behavior of other drivers.
Road maps can often be found in tourist areas, and the rental company will usually provide you with one. Remember, though, signposting is erratic and maps are often not very accurate.
Rules of the Road
Driving is on the right and passing on the left. Seat belts are required for front-seat passengers and should be used by those in back as well. Using a cell phone while driving is prohibited—but this law is seldom obeyed. Turning right on a red light is not permitted, but it is legal to proceed through a flashing red light provided no traffic is coming the other way. Speeding and other traffic violations are subject to on-the-spot fines. Fines for driving under the influence of alcohol are steep and are often accompanied by imprisonment. Most rental companies do not allow you to cross international borders in a rented car.