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10 Must Do Things Before Driving Up To Malaysia

  • 7 min read

Written by a customer who prefers anonymity.

The article is specifically for people living in Singapore and who want to drive up to Malaysia. For those who live overseas and are not familiar with the geography, Singapore is an island on the southern most tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. Singapore is linked by two land bridges to the southern state of Johor or Johore (the spelling is never consistent, hasn't been since 1965 or earlier).

The first land link called the Causeway has been around for almost a hundred years. On 11 June 2024 it would have been operational for 100 years. 

The 10 must do things before driving up to Malaysia are

1. Change Your Sing Dollars to Ringgit

Don't use your credit cards where possible. Most credit card companies charge you an overseas fee plus a foreign exchange rate that is not always favourable. Go to People's Park or Serangoon Road and your friendly local money changer will almost always give you a better deal. Change your money at least a day before your trip. Most money changers open from 10am onwards. If you are driving all the way to Kuala Lumpur you can change a second batch of money up there. I have gotten better rates in KL than in Singapore most of the time. I usually go to the one at the start of Jalan Alor at Bukit Bintang. The ones at or around KLCC give shitty rates. It seems the seedier the location the better the rates.

2. Always Top Up Your Touch N Go Card On Your Return Journey To Singapore

Top up your touch n go card on your return journey back to Singapore when you fill up your petrol tank at the last station before crossing into Singapore. Topping up your card in Singapore is not possible. If you do have enough money in your TNG card there are people to help you out at the Malaysian checkpoint entering Johore. But prepared to be cursed and sworn at by people behind you as the delay can be substantial sometimes. If you are a driving virgin or if your TNG has expired, borrow one from a friend who travelled to Malaysia recently and buy a new card for yourself after you have crossed over. Maintain at least 100 ringgit whenever you set out on a trip to Kuala Lumpur. Criticising the system is a waste of time and is like water off a duck's back.

3. Always Carry Two Wallets

Carry two wallets when you set off to Malaysia. Malaysian highways are very well built. They are long, smooth and inviting. It is not difficult to get excited and to pick speed as you get more comfortable with the driving environment. It is easy to slip into a sense complacency. This is the time when you get fucked. Don't be surprised when a police officer suddenly rushes to the middle of the highway and flags you down. 

If you are unlucky enough to get caught be prepared to be humble, friendly and wind down your car window and give a "I am so sorry" smile. The officer will come over and explain to you why he has has stopped you. He may even have a high tech handheld device to show you that you have been speeding. After listening attentively to his explanation just ask him, "Boss! Boleh Tolong".

If the officer is "receptive" he will lean his whole head and both hands through the driver's window. Then take out your "second wallet" that has your driving license and about 50 ringgit in small change that can be clearly seen. Keep your hands low, below the dashboard level. If "brother mata" agrees to helping you then you have to depart with your small change and wish him a good day. Never offer to pay directly or openly. 

If the officer is not receptive then just follow his instructions.

If you don't want to pay anything then ask them politely to post the fine to Singapore. They will then start to tell you that its easier to settle with them now. If it is a simple two man operation of low ranking officers you may get away with this. I have never gotten a fine mailed to me before when I tried this tactic. If it is a major ops just pay and vamoose. The senior officers involved can detain you at the nearest police station and give you hell.

Your primary wallet with the real cash and goodies should be hidden away out of sight.

4. Download The Waze App

The Waze app is a money saver. Road users are updating the app all the time with useful information such as police road blocks, speeding cameras, patrol car locations, accidents and more. https://www.waze.com/

5. Don't Over Inflate Your Tires

This is a major mistake for cars with low profile performance tires and large rims. The specs given by many manufacturers are not for Hot Summer conditions. Set the pressure onto the lower range. My Porsche 21 inch low profile tires have failed twice. Both on super hot days. Don't use the five person loading setting. Singaporeans are smaller and lighter physically. A lower tire pressure is better. The best type of cars to go to Malaysia are those with standard tire sizes. Getting low profile sport tires replacements in Parit Gantong or kampong is near impossible. Special tires have to be delivered from Kuala Lumpur and may take a day or two depending on where you are. Been there done that. Luckily for me I have some very good Malaysian friends to help me out.

Most cars nowadays don't even have a spare tire. I have some idiotic but good friends who only discovered that that their car had no spare tire only after having a puncture. LOL.

6. Carry Extra Engine Oil, Coolant And Water

One of the most scary things to see is a blinking or strange light on your dashboard after you have just crossed over into Malaysia. The first thought that crosses your mind is, "Do I have turn back?". Most of the time it is just having low engine oil or low coolant triggering the warning lights. Don't panic. Just pull over, turn off the engine and read the damn car manual. Make sure the dashboard lights mean what you suspect.

If the the blinking warning lights really mean low engine oil or coolant, open the bonnet and let the car engine cool down for 15 to 30 mins. Don't uncap anything until everything is cool to the touch. Always carry a funnel and a rag so that you can pour your coolant or engine oil neatly without any spills. Read your manual carefully before pouring anything into any hole. Once you are absolutely sure of what and where to pour then begin. Always remember to clean your funnel. You don't want unwanted residue mixing with new coolant or engine oil. If you are missing a funnel just cut a plastic water bottle into half.

7. Get Your Car Serviced

Get your car serviced before going on a long trip. If your car does not feel good or has been acting up a visit to the mechanic might be a good idea. Book your service dates early. Many car brands need a 2 to 4 weeks lead time for servicing. If your car is due for service then don't drive up north.

Get your mechanic to check your brakes, tires and alignment besides servicing your engine. Driving at a high speed can take a toll on your tires and brakes. If getting your car serviced early is a problem, minimally make sure you check your tire pressure, tire wear, engine oil level and coolant levels.

For my last major breakdown I needed a tow back to Singapore. It cost me almost RMB2000 and took 24 hours to reach my workshop in Singapore from somewhere near Seremban. It was very stressful.

8. Check Your Insurance

Check your insurance. Make sure your named drivers list is updated. Accidents do happen. Many of us save on our insurance fees by limiting who can drive our cars. So make sure you update your named drivers list. If someone driving your car is not insured and an accident happens you can get into irretrievable super deep shit.

Local police do occasionally check for insurance during road blocks in the small towns. So do carry a copy in the car or you might need some "tolong" and part with some ringgit.

9. Plan To Do Your Driving In The Morning

Most of us go to Malaysia for the food. We can hardly control our greed and temptations. Driving after a filling lunch of delicious bak ku teh or ikan bakar can be deadly. Most of my near misses have been after lunch on a hot hot afternoon. Driving at night can be taxing as well with blinding oncoming lights. If it rains the headlight reflections off the wet roads can be even more distracting.

10. Use Your Grab App

Use your Grab App to move around in KL. Don't drive. Its cheap, relaxing and no need to get your car scratched for bad parking. Drink and party to your heart's delight without a care. Drink driving is something serious nowadays in Malaysia. No easy "tolongs". The fine for drunk driving in Malaysia can be several thousand dollars.

The following is an extract from the internet, "Stiffer penalties against those who drive under the influence of alcohol came into force on Oct 23, 2020 following amendments to Section 45A of the Road Transport Act. Those convicted for the first time may be fined between RM10,000 and RM30,000, jailed up to two years and disqualified from driving for two years."

Looking to pay off someone can cost thousands. However these guys in authority do accept bank transfers. Drinking and driving are reserved only for risk takers.

11. Keep All Your Stuff In The Boot

Keep all your stuff in the boot, including bags that contain no valuables. No public display of steallable stuff. No cashcard or TNG cards visible. We Singaporeans can be very lax about car security. Hardly anyone break into cars anymore on our beautiful island. We cannot however say the same for the Peninsula. 

12. Handling Local Parking Fines

If you get a parking "Saman" at the state level don't worry. Just throw it away. Until the state's police or local authority IT system gets upgraded you will probably not receive a fine by mail.

The author loves Malaysia and has been driving up north since 1989 and chalked up about 500,000km on Malaysian roads. He has since paid several thousand dollars in "fines" and seeked many "tolongs". This article is purely the personal opinion of the writer and not that of Feverything.