For general tips on driving the Silk Road, see the driving overview page. Here we discuss specifics for driving in Mongolia: road rules, the state of the roads, where to find parts, repair shops, and how to deal with transporting, customs and selling a car.
Roads and fuel in Mongolia
From To Mongolia, where you can also find an updated map of the Mongolian road system: Out of a total of 50 000 km of roads in Mongolia only about 5 000 km are asphalt paved roads, mostly leading out of Ulaanbataar. However, all province centers are now connected to the capital city with paved roads.
All other roads are gravel and dirt roads, that can quickly turn to mud after rain. In desert regions many roads have thick sand; bringing sand ladders is advised.
- Border Russia – Olgii: first part gravel. Last part tarmac.
- Olgii – Khovd: First 60 km tarmac. Rest gravel and sand with a few crossings through water.
- Khovd – Altai: first 160 km new tarmac. Dirt tracks with sand thereafter. After Darvi a new road is being built.
- Altai – Bayankonhonger: first 130 km new tarmac. Thereafter gravel and some sand. No signs of road construction.
- Bayanhongor – Ulaanbator – Border China at Erenhot: Good tarmac.
- Songino-Nuranbulag-Ulaangom section in the north is 300 km of perfect asphalt.
- Bayankhongor – Altai has a new road being constructed which ends half way in the middle of nowhere (direction Butsagaan). Average speed 60 km/hr.
- Delger – Olgii is new tarmac and road qualiy is perfect, although some deviations (unpaved) exist. Average speed 100 km/hr.
- Olgii-Tsagannuur is mostly paved, you can drive to the Russian border in somewhat more than an hour.
- UB – Bayandalai: good asphalt
Fuel in Mongolia comes from Russia and is of medium quality. In the western region the fuel has lots of dirt particles in it because the pumps do not get used enough. Careful drivers will carry enough air filters, fuel filters and injector cleaners and will clean their air filters regularly, it’s the best treatment for a suffering engine. A person who loves her engine will put a snorkel: takes the air filter change frequency from 1 week to 6 months.
If your engine is slightly old, noisy and ticking with bad fuel you could additionally put 2-stroke engine oil in with diesel (about 1 to 200 ratio) – that can make a big difference to a battered engine.
Bring 1 or 2 extra jerry cans next to your normal offroading gear: you can plan your fuel stops with this map of all petrol stations in Mongolia – OSM (aka maps.me) and iOverlander also have good indications for petrol. A 500 km range fuel tank will do for the majority of adventurers.
What you should know
Seasoned overlanders can skip this part but if you are new to the whole idea, make sure you:
- Get spare wheels (2 at least) Ideally all of the tires the same spec, dimension, size
- Lighten your load; get rid off anything that you will not need ie heavy black storage boxes
- Get your jerry cans cleaned properly, don’t get dirt in it and bring funnel with filters – 40liters in total should be OK
- Get underbody protection for your car
- Take extra water
- Most roads are unmarked dirt roads. Your average speed will be low, and driving includes crossing rivers, driving in mud or snow, and choosing the right track out of many going in different directions.
- There are no good standard up to date reliable maps in reasonable scale in Latin alphabet. There are very few road signs, most in Cyrillic letters. Getting lost is easy. Get a compass, a map and a type of GPS.
- There is limited service for modern vehicles out of UB.
- Old vehicles can be fixed in many locations, but they tend to break down frequently.
- In case of breakdown, communication might be limited in between villages.
- 2WD drive vehicles will be Ok for driving in UB or between major cities such as Khara Khorum town, Erdenet town, Terelj National park, Darkhan town and Zuunmod town. Other than these routes you’ll need a 4WD.
- There have been robberies in the Lake Baikal region so you should exercise caution if travelling there.
- Weather can be highly unpredictable; it can snow anytime from mid September.
- Driving in Ulanbaatar presents its own set of challenges
Deposit for entering Mongolia and car insurance
To buttress the local car market against an excessive load of junkers from the Mongol Rally, Mongolian customs introduced a deposit fee for entering cars older than 10 years. The deposit is not small: 4500 USD + 15% of the car value, which seems to be equal to the full import tax and excise of the car. We are not sure how the car value is determined but it seems to be always on the high side: count on another 2500 USD even if your car is fucksauce. We are still looking for an exact description of the deposit process, including how to get your money back.
Update 2017: We know the Mongol Rally-people cut a deal with the government so their teams no longer need to pay the deposit. We are not sure about others with old cars. It seems the deposit system is cancelled but we have not gotten confirmation yet.
If car insurance in Mongolia is obligatory is still not entirely clear to me, but it seems most people have to buy it at the border. Please let us know if you know more. Costs seem to oscillate between 20 and 40 USD for a whole year, depending on the size of your vehicle.
Selling/dumping/parking/shipping your vehicle
Simply running away with an excuse happened a lot in the old days of the Mongol Rally. We no longer know what happens these days.
Bad roads and a taxing climate makes car rental in Mongolia quite expensive for Western standards. Funnily enough, the cost for a car with a driver can turn out cheaper than the cost for a self-drive car. Estimate a budget between 60USD and 140USD per day. Some companies who seem to know what they are doing (no experiences or guarantees):