Tourism to Iceland is increasing at a rapid rate, according to statistics from the official tourism board tourism increased by more than 21% from 2014 to 2015 and by almost 50% from 2013 to 2015.
One of the most popular ways to travel the island is by car.
In 2015 statistics showed that there were close to 22,000 rental cars across the country which was an increase of 22% from the previous year.
Making the decision on what type of car to rent is one of if not the most important parts of a trip to Iceland, if you are doing it on your own and not with a tour company.
Gil and I were lucky enough to be working with Lagoon Car Rental, they provided us with the best possible vehicle for our adventure.
Lagoon provided us with an Isuzu D-Max 4×4 which had pretty much 25km on the clock. The original plan was a Rav4, however they gave us a bigger and better car, upgraded the wheels, tyres, put a new canopy on the rear, gave us emergency retrieval/digging gear in case we needed it (and well we did) and beyond all, they are a great bunch of people to work with who we were able to contact at anytime for general advise and if we had a problem.
There are a few things you need to consider when renting a vehicle in Iceland.
What time of year you are traveling.
- During the Summer months when generally there is no snow and you are sticking to the main highway known as ‘The 1’ then a 2WD will suffice, it will be cheaper on fuel and generally cheaper to rent, anything from Hyundai i20 to a VW Golf or similar will do the job.
- If you want to venture inland to the highlands known as the F-Roads then a 4WD is a must, in fact in some places it is against the law to drive anything but, even during summer, a Mitsubishi ASX, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forester will all be fine.
- However even during summer the weather can turn in Iceland, and very quickly, in may this year freakish winds caused a few problems
- When the snow starts to fall and you are still sticking to ‘The 1’ I would recommend stepping up to a 4×4, not an AWD, a 4×4 4WD, yes it will become more expensive to rent and it will generally burn more fuel however you ‘may’ need it, we arrived at the very start of Winter and early on we definitely needed it, but you wont need a big 4WD, a Mitsubishi ASX, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forester will all be fine.
- If you plan on crossing some of the mountain ranges that are not F-Roads you will need to think about a 4WD, and a larger car, like the D-Max or Landcruiser, these will handle these types of roads and you wont have any problems.
Do you plan to stay in Hotels or Camp/if camping do you want to sleep in a tent or a camper?
- This can also determine what sort of car you get and if you get a camper. A Camper is a vehicles that is both your transport and accommodation. Most campers in Iceland are large Vans which have been fitted out so that the back of the van can be used for living. They are not the same as caravans.
If you plan to venture outside the Golden Circle
- The Golden Circle loop is a main road that is maintained so realistically at any time of year you can drive it with any type of car, however as always the weather can turn and become dangerous and brutal, so pick your battles, watch the weather forecasts, in my opinion, whatever car you decide on pick the category above just to be safe.
Should I get the extra insurance
- As is with any premium insurance it is entirely up to you, however with Iceland’s unpredictable weather, high winds, the amount of tourists on the road, get it, yes for the most part extra insurance is expensive, however if something happens you could be up for thousands of dollars. Now the other option and the one I have, purchase travel insurance, my travel insurance covers me for up to $5,000 in rental car excess fees for each rental, so it would cover any excess fees if anything were to happen.
Here are a few other must have’s when renting a car in Iceland, in particular in Winter.
- Foldable shovel or 2 for when you get stuck in a snow drift
- Snow tyres, rental car companies will have snow tyres in winter but just make sure, they work so well for the most part you wont even need to engage 4Wd
- Snatch strap in case you get stuck and need someone to pull you out.
- Windscreen ice scraper, invaluable.
- If you dont have experience driving a 4WD or a 4WD in the snow take it easy or dont even do it, we were lucky, I have a lot of experience driving on dirt and Gil has a lot of experience driving in snow, it can be scary if the car starts to drift, our natural instinct is to break, thats not a good idea in snow, so just be very careful.
- The Most important point of it all, obey the rules and local laws, this means don’t drive off road where there isnt a track/path already, Australians in particular are used to being able to drive off-road anywhere for the most part, in Iceland however this is not possible, there are parts of the country where fauna and moss grows, once destroyed moss takes quite a few years to regrow (50+ years), so behave, don’t be stupid, don’t be rude.
The snow drift we got stuck in, we were extremely lucky to have a shovel to get us out of trouble.
The D-Max was a perfect car for us, it had plenty of ground clearance to go over any terrain.
The rear of our truck was essentially our living area, we made our meals here and it housed all our gear.
So to summarise.
The most important point you have to think about when renting a car in Iceland is the time of year you will be traveling and where you will be going, personally I would always get a larger 4WD like the D-Max no matter what time of year, it means I can essentially go anywhere without worrying if the car will make it and if it will be safe.
So if you are looking to rent a car have a look at Lagoons website, they have a huge range of vehicles to choose from, contact them to rent you vehicle.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me on here, on Facebook or on YouTube.
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Check out other articles in this series