Driving in Iceland – Iceland Car Rental Tips

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Best Car Rental Iceland

 

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I am notoriously frugal when it comes to renting a car. I seem to have it stuck in my head that a car rental anywhere in the world should cost about $29/day. While this may be possible in major U.S. cities, this is most certainly not the case with an Iceland car rental.

Through the process of trying to reserve a Keflavik Airport car rental for our first trip to Iceland (KEF is Iceland’s international airport), I experienced what is commonly known as sticker shock. Judging by the many travel forums dedicated to the topic of trying to find a cheap rental car in Iceland – I know that I am not alone in my experience.

The other trying part of my Keflavik car rental ordeal was sorting through Iceland car rental insurance options. Sand and ash protection insurance (SAAP), for example, was not something I had ever heard of before planning a trip to Iceland, and not something I had factored in for our Reykjavik car rental (more on this later – volcanoes!).

In this post, I will share with you my best Iceland car rental tips as well as the most important things to know about driving in Iceland . Please use the following menu to find what you need quickly.

Important Disclaimer: I intend for the information on this website to serve as a general overview on matters of interest derived from my experience traveling to Iceland. I am not an expert on the subject of car insurance or car rentals. I attempt to ensure that the content is current and accurate but I do not guarantee its currency and accuracy. For more information, please see our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

 

 

About Driving in Iceland

We have done a number of driving trips in Iceland. We have chosen to self drive the Golden Circle in both the summer and winter (rather than do a tour), we have ventured to the Westman Islands to see puffins during nesting season, and we have done a multi-day adventure through southern Iceland to visit the blue ice caves. Throughout these adventures, we came to terms with why one might need to pay for a few extra insurance options (the ones I typically pass on) and why one should try to choose from only the best car rental companies in Iceland.

This could not have been more obvious than when we returned our first Iceland rental car and sat down next a stunned couple in the office. They had just been informed that they would have to pay $2000 for damage done by gravel to their car. I sat quietly crossing my fingers and awaited our fate. Flashbacks of a gravel road detour came to mind, when a large truck barreled by us, spraying chunks of rock all over our vehicle. By some miracle, our car had not sustained any damage, but I did take this opportunity to pepper the agent with questions, vowing to write a post and warn others of potential pitfalls when renting cars in Iceland.

 

Which is the Best Iceland Car Rental Company?

I have a few thoughts on finding the best car rental companies in Iceland.  If you would like an Iceland car rental airport pick up option, Hertz Iceland, Budget Iceland, Avis, Sixt and Europcar all have cars right at Keflavik Airport. You are generally going to pay a bit more with these companies, but you are getting some added convenience and time savings.

It should also be mentioned that waiting for a shuttle to pick you up at Keflavik Airport to take you to your rental car (as is typical with local providers) is not always pleasant (rain, sleet, wind etc.) AutoEurope provides an easy platform on which to compare rates between these major rental car providers.

Note: When renting from AutoEurope, you can expect to be presented with additional insurance options when you pick up your car in Iceland. Iceland has some unique terrain that calls for extra coverage (sand and ash protection and gravel protection). This typically will cost you an additional $15-$30 USD/day. Please read the section on insurance in this post (it’s the most important part).

Personally, I am a fan of some of the locally based companies (Reykjavik Cars, Blue Car Rental Iceland, and Lagoon Car Rental). I find these companies generally offer good service as well as better rates than the international players. At first glance, the price may not seem better, but when you add in insurance and extras (such as a GPS), that’s when you will notice the savings. Some of these companies also offer a premium insurance package that is good value.

There are a couple drawbacks to doing a KEF airport car rental with one of these locally based providers.

First, you will be required to take a short shuttle to your rental car. This may be something that you want to take into consideration if you are coming in off a red-eye flight (exhausted) or if you are visiting Iceland in the winter (inclement weather). All of these companies also offer the option of a Reykjavik car rental pickup and drop off (you can pick up from their office in the city or have the car dropped at your hotel for an extra fee).

Second, you should be clear on the age of the car you are renting. Although this is usually well marked on the website, you should know if you are renting a car that is new, or a year old with some good mileage on it already. Personally, I don’t care if my rental car is not brand new, but I know it is important to some (in which case you would be better renting through AutoEurope). 

 

 

 

AutoEurope – Save up to 30% on Car Rentals 

Car Rental Keflavik

 

Important: I encourage you to read reviews for your chosen Iceland car rental company. Most consumer car rental complaints in Iceland stem from the fact that people are under-insured (and body damage repairs in Iceland are exceptionally expensive). Iceland’s unique geography creates some hazards along the roadways (sand, ash and gravel) that most travelers have not faced before.

Although I delve into this in the next section, I cannot impress on you enough how important it is to buy the extra gravel protection insurance (GP) and, depending on when you are visiting, the sand and ash protection insurance (SAAP). I am the type of person who generally believes that extra car insurance is a cash grab, but in Iceland, I suck it up and buy the premium, full-coverage insurance package.

 

 

 

10 Iceland Car Rental Tips

 

Book Your Iceland Car Rental Early

Despite signs that their tourism boom is finally slowing, Iceland is still an enormously popular destination. Sky high hotel and car rental rates are the norm, especially in the high season of May to October. Reserve your rental car as soon as you have your plans fixed, as that rate is unlikely to go down. Still want to cover your bases? Make sure your reservation is flexible and can be cancelled if you do happen to find a better rate.


Car Rentals in Iceland

 

 

Leave Time For Shuttles

If you want to pick up a Keflavik car rental right at the airport, you can reserve with Budget, Avis, Europcar or Hertz. If you rent from one of the Iceland airport car rental companies shown in the next photo, including Reykjavik Cars, Blue Car Rental, Lagoon Rental and SADCars Iceland (yes…seriously called Sad Cars), you will need to take a shuttle to pick up your rental vehicle. We normally take a shuttle and it’s not a big deal (adding about 20-30 minutes). It’s just something you might want to be aware of if you are tight for time.

 

Car Rental Iceland Reykjavik Airport

 

 

Get the Appropriate Car Insurance for Iceland

In addition to your typical car rental insurance (Collision, Third Party Liability, etc.), there are a couple other rental car insurance options in Iceland that you should consider. This is the most important section of this whole post because underinsuring can go very wrong in this rugged land.

Important Note: If you think your credit card insurance policy will cover your extra car insurance needs in Iceland, I strongly encourage you to contact your provider first for clarification and ask them to send you a copy of the coverage. Iceland is often an exception in travel car insurance policies due to the nature and frequency of damages that can occur. I also encourage you to go through this Tripadvisor thread on Rental Auto Insurance in Iceland as it provides some valuable information.

Here is an overview of some additional insurance options available in Iceland:

Gravel Protection Insurance (GP) – With most policies, this protection includes damage to windscreen, headlights, front bumper, mirrors and the hood of the car when gravel or rocks gets thrown onto the vehicle by another car. According to the company I rented from, their most frequent claims come from paint, body and windshield damage due to driving on gravel roads. This type of damage can cost several thousand dollars to repair for the underinsured (repair rates, like everything else, are much higher in Iceland). This is the one type of insurance that I would strongly recommend.

Sand and Ash Protection Insurance (SAAP) – When the wind blows in Iceland, sand and ash can cause paint damage to vehicles, so Iceland car rental companies offer SAAP (Sand and Ash Protection). This is most likely to be an issue in the South Coast and on the highland F Roads in the spring and fall, when there isn’t any snow coverage or natural ground cover. In saying this, it is still possible for damage to occur at any time of the year depending on the ground conditions.

Theft Protection (TP) – If it makes you feel better to get it, go for it, but considering the fact that Iceland has very low crime rates almost across the board, I personally would pass.

Please note: Not all car rental companies allow you to purchase gravel or sand and ash protection insurance through their website. This can be done onsite when you pick up your car.

 

Get the GPS

Honestly, it’s not such a big place, right? It should be super straight forward to get around….but sometimes it isn’t. First of all, from a language perspective, you are dealing with some unusual Icelandic characters and it is easy to make a mistake. Second, you may be faced with several options for the same name, or a very similar name (a fair distance apart) and it can be confusing.

If you rent a GPS, most popular tourist destinations should already be programmed in (check this before driving away). We used a Garmin GPS and it was helpful, but we probably had an extra 2 hours of “a little bit lost” time because of some mistakes we made in programming it ourselves. See also this rather amusing New York Times story about a tourist getting lost in Iceland.

Note: The cost of renting a GPS in Iceland is roughly $10-15 USD/day. If you are going on an extended trip, you may want to weigh this cost against purchasing a GPS outright. We actually share one between households in our extended family (amazingly our trips rarely seem to overlap).

 

Self Driving Iceland

 

 

Beware of the Cheap Car Rental in Iceland

If you find yourself researching cheap car rentals Iceland and budget car rentals Iceland (as I did), be aware that some companies rent much older vehicles at a discount (read the fine print). SAD Cars is one of them (“older, but good solid cars”). While this could work out just fine for you, make sure you have your expectations in check. I also strongly encourage you to read Iceland car rental reviews and forum posts from people who have used specific providers. As an example, see this SAD car rentals review Tripadvisor forum (go to the end of it for recent reviews).


Car Rentals in Iceland

 

 

Watch for Animals

It is not uncommon for sheep and other animals to wander onto the road in Iceland, so keep an eye out while driving. You would be hard-pressed to find car insurance that will cover you for damage done by an encounter with an animal. I also read a story about some tourists returning to their car to find a bunch of sheep napping in the shade of the car. Their horns did $3500 USD worth of damage in scratches to the car (See Tripadvisor forum post).

Having once looked out the window of our beautiful farm stay in Napa to find goats on the roof of our car, I know from experience that these things occasionally do happen (and seemingly more frequently in Iceland).

 

Iceland Car Rental Tips

Which Car Insurance for Iceland

 

 

Choose the Appropriate Vehicle

If you are visiting Iceland in the summer, you should not need a special vehicle to self drive the Golden Circle or the Ring Road (both paved – 2WD fine). If you plan on driving on F-Roads (mountain roads in the highlands), you will need to rent a 4 x 4 in Iceland (Note: these roads are only open in the summer).

Off-roading is strictly prohibited in Iceland (fines!) and Icelandic rental car insurance will not cover damage due to river crossings. Google some images of Iceland 4 x 4 and you will see why (doesn’t always go well). This is not meant to deter you, as obviously many people do rent jeeps and 4 x 4s in Iceland and enjoy amazing adventures. Just make sure you take the time to learn where you can and cannot go with them.

A fun read: This is quite an interesting article from the New Yorker about the civilian rescue force in Iceland. These volunteers often find themselves helping out stranded tourists.

 

 

Watch the Speed Limit

While you may not see a lot of police cars in Iceland, speed cameras are quite abundant. The speed limit for cars in Iceland is generally 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads and 90 km/h on paved rural roads.

 

 

Consider Your Hours of Daylight

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I watched Game of Thrones: The Last Watch (the making of the final season of GOT). Apparently, when it was decided that Iceland would be a filming location, nobody considered how few hours of daylight the country gets in the winter.

Embarrassingly, I had a similar experience as I planned a November trip to Iceland (I should have known better as I live in Canada where winter days are also short.) Only at the last minute did I realize that I would have to put some limits on a big day of sightseeing in the south, since the sun wouldn’t even rise until 10am.

While it is not a huge deal, if you are not comfortable driving in winter conditions, you may be even less inclined to do so in the dark. In mid-December you will get to enjoy only a brief four hours of daylight. Of course, you benefit from the opposite effect in summer where you can enjoy over 20 hours of daylight in mid June.

 

 

Beware Hidden Fees on Your Iceland Car Rental

If you plan on seeing a lot of Iceland, you will want to make sure that your rental car agreement includes unlimited mileage. Like everything else in Iceland, going over your limit can otherwise prove quite costly.

 

 

Tips for Driving in Iceland Video

Want a couple of quick tips for driving in Iceland? Check out this amusing little video from Inspired by Iceland.



Car Rentals in Iceland

 

8 Responses

  1. […] Car rentals can be pricey and you may be tempted to save money by skipping the insurance. Before you do, check with your credit card or car insurance provider because you probably still need to buy the ash and rocks coverage. Insurance can greatly increase the cost of the rental car, but you may need it. (See other tips for Iceland car rentals.) […]

  2. Leila
    | Reply

    HII Thank you for all this great information! If I’m spending my first 2 nights in Reykjavik am I better off getting a car in the city rather than the airport? I’m just starting my planning so I may come back 🙂 Leila

    • Tara Cannon
      | Reply

      He Leila,
      For us, it has always made sense just to get the car at the airport and keep it for the whole time (including while in Reykjavik). The reason for this is that the cost of the airport transfer (x4 people for us) is more than keeping the car for an extra couple of days. There is the small issue of having to pay for some city parking, but on the flip side, it’s nice to have a car to drive to local pools etc. (that might otherwise required transit).
      If you are traveling on your own or as a couple, it may be cheaper to only rent the car for your time outside of Reykjavik.
      I hope this helps. 🙂 Tara

  3. Chris
    | Reply

    It looks like I’ll be going with Reykjavik Cars after your recommendation / mention of them. I’ve read reviews about AutoEurope being decent and standing up for customers in the case of disputes, but I could not find one single mention on their site of insurance for either gravel or sand and ash (which is so commonplace on other Iceland car rental sites that each type of localised insurance has its own abbreviation, and gravel insurance is often even included in the base price). I guess that means you’d need a 3rd-party insurance for Iceland-specific coverage when booking through AutoEurope.

    • Tara Cannon
      | Reply

      Hi Chris,
      My guess is that AutoEurope includes this as an option add-on once you go to pick up your car (probably for $10 a day). There is simply no way they wouldn’t offer this protection in Iceland. I’m going to reach out to them to find out (and I will post back here when I hear).

    • Tara Cannon
      | Reply

      Hi Chris,
      I can see that this isn’t described very well on the website. From another site, it looks to me that the SuperCDW (but not the plain CDW) includes Sand, Ash and Gravel. Alternatively, you can purchase it separately for around 2300 ISK/day (about $18 USD/day). Although AutoEurope discourages you from buying insurance on site in Iceland (they say it will cost more), I do not believe this to be the case. Assuming you can get a good rate, I would go with AutoEurope (ideally choosing one one of the companies that have car right at the airport so you can avoid a shuttle), and I would purchase insurance when you pick up your car.

  4. Sandra
    | Reply

    Hello,

    I really found your webpage very informative. I was wondering if you have any recommendations for a 3 day self drive tour of Iceland. I’d like to do the Circle and an ice cave and/or glacier. Any recommended routes?

    • Tara Cannon
      | Reply

      Hi Sandra,
      When are you going? The reason I ask is because ice cave season starts in November.

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