Renting a Car in Iceland: What You Need to Know
Iceland is an incredible destination with many remote natural wonders waiting for you. The best way to see them is by driving yourself. Renting a car in Iceland is easy to do, but there are several things you need to take into consideration before you hit “book.”
4WD vs. 2WD
If you’re planning to stick to the Ring Road or Golden Circle and you’re going in the summer, a regular 2WD car should be fine. If you are doing anything other than that, get a 4WD car.
Reasons you might need 4WD:
- Traveling in winter
- Your route includes F-roads (mountain roads in the Highlands) - only 4x4s are allowed to drive on them
- You want the flexibility to go off the Ring Road if you hear about something interesting
Car, SUV, or Camper Van?
Again, if you’re sticking to main roads and it’s summer: car. For anything else, you’ll want an SUV or camper van.
You want an SUV if:
- You’re traveling in winter.
- You have several people traveling together - it’s much more comfortable to put four adults in an SUV than a compact car.
- You want to explore the Highlands and interior of Iceland to do things like visit tiny hot springs in the middle of nowhere.
- Your route includes F-roads.
- You want the flexibility to go off the beaten path at a moment’s notice.
- You may want to camp in a tent, but also want to stay in some hotels or B&Bs along the way.
You want a camper van if:
- You want to be able to park your car at the end of the day and have your bed with you out in the wilderness.
- You want to be able to cook all your own food on your trip.
- You want to be as flexible as possible without much of an itinerary.
- You’re traveling with kids who need meals, snacks, naps, etc. on their regular schedule.
New or Old?
You can save money by renting old, beat up cars in Iceland, but we don’t recommend it. You can get into a lot of trouble if something goes wrong with your old car while out in the middle of nowhere. Invest in a new, reliable car to have the best trip possible.
If you are planning a long road trip around Iceland (like completing the whole Ring Road), make sure to get unlimited miles. Most rental agreements have a mileage limit and large fees if you go over.
A good insurance plan is highly recommended as the roads in Iceland are rough and the weather conditions change frequently. It is not uncommon for rental cars to suffer damage even on short trips with conscientious drivers. Consider a package that includes gravel insurance as many roads are covered in loose gravel and it is very windy in Iceland; if one rock hits the windshield at just the right angle, the windshield can crack and require costly repairs.
Make A Plan For Fuel
The most important thing to know about planning for fuel: Gas stations are sparse so never skip one. Gas stations are also a great place to get snacks and hot dogs to keep yourself fueled. Always stop.
If you have the option, diesel is cheaper and more fuel efficient so you won’t have to worry as much about gas stations. (But still never skip one that you do see in a rural area.)
Most gas stations accept credit cards. Some close early and you can only pay by credit card at the pump after hours. Make sure you know the pin number for your credit card as you may need it to get gas.
GPS or a Map
A good map is essential. Thanks to the Ring Road, navigating Iceland isn’t too hard. You could get a GPS in addition to the map, but the GPS may not be reliable in remote areas. There’s no need to waste money on a daily GPS fee from a car rental agency as long as you have a good map.
Driving Tips For Iceland
- Check the weather regularly. Weather changes rapidly, especially in winter, and greatly impacts road conditions. One reliable source is en.vedur.is.
- Drive slowly on gravel roads and in inclement weather.
- Many bridges are one lane only.
- It’s mandatory to wear a seatbelt in every seat in the car.
- Off-road driving is illegal.
- Animals often roam freely in Iceland, so keep an eye out for them.
- Daytime running lights are mandatory all the time - even on sunny days.