13 Tips for Renting a Car in Iceland

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Planning a trip to Iceland? Amid the whirlwind of setting up the perfect itinerary, don’t forget to make arrangements for car rentals. Though you can get around by taxi, bus, and biking, driving around in a rental allows you much more freedom to explore the land of fire and ice on your terms. It may be more expensive, but it’s the best way to do some sightseeing. 

Drive at your own pace. Follow an itinerary that matches your interests to the letter, and visit all the tourist attractions that you want to. If you’ve decided to use a car rental service, here are a couple of tips for renting a car in Iceland. 

Essential Travel Resources for 2021 & 2022

These are my favorite companies that I use on my travels.

Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.

For road trips and ground transportation, rent a car through Discover Cars.

Find the best city tours, day tours, bus tours, & skip-the-line tickets on GetYourGuide.

For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.

For travel guidebooks to have with you during your trip, I always pick one or two (or five) from Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, Moon Travel Guides, or Fodor’s Travel Guides.

Get reliable travel insurance through World Nomads.

Book an affordable family or romantic photography session on your trip through Flytographer (Use the code HISTORYFANGIRL for 10% off your first photoshoot).

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Do Your Research

You don’t need to wait until you’ve arrived to look for a car rental. Booking a rental in advance can save you money that can go towards other fees for your trip. 

A number of car rental companies have websites through which you can contact them, ask for rates, and make reservations. When surveying these companies, pay attention to reviews and look for the one with the highest ratings. 

Many rental services don’t levy cancellation charges which is a huge plus, especially if you’re still finalizing your travel dates. If you don’t prepare and book in advance, you may not find the car you want and end up paying higher last-minute prices. 

Get Insurance

You’ll encounter ash and ice during your driving expedition. Don’t forget about the gravel roads you’ll have to cruise through either. Iceland’s roads are dotted with small rocks which can ding up a car and leave you liable. 

To safeguard yourself from the heavy costs rental companies may charge you for any damages, it’s best to get extra insurance. Getting gravel, ice, and ash insurance may cost you quite a bit of money, but it’s definitely worth it. To get the best deals, look for third-party insurance providers instead of getting it directly from the rental company.

Skip the Theft Insurance

Iceland is a pretty safe country and cases of theft are few and far between. Most cars have an in-built GPS tracker so you don’t have to worry about getting insurance for it.

Know The Different Road Types

What kind of trip are you planning on? Does your itinerary focus more on indulgence and comfort or are you planning on exploring the wild outdoors like a true Nordic explorer? Whichever you fancy, you need to be familiar with the different road categories in Iceland. 

Ring road. These are paved roads that circle the outer perimeter of many Icelandic towns. It’s possible to traverse the entire country by car if you take the ring road and drive for 17 hours nonstop. 

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F-roads. These are unpaved, rocky, and treacherous roads with large potholes so proceed with caution. F-roads usually lead to desolate highlands with few facilities but present great opportunities for the more adventurous.

H-roads. – These often lead to farms and private homes and are better maintained than F-Roads.

Check For Mileage Limits

Your car rental company may have a mileage limit on your vehicle so make sure to ask about it and read the fine print before putting any money down.

Since mileage limits can put a damper on your exploration, find a rental company that has no mileage restrictions allowing you to drive around the country without worry.

Most rental companies offer two options: limited and unlimited mileage. If you’re planning to cover a lot of ground, it’s best to go for the latter. 

Don’t Stop In The Middle Of The Road

Iceland is beautiful. While it’s very tempting to stop in the middle of the road or on the side of it to admire the exquisite scenery, don’t. Almost all roads are single lanes, super narrow, and have plenty of turns that can potentially open you up to casualties and damages. 

If you must stop for a picture, don’t do it while on the main roads. Make sure that your car can be seen from all angles and won’t be in the way of traffic. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for taking pictures, but there will never be another you so keep your safety a top priority.

Watch Out for Wild Animals and Livestock

Iceland’s native animals are generally not that big and its livestock is usually composed of sheep. These animals are free to graze and roam wherever they please, uninhibited by fences. Slow down when you see animals on the road and give them time to get out of the way. Drivers can be held responsible if they hit, injure, or kill any livestock. 

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Don’t Step On The Gas-Be Cautious Of Speed Traps

As with any other country, Icelandic police are pretty set on ensuring traffic rules are followed. You may thus find yourself passing through speed traps. Even if you don’t see any other vehicle around, don’t step on the gas. It will only invite hefty fines!

Police vehicles in Iceland come equipped with mobile speed detectors so be mindful of the speed limit to avoid getting a ticket. In Iceland, speed limits are measured in kilometers per hour. Unless marked otherwise, you should maintain speeds of 50 kph in urban areas, 80 kph along gravel roads of rural areas, and 90 kph on paved roads. 

Fuel Up 

Iceland has long roads where you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything or anyone en-route for miles. Before you go on a trip, check where the next gas station is. You can do so by using the GPS that car rentals come with. They will indicate how far you are from the nearest gas station. 

You should also keep your eye on the fuel meter and gas up before going on a long road trip so you don’t get stranded in a country you know little about. 

Be Prepared For Rapid Weather Changes

Iceland has erratic weather, one that changes at the drop of the hat. You can have sunny weather only to find yourself driving through heavy rain a few minutes later.

When traveling on the road, be prepared for any weather changes that can come your way. Sometimes, you may even have to check your speed limit and make sure it’s in accordance with the weather or stop driving until the weather clears up.

If you have a long drive scheduled, it’s best to keep up to date with the weather forecasts and keep tabs on which roads may be closed before leaving.

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Don’t Drink and Drive

Driving under the influence (DUI) is always a no-no, no matter where you are. If you plan to drink, it’s better to use public modes of transportation like taxis, trains, and buses. 

DUI is a particularly grave offense in Iceland. Doing so will not only result in a citation and arrest but you can also have your license revoked. Blood alcohol levels higher than 0.5% are considered DUI so be careful.

Pay Speeding Tickets On Time

Speeding tickets in Iceland can be pretty expensive. Although there isn’t a set time frame that dictates when you need to pay them, you’re still better off paying them as soon as possible.

Most towns and cities in Iceland will have signs posted within short distances of traffic enforcement cameras, allowing you to check your speed limit before entering roads with heavy traffic. To avoid being saddled with a hefty speeding fee, obey the speed limits and other traffic rules.

Return Your Vehicle During Business Hours

In Iceland, you can return your vehicle after business hours. Selected rental companies have garages set up so their clients can return their vehicles at the airport. While this may seem convenient, do you really want to risk paying for damages you didn’t cause?  

When you return your vehicle during business hours, an attendant will check the condition, mileage, and damages by performing a walk-around. To avoid getting scammed, return the vehicle on time and be present during the inspection.

Have Fun Driving Around Iceland!

There are other methods like hitchhiking available but renting a car is the best way to explore Iceland’s breathtaking beauty. By keeping these tips in mind, you can navigate Iceland at your leisure and enjoy one of the most scenic drives on Earth.

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