Winter in Iceland can be quite the beautiful experience, especially when you can take the time to stop wherever and whenever you want to along the journey. However, if you intend on renting a car, BEWARE and stay on top of the rental company fine prints and pricing.
My friend Ashley and I did a 10-day trip to the southwest part of Iceland in February this year on a very strict budget. We had decided that instead of paying for tours, we were going to rent a car and do all our sight seeing self-guided. In all honesty, it worked out VERY well, but we did hit some big speed bumps (pun intended) along the way. This was our experience…
Ashley and I reserved the car rental a couple weeks ahead of time and were charged $495.95 USD upon booking; a perfectly acceptable price at about $50 USD/day. We arrived at the Keflavik International Airport and took the shuttle to our rental company, Sixt. Besides waiting what seemed like forever to be helped, we got asked the basic car rental stuff like “Would you like to add insurance?” No. “Would you like to upgrade the vehicle?” No. Blah Blah Blah. They had told us in advance that it would be a compact car and operate with a manual transition, which is common in countries other than the US, so that meant I had to drive. They also stated that we had a 1,000km limit included in the rental agreement but would be charged per km if we went over it. That’s when we realized we had to pull the calculator out and plan what we wanted to see, and do, by distance.
We drove from Reykjavik as far southeast as Vik, and also did a trip around the Ring Road. By the end of our vacation, we had 20km left to spare when we dropped the car off at the airport. During our driving we encountered plenty of rain, snow, and high winds in certain areas. It wasn’t too bad, but we definitely wished we had a more off-road friendly vehicle, or a 4×4 for some uphill gravel paths we came across. Just ask Ashley how terrified she was! The BIGGEST problem we encountered however was on our second to last day in Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon was our last stop before getting on a plane the next morning, so we drove to Keflavik to stay the night. Both of us were hungry and decided to stop at a local bakery to have some crazy delicious goodies. By the time we were done, outside winds were up to 50mph and we got to the car as quickly as possible. Once inside and getting our stuff straight (mostly fixing our hair), a car parked next to us. All of a sudden, BAM! When he went to get out of his car, the door flung wide open and hit mine. Scared the snot out of us! As he walked away from it, I got out and yelled at him while he explained his was a rental too and had no idea what to do. I took a picture of his license plate and we left.
Back to Sixt we drove, ready to get out of the cold and back to sunny San Diego. Sure enough, the guy doing the inspection saw the dent on the driver side door. We both explained what happened, showed him the picture, and he told us there was nothing he could do even though we weren’t at fault. NOTHING. Therefore, since we didn’t purchase the insurance they had offered upon renting, we had to pay an additional $395 USD to cover the damage. Both of us were devastated, and don’t tell Ashley I told you, but there were even waterworks. Like I said, we were on a budget, and that meant we couldn’t afford throwing $400 USD basically in the trash. That brought our 10-day rental up to a total of $890 USD. Boy did we learn our lesson.
Our biggest takeaways from this experience are as follows:
- Don’t rent with Sixt.
- Get the added insurance or ask your provider about out of country insurance.
- Get a vehicle that suits your adventure needs, and know it might be a manual.
- Have a rough route plan in the case of mileage (or km) limits.
- If someone else causes damage, it’s your fault for not preventing it, so cover your butt.
Overall was it worth it? Absolutely. We had a blast on our trip, and I hope you get the chance to explore Iceland too. Just play it smart and always err on the side of caution when renting a vehicle. Always better to be safe than sorry.
Adventure is out there!