Despite being a big supporter of public transport I think the best way to travel around Iceland is by renting a car. I base that opinion solely on the fact that it doesn’t suit my personality to be told where and when I can stop and to follow strict rules about timing and such. Don’t get me wrong. I plan. I just follow my own plans quite loosely. I’ve been asked so many times about renting a car in Iceland and here are some of my thoughts.
There was a post by me permanently pinned on the Reykjavík board on Couchsurfing for a while that I wrote about car rental in Iceland shortly after the economic crash and the eruption in Eyjafjallajökull. After these events we saw a gold rush in Icelandic tourism and all of a sudden a whole lot of people were offering services, including car rental, that they didn’t have a license for. With car rental in particular, we saw a lot of rent-a-wreck type of companies and although most of them were legal there were some bad seeds in between. I heard some really sad stories from some very disappointed travelers.
The post reminded people about being aware of who they were doing business with and pointed out that although it might be cheaper to rent a wreck, especially under the table, you can’t expect the same service from a small company with one service point and 5 cars and a big one with 10 service points and 1500 cars. This extra service is partially the reason why the bigger companies charge more, albeit surely not the only one. If something happens you want to make sure that the insurance and service part is OK and that you have a signed contract stating all the terms.
I don’t see anything wrong with renting the older cars and for day trips out of Reykjavík I would definitely recommend it. Some of the agencies with the older cars also have good service all over the country and I haven’t heard of anyone for a long time that doesn’t do things 100% legally. I’ve recommended Cheap Jeep to people and my buddy James’s Affordable Car Rental more times that I can remember and I don’t remember anyone ever having any troubles with them. James at ACR is one of the nicest people I know who would do anything for anyone and is really passionate about his cars. He also has people sign contracts, has all the insurance matters in order and goes out of his way to help those who run into troubles.
Because I’m a stereotypical girl that knows nothing about cars and am too afraid to even add oil to the system on our own car, I would freak out if there was something wrong with the car I was driving. Therefore, for longer trips, I like new cars and the reassurance that if something happens someone will be able to rescue me ASAP. Especially when I’m traveling without the boyfriend. When we got a flat tire on top of a mountain on our way to Rauðisandur once, he knew exactly who to call for help while I got myself ready to camp and eat grass until I’d be found frozen in a ditch somewhere. Never travel without a spare in the Westfjords!
As I’ve hinted on Facebook and Twitter recently Special Reporter Helga and I will be going on a road trip around Iceland in May. We’ll be 10 days on the road, driving more than 2000 km, covering the whole ring road and more. So when I thought about what company to approach for the car the first one that came to mind was Europcar. I worked with them for 7 years at my old job and know the company quite well. I know that they treat their staff well and they have an ISO environmental certification, which matters to me, but their fleet is also young and their tires good. They are not the cheapest but their service is excellent.
Both the bigger companies and the smaller ones have something to offer, depending on what you are looking for, and comparing the two is like apple and oranges. There are many car rental companies out there that you can do business with and these are just the ones I have personal experience with. I’ve also heard nice things about SAD cars for example but whoever you chose, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. If an offer seems to be too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Above all be safe and keep in mind that sometimes you get exactly what you pay for.
Update August 22nd 2013: It was on the news this week that Cheap Jeep was renting out uninsured cars and they were being investigated regarding the matter. I don’t know the back story but if they are renting out uninsured cars I can’t with good conscience recommend them. Make sure you check into these things if you rent a car from them.