If you’re planning a self-drive vacation in Iceland this winter, you might want to know more about what car to rent. Also, it’s good to know a bit about the Icelandic road network and what kind of weather you can expect. Certainly, you have to be prepared for ice on the roads.
Also, keep in mind that in winter, days are short in Iceland. In January, for instance, there are just 4.5 hours of daylight. In this article, we will tell you all you need to know about renting a car in Iceland in winter.
Winter in Iceland is surprisingly mild. In the south, the average temperature is about -2 to 0 °C. It can be windy and snowy, though, particularly in January and February when there are occasional heavy storms.
Keep your plans flexible in winter. If the weather forecast looks bad, it’s best to change your plans. It’s not always snowing, of course, but heavy snowfall will limit your vision, and combined with the wind this can cause dangerous situations. Always check the weather forecast before you head out, for instance on www.vedur.is.
The ring road is what we call route 1, the highway in Iceland that takes you all the way around the coasts of Iceland. This circular route, which is entirely paved, allows you to see some of the most popular sights and attractions Iceland has to offer.
In winter, the ring road is cleared regularly, especially between major towns, but this can take time, so certain parts can be snowed out from time to time. Smaller roads may not be cleared at all. Highland roads tend to be completely closed in winter, and in order to get there, you would have to hire a professional with a modified jeep. You can check the latest road conditions on www.road.is.
What kind of car you should get depends on the season, where you’re going and on your budget. In winter, you need studded tires and we recommend a 4WD vehicle for safety.
In addition to this, you might want to give some thought to your comfort – if you’re spending seven days driving, you might want to spring for a little extra leg room, and/or a car that feels good to drive for days at a time. Book your car on time to make sure your preferred model is available, especially over Christmas and New Year’s.
A normal driver’s license will work in Iceland, as long as there’s information in English on it. If not, it’s probably best to apply for an international driver’s license. Some companies only rent to people over 21 years old, since younger people are more likely to cause accidents.
If you’re younger, they may decide not to rent to you, or they may ask you to pay for extra insurance. Also, car rentals will ask you to pay with a credit card, so that they can put the deposit on that.
Specific insurance packages depend on the rental agency you choose, but there are some trends. Rental cars usually come equipped with a collision damage waiver (CDW). This is a basic insurance with a high deductible, usually several thousand euros.
Car rentals usually offer several add-ons, like a super collision damage waiver (SCDW, which brings your deductible down), gravel insurance, sand and ash insurance, and theft insurance. Also, some credit card companies offer primary coverage, so check with your credit card provider about what deals they offer.
Please note: you are never insured for damage caused by driving through rivers. To reach some places in the highlands, you need to drive through rivers. In summer this can be risky, and in winter you should not try at all. Book an organised superjeep tour if you want to check out areas in the highlands.
How to get gas
There are petrol stations all over Iceland, but if you’re travelling in remote areas, it might be a good idea to tank up when you see a station. You might encounter unmanned gas stations, especially in the more remote parts of Iceland. There, you can only use the automatic dispenser and for this, you need a credit card.
Therefore, it’s extremely important that your credit card works overseas. One great trick is to get a gas card, for which you pay in advance, and then you know for sure that it will work. Most gas stations sell them, so just get one before you leave the city.
Winter driving: dos and don’ts
We already mentioned it, but it’s vital to be prepared for icy and slippery roads. If you end up on a slippery road, don’t make sudden changes: braking, turning and accelerating should be smooth. You will need to increase your braking distance on icy roads. It will take you much longer to brake, up to ten times longer than in non-icy conditions. Slow down when necessary.
Heavy snow and icy roads can be very dangerous if you don’t adjust your speed to the circumstances. Always check the weather forecast and road conditions before you head out. Don’t let yourself be surprised by bad weather conditions or closed roads. If you’re not comfortable driving in these conditions, you probably shouldn’t rent a car in winter. This is not a problem, as there are many tours you can take instead.