car

How to choose the best car for Iceland: 2022 Guide

How to choose the best car for Iceland: 2022 Guide

Type of car = Type of trip

I’ve done tons of research on how to choose the best car for Iceland. I’ve done tons of research on Icelandic car rental companies, reviewing more than 50 of them. If you are like me, and you want to do your research on your own, then Northbound.is would be a great place to start when choosing the best car rental for Iceland. The car is a really important part of any road trip in Iceland, for us, the car was the most important thing to have in many aspects. What I concluded after a thorough research was the following. Primarily, you have to decide what kind of trip do you want to do:

  1. Ring road only, no F-roads
  2. F-roads with no river crossings or only minor ponds
  3. F-roads with medium river crossings
  4. F-roads with bigger river crossings
  5. All F-roads, all rivers, all dirt tracks

Read our guide on how to choose the best car rental insurance for Iceland.

Of course, you can always opt for the big, expensive, super-jeep 4×4 car which will serve you for all of the options above. You will be fine, you’re gonna just end up paying 2-4 times as much as we did. What we aimed for, was the best performance to price ratio, as many people aim for as well. If you aim for that too, here’s what I advise to do (for the trip types from above):

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1. Ring road only, no F-roads

small 2wd car

Small 2wd car

Basically any car, just read carefully what’s included in the insurance. We took a Hyundai i20 for our first day because it was cheaper than roundtrip from the airport to Reykjavik by bus. The company I can recommend for this kind of trip is Go Car Rental. Mostly because they offer one of the cheapest cars in Iceland while being a reliable car rental company which doesn’t scam its customers. Lately also Lotus Car Rental went with their prices lower, so they are one of the cheapest now as well.

If you want to go for a Campervan option, I can highly recommend Happy Campers. They are one of the biggest and cheapest campervan companies in Iceland. You can be more than sure that your experience with them will be awesome.

Happy Campers promo code:
We offer to our readers a 7% PROMO CODE for Happy Campers rental.

Go Campers promo code:
We offer to our readers also a 5% PROMO CODE for Go Campers rental.

2. F-roads with no river crossings or only minor ponds

small 4wd car

Small 4wd car

Basically any 4×4 car. If it wasn’t for the Icelandic law, which requires you to have 4×4 on EVERY F-road, I would say even 2wd car would be sufficient for most of the Icelandic F-roads which do not have river crossings, during good weather. They are just really bumpy with many potholes, but in 90% of cases easily passable. Bad weather may change this dramatically of course. We had the best experience with Lotus Car Rental and heard great feedback on Go Car Rental from many travellers as well. But, of course, if you prefer to do your own research go for sites like Northbound.is.

If you want to go for a Campervan option, I can highly recommend Happy Campers. They are one of the biggest and cheapest campervan companies in Iceland. They even rent 4×4 campervans!

Lotus car rental promo code:

A PROMO CODE epicicelandd5 will get you a 5% discount with Lotus and us a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

3. F-roads with medium river crossings

medium 4wd car

Medium 4wd car

4×4 car with decent ground clearance, i.e. in my opinion at least 18 centimetres and with air intake which is high enough (at least your hip height). Best performance to the price in this category is for me undoubtedly Dacia Duster 4wd, the option we firstly took after my research. Again, we had the best experience with Lotus Car Rental, but you should do well also with Go Car Rental or your own research which is easiest to start with the Icelandic search engine Northbound.is. If you feel unsure and better want to go for the safest option, take one of the big Toyota cars (Land Cruiser or Hilux). The best Toyota car rental company in Iceland is MyCar.

MyCar promo code:

A RARE PROMO CODE EPICICELAND will get you a 5% discount with MyCar and us a small commission at no extra cost to you.

4. F-roads with bigger river crossings

toyota land cruiser

Big 4wd car

The smallest option for this kind of roads is a Toyota Land Cruiser. Several companies offer Land Cruisers for rent and we had the best experience with MyCar Rental. MyCar offers exclusively Toyota cars and all of them are brand new high-quality models. Toyota Hilux is a great alternative to Land Cruiser as well. If you want to do your own research, Icelandic search engine Northbound.is is great for that.

The only Icelandic car rental company with a river crossing insurance for your Land Cruiser is again Lotus Car Rental. If you aim for even bigger car than Land Cruiser or Hilux, here comes the Land Rover Defender to the scene! The biggest and most renowned Land Rover rental company in Iceland is undoubtedly Isak 4×4 Rental.

Isak 4×4 promo code:

A RARE PROMO CODE epiciceland will get you a 5% discount with Isak 4×4 and us a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

5. All F-roads, all rivers, all dirt tracks

Icelandic Superjeep

Icelandic Superjeep

For bigger cars you need to go for the so-called super-jeep 4×4 car. You need to have really high ground clearance, strong engine, artificially modified air intake, very good tires and other things a car mechanic would describe better than me. Even in this case, crossing big rivers (like Krossá near Thórsmörk) may be dangerous. There are just a few companies which will let you rent a super-jeep, where one with the best performance to price ratio is Isak 4×4 Rental according to my research.  

The second great super jeep rental company is a legendary Ice-Rovers with 25+ years on the market and beautiful modified Land Rovers. There’s also one “super jeep” which you may rent from MyCar (and which we took).

Ice-Rovers discount:

Just email ICE ROVERS asking for an exclusive “3% Epic Iceland discount” and you will get it right away!

It’s all about river crossings

At the end of the day, it’s all about river crossings. The size of rivers you want to cross determines what car do you need for those rivers. Apart from river crossings, there’s nothing super dangerous about Icelandic roads in the summer (well OK, sometimes they are steep, narrow and bumpy). Winter season, of course, changes this significantly and factors like how the car handles snow come into the force.

If feeling unsure, NEVER do a bigger river crossing, you may risk your life. It’s also better to wait for someone else do the river crossing first and many other rules we describe in our river crossing article. The same applies, if you don’t have enough experience, or it’s your first time crossing a river – do NOT do bigger river crossings without prior experience.

iceland river crossing

River crossing in Iceland. Taken from https://www.foodiebaker.com/day-3-iceland-travelogue/

During our first Icelandic trip I wanted to try many interesting F-roads and see the magical surreal landscapes surrounding them, so I haven’t even considered options 1 and 2. I finally opted for option 3, because you are able to see the majority of the most beautiful places in Iceland without crossing big rivers. You cannot avoid the small to medium ones, however. Secondly, a price jump from option 3 to option 4 is a bigger one, you can easily double the price of your rental car because of it being a super-jeep.

Under option 3, i.e. medium 4×4 (or 4wd is sufficient as well), the clear winner in terms of performance to price ratio has been Dacia Duster. I can confirm this after our 12 day ring road trip. We successfully drove all our planned roads without any problems, crossing around 20 rivers, including several medium-sized ones. I can highly recommend Duster under normal weather conditions even in the Highlands with smaller river crossings.

Although we didn’t experience any heavy rain during our drives on F-roads, Duster should still be capable of dealing with most of the situations, except big rivers, which, however, is not an option 3 anymore. You can read this blog further for a list of F-roads which we’ve done and also to see which rivers are considered to be small to medium-sized ones.

Dynjandi Vestfjarðavegur road 60

Road 60, or Vestfjarðavegur in Westfjords towards Dynjandi waterfall

Car rental company and insurance – 4wd

For me, this was an easy choice. I wanted to do the river crossings. That means, there is always an option that your car can get stuck in water or your engine may be damaged by water. And this may cost thousands of Euros. I definitely wanted to avoid that. And, since there is only one car rental company in Iceland which insures you even for river crossings, I’ve opted for this company – Lotus.

River crossings are part of their platinum insurance package, which costs around 40eur/day, i.e. almost the same as platinum insurance packages from other car rental companies that do NOT insure you in case of river crossings. Although a car rental via Lotus costed a bit more (around 100eur/day for 11 days) compared to some other companies, river crossing insurance was a deal-breaker for me.

lotus car rental iceland

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On top of that – not only Lotus insures you in case of river crossings – it also allows you to drive on ANY F-road. What does this mean? Majority of car rental companies do not allow you to drive certain roads (e.g. F249, F210, F980). What does it mean “do not allow”? Firstly, you can get fined for doing that. Secondly, in case you drive them, no insurance applies for your rental, even if you paid for the platinum one.

Read our guide on how to choose the best car rental insurance for Iceland.

Of course, with some roads, this makes sense, like the ones I mentioned above, as they may be often dangerous. However, rental companies often tend to forbid you driving even on F-roads which are not that dangerous, but the rental company has “some risk” that you may damage the car somehow, so they better forbid you to drive the road. Which makes really no sense to me – why am I borrowing a 4×4 car then, which is allowed to drive F-roads, when a rental company doesn’t allow me to drive almost half of them?

That’s why I firstly chose Lotus. They let you drive on any F-road and their insurance applies in case of ALL F-roads, which really is a great feature. Then it’s up to you to judge which routes are doable for you and which are not.

Southern part of Icelandic F208 road

F208 road from Vik towards Landmannalaugar

Our 4wd car rental experience

With Lotus, the entire rental process was really smooth, you’ve got a nice website with all info you need, you’ve got really great reviews (I would say the best among all rental companies in Iceland).

We arrived at the car rental desk, being the only customers at that time (unlike in the case of some other companies). The car was ready immediately. Kudos to Laura at the desk, who explained to us everything we needed, showed us how to operate the rooftop tent, how to use wi-fi router, gave us advice on how to drive the car the best way and other important basics. The car was in a great condition without any damage (unlike in the case of some other companies).

I asked Laura on her opinion about river crossings we were planning to do and she reassured me they all should be doable in case I drive properly, even in Dacia Duster, and that most of them she had done already and are not that hard. She told us the only river she doesn’t recommend us crossing is Krossá river on the road to Thórsmork, which reassured me even more. I was pretty sure I don’t want to cross this one, I was just afraid whether the ones we were planning (like F208, F235, F905, F910, F347) are not too dangerous as well. For example, some famous Icelandic rental companies are banning you from doing F910. Her reply reassured me that they should be fine.

Fellabær campsite

Fellabær campsite next to Egilsstaðir

I studied a lot about how the car may be damaged when crossing a river, so my last question was where the air intake of Duster is located. She replied that it’s somewhere above her hip height (i.e. some 80-100cm) which reassured me even more. I definitely was not planning crossing rivers that big (from what I’d studied, the biggest should be around 50-60cm maximum). So, empowered with my newly gained confidence from Laura’s advice, we started our journey.

Our super jeep car rental experience

Honestly, I’ve done a really exhausting research on super jeep car rental companies, when planning our highlands road trip. I also thought about buying a car or renting a car privately from someone local. Neither of those was possible, nor made sense, though. If you want to buy a car in Iceland, you need an Icelandic ID (kennitala) and a lot of time 🙂 I had none of these. And if you want to rent a car privately from the local, no insurance will ever protect you, and it’s probably also not entirely legal. Not to mention that no Icelander will rent you his super jeep toy :))

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I summarized my findings and experience with Icelandic super jeeps in our article How to rent a super jeep in Iceland. Long story short, I narrowed down the list of affordable super jeeps to just 2 super jeep rental companies – Isak 4×4 and MyCar. And we finally went for MyCar and their modified Land Cruiser with snorkel. It was a very close battle, but MyCar won it by a notch, because their Land Cruiser was slightly bigger and newer compared to the Land Rover Defender of Isak 4×4 and the price was similar. 

If we had a bigger budget, however, we would definitely go for the Land Rover Super Defender from Isak 4×4. This is the biggest super jeep you can rent in Iceland. It’s a beast. We offer a 5% discount to our readers for Isak 4×4 with the promo code: epiciceland

But coming back to our MyCar rental experience – it was great. They offer a free 24/7 airport shuttle to their Keflavik rental office. They also rent exclusively only brand new Toyota cars. Moreover, MyCar has a network of Toyota car repair shops all over the country. In case anything happens, this is a very useful feature. When it comes to insurance, we took only a basic option and bought full insurance (engine, undercarriage, windows, tires, …) from RentalCover. We wrote about our Highlands trip with MyCar extensively.

Our 2wd car rental experience

For our first day in Iceland, we decided to rent a cheap 2wd car due to several reasons. Firstly, we had to wait for the results of Covid test adhering to “social distancing”. Secondly, we wanted to explore Reykjavik, Keflavik and their surroundings at least for a few hours, for which a 4×4 car would be useless. Thirdly, we wanted to prepare for our trip doing shopping etc. for which again a 4×4 would be useless.

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Last but not least by renting a 2wd car we saved around 80Eur compared to 4×4 rental and saved even compared to a return journey from Keflavik to Reykjavik by bus, not to mention the flexibility the car gives you). So I’ve done quick research for a cheap car rental company with good reviews. Yes, you definitely don’t want a company with a bad reputation, trust me – this can cost you money and nerves on your holiday. I narrowed my search to Lotus and Go Car rental. And we finally chose Go Car rental, because they were cheaper. 

gocar rental iceland

Go Car rental, one of the best Icelandic car rentals

GoCar has a great office location, right next to the airport hotel Aurora, only 200m walking distance from the departure hall. This means, no taxi or bus needed! The rental process was quick and smooth and the rental included all the useful insurances for a 2wd car – CDW, SCDW, GP & TP (see our car rental insurance guide if you are interested in insurance details).

I didn’t buy any additional insurance on top of the compulsory one (CDW, TPL), because damaging the car on a way from Keflavik to Reykjavik and back was highly improbable. When returning the car the next day, the return process was smooth. There were no customers waiting and nobody bullied us with any examination of the car scratches, so it luckily took maybe 5 minutes altogether.

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Posted by epiciceland in Guide, Roads, 16 comments