November 21, 2016

Car Hire In Iceland - Idiot's Guide To Car Rental

Our recent adventure to Iceland seen us make a difficult decision on how we were going to explore this amazing island.. Fork out $$$ for boring tour buses or take the plunge and hire our very first rental car. Thankfully, we chose the later and today I'm sharing my two pence on how we went from idiot to savvy in everything car-hire-101 and why you need to know this if you're hiring a car in Iceland...





If you want to experience the true Iceland, you need a car. Yes, tour buses are effective and get you to the things you want to see, but having a rental car allows you the freedom to travel this beautiful island in your own personal and unique way - your own company, the freedom to stop at every possible photo opp, the freedom of however long you want at each new amazing place and the comfort of personal space for hours on end of driving each day.

We experienced one guided tour for The Northern Lights, and although enjoyable to be taught about the myths and legends of the Northern Lights in Iceland and Nordic countries, the exceptionally limited leg room and irritating company of loud and over-enthusiastic fellow travelers took some enjoyment from the trip. The very thought of spending 7-8 hours a day for the whole of our trip in this style made me thank my stars we thought carefully about our adventure. So if you are wise enough to hire a car, make sure you've got all of this advise on board before you do.

We used www.RentalCars.com to find and book our car. This website made everything extremely easy - we entered our trip and driver details and available cars appeared in order of price. Bingo.

I also want to quickly mention that the minimum age for car rental in Iceland is 20, a year younger than most other European countries. So don't rule yourself out if you think you're too young!

For Iceland, cars range from small vehicles to SUV's. A small and cheap car will do the job for this trip for most of the year, but perhaps check out details of road conditions in Iceland's deep winter months, as a smaller car may not be the best mode of transport for the islands inches of ice and snow, A 4X4 or SUV might be more the style for Winter months.

Originally we booked for a "small car", the cheapest of the range of vehicles available, but on arrival we were upgraded to a "medium car", a Hyundai i30. This was both a blessing and a curse - a blessing in that a "small car" might have been a little too uncomfortable for the 8/9 hours of driving we were tackling each day, so a slightly bigger car made the journeys a little quicker and smoother.
However our upgrade meant we were given an automatic car. This again, was another bitter sweet moment. For Scott's first time driving on the right side of the road having an automatic car was a blessing, meaning Scott could focus on keeping us between the hedges rather than controlling a foreign gear box. Although, when Iceland presented hills which were honestly almost vertical upwards, we chugged our way up those hills. Not cool.

Booking A Rental Car - The Ins and Outs
To book a rental car you will need a credit card. This was Scott and I's first experience of car rental, so thankfully Scott's parents were on hand to help us, who, in my eyes, know car rental like the back of their hands, so all of the information you are about to indulge in, comes only from experience...

The short of needing a credit card for car rental is as follows:
> You will need a credit car in the main drivers name.
> The credit card must have a credit limit of at least the excess of the car rental. (explained later)

To find the ideal car within your budget a couple of factors apply:
> Firstly, find a car rental price that suits your budget price per day. Check rentalcars.com for prices.
> Check the review score of the Rental Company on www.RentalCars.Com or google reviews
> Check the excess on the car - for the most basic of cars this is usually £1600 or thereabouts.
> Preferably look for a car rental with unlimited mileage so as to ensure there are no extra hidden costs

What is excess and why does it matter?
In a nutshell car rental excess is basically a form of insurance for the hire company to ensure that if you damage the rental car or it is stolen, they have the funds from your pocket to cover the costs. Generally speaking, the higher the excess, the more luxurious the car.

Car rental companies will only accept this excess payment from a credit card, meaning you will have to obtain a credit card in the main drivers name with a minimum credit of the price of the excess of the car, plus possible fuel costs. (Explained later)

When you go to pick up your car the hire company will take a copy of your credit card, and in most situations, will reserve the credit amount of the excess from the card, meaning you will have no or little credit on your credit card (more commonly known as, your card has been "maxed out") for the duration of your hire, until the credit value is released back onto the card after the car has been returned damage free, however it can take some weeks for the credit value to clear back onto the card.

If, unfortunately, it is the case that your car is damaged or stolen, your car hire company will keep the credit value of the car rental excess that they reserved on your credit card, meaning you are now out of pocket. So, how do you cover yourself?...

So how do I insure myself? Especially if I damage my car?
So now you're wondering about insuring yourself? www.RentalCars.com offer a "Full Protection" cover when checking out, meaning that you can purchase temporary fully comprehensive insurance in the case that your car is damaged or stolen. In idiot free language, this means that if you do damage your rental car or it gets stolen, and the car hire company charge you the excess fee for your car, e.g £1600 from your credit card, if you have fully comprehensive cover,  www.RentalCars.com will have you covered and will pick up the costs of the damages by repaying you the £1600, so you are never out of pocket. Simples.

The Final Cost
Theoretically speaking, the only payment you should make for your car hire is the upfront payment on www.RentalCars.com, for example, £120 for a three day rental. This can be paid by debit or credit card.

The credit value on your credit card is "reserved" meaning you can't spend it or max it out on ASOS, but your card is never really charged for it, unless your car is damaged or stolen, in which case you're still covered if you have fully comp insurance. So even though it may seem you are paying almost £2,000 for a basic car rental, you are only ever charged the upfront cost on Rental Car, unless you don't have fully comp insurance, and I wouldn't recommend renting a car without fully comp insurance.

Covering Yourself
 Rental car companies have a famous reputation for scamming it's customers for all they're worth. So to stop yourself from suffering any additional and unnecessary costs there are a few things you have to do before you waltz off in your new wheels.

> Check your car for ANY damages - inside and out. When you find them, take photos of them and date and time stamp the photos. This is in the case that your rental company accuses you of damages that were there when you got the car, so with your photos you can prove they were, otherwise they have every opportunity to charge you your excess.

> Your rental car might come with a damages sheet, showing damages which have already occurred to the car. When you get this sheet check off the damages that are on the sheet and take a photo of it. If you find any additional damages return to the rental desk before leaving and inform them with evidence of additional damages by time stamped photographs.

> DO NOT delete the photographic evidence until the credit value has been restored onto your credit card and the rental company have signed off on the car to agree that it is damage free on return.

This can consume some time before you even get to leave the airport, but it it ensures that you don't get charged $$$$ in excess, then every minute is worth it.

Fuel Policy
When booking, we opted for a "Full to Full" policy, meaning we received the car full of fuel and returned it full of fuel. The rental car company may offer you to pay an upfront fee for fuel so you can return your car with as little fuel as you want without having to take a visit to the pump before drop off. Either way it's your choice which you choose, but we preferred the full to full policy.

Bear in mind that if you opt for full to full, like us, your company may hold an additional fee on your credit card for fuel in the case that the car is returned without a full tank of fuel. In our case this was an additional £80 on top of our excess fee that was already reserved - so your credit card value will have to be the excess fee plus a fuel excess. (Fuel excess is the cost of a full tank of fuel for your rental car with the local fuel rates).

Street Parking in Reykjavik
Luckily we found free street parking on the next street from our hotel, which we were very lucky with, although sometimes it was hard to come across a free spot. Remember that blocking an entry to a drive way or building entrance is not allowed and you can have your car towed, clamped or receive a parking ticket for doing so.

In the city centre parking is ticketed and you must pay a ticket toll with coins or card, but this is only in the case that you are lucky enough to find a spot. When we visited the city centre we parked in the Hallgrimskirkja Church car park, which (I think??) was free.. Or at least we escaped without a parking ticket...thankfully.


All in all my first experience of car rental was a positive one, and with the experience and tips I have shared here I'm hopeful it will always be this way! If you have any more questions about car hire or our experience with car hire please leave them in the comments. Also don't forget to check out my guide to Planning A Trip To Iceland and My Top Recommendations On What To Do In Iceland! If you haven't already then check out my Iceland travel diary here to see it all in action!


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