I will be traveling in Iceland in {month} and I am wondering what car to rent?

This is the most common question I have been asked since the inception of this website, and therefore, I would like to summarize the answer(s) to give you some help in selecting the optimal rental car!

I want to make the decision as easy as possible and simplify some aspects. Please see my tips as a helpful guide for your own decision-making, rather than fixed rules. As with a GPS, you still have to drive yourself, so please rely on your gut feeling at the end of the day, more than anything else others tell you!

Now that’s been said, let’s get started…


The seasons for rental cars in Iceland

To keep it simple: For me, there are only two seasons in Iceland, summer and winter. Summer is the time when there is no snow, and winter is the time when it is present/falling/could be there.

Generally, it can be said that summer is definitely from June to September. During this time, it is highly unlikely to encounter significant amounts of snow on the usual paths (Ring Road, Golden Circle, etc.). During this time, many car rental companies switch to summer tires. If you are planning an Iceland vacation during this time, you can safely choose a small car.

Anything that falls outside of this time period is potentially winter: sometimes more, sometimes less. Especially for the transition periods, so September/October and April/May, it is almost impossible to predict whether and where snow will fall/lie. And because of that, you should just assume the worst. For this time, an all-wheel-drive car/SUV is simply recommended across the board. No, this is not a guarantee that you will be trouble-free on the road, never get stuck, or be mobile at all times: as a German/Austrian/Swiss person, the chances are very high that you will be completely overwhelmed even by road conditions that Icelanders can handle, and become a danger to yourself and others. Generally speaking:

  • Ask the locals! Listen to the locals!
  • When in doubt: Leave the car, continue tomorrow!
  • Check the road conditions and weather conditions.


Update on the text below: Should you rent a rental car with spikes? After several winter stays in Iceland, I have changed my opinion in this regard, that studded tires do naturally increase the grip on the road. Especially in case of little snow or icy roads, they are a big advantage. Many car rental companies offer them as standard. However, I had some experiences with rental companies that gave out completely worn-out tires on the vehicle: you should definitely check this when renting and insist on replacement if the tires are not in excellent condition!

I still emphasize: depending on the conditions, spikes may not help and they can never compensate for a lack of driving skills.

I am often asked if you can/should rent a rental car with snow chains/spike tires: No. If the road conditions are so bad that you really need such means, you should not be on the road. I have often been on the road in Þingvellir with correspondingly equipped vehicles, with very experienced drivers, and still got stuck or went off the road 1-2 times. There may be readers out there for whom this does not apply, but for 99% of us: if you cannot safely move forward with a normally equipped, winter-ready vehicle, then it is better to leave the car behind. Set aside your ego and have a nice day in a hot spring or cuddle up in your accommodation bed!

Below, I would like to go into detail on all the months again and help you with your decision:


The best rental car for January, February, and March in Iceland

In these months, you definitely have a high potential for snowfall and ice. If you want to be on the safe side, an all-wheel-drive vehicle is clearly recommended. Small cars are also possible, but only with moderate snowfall and especially with moderate wind. If budget is your only limiting factor, then consider alternatives such as buses or guided tours. If you are traveling alone, you can double the rental car budget by bringing someone along.


What rental car is optimal for Iceland in April and May?

April and May are transition months, and during this time, you can have both bad luck and good luck. If you are traveling spontaneously during this period, I recommend checking the weather report regularly. For me, wetter.com works best (Reykjavik, Akureyri, Þingvellir) and of course, the local weather service. Always be aware that good weather in Reykjavik has nothing to do with the rest of Iceland, as it is almost at sea level while most parts of the country are at 300m and above. A 50m difference in elevation can make a huge difference!

Those who book well in advance and already have to choose the rental car for this time do not have this option and should therefore play it safe. An all-wheel-drive vehicle/SUV is the best choice here.


What rental car should I book in June, July, August, and September in Iceland?

Summertime, safe time. In these months, it is relatively safe to rent a small car, at least in terms of weather. If you do not plan to travel on F-roads, cross rivers, or carry large amounts of luggage, you are now in a relaxed situation. For the budget, this is also a slightly more pleasant time, as even though it is high season and prices generally rise, you can save on the rental car and rent a small car.


What is the best rental car for a trip to Iceland in October, November, and December?

Here, too, some caution is advised: those who come to Iceland in the autumn not only have to deal with a lot of rain but often also with snow. As in the transition period at the beginning of the year, those who want to play it safe should take an all-wheel-drive vehicle/SUV.


The right rental car for the terrain to be traveled

If you plan to travel in the Icelandic highlands, for example to glaciers and Landmannalaugar, you should definitely rent a suitable vehicle: a 4×4 SUV. Many people think that the crucial feature is all-wheel drive, but this is essentially just a means to an end: ground clearance is at least as important, as it ensures that you don’t get stuck. If you plan to cross water, this is another important point, as the car must be suitable for this: if, for example, the electronics are not waterproof, even a relatively shallow crossing can cause damage.

I am not an expert here; I have never ventured off the Ring Road myself. If you are planning such tours, please ask an expert. In case of doubt, these are more likely to be locals than rental car companies. If anyone falls into this category, I would be very happy to receive a comment!


Where can I get the best price for a rental car?

I approach this in the same way as I do with searching for cheap flights: compare as many different providers independently as possible and then pick the best one for me.

For this, I like to use the service of Guide to Iceland.

Here, I can compare hundreds of providers at my leisure without having to do it myself, and I can also display the different insurances. Everything is nicely prepared, and I can choose the offer that feels right to me.

When I am in South Africa, I always rent from the same provider because I feel comfortable there and have also achieved a status that comes with some nice services. In Iceland, I never use them because they are generally extremely expensive: comparison always pays off. Always!


When should I forego renting a car for my Iceland trip?

If you come from a region where it rarely or never snows and fly to Iceland in winter. Even if you see a few snowflakes in your region: that has nothing to do with the snow in Iceland! Even an all-wheel-drive vehicle will not help you because you are simply not used to driving on snow and ice.

In this case, I strongly recommend finding a travel companion who has the knowledge and skills to drive in those conditions, changing your travel time, or switching to guided tours. You may only make yourself unhappy with your own car, and that would be a shame for your vacation!


In short:

  • Only rent a car if you feel confident driving in the given conditions!
  • Preferably switch to guided tours/buses if you are unsure!
  • Do not skimp on the car in winter; the money is definitely well invested!
  • Have fun in Iceland and always keep a safe distance from other cars!

Enjoy Iceland!