Preparation

Choosing a car rental company in Iceland

Photo by http://www.cgpgrey.com/ is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Update: We chose Blue Car rental for our Iceland trip, and we were very happy with them. We also recently partnered with them (in June 2017) to offer a 5% discount on your Blue Car  rental!

Choosing a car rental company in Iceland is confounding. There are dozens of companies, each claiming to be the cheapest, or the best, or both.

I found 27 different companies; I’m sure I missed many. At each company’s web site, I ran the same search for the same types of cars for the same rental period. The results are in the graphs below.

Now, before you peek down at the results, it’s important to realize that price isn’t the only consideration here. When I rent a car, I’m looking for the best experience. So:

  • Is the car rental facility walkable from the airport? Or do I need to rely on a shuttle to get me there? Will the shuttle be reliable?
  • Will the car be reliable? When renting a car in the US, I don’t really think about this. Most rentals are only a year or two old. That simply isn’t true in Iceland.
  • Will I be treated fairly when I return the car? Again, I don’t really think about this in the US. I’ve never been charged for damage to a rental car. There are many stories of people being charged hundreds or thousands of dollars for dents, scrapes, or paint damage while in Iceland. Some of these charges are definitely justified, but I’m guessing some are more debatable.
  • Is the car manual or automatic transmission? Once again, this usually isn’t even a consideration in the US, as rental cars are almost always automatic.
  • How much do add-ons cost? You are probably adding on a child safety seat, and extra insurance, and maybe a GPS and more. There can be enough of a difference in these prices so the cheapest base price is not longer the best deal.
  • Is the car really big enough for my family? Cars like the Kia Sorento, Ford Galaxy, and the Chevrolet Captive may be very nice vehicles, and some models come with seating for 7. But when that third row of seats is in use, there is room for maybe 2 backpacks in the “trunk”, and that’s it.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the results. I searched for a car to rent from July 15th, 2016 at 9 AM through July 18th, 2016 at 9 AM. I wanted an automatic transmission car, and then I looked for both the cheapest 5 passenger car and the cheapest 7 passenger car. I think that every single company on the list had a less expensive manual transmission car.

First, the results for 5 passenger cars:

5passenger2

 

Here is the chart for 7 passenger vehicles:

7passenger2

 

Important notes about the charts:

  • This is the total base rental cost for the entire 3-day rental period, before adding any extra insurance or options.
  • My categories here aren’t great. Companies that are “In or near airport” may or may not be walkable. Let me know which if these are actually in the airport, which are an easy walk, and which are not.
  • These are rates for a holiday weekend, for an automatic transmission car. Rates are very expensive, but this is the most expensive time of year.
  • This data is very unfair. You can’t judge a company buy a single search on a single day. For example, Firefly looks like they are off the charts expensive, and for this search they are. But almost all of their cars are manual transmission, so they may have better prices for different criteria. Sorry, Firefly.

Now the real question: Which company should you rent from? I want to hear feedback from others before making any recommendations. But here are my initial thoughts:

  1. Sixt is the cheapest overall. But, while I think it is possible to walk to their rental office, they don’t provide instructions on their web site. Child safety seats looks very expensive. And anecdotal reviews online are decidedly mixed.
  2. Geyser and Blue both have directions on their web sites for how to walk to their rental offices. Geysir claims that it is “5 steps, 5 minutes” which I can’t wrap my brain around. Blue just says: “located only about 300 meters away from the airport entrence [sic].” But they also have a video that shows you exactly how to walk to their office.  Geysir looks to provide free shuttle service (or car dropoff at the airport?) Blue will send a shuttle for about $38 if you’d like, which seems outrageous after watching the video. In spite of this, I think I like Blue better. Their web site is nicer, and they include more insurance in the base price. Plus, Blue tells you the model year of each car; almost all of them are 2015 or 2016.
  3. I have Saga listed as off airport. Which is kind of stupid, I admit, given that you can literally see their building right next to Blue at the end of the Blue video I linked to above. But, they don’t claim you can walk– they just offer a free shuttle. So my categorization stands, kind of.
    Reviews of Saga are generally positive. The only issue I see is that there is a big jump in price from the “small” 7 seat car I found (a Ford Galaxy) to a larger option (a Ford Explorer). And even the Explorer will have significantly less cargo space than most minivans.
  4. Icerental 4X4 is tough to figure out, because online reviews can confuse them with Iceland 4X4. But for larger families, Icerental 4X4 offers a Ford Expedition, which is much larger than a Ford Explorer, for not much more money. Online reviews are generally good, though there are problems with older model cars.
    I don’t know for sure, but I am hoping many of the negative reviews are for people who specifically chose an older model vehicle. They are about $10 cheaper per day, and so people may be lured by the discount.
  5. Cheapjeep has the lowest price for a 7 passenger vehicle. And it’s a minivan, which offers plenty of space.  Their web site tells you why: “The vehicles are all between 8-15 years old, but are all well maintained, clean and fulfill all governmental inspections and safety standards. By offering “experienced” cars, CheapJeep is able to keep its rental prices at minimum.”  Reviews, though, are again very mixed.

There are dozens of horror stories about people being charged hundreds or thousands of dollars for damage to their rental vehicles; even the best companies above are not immune– if the car is damaged, and the damage isn’t covered by insurance, you’ll have to pay. I’ll discuss rental car insurance in a future post. But I want to highlight one critical point here: If you are driving in Iceland, you NEED to check the weather. As I write this, for example, the following warning appears:

gale

(Perhaps they should change the background image to match the weather …)

If there is any sort of high wind warning where you are, you are at risk of sand damage to the car. The weather conditions map will also highlight a forecast for blowing sand. Sadcars has a nice writeup about sand damage. Even if you have the SAAP (Sand And Ash Protection) insurance, you still may be liable for the first $1,000 or more in damages.


So who should you rent from? (Note that I haven’t had any experience with any of these companies yet.) Blue looks like a strong choice, as long as you are willing to send someone from your party to walk to their office. They include a nice amount  of insurance in the base price, and they offer new model cars. Booster seats are free too, though the fixed 4000isk (about $31) charge for other child safety seats can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how long your rental is.

But before making any “official” recommendations, I’d like to hear more.  How many of the “in or near airport” companies are actually walkable? Did I miss any companies? (I’m sure I did …) What was your experience with renting a car in Iceland?

Choosing a car rental company in Iceland was last modified: June 21st, 2017 by Eric