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Planning an Iceland road trip itinerary in 2019? Here are five tips that should make life easier, including advice on whether you really need a proper 4×4.

Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, which is perhaps why I’ve been three times and probably will go again. And not just because of the delicious ‘Marriage Cake’.

Stunning waterfalls, glaciers, geothermal activity and landscapes, all usually accessible from the roadside, make it a great place for a road trip. Just remember to bring your own beer to save a lot of money.

But for all of its mindblowing beauty, it’s not a place you ever want to underestimate, especially if you go during the harsher winter months.

So having driven there before and being a motoring journalist by trade, I thought I would impart the things I’ve learned to help ensure your trip is as care-free as mine was.

While I’m here, those with a Sony camera may want to check out my list of awesome lenses before going. Icelandic views deserve decent equipment!

1) Choose the right hire car

Depending on the time of year, a week of car hire is around £130 to £500. A pint-sized Hyundai i10, Suzuki Swift or Kia Rio usually costs the least.

Around £300 is what you need for a 4×4, the cheapest being a trusty Dacia Duster. But then a lot of attractions have proper roads to and from them and that in the colder winter and spring months your car is going to be fitted with winter tyres. There’s no need for all-wheel drive, but it’s nice to have.

Given that the chance of damaging your car is greater than in most countries, it may be worth paying a bit extra to lower your excess although I’ve never bothered. Bear in mind that some damages, such as if the doors blow open, are never covered regardless of what you pay.

If you have a choice of engine, I would say go diesel as the fuel is cheaper (though not by much at all these days) and you get better fuel economy. For instance, the little Rio boasts a claimed 74.5mpg. It may cost a little extra to hire overall, but it will work out cheaper if you plan on doing serious mileage.

Lastly and most importantly, use a reputable car hire company. The Iceland tourist board recommends Lagoon Car Rental, so go this route or look at online reviews of other companies before you commit.

Lagoon Car Rental is good because it picks you up from and back to the airport as part of the price and they don’t wait for a full minibus, which can be a godsend when you are worried about missing your flight. It is also open 24 hours.

When you get your hire car, be sure to look over the car for damage and make sure the hire company is aware of any damage it missed before you drive off, as you could be liable otherwise. Taking photos and/or video of the car can help you fight a false claim.

Bear in mind that a lot (but not all) car hire companies will require a credit card. Though it is possible to persuade them to use a debit card instead, as I have done, it may not work for you and you will be unable to drive away in the vehicle you hired.

Also check to see if your car rental company has a fuel deal with any company. I got money off at Olis petrol stations, for instance, which meant I saved a few quid. A key fob can be on your keys or you may be given a card. Simply tap it before filling up.

2) Be weary of taking shortcuts

Iceland road trip (2019): 5 useful tips

The main roads in Iceland are well maintained and often kept clear of snow, but things become much less predictable when you take a red route (indicated by red writing) or go off-road. At this point, there’s a chance your insurance will be voided so you’re on your own if something goes wrong.

It can be tempting to put your 4×4 to the test or take a shortcut to save some time, but usually these roads are so pothole ridden that progress will be slow. And there’s a chance you will get stuck. To be fair, having winter tyres means most cars will be fine unless things get steep. You have been warned!

On a related note, remember that Iceland operates a zero tolerance approach to drink-driving. So even the smallest bit of booze could land you in serious trouble.

3) The early bird catches the worm

Iceland road trip (2019): 5 useful tips

Iceland is one of the prettiest countries in the world, and I say that as someone who has been to a lot of them. So expect to leave early and arrive at your accommodation at midnight, particularly if you take on the attraction-heavy Golden Triangle route.

Time of year will dictate how much daylight you get. Weather conditions can also change rapidly and are unpredictable. The last time I went to Iceland in March, it was sunny and the terrain was mostly green. This year, there were times I could barely see more than 10 metres ahead due to snow.

Petrol stations in Iceland are common around the most trodden areas, but heading up to the West Fjords and beyond Akureyri can see them located much further apart so consider keeping your petrol or diesel reserves as high as possible whenever you get a chance.

Some petrol stations are unmanned so will need a credit or debit card. Iceland uses a pre-pay system, which means you select how much you want to pay before you do or you can sometimes select a complete fill-up. For some travellers, this can be a problem if you’re not careful.

Why? Because even if you choose to fill up by 2,000kr and only spend 1,000kr, you won’t be charged the full amount but there could be a temporary hold on the funds that lasts up to a few days, depending on your bank. This can be a problem if you are worried about cash flow.

4) Plan for the worst

Iceland road trip (2019): 5 useful tips

Iceland is as beautiful as it is inhospitable on a bad day. If your car breaks down, it will likely be very cold and you may not have heating. So take snacks, water, warm clothing, a blanket or two and, if really sensible, a first aid kit.

It may seem like overkill, but you’ll thank me when you are pulled over on the hard shoulder in -15-degree winds for an hour. It’s no wonder you can use your car as a fridge for food at night.

If something really bad happens, emergency numbers can usually be found in the car hire documentation and possibly on a card inside the car. Keep it handy, as you may end up having to use it.

5) Keep your distance

Iceland road trip (2019): 5 useful tips

One of the most common damage claims is windscreen chips, which are easy to get if drive too close behind another road user. So maintain a safe distance or risk paying up later.

This is actually sensible as your braking distances will be longer in cold and snowy conditions, even with snow tyres. And if you see some of the drops into the sea, you will understand why it’s good to maintain control.

As my mum likes to say, “better late on earth than early in heaven”. Drive safe!

About The Author

Editor-in-Chief

Ben Griffin is a motoring journalist and founder of the website and YouTube channel, A Tribe Called Cars. He is also a contributor at DriveTribe.

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