Driving a Rental Car in Iceland in 2024

Daniel Cramer

(Updated: )
11 min read


As the landscapes of Iceland continue to draw travelers from around the globe, navigating this majestic land by car remains one of the most popular ways to explore. However, driving in Iceland, especially in a rental car, can present unique challenges. In this blog, we'll delve into common problems you might face on the Icelandic roads in 2024 and provide practical solutions to ensure a smooth and safe journey.

A rental car in Iceland on icy road
Icy road conditions

Icelandic Weather Conditions

Iceland's weather is notorious for its unpredictability, presenting a unique challenge for drivers, especially those unfamiliar with such rapid changes. One moment you might be driving under a clear blue sky, and the next, you could find yourself facing a blizzard, dense fog, or torrential rain. These sudden shifts can severely impact visibility and road conditions, making driving hazardous.

To navigate Iceland's capricious weather safely, preparation and adaptability are key.

Here are several steps you can take:

  • Stay Informed: Before setting out each day, check Iceland's weather forecast on reliable websites like the Icelandic Meteorological Office (vedur.is) and road conditions on the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (road.is). Apps like Safetravel.is can also provide real-time alerts and safety information.

  • Equip Your Vehicle: Ensure your rental car is suited for all weather conditions. In winter, your vehicle should be equipped with winter tires, and it's wise to carry snow chains just in case. Regardless of the season, having extra blankets, water, snacks, and a first-aid kit can be lifesavers if you get stranded.

  • Learn to Read Weather Signs: Familiarize yourself with the signs of impending weather changes, such as darkening clouds or increased wind, and know when to seek shelter or postpone your journey.

Rent the perfect car for your Icelandic 2024 journey!

  • Drive According to Conditions: Adjust your driving speed to match the visibility and road surface. In heavy snow or rain, reduce your speed significantly to avoid skidding or hydroplaning. Remember, Iceland's speed limits are set for ideal conditions, so under challenging weather, you'll need to go slower.

  • Use Headlights: Icelandic law requires headlights to be on at all times, day and night. This increases your visibility to other drivers, which is especially crucial during poor weather conditions.

  • Take Breaks: If you're driving long distances, fatigue can be a significant risk, particularly when you're concentrating harder due to bad weather. Take regular breaks to rest and refresh yourself.

By staying informed and prepared, respecting the weather, and adjusting your driving habits accordingly, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with Iceland's unpredictable weather and ensure a safer travel experience.

Gravel Roads and F-Roads

Many of Iceland's scenic spots are accessible only via gravel roads or F-roads (mountain roads), which can be challenging for drivers unaccustomed to such conditions. Gravel roads can cause tire and windshield damage if not navigated properly, while F-roads require a 4x4 vehicle and can be treacherous due to steep grades, river crossings, and loose surfaces.

Image of a land cruiser rental in Iceland crossing a River
River crossings - only suitable for large 4x4\'s
Driving on these roads requires caution, preparation, and the right vehicle:
  • Choose the Right Vehicle: Ensure your rental is suitable for the terrain you plan to tackle. A 4x4 is mandatory for F-roads and recommended for rough gravel paths. Check with your rental agency about the suitability of your vehicle for specific roads.

  • Drive Slowly: Gravel roads can be slippery, and loose stones can fly up, damaging your car or others'. Reduce your speed to avoid skidding and to maintain control. On F-roads, slow driving is crucial, especially when navigating steep inclines, declines, or crossing rivers.

  • Maintain Distance: Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you to avoid damage from flying gravel and to give yourself ample time to react to unexpected road conditions or obstacles.

  • Cross Rivers Carefully: Only attempt river crossings if they are shallow and you're confident in your vehicle's capabilities and your driving skills. Always check the depth and current before crossing, and cross at the designated points where the water is usually at its shallowest.

  • Plan Your Route: Study your route in advance and be aware of any sections that may require special attention or a 4x4 vehicle. Use GPS and physical maps for navigation, as some remote areas may not have mobile service.

  • Inspect Your Vehicle: Before and after traversing challenging terrain, inspect your vehicle for any damage, especially to the tires and undercarriage. Promptly report any damage to your rental company.

  • Stay Informed: Check road.is for the latest information on road conditions and closures. Be prepared to alter your plans if conditions are unfavorable.

By respecting these guidelines, you can enjoy Iceland's stunning off-the-beaten-path landscapes safely and without damaging your rental vehicle.

Check out our what are F-Roads in Iceland? and what is an F-Road for further information about F-Roads in Iceland.

Iceland's Unpredictable Weather

Image of a road in Iceland covered in mist and has bad visibility
Bad visibility is common in Iceland

Iceland's weather can be highly unpredictable, changing from clear skies to storms within minutes. This can be particularly challenging for drivers, as conditions such as heavy rain, fog, snow, and ice significantly affect visibility and road safety.

To safely navigate Iceland's capricious weather, consider the following tips:

  • Stay Informed: Before setting out, check the weather forecast on websites like vedur.is to prepare for the day's conditions. Keep an eye on sudden changes and plan your travel accordingly.

  • Equip Your Vehicle: Ensure your rental car is equipped with the necessary features for all weather conditions, such as good tires, working windshield wipers, and sufficient defrosting systems. In winter, your vehicle should have winter tires.

  • Drive According to Conditions: Adjust your driving speed to match the weather. In heavy rain or snow, reduce speed to maintain control and increase your stopping distance. In fog, use your headlights and maintain a speed that allows you to react to any unseen hazards.

  • Use Headlights: Icelandic law requires headlights to be on at all times, day and night. This increases your visibility to other drivers, especially in poor weather conditions.

  • Take Breaks: If the weather becomes too severe to continue driving safely, find a safe place to pull over and wait until conditions improve. Never stop in the middle of the road or on a blind curve.

  • Prepare for Wind: Strong winds are common in Iceland and can unexpectedly jolt your vehicle, especially when exiting tunnels or driving over bridges. Hold the steering wheel firmly and be prepared for sudden gusts.

  • Know Your Limits: If you're not comfortable driving in certain weather conditions, consider altering your plans or seeking alternative transportation options. Safety should always be your top priority.

By being prepared and cautious, you can safely navigate Iceland's diverse weather conditions and enjoy your travels without incident.

We recommend you check out our weather in Iceland blog post, as it has month by month weather and other recommendations.

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Respecting Icelandic Driving Laws

Iceland has specific driving laws that may differ significantly from those in other countries. Unfamiliarity with these rules can lead to fines, accidents, or even more severe consequences.

To ensure a safe and lawful driving experience in Iceland, keep the following in mind:

  • Speed Limits: Adhere strictly to speed limits, which are typically 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on paved roads. Speed cameras are common, and fines for speeding can be substantial.

  • Alcohol and Driving: Iceland has a very low tolerance for drinking and driving. The legal blood alcohol content limit is 0.05%, but it's safest to avoid drinking entirely if you plan to drive.

  • Seat Belts: Seat belt usage is mandatory for all passengers, both in the front and back seats, regardless of the length of the journey.

  • Off-road Driving: Driving off marked roads is illegal and can result in heavy fines. This law protects Iceland's delicate natural environment. Stick to marked roads and paths.

  • Headlights: Headlights must be turned on 24 hours a day, regardless of the time of year or weather conditions.

  • Right of Way: In Iceland, the right of way is given to cars coming from the right, but always yield to drivers already within a roundabout.

  • Single-lane Bridges: Many bridges in Iceland are single-lane. The right of way goes to the vehicle that is closer to the bridge, but always approach with caution and be prepared to yield.

  • F-Roads: Only 4x4 vehicles are permitted on F-roads, which are mountain tracks that can be challenging to navigate. Ensure your vehicle is equipped and that you are comfortable driving in such conditions.

  • Child Safety: Children under 135 cm must travel in appropriate child safety seats. Never place a rear-facing child seat in the front if there is an active airbag.

  • Mobile Phones: Using a mobile phone without a hands-free system while driving is illegal.

By understanding and respecting these laws, you contribute to your safety and the safety of others on the road. Always stay informed about local regulations and adapt your driving accordingly.

Check out our Icelandic traffic laws blog for further information.

High Winds and Narrow Roads

Iceland's weather can be unpredictable, with sudden high winds that can be particularly challenging for drivers, especially in a rental car. Additionally, many of Iceland's roads, particularly in rural areas, are narrow and can be difficult to navigate.

Image of the map of F-Roads in Iceland
F-Road map in Iceland

When driving in Iceland, especially in 2024, it's essential to be prepared for high winds and narrow roads:

  • Check the Weather: Before setting out, check the local weather forecast for wind warnings. The Icelandic Meteorological Office website is a valuable resource for real-time updates.

  • High Wind Strategy: If you're caught in high winds, reduce your speed significantly. High winds can affect vehicle stability, especially for high-profile vehicles like SUVs or campervans. Keep both hands on the wheel and be prepared for sudden gusts.

  • Secure Loose Items: Ensure that all external items, such as roof boxes or bicycles, are securely fastened. Loose items can become hazardous in high winds.

  • Passing and Overtaking: Be extra cautious when passing or overtaking other vehicles, particularly on narrow roads. Ensure there is enough space and visibility before attempting to overtake, and always signal your intentions to other drivers.

  • Narrow Roads: Many of Iceland's rural roads are narrow, with little room for error. Drive at a speed that allows you to maintain control and react to oncoming traffic. Use passing places to allow faster vehicles to overtake safely.

  • Single-lane Bridges: Approach single-lane bridges with caution. Slow down and yield to oncoming traffic if the bridge is already occupied. Make eye contact with other drivers to ensure clear communication.

  • Wind Buffeting: Be prepared for sudden wind buffeting when passing large vehicles or emerging from windbreaks. These gusts can unexpectedly push your car sideways.

  • Parking: When parking, especially in windy conditions, ensure your car is well away from the edge of cliffs, rivers, or open landscapes. Always park facing the wind to prevent the car door from being caught by a gust.

By staying vigilant and prepared, you can safely navigate Iceland's unique driving conditions, ensuring a memorable and enjoyable experience while exploring the country's stunning landscapes.

Fuel cost calculator

Calculate your fuel consumption

Fuel Management

In Iceland, fuel stations can be sparse, especially in rural or highland areas. This can pose a challenge for travelers, leading to situations where they might run low on fuel far from the nearest station.

Effective fuel management is crucial when driving in Iceland to avoid being stranded:

  • Plan Ahead: Before setting out, plan your route and identify fuel station locations along the way. Keep in mind that in remote areas, stations may be few and far between.
  • Keep the Tank Full: Make it a habit to fill up your tank whenever you pass a fuel station, especially if you're heading into less populated areas. Don't wait until your fuel gauge is on empty.
  • Monitor Consumption: Keep an eye on your vehicle's fuel consumption. Different driving conditions, such as mountain roads or off-road terrain, can increase fuel usage.
  • Carry a Fuel Can: In remote areas, carrying an extra fuel can be a good precaution. Make sure it's a proper fuel container and store it safely.
  • Use Fuel Efficiently: Drive at steady speeds, use higher gears, and avoid unnecessary idling to conserve fuel. Planning your driving speed and avoiding rapid acceleration and heavy braking can also help save fuel.
  • Know Your Vehicle: Be familiar with how far your rental car can travel on a full tank and understand its fuel requirements (diesel or petrol).
  • Emergency Plan: Know what to do if you run out of fuel. Have the contact information for roadside assistance and know the Icelandic word for fuel ? "bensín" for petrol and "dísel" for diesel.

By managing your fuel effectively, you can avoid the stress of running low on gas and ensure a smoother journey through Iceland's stunning landscapes. Always err on the side of caution and fill up more often than you think is necessary, especially when venturing into less populated areas.

Here is a complete guide to find the cheapest fuel in Iceland, check it out!

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