7 September 2008

Chapter 03: Renting a Car

Continued from Chapter 02

On the
Avis Iceland website, they offer a shuttle service to and from your hotel to the Avis Reykjavik office to pick up your car. Use it, as Avis is out of the city center and too far away to walk. A taxi ride will cost an average of €10 to get there, and it will be a challenge to get the cab driver to understand your pronunciation of Knarrarvogur Street, because you'll never be able to roll your Rrrrs enough to please an Icelander!

Avis Iceland offers a wide range of vehicles but the most popular would be 4WD vehicles which can get you across river fords and terrain where normal cars can't go.

As we were only driving on day excursions we chose the cheapest car that we could hire - a Nissan Micra which was ample for a family of 4, and at a frightening €130 per day which was the going rate for early August 2008.

The Avis staff is a pleasant team to deal with - efficient and more than happy to provide additional info such as the best routes to get out of Reykjavik as well as to supply any maps.

When signing the agreement for the car, we were asked if we would like the Additional Full Insurance option over the usual included Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) amount. We declined and all was well - until we went outside with the agent to inspect the car's condition before we drove away.

Here's where renting a car in Iceland differs from any other country where we have rented cars - at least this was our experience with Avis Iceland.

Take a look at this:

Not a very good image because it's a big magnification from another image as I stupidly forgot to take a closer photograph at the time.

This is an existing scratch on the right front corner of the car that we hired. It's about 1cm long. Above it, the yellow writing that you can just see is a numbered label. Avis Iceland labels EVERY little scratch on all their vehicles. During our inspection of the car, we were asked by the agent if we could see any that were unlabelled because we would be charged for them upon returning the vehicle. We took a good, long look around the car!

It was almost enough to make us return to the office to take up the full insurance option. We're not sure if this is what Avis wants to scare people into doing, but I guess that with some people, it would work. We swallowed our fear and drove away without the additional insurance.

The Umferðarstofa website has an excellent page on Driving in Iceland with available information in various languages. There is video and a downloadable pdf brochure with a lot of good tips and hints.

Vegagerdin is the Icelandic Road Administration's website and is very useful for updated weather and road conditions. This would be invaluable if travelling to Iceland during the winter months more than in summer.

Driving in Iceland is easy if you're used to left-hand drive cars and driving on the right-hand side of the road. Because it never gets truly dark in summer, you will almost never run out of daylight conditions in which to drive. Headlights must be on at all times and the open road speed limit is 90kph, although most traffic sits between 90kph and 100kph. Big, souped-up 4WDs are common in Iceland and occasionally you will get a wally who'll sit right on your bumper trying to push you off the road. Ignore the big Chevy/Toyota/Jeep/Mitsubishi grill filling your rearview mirrors and keep driving as you would normally do, or just maintain speed and pull your car over to the right as much as possible to let the idiot pass by. Luckily, my driving skills honed on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai gave me the cojones to deal with these monsters - even if I was driving the smallest car on the road. Road signs are clear and signage to the tourist sites is excellent.

Although the €130 per day hire fee was exhorbitant for a lowest category car, it was definitely the better option for a family of 4. We worked out that over the 2 days that we had the car to travel around the south-west, we spent about €300 less than we would have spent on bus excursions to the same places, and we weren't held to ransom by having to purchase food from the tourist restaurants. Plus, we had the freedom to go and stop where and when we wanted, and to spend as much or as little time at the various tourist sites as we wished. This is important when you have 2 kids who want to go to the toilet about 10 minutes after you've left the last ones, especially when they vehemently insisted that they didn't need to go while we were standing outside them. Peeing on the side of the road seems to hold more fascination for boys than going to normal, perfectly clean toilets.

As for returning the car, we did manage to give it back without any additional scratches. However, the Avis agent did take a really good look all around it. She even wiped away some mud on the guards to make sure that there was no damage underneath it. To give us some additional peace of mind, before leaving Avis I took photos of the car from all angles - just in case!

Next Post: Strokkur Geyser, Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir National Park


Keefieboy said...

I don't do very well with hire cars. One of my doors got totalled by a prat reversing into it in a car park in England. On another occasion I think I reversed into a tree and caused a small crack in the rear bumper: a well-placed bit of mud got me out of that one!

Paresh said...

Wait. I read the whole thing and then I re-read the bit about 130 euro for a day of renting a vehicle. Say WHAT?! HOLY CRAP.

nzm said...

Keefie: They would have wiped the mud off in Iceland and you would have been done for!

Paresh: Yup - frightening, isn't it? But we worked out that it was cheaper to rent the car than to take the buses to the same places, plus we could go to more places than the buses did.

All I can say is avoid June, July and August in Iceland!