Please note: This is a list of things NOT to do while driving or renting a car in Iceland. You’d be surprised at how many people accidentally flip their vehicles by going too fast or inadvertently destroy their engine because they thought they could ford a river à la Oregon Trail. This isn’t Jumanji; it’s the real world and there are real consequences to driving recklessly, not thinking things through or not adhering to basic precautions. Let’s look at what NOT to do with your rental car so you can avoid becoming a cautionary tale or a car rental horror story. Thank you for taking the time to read this PSA, and now on to our post…

Flipped rental car in Iceland driver not taking precautions

Let’s begin

So when people get to know me, and they ask me about my diet, I always use the same throw-away catchphrase: I treat my body like a rental car. I usually like to time this saying right before I chug a beer or eat something in one bite. It always gets a laugh. Joking aside, from what I’ve seen and heard, rental cars get pretty mistreated here in Iceland. People rightfully come to our volcanic, waterfall-filled island with adventure in mind but many times, common sense goes out the window. Visitors do all kinds of reckless and dangerous things with their rental cars.

I beg you, please don’t come to our beautiful country with intentions of reenacting the Fast and The Furious. The world already has one Vin Diesel, and we don’t need another one. Let’s go over some crazy things people have done with their rentals to prevent you from making the same mistakes. These unfortunate travelers destroyed their vehicles and consequently had to pay A LOT of money to their car rental company in Iceland. Don’t be that guy.

Cars are Not Meant for Watersports aka Hydroplaning or Driving Through Rivers 

Imagine you are in your car, you rev your engine and grip the steering wheel tight. In front of you, about a 100 yards, is a small lake. The Highland air is quietly sifting through your car windows as cascading peaks of golden-yellow rhyolite valleys surround you. A voice in your head is saying, “Do it! You’ve seen the YouTube videos! You got this man! **We**got this. We graduated from college. And we know physics, we can do it! We are going to live forever!” You release the break on your car, and like a modestly priced rocket, you fly towards the water. The moment your wheels touch the lake, you begin to skitter across the top of the glistening water. “We are really doing it! We are living the dream!”, you exclaim mentally as your car has come to a stop and is now floating in the lake. Dream over. Womp womp.

This isn’t a piece of flash fiction. It happened last week to a friend of mine. Under absolutely no circumstance should you try to hydroplane across the water in Iceland (but if you’re still really keen, by all means feel free to try it with your own car back home. I’m not here to crush anyone’s dreams). I can however assure you that your rental car was not designed for this particular act. And I guarantee that you don’t want to be in the position of explaining to your car rental company back in Reykjavik or at the Keflavik airport why their precious vehicle is submerged in a lake 3 hours away in the Southern Highlands of Iceland.

Just because you’ve seen someone hydroplaning in their Jeep on YouTube doesn’t mean that you should try it too, no matter how cool it may seem. You know what’s really cool? Having a ton of money for Icelandic hot dogs because you didn’t have to pay an exorbitant sum to a car rental company for damage or loss that could have been completely avoided. #LivingTheDream.

Car crossing a way too deep river in Iceland

The Highlands

On a related note, many people in Iceland like to explore the Highlands and backroads in 4×4 rental vehicles. This is all fine and good. The problem comes when they find themselves facing a small river. Some will speed up to try to jump the natural “ramp” that you sometimes see on either side of the river, while others will attempt to ford it even though they have no idea how deep the water actually is. As you can imagine, this is problematic.

I’ve seen photos of flipped vehicles (from our aforementioned speeding friends) and have heard stories of people who drove through a river only to be surprised that their engine stopped working shortly afterward. Car engines are not waterproof; they get waterlogged just like anything else you put underwater and will cease to function. Remember, just because you saw it in a movie or in a video game as a kid doesn’t make it real. If only that were true!

Driving on Iceand’s F-Roads in Sedans

F-Roads in Iceland are the heavy-duty, 4×4 only, trails that are meant for driving. It’s actually the law that you need a 4×4 to drive on these mountain roads in Iceland, which is why Super Jeeps are so popular here among tourists. The roads can be quite dangerous and you have to meticulously check for road closures on these trails, because landslides can happen, and as such we take every precaution to make sure they are safe. However, many visitors to Iceland assume that since their car has the all-wheel drive, they can go flying up and down the mountain trails.

This is not the case. If you have ever been on an F-Road, then you know that just about every single stone on that stretch of road can cause irreparable damage to a vehicle not properly outfitted to handle the conditions. This is part of why it’s a good idea to get the full suite of gravel protection and sand & ash insurance to cover your rental. It isn’t only about an having all-wheel drive, you must make sure that your car has enough clearance to circumnavigate the sea of baby boulders that litter the mountain. Again, confer with your rental company to find out the limitations of your vehicle.

Car rental agent checking the car for insurance purposes


Driving Too Fast or Skidding On Gravel

People who rent cars in Iceland love doing this. I have to admit, as a greenhorn driver, I also did this. However, it is highly dangerous and can be even fatal. For some reason, a significant portion of the planet’s population goes nuts when they are driving on gravel. Drivers will swerve abruptly in an effort to act out their own personal Tokyo Drift rendition. They hope that somehow they will drift the car and look cool while doing it (though I’m not really sure who’s watching said coolness).

Or, drivers will go overly fast and suddenly have to slam on the brakes, so they skid out. I can’t tell you how dangerous this is. There have been several near-fatal instances over the past few years of novice drivers. They were attempting to skid on gravel in camper vans. Luckily, the majority of them walked away unscathed, but a great deal of them flipped their rental cars, put their passengers in danger, and again, had to pay vast sums to their car rental company. Be safe and be smart; slow and steady is the name of the game when driving in Iceland.

How to Completely Destroy Your Iceland Car Rental (and Lose Tons of Money)

With each passing day becoming colder and wetter, driver safety is paramount in the coming winter months. Under no circumstances should you ever take your car off-roading. Trails and paths for driving will be marked, unmarked areas are protected. If you drive on them you will receive a hefty fine or jail time in addition to destroying Iceland’s fragile ecosystem. Always remember to wear your seatbelts, and check the weather before heading out.

And, lastly, never try to hydroplane or drive through a river without knowing its depth. I can’t tell you how bad of an idea it is to drive your car across a lake. Just writing the sentence makes me shake my head in disappointment, that some of you are willing to risk your lives for a silly stunt. Be safe. Have fun. And remember to bring your vehicle back in one piece. Your car rental company (and wallet) will thank you for it.

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