If you’re visiting Iceland, chances are you’ll eventually leave Reykjavik. While all international visitors fly into Keflavik and stay in the country’s capital, at some point they’ll want to hit the road. Renting a car, campervan, or motorhome and taking a road trip is the best way to explore the island. If you’ve done any research on the topic, you’ll quickly notice that many rental companies offer the option of 4×4 vehicles. But are they really necessary? Do you need a 4WD car in Iceland? Well, it depends. The answer will change depending on the time of year you come, as well as your itinerary. If you come in winter or plan on driving in the Highlands like Landmannalaugar or on F-Roads, you’ll need a different vehicle than if you were just taking a trip around the Ring Road in the summer.
When is a 4WD Necessary in Iceland?
So there are two specific cases when I would advise getting an all-wheel vehicle in Iceland. One is mandatory, and the other is more of a suggestion for safety. In the first case, you absolutely need to get a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you plan on driving inland (in other words, not sticking to the Ring Road). A 4WD is required by law to go on Iceland’s F-Roads (mountain roads). They’re not necessarily in the mountains either. In addition to places like the Highlands, Landmanalaugar, etc. you’ll also find F-Roads in places like the parts of the Diamond Circle or the Westfjords. These roads are not paved, so if you plan on exploring beyond just the Ring Road, you’ll need a 4-wheel drive. And because you’ll be driving on gravel roads in Iceland’s backcountry and literally getting off the beaten path, I highly suggest getting purchasing Gravel Protection (GP) insurance from your rental company.
Please note: F-Roads and the country’s interior are only accessible during the summer months. If you’re traveling outside of this timeframe, then the above information regarding mountain roads doesn’t apply.
The second case where I would advise renting a 4×4 vehicle in Iceland is if you are traveling during the snowy winter months (typically November to March). This is more about safety than anything. You’ll be sticking to the Ring Road, but hazards such as slick surfaces, black ice, wet and snowy roads, etc. mean you’ll want to maintain extra traction. If for some reason you start slipping and sliding or otherwise lose control of your vehicle, it’s much easier to get things back under control if you’re able to steer all four wheels of the car.
When Do I Not Need a 4WD in Iceland?
So you absolutely do not need a 4WD in Iceland if you’re planning on circumnavigating the island and never straying from the Ring Road. There are also areas off of the Ring Road (such as Snaefellsnes peninsula) where you don’t need 4-wheel drive. While planning your route, all you need to do is pay attention to the names of the roads. If it’s just a number (Route 1 or Route 864, for example), it’s a normal road, and you don’t need a special vehicle. If, however, there’s an F in front of the number (such as F35 or F225), then you can’t drive on it without 4WD.
Which Vehicles in Iceland Come With 4WD?
Most people assume that you can get a rental car such as an SUV or a Jeep with 4-wheel drive. But did you also know that it’s an option to get a campervan? Certain campervan models like the VW California or the Marco Polo come specially equipped with all-wheel drive. This means you can live out your Iceland camper dreams and still have the freedom to roam wherever you please. It’s for this reason that renting a campervan is one of the most popular ways of traveling around Iceland.
Unfortunately, if you were hoping to rent a motorhome in Iceland, they don’t come with 4WD. You’ll have to save your exploration of the inner part of the country for another trip.
Do You Need to Rent a 4WD Vehicle in Iceland?
Like many things in life, the answer to this question is: it depends. Maybe you plan on coming during snowy weather or if you plan on navigating F-Roads. Then you absolutely need to rent a 4×4 vehicle in Iceland. If, however, you are planning a summertime journey around the Ring Road, a 4WD car or campervan is not necessary at all. It all comes down to your needs, itinerary, travel preferences, a budget. I personally love driving SUVs, especially when navigating new terrain. But some people prefer smaller cars, and also 2WD vehicles are cheaper to rent. It’s up to you. Whatever you decide, you’re sure to have a fantastic time in Iceland.