Iceland is known all around the world as a place of picturesque landscapes, sweeping mountains, and natural wonders. Stark contrasts are sprinkled throughout this fascinating island from hot springs to frozen waterfalls and active volcanoes to glacier ice caps.
Snow Tires in Iceland and Why You Need Them
Iceland has a range of weather conditions during spring, summer, fall, and winter. The scenery looks different in each season. The warmth of summer changing to the vibrancy of fall and the gradual shift into a winter wonderland is stunning. But it’s not all gorgeous landscapes and scenes out of a snow globe. You’ll need to make sure you have snow tires in Iceland for your travels.
The weather is known to unpredictably change in any season, however, the Iceland winter is particularly harsh. Driving safely is of the utmost importance during the snowy conditions in the winter season. You must wear your seatbelt by law all year round but be even more diligent during this time. The strong winds and snow coupled with rugged terrain and black ice make the road conditions quite difficult to navigate. When you land at Keflavik Airport and pick up your rental car, it should come equipped with the proper snow tires. Winter tires must have a tread depth of at least 3mm (1/11th of an inch) in Iceland from November 1st to April 14th.
Winter Road Conditions
When driving during the wintertime you can rent a four-wheel drive with studded winter tires to traverse the severe road conditions. The four-wheel drive is a bigger car that can withstand the harsh winds better than a smaller car. Even if you are a confident driver, you must drive carefully and slowly because of the snow and ice on the ground.
Driving in Iceland is always an adventure, but it is not for the faint of heart, especially with winter road conditions. Check the weather and road conditions every day to know if it’s safe to drive. Be flexible to change and get used to expecting the unexpected, which is typical of Iceland’s weather year-round. Even with the right snow tires in Iceland, there are other factors to consider.
The narrow roads and sudden wind gusts strong enough to rival a hurricane will make anyone wary. The black ice on the road is deceptive and requires skill to pass over safely. Black ice is clear and hard to see if it’s water or ice at night. It develops at around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). This is dangerous because it makes the road extremely slippery. Generally you must not make any sudden jerks or movements with the car and allow your car to pass over the ice slowly. It’s important not to speed because you can also unexpectedly encounter livestock like sheep in the roads. More tips include scraping the snow off your car windows for visibility and maintaining a safe distance from other cars.
If you check the weather and drive cautiously on paved roads like the Ring Road during daylight hours, you will be fine. The roads are kept clear and monitored. Please note, in the winter season there are shorter daylight hours. The number drops from 13 hours in fall to about 7 hours from 10am to 5pm. A few of those hours are also dusky from the sun setting. Visibility is not great during the dusky hours and after daylight. For safety reasons, do most of your driving during the daylight hours.
Stay within city limits if you are not a confident driver or take guided tours instead. The farther you drive from the city, the more careful you need to be. Some roads are automatically shut down in the winter due to danger such as the F-Roads in the Highlands. These roads are extremely rugged and feature gravel, lava fields, and rivers. They can stay closed until July because of the muddy and impassable terrain.
Iceland Car Rental Winter Tires
Regular non-studded winter tires are required to be on rental cars in winter by Icelandic law. Most if not all rental car companies will automatically have the studded winter tires on your car. Studded winter tires or winter tyres provide enough traction for the necessary grip on the road when it is snowy and icy. This is specifically from November 1st until April 14th.
After April 14th a fine will be given for each studded winter tire still on your car. The metal embedded in the studded tires can destroy the paved asphalt. This occurs because there is not enough ice and snow on the ground to prevent the damage from Iceland car rental winter tires. If there is no ice, the tires scrape the ground and tears up the roads, which leads to small particle air pollution. The only exception to using these tires offseason is if the weather requires it.
When you rent a car in the winter season make sure you check the quality of the tires before accepting the car. If the studded tires or winter tires look worn down you should request newer ones. Worn down tires are not safe to drive on icy roads and won’t provide the traction you need.
An Additional Tip
Also purchase upgraded rental insurance even though rental companies include standard collision damage in the price. One factor to consider that might not be covered in rental insurance is wind damage. Therefore, don’t open your car door if you see the weather is extremely windy. If you open your car door during a windstorm the door could be pushed so hard the hinge breaks. And it will be very expensive to fix.
Winter Tires vs All Season
What is the difference between winter tires, studded winter tires, and all-season tires? Regular non-studded winter tires can be used all year, but they must have a minimum thickness of 3mm (1/11th of an inch) from November 1st to April 14th.
Studded tires have increased in usage and are preferred when driving through rough roads. But you can only use studded tires from November 1st to April 14th. Then after this time, tires should have a minimum depth of 1.6mm from April 15th to October 31st.
Therefore you can use your regular winter tires all season because it meets the minimum depth requirements. When it comes to winter tires vs all season, there are subtle but important differences. Overall, drive safely and you will enjoy your winter adventure.