Do I need a 4x4 in Iceland?
Updated: Jun 5
When it comes to driving in Iceland it isn’t a one size fits all scenario. The question of whether or not you need a 4x4 in Iceland depends on various different factors. The biggest considerations are the time of year that you are travelling and where you want to explore. After that things like personal preference and the size of your group will also play a part in the decision. Cost and driving confidence all have a look in too. What vehicle someone chooses to hire for an Iceland road trip will vary greatly from person to person. In this article we will explore the various factors to help you make an informed decision for your trip.
Do I need a 4x4 in winter?
This depends a little on where you want to travel in Iceland. Officially a 4x4 is not required. Although you may well have a more comfortable ride if you do go for a 4x4 car or camper hire. As you may have heard there are roads in Iceland that you can only drive in a 4x4 vehicle. However these are known as F-Roads and they are all closed during the winter months. The weather conditions in winter in the highlands make these remote roads far to dangerous to tackle in any vehicle. In fact they are generally only open to 4x4 vehicles in June, July and August. Landslides, flood, ice and snow all make them inaccessible for the rest of the year.
All that being said a 4x4 camper or a 4x4 SUV could well be the way to go for a winter road trip. First of all they are a lot of fun to drive. They are generally bigger and a little more comfortable than a regular version. If you have always wanted to take an SUV on a test drive then now could be your chance! Whether it is for 24 hours or a full week. Also if you are travelling in a larger group then a 4x4 will give you more space to stretch out. You will all be a little more comfortable and have more space to keep your luggage. Even if you are travelling solo or in a small group it can make the whole trip feel more special. You’ll be able to enjoy the winter landscapes with that extra edge of comfort and luxury.
Another big plus of driving a 4x4 is that it can make nervous drivers feel much more secure. If you are not used to driving in wintery conditions then it can really help. Drivers should be able to relax a little more into the drive and feel protected. Of course renting a 4 x 4 is more expensive than a standard two-wheel drive. However in winter rentals in general are much cheaper than in the summer months. High season prices are a little higher all round.
Winter road trips
So in short a 4x4 is not a requirement in winter but it may well be preferable for all of the reasons above. If you do not go for a 4x4 rental then you will need winter tyres for longer road trips. This is especially true if you are travelling the Ring Road or around North Iceland.
If you plan on driving around South Iceland only then a regular camper or rent a car will be fine. You can arrange pick up and drop off at the airport or your hotel and explore the south with ease. The roads around Reykjavik and Keflevik International Airport will all be clear and well maintained throughout winter. The country has to keep on moving after all!
There are plenty of fantastic winter road trips that you can take within easy reach of the capital. You could head to the famous Golden Circle and then on to Iceland’s South Coast. Or you might like to take the two-hour drive over to the wonderful Snaefelness Peninsular in the west. All of these road trips are along well-maintained roads and are good for winter trips.
You might not immediately think about camping in Iceland as an option during winter. But you can also drive all of these routes in a camper van and head to a winter Iceland campground. Many of Iceland’s campsites stay open year round. These are campgrounds for motorhomes and camper vans of course. Pitching a tent in the depths of winter might not go quite so well. A rental camper will come equipped with a webasto diesel heater and cooking equipment to keep you snug. The campgrounds will offer hot showers and no doubt there will be a thermal hot spring on hand to hop in to!
Do I need a 4x4 in summer?
Contrary to what most people might think the summer is when you will potentially need a 4x4 camper by law. If you plan on heading into the amazing Icelandic highlands and onto the famous F-Roads a 4x4 is a must. In fact you can receive a pretty hefty fine if you are found driving a regular car on an F-Road.
It is a legal requirement that you only drive these roads in a four-wheel drive vehicle. As well as fines you could also forfeit any insurance cover that you have bought. If you get into trouble on an F Road in a regular vehicle you won’t be covered by your insurance. There are various types of camper and car rental insurance cover available that are unique to Iceland. To find out more visit our article All About Camper & Car Insurance in Iceland.
A note on weather in Iceland
The weather is always a big consideration when driving in Iceland. All of the above advice should be taken with the unpredictable nature of the weather in mind. It is far more likely that you will enjoy fairer and more settled weather conditions in the high season. From June though August you have a high chance of mild weather and not too much wind and rain. Of course you can be unlucky. There are storms and rainy weather in summer and it can get cold and windy if a storm blows in. This can hinder your travel plans and you might need to change them at the last minute.
If you are visiting Iceland for a road trip during the other months of the year this is more likely. September through October can be wet and November through April can be quite snowy. Of course you might get lucky at the time you visit and experience some great weather. There is just no knowing for sure. For more advice and information on the weather in Iceland visit our article Iceland Weather: A Season by Season Guide.