Reality started hitting all of us when we woke up. My 3 cousins left for KEF airport in a hotel shuttle bus at 5am to catch the 730am flight to Singapore & Bengaluru, India respectively. My flight was not until 5pm. The hotel manager was very kind enough to allow me to check out at 1pm. I had a rather late breakfast and at around 10am drove around Gardur and Keflavik/Reykjanesbær to look for some interesting spots. It had snowed the previous night and there was snow everywhere. On Day 2, we had been to the lighthouse near the hotel that was surrounded by black lava rocks. I decided to go back and see if there were any interesting photo ops. Yes, there was as shown by the image below.
Located a good looking church in Gardur but it was closed. Shot a picture of it from outside.
I returned to the hotel at Noon, packed up all the luggage and loaded into the Jeep and went to the Reykjanesbær City Center for lunch at a Subway restaurant. The sub was 40% more expensive than in the US, it tasted pretty much the same as in the US. Then refuled the Jeep and returned the vehicle to the Greenmotion (aka Iceland 4×4) rental car facility. Now the fun began.
The guy takes the keys and walks straight to the front of the vehicle and tells me that there are 3 minor scratches on the hood. The vehicle had about 120K miles when we picked up and it was pretty beat up already with scratches all over the body.We never noticed the scratches on the hood until we returned it. Here is the image of the scratches captured by my iPhone6.
We had taken full insurance when we booked the vehicle via rentalcars.com. He tried to identify other problems but luckily we had noted these at the time of the pickup. A few minutes later he returned and asked me to pay 290,000ISK (about US$2400) to repair the 3 scratches on a beat up Jeep that had about 100x scratches everywhere. I had no choice as I had to catch a flight back to the US. I paid, got the necessary paperwork, and left for the airport with a little bit bitter taste of the rental car experience. I was not 100% sure if rentalcar.com will refund the charges.
About 10 days ago, I got an email from Greenmotion that they will be refunding me about $1465 as the cost to fix the 3 scratches was only US$935. We submitted the charges to rentalcars.com and they promptly refunded $935 and credited it our credit card. We were relieved.
Here is the moral of the story for renting cars in Iceland:
- Rent a car from a reputable agency after doing reserach on the web. If you do a Google or Bing search, you will see a lot of horror stories about Green Motion and even Keflavik Hertz. Don’t expect Hertz US to bail you out.
- Get full insurance coverage. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. The Ring Road is well paved but some side roads are not. Also roads like Route 42 is mostly gravel. The rough sand and small pebbles will scratch your vehicle. Get the maximum coverage or you will end up paying more for the “damage” charges than for the rental car.
- Completely checkout the car at pick up time. Document EVERY issue how ever minor it is including squeaks of the doors, break noises, scratches on head lights, glass, etc before you leave the rental car facility. I have lived in the US for 40+ years and rent on the average 10-15 times/year. At no time, anybody has checked the car when I returned. I don’t even get a receipt as it gets emailed by email address. Europe is different and I have learned a lesson.
Allz well that ends well!!! Cant wait to return to Iceland again!!! A terrific country but rental car management needs improvement.
Other Iceland travel trivia:
- For 13 days, rental car cost US$1900; Gas US$466; Lodging: US$3062; Food: $826; Other expenses like SIM Cards, Aurora Borealis tour in Reykjavik etc: US$350. 4 people shared the expenses. Cost/person = US$1650. Not bad at all.
- We drove 1575 miles on the trip. Jeep Grand Cherokee consumed 20 mpg with full load almost all the time.
- Driving is very easy in Iceland. It is super difficult to get lost. We didn’t see one traffic light for over a week after we left Reykjavik. Lots of roundabouts though. I don’t recollect seeing a 2-lane road outside Reykjavik.
- Cell phone service works fine on most roads along the coast. We used SIMInn service. Prepaid data cost $15/GB. You can pick up the SIM cards at the KEF airport.
- During the 13 days, we never saw one cop!!! We first noticed it a week into the trip. After that we were watchful and on the lookout for a cop but never saw one. We saw 4 security guys with machine guns during checkin at KEF on our way back.
- There are very few grocery stores in the country and especially outside of Reykjavik. Load up when you find one. Plus the opening hours are highly limited. Some are only open from 11am to 6pm (thats when you will be doing sightseeing).
- All the 4 of us are vegetarians and we had no issues.
- We had to remove our shoes/boots before entering hotels and guesthouses outside Reykjavik and Keflavik. This reminded of our homes 🙂
- Beautiful Aurora Borealis is not common. You need a clear sky, no light pollution, good AB forecast (Kp index of 3 or higher). If you must see one, plan to spend 2 weeks unless you are lucky.
- Hotel & guesthouse staff are very friendly and speak excellent English (better than my Icelandic 🙂 ). Breakfast is not fancy but good. Unless you stay in a 5-star hotel, don’t expect somebody to make you an omelet on demand.
- In Keflavik and Reykjavik, you can smell the sulphur in the water when you shower. I really started liking it and I miss it a lot back home in Seattle!!!
- Snæfellsnes peninsula was stunning but we rarely saw a tourist. Not sure why.
- It is a very windy country. Holding a tripod steady is no fun when the temperature is close to freezing and wind blowing at 40-50 mph. If you don’t like the weather, wait for 15 minutes. We saw sunshine to fog to rain to snow all within 1 hour.
- There are waterfalls everywhere. Having a waterfall in your backyard is real cool!!!