Of all the decisions we needed to make when organizing our road trip in Iceland, deciding on which car to rent was without doubt one of the biggest. In the end we did our November road trip in a 2WD, a Volkswagen Polo. Worst decision ever? Here’s how it went.
Our experience driving a 2WD in November in Iceland
At Keflavik airport the Budget car rental agent decides to give us a tough time. No 4WD? “Very brave of you…”. No on top super expensive insurance? “Well, that’s your decision…”. She doesn’t even try to look genuine; we can see the dollar signs in her eyes. Cheap rental = cheap service.
Lesson #1: If you feel more comfortable to go for a 4WD and extra insurance, please do. But make your decision in advance, based on facts, not someone’s commission.
We hit the road to Reykjavik: an asphalted highway. Same for the drive from the Golden Circle to Vík and Jökulsárlón in South Iceland: smooth and safe. After the struggle at the airport we high-five for our persistence; no 4WD needed at all.
Lesson #2: The capital, Golden Circle and the South are the most visited. Everything is easily reachable and the roads in perfect condition. If you don’t plan to travel further or make major ring road detours around this area, you should be fine with a 2WD.
One week in our journey in Iceland and thus further down in November, the weather starts to change. The first snow covers the landscapes and roads. Our spiked tires cope well. Driving from Vestrahorn in the South to Egilsstaðir in the East, we spot a shortcut and take road 939 instead of the ring road. Hardly in our ‘shortcut’ we realize it was a bad decision. Our 2WD struggles with the ups, while the downs are icy and slippery.
Lesson #3: You can only drive F-roads with a 4WD, but that doesn’t mean that all other roads are easy drives for a 2WD; just like Road 939. It all depends on the weather and the condition of the road. Check in advance with locals and on these useful apps. Also, it doesn’t happen often you can outsmart a GPS.
The rest of the drive to Egilsstaðir is slow due to the snow. Deep snow covers the single road to our remote cottage. Our 2WD struggles and in a turn the car drifts. I picture myself calling the towing service, but hero Lucas takes us safe to the cottage. We don’t want to tempt fate and decide to take it easy in the East fjords.
Lesson #4: I would have never gotten us to the cottage. If you aren’t experienced driving in icy and snowy conditions, then it’s not for you; definitely not with a 2WD. Always be prepared to change plans; the weather decides, not you.
The scenery from the East fjords to Mývatn takes our breath away. The landscape has transformed into a winter wonderland. Blinded by beauty Lucas pulls the car aside – and yeah, it was a bad decision. The car is knee deep stuck in snow. We start digging and pushing and save the day. We are lucky. The remaining 500 km from Mývatn to Snæfellsnes and back to Keflavik the roads are in the same condition; snow with the occasional icy spots. But the drive goes smoothly. We hand back our beloved rental car and call it a success.
Lesson #5: There are plenty of small parking lots alongside the road; use them.
Verdict: Yes, we had some struggles, but taken in the context of our 2600 km road trip, we feel that’s perfectly fine. We never faced issues on the ring road or close to attractions. Would we go for a 2WD again? Definitely. Would we recommend it to anyone, anytime? Definitely not. Always take your personal preference, driving experience, budget, itinerary and the weather conditions into account.