When started planning to move to Iceland for a while, we had to decide what to drive – and we picked it out long before we got here.
If we were just staying in the capital city Reykjavik, we’d just rent a normal small car. However, we’re staying in a rental house in the countryside in the north of Iceland, and we’re staying during the winter. Even the long dirt driveway has hills that would challenge a regular small car. Our neighbor plows our driveway out with a tractor, and even still, I’ve had hairy moments going up the driveway in a Land Cruiser – and that’s just the driveway!
Iceland’s road conditions are notoriously challenging. At Road.is, you can see live updates from snowplows, webcams, and weather sensors that keep Icelanders posted on which roads are cleared and which are impassable. This is a great example from our last trip – when we set out, the road was passable, but as we drove, the conditions worsened quickly, and cars were stuck in the road all over the place.
So yes, winters are tough – but during the summers, when the highland F-roads open back up for the season, they’re no joke either. We plan on taking road trips on the F-roads this summer, so we need something pretty capable. We also wanted something big: I’m 6’3″ and 190 pounds (1.9m, 86kg), and we often take naps in the car when we’re out on the road. We want something where we can stretch out and be comfortable.
Renting a good SUV in Iceland is expensive.
To get a rough idea of the prices involved, I like SADcars.com’s list of 4WD rental cars. Their page on how to drive Iceland’s F-roads is very frank and honest about what kind of vehicle you’ll need, too. Their prices are cheaper than places like Avis because they use 3-5 year old cars, so you can get a tiny Suzuki Jimny SUV for $1500 USD/mo all the way up to around $5000 USD/mo for a Land Cruiser. For a newer Land Cruiser, places like Avis charge around $7K-$8K USD per month.
That adds up, especially on a long trip like ours. We’re staying for at least 6 months, and longer if they extend the teleworker visa. Just for the first six months, we’re talking $30-$50K USD just in rental costs!
In theory, you’re paying a lot for a rental car because it’ll be a (mostly) new car, and the rental car company will fix it or replace it for you if something goes wrong. In practice, I’ve had some hit-or-miss experiences with rental cars – for example, our last “new” Land Cruiser’s windshield wiper blades were shot, and we didn’t find out until we were hours away from Reykjavik, with wet sleet falling, and no auto supply stores anywhere nearby.
So if 6 months of rental is $30K-$50K USD, we could just buy our own new SUV for that price, right? Well, not so fast: new Land Cruisers are around $90K in Iceland, and good used ones are around $50K-$75K. For car shopping research, hit bilasolur.is, the biggest used car site in Iceland. Like a lot of Iceland web sites, it’s only available in Icelandic, so you’ll want to use a web page translator. Armed with so many car choices, it’s easy to start lowering our price range to smaller SUVs like a Toyota RAV4 – but then, we’re back to having tough times in deep snow and the F-roads.
After a lot of thought, we decided to just buy a serious SUV and keep it in Iceland long term. We’ve really fallen in love with Iceland, and we plan on returning repeatedly. We’ll leave it in storage when we’re out of the country. That way, we can just fly in at the spur of the moment, hop in our SUV, and go.
We went for a new Land Rover Defender.
I like Toyota Land Cruisers, but…2021 is a tough time to buy a new one. The current 200-series generation came out in 2007, hasn’t been improved much since, and is living on borrowed time. If your only concern is reliability, then a well-proven, 14-year-old design is a good thing. If you want modern conveniences & design, though, and you’re willing to gamble a little on reliability, there’s another choice.
The new Land Rover Defenders have serious offroad capability: air suspension with 11″ ground clearance, smart traction control for all kinds of surfaces, slick cameras that show your exact wheel placement and a 360 view of your position, and more. They don’t have the luxury of the full fat Range Rovers, but we don’t need that.
Back in the States, when we were planning this whole journey, we tried ordering a new 2-door Defender 90. We tried ordering one for delivery in Iceland, tried ordering one for delivery in the US and then ship to Iceland, but no matter what we tried, we couldn’t get one in time. The 90s have been repeatedly delayed due to COVID-19.
Instead, we ended up buying a 110 (four-door) off the showroom floor from Land Rover Iceland. (Shout out to Karl S. Óskarsson for making the process super easy.) It’s dark gray with black wheels, so we look like baddies in a James Bond flick. That’s the opposite of what we’d originally planned – we wanted a friendly green with white roof and white steel wheels – but this works pretty well too.
We’re excited to travel around Iceland with it in the coming months, and I’ll be sharing photos on my Instagram.