First things first. Driving in winter conditions with potentially icy roads is not for everyone. Using winter tires in Iceland will indeed help. But if you have never driven a vehicle in tough winter conditions and plan to be outside of the main metro area of Reykjavik, then you may want to consider other options.
The farther you get from the cities, the more skills you may need to drive in Iceland's heavy winter conditions. Snow, icy roads, strong winds, narrow roads, and limited visibility all come into play when you find yourself on Iceland's roads during the winter season.
Each day it is a good idea to check what the weather and road conditions are. The current road conditions can be found on the road administration website and you can visit the National Weather Office website for the latest updates too.
Icelandic Winter Tires Law
Iceland laws allow for vehicles to be fitted out with winter tires from November 1st. to April 15th each year. These special tires can help you with extra traction on icy roads and are highly recommended for the traveler that wants to leave the relative safety of the capital city of Reykjavik and head out on the open road.
When renting a car in Iceland with us, you will get winter tires included in your rental within the authorized period.
Are winter tires compulsory in Iceland?
Restrictions or permissions are not applied to winter tires themselves. The obligatory nature of the law is applied to a certain type of winter tire and the tread depth. However, most rental companies just call them "winter tires" to make it more simple for the clients. Specific rules are as follows:
1 NOV- 15 APR: Studded tires are allowed but not mandatory. The minimum tread depth of winter tires should be 3mm.
From the 15th of April on, Studded tires are prohibited.
Reykjavik Cars will provide the compulsory winter tires with our rentals.
Winter Tires VS Studded Winter Tires
If there is one thing we can count on in Iceland is wintry conditions. Therefore you do need to be prepared for a safe trip around Iceland. As stated before, the law requires vehicles to have winter tires within a specific period of time. But, what about studded winter tires in Iceland?
Studded tires have small metal pieces embedded in the external side of the rubber. They used to be the number 1 option to use in the past, as they provided a better grip on the road. However, the new generation of winter tires is great at doing the job. New materials have been included, such as silica, that allows a deeper crease, increasing the grip.
Studded tires are not mandatory in Iceland, only winter tires are. You can, of course, run the studded ones during the prescribed period, however, not every company offers them in their rentals. That is not something you should expect or demand.
The bottom line is, just make sure your vehicle does come with winter tires fitted, and that they are inflated properly.
Driving In Iceland’s Winter Months Tips
The first and most important rule of winter driving in Iceland is to slow down. The normal speed limits in Iceland are 50km/h in urban areas, 90km/h on paved roads and 80km/h on gravel. But this assumes that you are in good weather with good visibility.
In the winter months, weather conditions can change very rapidly and strong wind gusts are common. The last thing you want to be doing is driving on a road with no guardrails, the road is slippery from packed snow or ice, you’re doing the summer speed limit when a strong wind gust slams into your vehicle from the side. This, my friend, is a receipt for disaster!
So always slow down even when you think things look ok ahead. The locals have a term called launhált or “secret slipperiness”, in North America they call it “Black Ice”. This is a condition that when a number of vehicles have traveled over and packed the ice or snow down into an almost invisible layer on the road. It’s near impossible to see and once you are on it, any sudden changes can cause you to lose control.
No Sudden Moves While Driving!
That is the second rule of winter driving in Iceland. Never make sudden moves while on winter roads. Turns, braking, and speeding up should all be done gradually. This means that you want to keep more distance between you and other vehicles on the road. Never follow another vehicle closely. If they decide to stop quickly and have better traction than you, you may find yourself in an uncontrolled skid if you hit the brakes hard.
Daily Trip Preparation
Check road conditions and weather conditions for the day. If all looks good for you to venture out, it’s a good idea to check your vehicle each day also. When you pick up a rental vehicle, you can be sure that this has been done for you, but if you are out of the road for a number of days, it’s always a good idea to check your vehicle before venturing out each day.
Start your vehicle and as it is warming up, turn the lights on and do a walk around the vehicle. Are all the lights working? As you walk around, look at each of the tires. Do they all look like they have the same amount of air pressure in each tire? Next, turn your turn signal on and make sure that both the front and back indicators are working. Do this for both sides.If you are with a traveling companion, get them to stand behind the vehicle as you tap the brakes. Are the brake lights working? If you are alone, look for a place you can back your vehicle up to so when you tap the breaks you can see the reflection on both the right and left side in your rear-view mirror.
These simple tests only take a few moments and will help you have a safe drive and allow other vehicles to warn that you are turning or stopping.
What to bring while on the road in Iceland
Remember the winter nights in Iceland are very long and temperatures can drop rapidly when the sun goes down.
If you do have an accident and slide off the road or if your vehicle has mechanical problems, you want to be prepared. It’s a good idea to bring an extra coat or blanket for warmth that you can keep in the vehicle if needed.
Always stay with your vehicle. Low temperatures and strong winds can quickly sap the heat from your body and prolonged exposure can lead to hypothermia.
Iceland car rental winter tires - Conclusion
Being prepared and thinking ahead is the key to a good trip. Use the information on this page as a quick guide and this will help you to have a very enjoyable trip to Iceland.