Iceland is a land of extremes. It fluctuates between volcanoes and glaciers.
People tend to forget that Iceland’s winter has its magic and often overlook this while planning a trip even though it has much to offer. Slowly though, winter is becoming an increasingly popular season for a trip to Iceland. Tourists can enjoy lack of crowds, lower prices on hotels, tours and even up to 50% discounts on renting an RV or a car. These offers and also the fact that the season of the Northern Lights is starting to be the main reason why winter time becomes the best season to visit Iceland.
Most people coming to Iceland, decide to rent a car or an RV and travel around the island with Ring Road. Driving in Iceland is much different than anywhere else, especially in winter. There are few things you need to be prepared for if you decided to drive through our beautiful but rough terrains. Speed limits, which we talked about in the previous article, road signs, and safety tips are some example. If you come to Iceland in winter, there is one more important thing which probably will come to your mind first: winter tires. We receive many questions regarding this topic and so decided to cover the topic.
Do I need winter tires in Iceland?
Iceland is known as a country where the weather is unpredictable. In the case of the winter season, we can predict what you can encounter in terms of the weather and road conditions. Strong winds, snowy and icy roads are a normal phenomenon in Iceland in winter. Driving safely requires some special preparation and this includes having winter tires on your vehicle. This is absolutely a must! There is no way you can drive on standard tires when the roads are covered with ice and snow. Do not forget that the safety always comes first! The combination of slippery surfaces and poor visibility caused by snow storms and lack of sunlight can be dangerous. That’s why drivers should take extra caution.
When the temperature gets lower than 7 ºC (44.6 ºF) standard tires become less suitable for winter conditions. The reason is hardening of the rubber mixture they are made from. It results in less grip on the surface and lengthening of the braking distance and increasing the risk of skidding.
Winter tires are equipped with a different tread type than the standard, summer ones. The grooves are wider and allow better removal of snow and slush from under the wheel. There are also much more wavy incisions on their surface which increase adhesion to a slippery surface.
When are winter tires put on?
Many people travelling to Iceland in April think that like in other European countries, winter time is over and so is the need for winter tires.
With this approach you will have a nasty surprise after your arrival to Keflavik airport and noticing there is still snow on some parts of the island. In Iceland, as per law, it is mandatory to drive on winter tires from November 1st to April 15th.
It is forbidden to drive with studded winter tires after 15th April and you can be fined with 20 000 ISK as a penalty. Interestingly, it is 4 times more than the fine for driving while talking on the phone. Why is that? As mentioned above, studded winter tires are designed for driving on icy roads and in snowy conditions. Otherwise they cause damage to the asphalt.
Will the rental cars have winter tires on or do I need to pay extra?
As I already said before, the winter tires being on the vehicle is required by law. From that reason all the car rental companies need to have them available for their customers.
If you are coming to Iceland and some part of driving takes place between 1st November and 15th April, you need to check if you will be provided with winter tires. Some of the rental companies add them as a part of equipment included in the price but others offer it as an extra and you need to pay for them.
Driving in Iceland in winter is challenging. Even very experienced drivers can find it difficult to drive in snow storms or in strong wind on icy roads.
Remember that you need to slow down especially when you are approaching another car.
Park your car only in designated places. We had situations when customers got stuck because they parked the car off road and due to the heavy snow they were not able to get out. Most of the RV rental companies provide you with a 24/7 road assistance number that you can call in emergency situations.
Especially in April the weather can be tricky and so can the road conditions. In some places in Iceland you can find black ice where it seems there is no ice. Careful if you notice there is ice on road, do not brake immediately to avoid skidding. You should practice pulse braking to avoid any issues and know how to stop your car with no problem.
It is always recommended to rent a 4x4 camper in Iceland during winter as those are more stable on icy and snowy roads and therefore also more secure.
There are many useful websites you can find online with the weather forecast and roads conditions. These will be your best friends during your trip in Iceland.
Remember to check them a few times a day before heading the road. You wouldn’t want to get caught in the middle of a snow storm right?
Ultimate Guide to Snow Tires in Iceland
As you can see there are lots of things you should think about if you are planning a road trip in Iceland. As always, your safety comes first and it is very important to be cautious while driving on Icelandic roads. You can tick off another thing from your list “what I should know about driving in Iceland” as you now know everything about snow tires in Iceland. You are ready to hit the road!