Renting a car in Ireland is essential if you value freedom and flexibility in your travel plans. The countryside is stunning, and you will want the ability to pull over every few minutes to take pictures without consulting the 40+ other people on your tour bus.
Road tripping Ireland had been at the top of Sam’s and my bucket list for as long as we could remember, and we finally ticked it off earlier this year. We rented a small car and spent an incredible week driving around the country, hitting must-visit attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, and Blarney Castle.
Though our trip was fantastic and we would definitely do it again, we quickly discovered that renting a car in Ireland is a lot more complicated than we’d originally thought.
Here is everything you should know before renting a car in Ireland:
Roads are narrow.
On more than one occasion, we found ourselves on a skinny, single-lane road with stone walls on each side and a tractor barreling toward us.
For that reason, we recommend choosing the smallest car available that will accommodate everyone in your group and their luggage. Not only will you have an easier time navigating narrow roads in a small car, but you will also save money.
Irish drive on the left.
In Ireland—as in England—traffic keeps to the left. For North Americans, making this mental shift can be downright mind-boggling at first. Pay especially close attention when leaving parking lots and making left-hand turns.
Luckily, Sam got the hang of things quickly, and we only ended up driving the wrong way across a bridge once. Phew.
Most vehicles are manual.
Driving on the left is further complicated by the fact that most cars in Ireland are stick shift. Though Sam has a lot of experience driving manual vehicles, he is not accustomed to switching gears with his left hand!
If you’re uncomfortable driving a stick shift, automatic vehicles are available at most rental companies. But they are typically more expensive.
Diesel is cheaper than petrol.
Though the daily rental rate for diesel vehicles is slightly more expensive, they often get better mileage and are cheaper to fill up than petrol vehicles. If you plan to cover a lot of ground, we recommend choosing a diesel vehicle.
Insurance in Ireland is not covered by most credit cards.
Sadly, most credit cards do not cover rental car insurance in Ireland. So if you usually count on your credit card’s coverage, you’ll likely be out of luck.
Collusion Damage Waiver is mandatory in Ireland and was included in the daily rate we were quoted. If you are browsing car rental options online, be sure that the price you are looking at includes CDW (not all websites do!) to avoid an unpleasant extra expense when you arrive.
We declined the optional Personal Accident Coverage and Excess Damage Waiver because we didn’t want to spend the extra money. But though we never ended up needing either, at times the peace of mind might have been worth the additional cost.
Car rental companies put a large hold on your credit card.
Because we did not purchase the Excess Damage Waiver, the car rental company placed a €1,000 hold on our credit card. If you plan to use a credit card that has a low spending limit, be sure to take a back-up credit card as well. (You will get the money back when you return your vehicle undamaged.)
Additional drivers cost extra.
Adding a secondary driver costs extra (typically around €10 per day). Since I’d rather eat pan-fried horse droppings than drive in Ireland, we decided that Sam would be our designated driver.
Always check the car before leaving the rental company.
Be sure to check your vehicle carefully for any scratches or dents before you leave the rental company’s parking lot. If you see any problems, be sure to alert a representative to avoid being charged for the damage at the end of your trip.
Watch out for livestock.
On country roads, traffic won’t be much of a concern. But there’s the little problem of the sheep. They’re seriously everywhere in Ireland. Though they look cute and fluffy grazing in the pasture, they are not quite as cute when you come around a blind turn and nearly run one over.
Prices are cheapest in the off-season.
For the best deal on car rentals (as well as flights and hotels) we recommend visiting Ireland in the offseason, which is roughly November to March. We visited in early February and spent half what we would have paid in the summer.
Don’t worry; even in winter Ireland is beautiful and green!
Note: We rented our car through Budget at the Dublin airport.
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