Renting a car in Ireland

Renting a car in Ireland is an absolute must – to truly see this amazing country you need to drive it. Car rental in Ireland will get you to all the places that it takes hours to arrive at via train or bus. It will also allow you to visit areas that no public transport can get to and that’s a lot of places in Ireland.

In fact, if you really want to see places like Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, the Stairway to Heaven, Mayo, the Cliffs of Moher, Dunluce Castle the Giant’s Causeway on the Causeway Coast you can pay over the top for tours but driving a rental car is by far the easiest way to really see all of Ireland.

(updated September 1, 2021)

renting a car in Ireland is a necessary if you want to see the country

Is it worth renting a car in Ireland?

Absolutely, if you want to freedom to explore and move beyond the cities renting a car is the way to go. Many of Ireland’s smaller counties, villages, and towns do not have great public transport. Trains across Ireland have been removed over the years and so for example you can’t take a train to Donegal you would be reliant on buses. Just as an example taking a bus (which I have done many times) from Dublin airport to Donegal takes a minimum of 3 hours, from Galway to Donegal is over 4 hours.

Renting a car in Northern Ireland can be a slightly different experience than renting a car in Ireland – keep in mind that they are two separate countries. Beware you may also have to pay extra when renting a car in Ireland and planning to travel from the Republic to the North in either direction.

The second thing to keep in mind when renting a car in Ireland is there is no such thing as cheap. There are a few tips that you can use to get a car at a better price but be prepared for the hoops. You won’t find cars for rent in Ireland for $5.00 a day.

Irish Car Rentals – Car hire Ireland

Renting a car in Ireland can be a hair-pulling experience, as there are surprises in store that those who hire a car in Ireland cheap sites won’t inform you about. It can be immensely challenging and you may leave feeling as if you have just been run over by the car you are trying to rent. If you are attempting to hire a car in Ireland from overseas do not buy into the cheap car rentals Ireland banner ads they are completely deceiving and it’s not going to happen.

The Strangford Lough Ferry in N. Ireland - renting a car in Ireland
The ferry across Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland on the Ards Peninsula

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Rent a car in Dublin Airport

First, you need to decide which airport you are flying into. I would recommend if flying into Dublin you rent a car from Dublin Airport unless you are staying in Dublin itself.  Most people will advise you not to drive in Dublin; however, we found it a pretty easygoing city to drive in after being in major cities like Toronto. The most difficult thing about driving in Dublin is the smaller streets and confusing directions but that happens virtually everywhere here. Oh, and by the way, it is called Car Hire at Dublin Airport and most areas of Ireland.

Howth Harbour car rental in Ireland

Renting a car in Shannon

Shannon’s car rental is relatively straightforward. If you are flying into Shannon, it will be much easier to rent the car at the airport and drive directly to your destination, as the transport links are more difficult than Dublin airport. Shannon airport is a smaller centre to fly into with all the usual amenities and there are buses from the airport.

Shannon is a great airport to arrive at if you plan to drive the Wild Atlantic Way and see sites like the Ring of Kerry, Tralee, Dingle, and Cork area going south or more northerly to Sligo, Donegal, and Galway. You can also rent a car from Galway or any other location if you plan to get there by public transport and drive from that point. The major car rental companies are based right in the airport or you can take a Bus Eireann to most major cities in Ireland.

Renting a car in Northern Ireland

Belfast is also an easy airport to rent a car from although slightly different rules will apply when driving in Northern Ireland as it is governed by the UK. Depending on which car rental company you choose the pricing will be different and charges may apply to be able to drive the vehicle in the Republic of Ireland.

Now here's a car you can't rent in Ireland an electric Tesla recharging its batteries at a car park in Derry
A very expensive BMW – plugged in and re-charging in Derry

Driving a car to Ireland from N. Ireland

You can rent a car in Belfast or anywhere in Northern Ireland and drive the vehicle in both the north and south of the country. However, you should be aware that by renting a car in Northern Ireland and driving to Ireland you are driving in two separate countries and different rules apply.

Check with your car rental agency that there are no additional charges to drive your car from Northern Ireland into Ireland. Many agencies will charge an additional fee for doing so, sometimes the fee is set at a daily rate and in other cases, it is a one-time charge.

Everything you need to know about planning a trip to Ireland

Ireland car rental tips

Can you rent a car in Ireland under 25?

  • Age – you can’t rent a car in Ireland if you are under 21 and if you are under 25 there will be an insurance surcharge which could be €25 Euros or Sterling a day.  If you are over 70 the same kind of charges will apply.

Can you rent a car in Ireland with an American License?

  • Holders of US, Canadian, Australian and All EU member states are NOT required to supply an International Driving License (IDL). An International Driving License (IDL) is required if your national driver’s license is not in English. International driver’s licenses MUST BE accompanied by the original domestic license of the driver.

Can you drive a rental car from Ireland to England or Scotland?

If you rent your car in England, Scotland, or Northern Ireland you may be allowed to drive it through Ireland, you must check with your rental agent before you do this. Some agencies in Northern Ireland will allow a rental car to be driven through England or Scotland however many agencies in Ireland (which is a separate jurisdiction may not).

Can you rent an automatic car in Ireland?

Yes, automatic cars are available for rent in Irelan but you will pay a premium.

Renting a car in Ireland as an American

You won’t need anything special other than your driver’s license. Pretty much anyone from anywhere (depending on age) can rent a car in Ireland as long as you have a valid driver’s license.

Is there cheap car rental Dublin?

The short answer is no, most car rental places are pretty much the same price and if you see one offering cheap rental cars don’t believe it. There are really no cheap ways to rent a car in Ireland. You may be able to get a reduction in the insurance cost but you will have to ensure your credit card can take a large hold.

Tips for driving in Ireland

BEWARE: The M50 toll road that goes around Dublin is a barrier-free toll, this means that you don’t pay on the road but you MUST pay before 8 pm the next day. This can be done by an app on your mobile or via computer and at most gas stations.

Check with your car rental company if the car is registered for tolls, particularly if you rent a car in Northern Ireland as there are no tolls in the North but you will go through them if you drive from N. Ireland to the Republic

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Car rental tips in Ireland

Car rental in Ireland can be a nightmare but there isn’t much difference in pricing between rental agencies, to be honest (there are a couple of exceptions of companies that provide exceptional service they are noted at the end of this article). Here are the things you need to keep in mind when renting a car in Ireland:

1  Pick up and drop off location: Obviously, the most convenient place to pick up and drop of your car is the airport; there is usually a small surcharge for the location. The car rental areas are usually somewhere outside the actual terminal but there are shuttles put on to get you to the pickup point.

If you plan on flying into Dublin or Belfast and staying in the city, I wouldn’t bother renting a car. Take public transport into the city and arrange for a car rental later when you want to explore. Both Dublin and Belfast are very walkable and easy to navigate cities you won’t need the hassle of a car that you will pay for but not use. At Shannon airport, you may need a rental right from the airport but Shannon is much easier to navigate than the City of Dublin for example.

2 Pickup and drop-off – timing is everything: Be careful when you book, as you will get charged for partial days. So for example, if you rent a car at 7 am Dublin time make sure you bring it back around the same time, as you will get charged for the extra time. Most international flights come in overnight so mornings are the usual car rental times and it will be crowded at the counters.

3  Car hire under 25 and over 70 Ireland: Renters between the ages of 25 and 75 (in some cases the age limit is 70) will receive the lowest rates available. If you are between 21 and 24, you will likely have to pay an extra fee for each day. If you are under 21, you cannot rent a car in Ireland. Similarly, seniors over 75 may find it difficult to rent a car because of age restrictions.

4  More than one driver? Yes, it will increase the cost of the rental to the tune of an extra €10 £10 a day.

5 Manual or automatic car rental in Ireland: Since the most common cars here are manual, you will pay much higher rental rates on automatic cards. If you don’t know how to drive a stick, don’t rent one its worth the extra cost to drive what you are familiar with

6  Type of vehicle: Trust me the smaller the better, you don’t want to be on an Irish road in a truck or an SUV. Chose the smallest car you can and save yourself significant headaches on these narrow roads. Just make sure your luggage fits. It will also be cheaper on petrol (gas) and that cost is significant here

7  GPS or Google Maps: I wouldn’t bother with GPS as it is an extra charge on top of an already hefty bill and you could probably buy one cheaper in the shops. Google maps are great in that they can be downloaded while you have access to wifi or take out a roaming plan with your provider so you have access to wifi on the road. Google maps have taken us down many a lane that we would never have seen, we call it the good side of getting lost.

8 Type of Fuel your Irish rental car takes: pay attention to if your Ireland rental car takes regular petrol or diesel fuel, so you fill up with the correct type at gas stations

If you rent a car in Ireland here is one of the must see sites in Wicklow, its also where they film the Vikings series for the History channel

Cheapest way to rent a car in Ireland

Rental Car insurance is by far the biggest headache when renting a car in Ireland, and the terminology is very different from America. Book your car online so you can get a better rate but be aware of the rules that apply to rent a car in Ireland. So here are the basics:

1. Collision damage waiver (CDW)

CDW indicates the basic insurance or the maximum amount for which the car is covered in case of an accident or problem. Many companies ask for a very hefty deposit, this is done as a hold on your credit card and can often be up to €5000. This is done if you just take CDW and no other insurance. Car rental companies treat the CDW as a waiver of their right to make the renter pay for damages to the car.

Adding this will cost you more which the rental company called excess (CDW Excess or CDI Excess), ranging from €15-25 per day, depending on the type of vehicle, length of rental, and rental company. Your deductible can be as low as zero when you purchase this coverage.

The cost of CDW can vary greatly from company to company. Most car rental websites based in Ireland with a .ie and not a .com will include it in the quote. If you use a non-Irish-based site like Hertz.com, it won’t be included. Make sure you know what the rate is before you rent.

2. Super CDW or Excess Protection

This type of insurance is sold to you as complete coverage and supposedly covers all damages to the vehicle and to the people. It is paid at a daily rate; it may also include theft of the car but not your personal belongings. No credit card deposit is retained because in the event of an accident or a problem the car rental company will pay for everything… By purchasing this extra insurance your liability for the vehicle will be down to €0.00-€300.

The rental agencies are not great at explaining the full ramifications of this and they do like to hide it. Often this still doesn’t cover things like tires, and windows. A lot of people are fooled into purchasing this but you can bypass this very expensive option but a massive hold will be put on your credit card.

3.  Roadside Protection

Roadside Protection is essentially another way for car hire agencies to extract more money from you. RP covers the tires, windows lost keys, and the call out charges for tow trucks and roadside assistance coverage

4.  Children’s car seats and boosters

Don’t rent them from the car hire place, bring your own the rental rates are ridiculous and you can almost buy them cheaper. Many airlines will let you bring your child’s car seat/carrier for free or the car rental agencies into paying for these here in Ireland so don’t rook a minimum charge.

Car Rental cost in Ireland

These are some basic comparisons on car rental pricing for either an automatic or a manual vehicle.

Car Rental Ireland how to avoid the rental nightmares
Car Rental Ireland how to avoid the rental nightmares
Car Rental Ireland how to avoid the rental nightmares
Car Rental Ireland how to avoid the rental nightmares

As you can see there is a substantial difference when you rent an automatic and when you add in all the extras like Excess CDW. The rentals shown above are for 6 days, car rental rates in Ireland do go up depending on the season as well – these prices are from the low season.

renting a car in Ireland and traveling the Wild Atlantic Way coast a field of sheep grazing under the very grey skies of Donegal

Credit Card Insurance & Payment for car rentals

Every car rental company in Ireland (both North and South) will accept credit cards like MasterCard or Visa. If you rent a car in Ireland make, sure the credit card holder is either yourself or with you when you pick up the car and return it.

Unfortunately, most N. American credit card car rental insurance is not acceptable in Ireland. There are two exceptions The World MasterCard and a Chase Sapphire Credit card, several more credit cards are now covering Ireland. For instance, the Costco Card from both the US and Canada will now cover insurance.

However, you should make sure you will be covered by contacting the credit card companies and asking them to provide you with an email or a letter stating that and take that letter to Ireland with you. Beware that if you use this option you will get a hold charge on your credit card for up to $5000.

The same conditions can apply to rent a car in Northern Ireland make sure your credit card company will cover the excess and you have a letter from them to support that. Double-check with the car rental agency which credit cards they accept for this.

Car Rental Ireland how to avoid the rental nightmares

Driving Disabled

Blue badge parking: There is a Reciprocal agreement between the EU and the USA and Canada whereby EU parking disks are valid in all EU Nations, USA and Canada. Therefore US and Canadian disks are also acceptable in EU countries. If you are at all concerned then Email the Irish Wheelchair Association on ~ [email protected] or the Disabled Drivers Association on ~ [email protected]

Disability has been a problem but there are now options to rent Adapted and Wheelchair friendly vehicles.

In the West of Ireland, try Freedom Mobility they are based in Mayo and Oranmore whilst Motability Ireland and Vantastic are Dublin based.

Car rental cost in Ireland

The final payment will also include a few other add-ons. Not all rental companies charge all of these fees, but you should be aware of the possibility so you can ask.

  • Value Added Tax (VAT) – mandatory
  • Road tax
  • Airport tax or location charge
  • Licensing fee
  • Cross border driving fee – this usually adds around a €25 surcharge and if you rent the car from Dublin and want to drop it in Belfast you will have an additional charge of around €50 for doing so
  • M50 toll fee (Toll road outside of Dublin now has a barrier-free toll—basically you pay rental car company rather than a toll booth)
  • Late fees (returning the car later than indicated on reservation)
  • Cancellation fees

Fuel

Gas or petrol is expensive in Ireland (very similar to Canadian prices per litre). The average current price ranges from €1.19/litre to €1.40 a litre depending on which area you are in. However, the cars are really good at conserving gas and the drives are not as long as they are in N. America.

There are only two types of fuel available here petrol/gas or diesel so make sure you use the correct one to fill up.

Check your rental car’s fuel return policy. We had a small hold put on the car rental we used for fuel but it was returned to us around a week after we turned the car in with the gas tank full.

Car Rental Tips for Ireland:

  • Make sure the rental agency has your flight number and time of arrival. If the plane is delayed, they may give away your vehicle after a two-hour wait. We were delayed but fortunately, the rental desk was at the airport so they were aware of our delay.
  • Air-conditioning….bwahahahahahah
  • Pack very light most small cars here will only fit two carryon bags in the boot (trunk). If there’s only two of you that’s okay excess luggage will fit on the back seat.
  • Make copies of your reservation and the total cost you expect to pay and take them with you.
  • Make sure you check the car thoroughly before you leave the rental agency. Take photos and ensure any dings and scratches are marked on the agent’s forms. Take the photos with a date stamp. Get a copy of that diagram from the agent before you leave.
  • When you return the car, follow the exact same procedure to ensure you have covered all your bases and won’t get dinged for more money. If it is dark, borrow a flashlight and go over the car. If you have purchased the excess CDW from either the agency or an outside source, you should be fine for any minor damage.
  • These simple tips and checks should be done before you drive the car off the lot.
  • Tires – make sure they are fully inflated and don’t have any bare patches. Don’t forget to check the spare tire and ensure all the tools are there in case you get a flat.
  • Safety gear – make sure the car has the correct safety gear like flashers, cones or whatever is required in the case of a breakdown and get the information you need in case a break down happens.
  • Lights & Windscreens – make sure the lights are all in working order and that the windscreen wipers are adequate with plenty of cleaner. Check for tiny dings or cracks in the glass.

Car Rentals Ireland – more tips

Just be aware of all the variables and double-check and get it in writing what all the costs are going to be when renting in a car either in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Once you have this in writing and plan your itinerary and enjoy the most beautiful place in the world.

There are many locations in Ireland to rent a car from. You can choose to rent from any of the airports, or if you don’t want to drive in the City in the Republic, including Dublin there is one company that I highly recommend renting a car in Ireland from.

You are also allowed to take your car across the border if you rent from the company My Irish Cousin. If you need a van rental because your group requires it they will also rent you a “people carrier” as they are called here for larger groups. You can also rent a luxury car but beware of the size, the roads here are pretty narrow in many places and a giant luxury car or van may not get down them.

Most car rental companies will do long term car rentals however having said that the limit seems to be one month and then it has to be renewed.

Best Car Rental Companies in Ireland

Malachy Quinn at My Irish Cousin – comes highly recommended by our readers and those who have rented vehicles. Malachy will also help you sort out tours, airport transportation, and more.  Just a note if you don’t see anything on the website just send them an email and Malachy will help sort out any transportation or tours you need. Here’s what Malachy has to say:

We consider our rentals to have 100% insurance cover. Very Full Cover as it includes tyres and glass in the price quoted, which also includes roadside assistance. ( we also cover the repair of tyres, not just replacement)

No add ons or surprises at the desk or on return.

We operate with Zero deductible, zero excess, no deposit/hold/charge on credit card.
We take €1 to register credit card against any unpaid tolls, parking or speeding tickets, that’s it!
Unlimited mileage, no additional charge for N Ireland
(Possible to take the car to Scotland/UK for an additional charge)

We set out to make it simple and I don’t think we can make it much clearer or simpler.

We now operate in 5 airports and over 20 locations throw out Ireland

We work with the client throughout and are available to assist in any way during the clients’ visit

All dealings, paperwork and the contract is through My Irish Cousin and we are available at all times

Also highly recommended is Conn’s Car Rental – it has been bought by Hertz but the reviews are still excellent and the service is great.

Another good place to rent from is Dooley Car Rentals which has also been bought by Hertz Car Rentals.

There are companies that search for international car rental companies but to be honest I don’t recommend them for Ireland.

Dublin Airport Car Rental Provider

  • Hertz: (Tel: +353 1 844 5466)
  • Avis (Tel: +353 1 605 7500)
  • Europcar (Tel: +353 1 812 2800)
  • Enterprise (Tel: +353 1 460 5042)
  • Budget Car Rental (Tel: +353 1 844 5150)
  • Dooley Car Hire Ireland (Tel: +353 1 944 6866)
  • Sixt (Tel: +353 1 844 5689)

Do you have an Irish car rental horror story – our readers would love to know.

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Car Rental Ireland how to avoid the rental nightmares
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