The Slea Head drive
The Slea Head drive

Drive Like a Pro When Renting a Car in Ireland and Save Money, Too!

You’ve decided to visit Ireland. Maybe it’s for the first time or perhaps you’ve been there before. Whichever it might be, renting a car in Ireland can be a stressful part of the planning process.

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As someone who has rented a car in Ireland many times, I know what it feels like.

However, this blog post is intended to put your mind at ease and give you some valuable tips before renting a car in Ireland as well as providing you with some money-saving tactics as well.

You want your trip to Ireland to be as enjoyable as possible, and that includes a stress-free car rental experience.

While renting a car is not for everyone, the fact is, that when you rent a car, you naturally have more freedom and flexibility to see the attractions you want to see.

If, however, renting a car is not something you want to spend money on or you feel you would be way too stressed driving on the left in Ireland, then this blog post will give you some ideas on how to get around Ireland without one.

This 14-day public transportation itinerary may also be useful if you just can't get your head around driving on the left in Ireland. The blog post is also available on the Ireland on a Budget Etsy store if you want to store a copy of it on your electronic devices.

Driving in Ireland

For many North Americans, the single most stressful thought about vacationing in the Emerald Isle has to do with driving a car.

That's because driving occurs on the left-hand side of the road, not the right as we are used to here in the U.S.

The Doolough Valley in Co. Mayo. Photo: Chris Hill for Failte Ireland.

But it doesn’t have to be that stressful. Sure, it takes a little time to get used to it, but if you keep these tips in mind, you should be fine.

  • There will be times when you will want to go toward the right, which is natural. To prevent you from doing this, remember that the driver (no matter what side the steering wheel is on) is always seated closest to the centerline on the road. In Ireland, the centerline is painted in white, just like the photo above.

    Photo: OksanaRadchenko for Getty Images.
  • Before renting a car in Ireland, consider renting a car with an automatic transmission if that is what you are comfortable with. If, however, you are an expert at driving a stick shift, then, by all means, rent one. You’ll be saving yourself money if you do.
  • Before you drive your rental car, familiarize yourself with everything inside the car. That includes the pedals, gearshift, light switches, wipers, window controls, and most importantly, the mirrors.
  • If you are renting a car with a manual transmission, know how to put it into reverse. Some cars in Ireland have a safety lock that makes it difficult to put the car into reverse gear.
  • Make sure you ask the rental car company how to do this before you drive off the lot.
  • Take it easy, at least at the beginning of your trip. If you have another passenger in the car, ask him or her to do things for you, such as switching stations on the radio, checking road signs, and navigation, if you are using your mobile phone instead of the car’s in-built navigation system.

    A roundabout outside Dublin. Photo: Laurel Lodged – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88951915
  • Be extra cautious going into roundabouts, which are very common in Ireland. Always remember that the traffic already in the roundabout has the right-of-way, so yield while entering.
  • Be extra careful, also, when driving in towns and cities, especially when it comes to pedestrians.

    Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork. Photo: Juan Jimenez.
  • When driving on motorways, the left lane is the slow lane and the right lane is the fast lane.
  • When driving in the countryside, many roads are much narrower than what you are used to. My advice is to take it easy.
  • Driving in a parking garage can be tricky in Ireland because everything seems narrower. Take your time. If you have a compact car, all the better.
  • Know that there are different levels of roadway in Ireland. They include the following:
  • M (a blue sign plus either one or two numbers, such as the M50 out of Dublin) is comparable to an interstate in the U.S. Note that, like the U.S., there are some highway tolls that you will incur while driving in Ireland. The M50 is a digital road toll, which can be paid for by logging on to a website called eFlow before you begin your journey.
    An N sign at Molls Gap in Co. Kerry. Photo: Chris Hill, Failte Ireland.

    If you don’t register beforehand, be sure to do so within an allotted time period so that you don’t incur a fine.

    Other highway tolls, such as the M6 (Dublin to Galway) and M7 (Dublin to Limerick) are cash tolls. Be sure to have Euros handy when paying these tolls.

    A sign for a regional road (R) in Ireland. Photo: By Sarah777 at English Wikipedia – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17004685
  • N (a green sign plus a number between 1 and 33) is known as a National Primary Road.
  • R (a white sign) – these are Regional Roads that link Ireland’s smaller towns and are generally narrower.
  • L (a white sign plus 4 numbers) are Local Roads and are found throughout Ireland’s rural areas.
  • Don’t get into the practice of overtaking other cars on a one-lane road, unless it’s a tractor in front of you, particularly common on rural Irish roads. If that is the case, just be sure to put your signal on, have a clear view of the road ahead of you, and check your side mirrors before overtaking.
  • If you’re still nervous about driving in Ireland, you might want to book a one-hour lesson with a local driving school, just to put your mind at ease.

Choosing a Rental Car in Ireland

Unless you plan something last minute, it’s best to book your rental car a few months ahead of time.

If you’re traveling during peak season (summertime or during major holidays like Christmas), you will undoubtedly pay more. However, if you go to Ireland any other time of year, rates are much lower.

There are several car rental companies at all of Ireland’s airports and at other locations across the country.

Driving the coast in County Down, Northern Ireland. Photo courtesy Tourism Northern Ireland.

However, feel free to shop around by using a service like Discover Cars to get an idea of the rates available.

It is easiest to reserve a car at the airport you are flying into.

However, if you are staying in Dublin for a few days, you could pick up your car at a car rental facility closest to your accommodation or backtrack to the airport and pick it up there.

Try to schedule a flight that comes in earlier in the morning as there will be more cars available then as opposed to arriving at a later time.

An 8 a.m. or earlier arrival time works best. This is especially true when flying into Dublin where the demand for rental cars is greater.

a small town by the beach renting a car in Ireland
Renting a car in Ireland means you get to visit cute towns like this one in Co. Waterford. Photo: Chris Hill for Tourism Ireland.

Ways to Save Money

There are numerous ways you can save on rental car fees when renting a car in Ireland.

Keep the following points in mind when booking your rental car.

  • When making your rental car reservation, try to keep the pick-up times and drop-off times within an hour of each other. For example, pick your car up in Shannon or Dublin at 7 a.m. and then return it at, say, 8 a.m. The reason you should do this is to avoid your rental agreement from running into another day.
  • Some car rental companies like SIXT give customers the opportunity to choose the “lucky chance option” when making a reservation. That means that Sixt decides which rental car you get at a fixed price. This is suitable for travelers who are flexible. You may get a BMW instead of the car you would normally have reserved, without paying the higher sticker price.

    Driving on Achill Island. Photo: Tourism Ireland.
  • Renters between the ages of 24 and 75 receive the lowest car rental rates. If you are between 21 and 24, you will pay a higher fee. Anyone under 21 cannot rent a car in Ireland.
  • If you can comfortably drive a stick shift in Ireland, you will save on car rental fees.
  • Rent a smaller-sized car if possible as you’ll get a lower rate.
  • Limit the rental to one driver if possible as you’ll pay an extra fee per day for additional drivers. Of course, that is not always practical, so use your own judgment on this one.
  • Save on extras like an in-built GPS system. If you normally use your phone for navigation purposes, you can still do so while traveling across Ireland by signing up for a service that I recommend to other travelers called Wifi Candy. Use coupon code irelandonabudget to get 10% off your Wifi rental. The Dublin-based company offers a number of WIFI plans for visitors to Ireland. So rather than waiting to find free WIFI in public spaces, you can get an unlimited WIFI plan for as little as €39.65. If you have a suitable phone, you can also sign up for an eSim with Airalo.

Pro Tip: You will most likely see two rates quoted by the car rental company websites you visit. They include a “basic rate” and an “inclusive rate.” The basic rate includes VAT (value-added tax), public liability insurance, fire insurance, and unlimited miles. The inclusive rate includes everything in the basic rate as well as CDW insurance (collision damage waiver) and theft protection for the rental vehicle.

a beach renting a car in Ireland
Visit secluded beaches like this one in Co. Donegal when you rent a car in Ireland. Photo: Failte Ireland.



Booking.com

Choosing the Proper Coverage

Getting the best deal on car insurance may seem complicated at first glance.

To rent a car in Ireland, one must purchase a CDW supplement (Collision Damage Waiver), which is the car rental company’s way of claiming their right to make you pay for damages to the rental car in the case of an accident or you get scratches or dents on it.

The Sky Road in Clifden, Co. Galway. Photo: S_Hoss, Getty Images Pro.

The minimum deductible that comes with such coverage is between €1,500 and €3,000. The amount will be held on your credit card until you return your rental car. Coverage does not include damage to tires, windows, or a car’s undercarriage.

Keeping that in mind, some renters choose to purchase Super CDW coverage. This additional insurance reduces your liability to near zero, but it will cost you more, sometimes an additional $10-$30 per day, so please read the fine print before signing on.

car on the road renting a car in Ireland
Driving through Ballygally on the Antrim coast. Photo: Tourism Northern Ireland.

The advantage of purchasing Super CDW insurance is that you can return your rental car without having to go through the excruciating inspection that some rental car companies carry out once a car is returned. Even if it is damaged, you’ll have no worries.

If you’re beginning to feel like you’re being scammed, I really don’t blame you. However, I’m here to tell you that there is a way around this.

a credit card in a bag renting a car in Ireland
Photo: Leonid Yastremskly for Pixels.

By paying with the right credit card, you can get zero-deductible collision coverage, comparable to the Super CDW I spoke about above, and it won’t cost you extra. All you’ll end up paying for is the daily rental of the car plus the applicable taxes.

If you have the bad luck of getting into an accident or incur dents or scratches, your credit card company will cover whatever costs you are liable for. You will need to provide a police report and the car rental company’s accident report as part of the claim.

You can use a World MasterCard, the Chase Sapphire Card, or an American Express Gold card when reserving a rental car in Ireland.

a rocky landscape renting a car in Ireland
Touring the Burren in Co. Clare. Photo Tourism Ireland.

Call your credit card company and have the customer service agent explain the coverage to you, then ask for a letter of coverage that you’ll need to bring with you when you arrive at the rental car company desk in Ireland.

Be sure to decline the CDW coverage that the rental car company is offering you as you will no longer need this.  A small administration fee of around €30 will be charged to you for declining.

Don’t sign any rental agreement until you are sure that your credit card coverage is the only one in place.

a woman at a laptop renting a car in Ireland
Photo: baramee 2544 for Getty Images Pro.

Pro Tip: Make sure that the credit card you’ll be using for insurance coverage has a decent credit limit on it as the car rental company may put a hold on your credit card for the full value of the car. I suggest using one card for the car rental and using another credit card for other purchases.

Before you Drive your Rental Car Off the Lot

  • In addition to taking the usual precautions before driving a car you’re not familiar with, be sure to do a thorough scan of the car, making note of any scratches and dents that the car rental company did not include in its own report. This is important because you do not want to pay for someone else’s bad luck or carelessness when you return the car.
  • You might want to take pictures of the car with your mobile phone, just to be on the safe side.
  • Read the rental car agreement carefully to make sure you understand what you are signing up for. You don’t want to discover hidden surprises later.
  • Remember that in many cases you are required to return your rental car with a full tank of gas. Check your agreement before returning your car, especially if the agent does not tell you.
  • Make sure your trunk is large enough for your luggage. Or else, pack lightly! Trunks in most Irish cars are smaller than they are in the U.S.
city street renting a car in Ireland
Driving on Cork's Main Street. Photo: Sile NiMhurchu for Failte Ireland.

Some Things to Know About Driving Around Ireland

  • It is illegal to talk or text while driving, so please don’t do it.
  • If you happen to rent a car in Ireland that is run on diesel fuel, be sure to go to the right pump at the gas station. Tourists have in the past put petrol into their rental cars. We all know what happens when that happens!
  • Fuel, especially petrol, is expensive in Ireland. As of August 2023, the price of petrol per liter is €1.638/$1.795. A liter is equal to 0.26 gallons. It might be cheaper to rent a diesel car, but again, be sure to fill it with diesel, not petrol.
  • The speed limit in Ireland is as follows: 120 km/h (75 mph) on motorways; 100 km/h (62 mph) for National Roads (primary and secondary); and 80 km/h (50 mph) for local and regional roads.

Have you rented a car in Ireland? How was it? If you have any additional tips you’d like to share with me, please let me know.

colette

Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

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