Hawaii Car Rental Tips & Advice

Other than Oahu Island which has one of the best bus systems in North America, visitors on other Hawaii islands will discover they need a rental vehicle to get around. On Oahu renting a car will assure you greater freedom and flexibility enabling you to take in more of Oahu’s popular attractions.

To begin your search for the best deal for a Hawaii car rental collect your travel itinerary and decide on the vehicle. If price is an issue select the smallest rental category that will fill your requirements as there is always the chance of a free upgrade on pickup.


Selecting the correct vehicle that meets your requirements can be difficult considering the variety of models available.

If price is a paramount consideration select the smallest rental class that will accommodate your party and their luggage.

All the car rental companies reserve the right to substitute an equivalent or higher rental class if the model you have reserved is not available. During peak seasons the economy and compact rental classes will have been overbooked. As a result the rental company will upgrade you to a higher class without any additional charges.

If you are traveling with a larger party it is important to consider their accompanying luggage. You may need a large vehicle, such as a large SUV or van, to transport everything to and from the airport. For a party of 7 even the minivan may prove too small when you consider the accompanying luggage and gear. You may even want to consider reserving a Large 12 or 15 passenger van, a second vehicle for one day or use a taxi to transport the luggage from the airport and back again.

Many of the Hawaii guide books recommend a 4×4 Jeep Wrangler citing rough and unpaved roads. Though the Wranglers are great fun to tour in they are not required. All of the large national rental companies have road restrictions; no driving off-road or on remote paved roads. Even an economy will get you anywhere you are allowed to travel to under the terms of your rental contract, excepting perhaps very steep driveways.

If you do decide to drive off-road, as many do, to get to some of the more secluded beaches and you get stuck or break down realize that you are responsible for the vehicle retrieval and any damages even if you have purchased their protection plans as you will have broken your contract.


Car rental pricing in Hawaii is like all other tourist pricing. The best deals are found if you travel during off-peak periods and book well in advance.

Do a lot of comparison shopping to find which car rental company has the cheapest rate. Book as early as possible and continue to check for lower rates periodically and again just before your travel dates.

Search for Discount Codes, pre-negotiated and special contracted rates from the car rental web sites and their licensed resellers as some offer the benefit of including optional services.

If you find a low rate and don’t have to give your credit card number, BOOK THE CAR, it may not be available later. In any case you can cancel without any penalty. Quoted prices are always subject to change until you receive a confirmation number.


Industry common rate periods are by the day and week and to a lesser degree by the month.

The rental day is 24 hours and that rate applies for rentals up to 5 days.

The weekly rate is charged for 6-7 consecutive rental days, this rate is less than or equal to 6 times the daily rate giving you 1 to 2 free days.

The monthly rate varies by rental company from a low of 28 days to the actual number of days in that month. For rentals over a weekly period, 1 or more weeks, the higher daily rate applies for any additional days.

To minimize rental charges you will want to return on or before your checkout time as listed on your checkout sheet in order to avoid additional overtime charges. Returning your vehicle as little as 1 1/2 hours after your checkout time can add one whole day’s rental charges.

  • Early Returns – If you return the vehicle more than 24 hours early, a surcharge in the order of $15/day may apply in addition to the rental charges.
  • Late Returns – Overtime charges apply for late returns. The general rate is from 1/3 to 1/2 of the daily rate per hour to the maximum of the daily rate. If you return your car more than 24 hours after your reserved time, an additional daily surcharge may apply in addition to the rental charges.

Almost all car rentals in Hawaii include unlimited mileage.


Avoid any complications regarding your confirmed rental rate by presenting your confirmation notice on pickup.

If you are flying in or arriving via a cruise ship be prepared for a lineup once you go to pickup your vehicle. It can take a bit of time to process all the current arrivals. If possible it is a good idea for someone to head to the car rental shuttle bus while their partner looks after the luggage.

On pickup the counter agent will try to sell you all the optional services and protection packages they can. The only optional services that might be necessary would be insurance protection and child safety seats if you are unable to provide your own. You may be able to provide insurance coverage at much cheaper costs through your insurance provider, auto club or credit card. You are never required to accept their protection policies or any other optional service.

Optional Services
  • Additional Drivers – Additional driver fees in the range of $12/day apply. Some rental companies do not charge for the renter’s spouse. Additional drivers need to be added on the contract agreement but they can be added at any time during the rental. The additional driver will need to present a financial card for security purposes and a valid driver’s license as they are allowed to complete the contract and return the vehicle.
  • Child Safety Seat – Hawaii law requires that children under the age of 8 years is properly restrained in a child passenger restraint system that meets federal motor vehicle safety standards at the time of its manufacture. Child safety seats are available at all airport locations and most off airport locations at rates ranging from $8/day to $13 per day. (Note: Most airlines do not charge extra for transporting your child safety seats.)
  • GPS Navigation Devices – Portable navigation devices are available at almost all airport locations and most off-airport locations at around $13/day.
  • Insurance – Protection Packages – All the major rental companies offer protection packages to provide for your insurance needs although at high rates. The full suite of protection packages can run as high $40/day. You will likely find cheaper coverage through your insurance provider, auto club or credit card company.
  • One-way Returns – If you need to return the vehicle at a location other then the pickup location a one-way return fee will likely apply. This fee varies by company and dates.
  • Prepaid Fuel – Your vehicle comes with a full tank of gas and is required to be returned with a full tank. The prepaid fuel option is only a good deal if you are in a rush returning the rental. If you accept the prepaid fuel option return the vehicle with an empty tank as the additional charge is for a full tank regardless of the actual amount of fuel in the tank.

You may be tired from your travels but before you checkout, take the time to go over your checkout sheet carefully. You may save yourself a lot of grief by inspecting your rental vehicle before leaving the rental location as you may be held responsible for any un-recorded damage. Do a slow walk around the vehicle and pay close attention that all vehicle damage is listed on the checkout sheet. You may even want to go as far as to inspect the undercarriage on SUV models. Also verify that the vehicle has a full tank of gas and your checkout time is correct.


All major rental companies prohibit all rental models, including 4×4 SUVs, from driving off of paved roads. If the vehicle breaks down in an off-road location the renter is responsible for vehicle recovery and repairs.

There are also restrictions for driving on certain remote and rough roads. The restrictions vary somewhat by rental company. For example There are restrictions on Saddle Road on the Big Island Hawai’i.

Driving is permitted on Saddle Road but not past the Mauna Kea visitor center (9,300 foot level) since it is not paved with Thrifty, Alamo, Enterprise and Dollar. Avis and Budget will allow you on Saddle Road to cross the Island but not to the Visitors Center.

See http://www.hawaiiinfoguide.com/hawaii_stargazing.htm for tours and info. To access the summit you are best to book a tour. For a vehicle try www.harpershawaii.com

For general road restrictions on rental vehicles in Hawaii please see the island maps on http://www.hawaiidriveguides.com/. Maps and more concise information will be available at the counter.

Rental cars attract thieves. Do not leave valuables in the vehicle unattended. Even the trunk is not a safe place.

More Tips and Advice (Click Here)