Renting a car in Hawaii is the perfect way to experience all of the best beaches, hikes, waterfalls, and hidden gems throughout the islands. With winding roads that offer breathtaking views of the coastline and amazing mountain landscapes, renting a car gives you the freedom to explore each island at your own pace. Renting a car in Hawaii is a convenient and affordable way to discover new places each day and everything the Hawaiian Islands have to offer.
First and foremost, most travelers want to know about the best place to hire a car in Hawaii. When I rent a car in Hawaii, I recommend and I always use Discover Cars, and you can see why below.
BEST RENTAL CAR COMPANY IN HAWAII
ULTIMATE GUIDE TO RENTING A CAR IN HAWAII
By the end of this blog post, you’re going to feel comfortable with the entire Hawai car rental process and have some helpful tips about driving a rental car in Hawaii that will boost your confidence with driving in Hawaii.
WHERE TO BOOK A RENTAL CAR IN HAWAII
When considering where to book your rental from within Hawaii, there are a few options.
- Pre-book online before your arrival and pick up the car at the airport
- Pre-book online before your arrival but pick up the car downtown such as in Honolulu on Oahu (sometimes cheaper)
- Organize with a vendor in Waikiki or at your hotel (the most expensive option)
The smartest option is to pre-book your car rental and pick it up from the airport. The taxi from the airport to Waikiki as of 2022 is about $50. That is almost the price for two days of a car rental when booking online with Discover Cars.
I’ve picked up rental cars from the airport and near Waikiki on Oahu and my experience has always been better at the airport where the staff is very efficient and it is a quick process.
Regardless of the location you choose, I recommend and personally use Discover Cars when hiring a car in Hawaii.
I have found Discover Cars has the cheapest Hawaii Car rentals, as well as the cheapest Hawaii driving insurance at less than $11 per day. The key is to book at least 2-3 weeks in advance for their super low rates. If you book the day before it will be much more expensive.
TOP 3 PLACES TO STAY ON OAHU
BOOK YOUR HAWAII CAR RENTAL IN ADVANCE
I’ve found that if you book your Hawaii car rental more than two weeks in advance, the deals you can find are of amazing value. Once it is less than a week until you arrive in Hawaii, the prices go up dramatically. Sites like Discover Cars offer free cancellation up until a couple of days before so you should book the rental as soon as you have your flights and you can always change your mind later and cancel the booking. This way you lock in the cheap prices in advance.
TIPS FOR RENTING A CAR IN HAWAII
- Make sure to take photos of all scratches and dents on the car. It only takes a few minutes of your time and you never know what proof you will need at the end of the rental. Do the same for the car’s interior looking for any stains or rips.
- Take the same photos and videos when you drop the car off at the end of the rental.
- You will need your reference number and booking ready when you pick up the car.
- Book in advance by at least 2 weeks with Discover Cars to save up to 50%.
DO YOU NEED A RENTAL CAR OR IS UBER ENOUGH?
If you’re thinking of spending most of your time at the resort or in Waikiki, don’t rent a car. It’s actually tough to get parking and most hotels charge $30-50 per night to park your car. The best option is to just catch a few Ubers around if you need, use the Waikiki Trolley service or rent a car through your hotel for 1-2 days of your vacation instead of the whole trip.
If you plan to explore the island and are a bit more adventurous, you might not be able to find an Uber to take you home, even if a driver has dropped you off. Most of the hikes on the island are probably a bit far to consider an Uber as a practical option. So if you’re planning a trip that takes you far away from a major tourist hub like Waikiki, Uber might not be your best option for getting around and I’d suggest a rental car. Even if you did a helicopter tour or shark-diving tour, they don’t include transport and you will have to pay for an Uber, so in that case would suggest booking a rental car with Discover Cars.
SHOULD YOU PURCHASE FULL-COVERAGE INSURANCE
When renting a car in Hawaii, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is whether or not to purchase full-coverage insurance. It’s important to consider the potential risks involved in driving on unfamiliar roads in a foreign country. With the road conditions on Oahu and the chaotic highways, I wouldn’t risk it on the Hawaiian Islands to not add on the full-coverage insurance. It is usually just $10 extra per day with Discover Cars and can provide peace of mind and protect you from unexpected costs in the event of an accident, theft, or damage to the vehicle.
HOW TO GET A CHEAP RENTAL CAR IN HAWAII
If you’re looking to save money on car rental in Hawaii, there are several things you can do:
- Book early: The earlier you book, the better the deals you’ll find. Booking in advance on Discover Cars can save you up to 50% on rental costs.
- Return the car where you picked it up: Dropping off the car at a different location can incur additional fees, so it’s best to return the car to the same location where you picked it up.
- Book a smaller car: Smaller cars are generally cheaper to rent and also more fuel-efficient, which can save you money on gas.
- Pay attention to pick-up and drop-off times: Car rental companies typically charge per 24-hour period, so returning the car later than the designated time can result in additional charges. Make sure you know the exact pick-up and drop-off times to avoid any extra costs.
- Choose a rental with limited cancellation or without cancellation: Some rental options on Discover Cars offer free cancellation, but these can be more expensive. If you’re sure about your travel plans, choosing a rental with limited or no cancellation can save you money.
- Check prices for a week-long rental: Sometimes, rental companies offer discounts for week-long rentals, even if you only need the car for six days. It’s worth checking to see if this is the case.
- Book with limited mileage: If you don’t plan on driving too much, choosing a rental with limited mileage can save you money. Just make sure you don’t go over the mileage limit, as this can result in additional fees.
SHOULD YOU RENT A CONVERTABLE IN HAWAII?
While they may be a perfect prop for an iconic photo, a convertible is actually very impractical in Hawaii for two main reasons.
- Firstly, the weather changes very quickly in Oahu, and out of nowhere, your sunny day can turn into a storm. The wind is often quite strong on the coastal roads as well. In addition, most of your driving in Hawaii will be on large highways, which aren’t the best place to have the top down. They can also be quite dangerous and unsafe on highways if you were to be in a crash.
- Secondly, car theft is quite an issue in Hawaii and a convertible is considerably less secure compared to a regular vehicle.
I suggest booking a regular vehicle on Discover Cars and not getting sucked into the idea of a top-down, tropical, convertible car in Hawaii.
DO I NEED A CREDIT CARD TO RENT A CAR IN HAWAII?
You need to have a credit card when picking up the car so the company can put a hold on the deposit amount, which is usually about $1000-2000. Some companies such as Budget have accepted my debit card but usually, a credit card is required. They usually don’t actually deduct this amount, but just put a hold on it so it is only ever charged if you cause any damage or have any additional fees.
DO I NEED AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVER’S LICENSE TO RENT A CAR IN HAWAII?
You do not need an International Driver’s License. You do need to show your official driver’s license from your home country when you pick up the rental car. Some countries like Japan or Italy require an international driver’s license to rent a car but this is not the case in Hawaii and your regular driver’s license will do just fine.
THE FOUR MOST POPULAR OAHU TOURS
- Doors-Off Oahu Helicopter Flight Tour: My number one recommendation is to do a heli-flight (doors off) and be blown away when you see Oahu from the air.
- North Shore Shark Cage Tour: The biggest adrenaline rush you can have in Hawaii is beneath the surface with sharks!
- Eco-Friendly Dolphin and Snorkel Tour: One of the best experiences I had on Oahu was swimming with the beautiful spinner dolphins on this exact tour.
- Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise by Catamaran: The number 1 MOST POPULAR snorkel tour on Oahu. GUARANTEED Turtles!
WHICH COMPANIES ARE RELIABLE FOR RENTING A CAR IN HAWAII
I’ve rented a car in Hawaii more than ten times. My experience is simply that, my experience isn’t necessarily representative of how good each company is. However, I can say that I was very impressed by Budget and Avis. They were professional, had good systems and cars were relatively new and in good condition. However, I found that booking with them directly was very expensive and I have always booked with them through Discover Cars. Sometimes this gave me up to 50% off compared to booking with them directly.
A GUIDE TO DRIVING A CAR IN HAWAII
In this section of the article, I will share my experience and give advice on navigating the roads while driving a car in Hawaii. It isn’t your average driving destination and can be quite tricky at times.
IS IT SAFE TO DRIVE ON HAWAII ROADS
Hawaii is a relatively safe place to drive overall. The highways are probably the most intense aspect of driving on the islands, especially on Oahu. The highway infrastructure wasn’t planned all at once so many of the on-ramps and off-ramps are too short and the secondary turns can often be impossible to merge into unless you knew they were coming. On the highways, you may find that the left lane is quite fast, and with no fixed speed cameras on the island, many drivers push it to the limit. However, the right lane is your friend while getting used to the roads in Hawaii.
The steep roads across the island are probably the most challenging aspect when it comes to driving in Hawaii. Often you will find yourself on a road with a very steep grade, as you can hear your car working overtime to chug itself to the top. Generally, this is straightforward until you need to stop or park. The key is to drive slowly and be prepared for quick stops on narrow roads. Don’t cut corners and never be in a rush on this island, you are on vacation.
The quality of the roads is average and there are often obstacles, potholes, and damage to the roads. Don’t get distracted by the beautiful views as you cruise around the mountain roads and coastal highways of Hawaii.
MANUAL OR AUTOMATIC CAR RENTAL IN HAWAII
While having a manual can make it a little easier to get up and down the steep hills, I’ve personally found that automatic rentals are more than capable on the steepest hills in Hawaii. Unlike in Europe, the roads are quite wide in the city and it is more common to have an automatic. You can check the automatic rental car options by filtering the search on Discover Cars. There are a few models of automatic cars that have the option to switch to a ‘basic’ manual approach. These cars are often called ‘semi-automatic’ and can be a good option for Hawaii in my opinion.
TYPICAL JOURNEY LENGTH IN HAWAII
On the most popular Island of Oahu, the drive from Waikiki to the North Shore takes about 45 minutes. To the West Side, beaches are about an hour. However, to most places in the south or east, the journey should be 45 minutes or less. Keep in mind, traffic during peak hour can get very dense and it’s not uncommon to add a lot of stationary time in the car to a journey.
On islands like Kauai or Big Island, there is less traffic but crossing the island can still take quite some time. Most islands have a major road around the perimeter and not many roads cut through the island due to the mountains. Oahu does have a few tunnels through the center, which cuts down the driving time.
SAFETY FOR YOUR RENTAL CAR IN HAWAII
The biggest problem with renting a car in Hawaii is not actually an issue with driving it. Break-ins via a smashed window are incredibly common in Hawaii. At almost every hiking trailhead parking lot, you will see smashed glass on the ground. What you can do to minimize your risk is to literally leave nothing in your car. I’ve had friends leave passports, wallets, computers, and more in their car thinking it was safe when hidden under a blanket.
The main risk areas are popular tourist spots, hiking trailheads, and areas on the west side of Oahu.
PARKING YOUR RENTAL CAR IN HAWAII
Parking in Hawaii is actually quite tough. Well, to be specific, it is tough on Oahu in Waikiki and Honolulu areas. If you rent a car and stay in Waikiki, expect to pay a minimum of $40 to park your car each night at your hotel.
There is very limited street parking and it is limited by hours or certain times of the day. Even in the surrounding suburbs, lots of parking restrictions apply due to the overpopulation of the island. On the other islands such as Kauai, Big Island, and Maui parking isn’t such an issue due to a lower population density.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT OR RENTAL CAR IN HAWAII?
For those keen on exploring the more secluded areas of Hawaii, like hikes and other tourist sites, public transportation may not always be the optimal choice, despite its affordability. The bus system, Da Bus, can be deficient in terms of both frequency and routes, causing it to be challenging to access certain destinations. Furthermore, some of the more popular tourist sites may not be easily reachable via public transportation, meaning there will be multiple transfers and long waiting times.
In such cases, renting a vehicle with Discover Cars is a practical and expedient alternative to these restrictions. With a rented vehicle, travelers have the freedom and flexibility to discover the island at their leisure, without having to be concerned with the constraints of public transport schedules and routes. They can effortlessly reach remote locations and uncover hidden gems that are not typically frequented by tourists. Even though the cost of renting a car may be greater than that of public transportation, the added convenience and flexibility make it a worthwhile investment, particularly for those who wish to make the most of their time on the island.
HOW CLOSE IS THE HONOLULU AIRPORT TO WAIKIKI?
The Honolulu International Airport is situated approximately 9 miles to the west of Waikiki, the main town of Oahu. By private car or taxi, the journey from the airport to the city center will merely take about 20 to 25 minutes. Furthermore, there are shuttles that run on a regular basis between the airport and Waikiki, proffering a convenient and cheaper means of transportation to and from the airport.
IS IT USEFUL TO HAVE A 4WD/SUV IN HAWAII?
It can be useful to have a car with off-road capabilities in Hawaii. There are some options to go off-roading however, the rental car companies won’t cover off-roading with insurance in many cases, so check your policy. If you really do want a 4WD or a Jeep, you can filter this when you search on Discover Cars.
WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort (Overall Favorite): In the heart of Waikiki, this high-end resort is right on the beach with a private lagoon.
- Sheraton Waikiki (Luxury): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach.
- Ewa Hotel Waikiki: (Value): Ewa Hotel is just one block back from the beach and is just over $150 USD.
- Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget Choice): A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location.
- Disney Aulani Resort (Family Choice): This is a resort your kids will never forget. It honestly feels like you are living in a theme park.
MORE OAHU BLOG POSTS
I lived on Oahu for two years and loved adventuring from the beaches to the mountains to the waterfalls! These are my most popular blog post and guides from the beautiful island of Oahu to help you plan your trip!
- What to pack for Hawaii: THE HAWAII PACKING LIST: WHAT TO PACK
- A helpful guide to choosing accommodation: WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Most epic hike on Oahu: THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN OAHU, HAWAII
- The best Waterfalls: AMAZING WATERFALLS ON OAHU, HAWAII
- Ultimate Cliff Jumping Guide: 11 BEST CLIFF JUMPING SPOTS ON OAHU
- Guide to Swimming with Sea Turtles: WHERE TO SEE TURTLES ON OAHU
- The best Waterfall Hikes: TOP WATERFALL HIKES ON OAHU
- Best Tours: 20 BEST TOURS ON OAHU
- The Ultimate Guide to Oahu: 80 AWESOME THINGS TO DO ON OAHU