Tag Archives: Car Insurance

Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Insurance and Punctures

Iceland Car Hire Sixt Volcano Damage Insurance

Unfortunately hiring a car on line is as big a financial minefield as booking a low cost flight because there is an inevitable range of confusing add-on charges and exclusions all designed to generate additional revenue.

Sixt in Iceland have come up with a brilliant wheeze.  I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that the cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’ and just to be safe I agreed to buy it.

This is like excluding burglary from a house insurance policy or heart attacks from medical insurance.  Brilliant business for them.  The customer buys insurance but they exclude the things that you might need to claim for!

Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage.  Volcano damage – WTF? I wondered if I was on ‘Caught on Camera’ or something!

Iceland Volcano

On enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either.  Sixt provide this explanation and justification for this additional level of insurance cover:

“Due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland in recent years there is still a great amount of ash in the highlands that tends to cause damage to vehicles in windy weather.  Any damage caused by volcanic ash is not covered by any insurance or terms and conditions in Iceland.  We do what we can so that our customers can travel our beautiful country without a care and this is why we now offer all customers to purchase sand and ash protection and Gravel protection, specially made to deal with our unique Icelandic conditions.”

Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car then it was almost certain that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as my flesh melted into a puddle of grease and my bones were surely burnt to a blackened cinder was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car (gravel chipped or not) so I declined the offer to purchase the additional cover and quickly paid up just in case he next tried to sell me snow or rain insurance in case the car got wet!

Sixt rent a car logo

Sixt are good at this sort of thing.  Last year in Ireland I returned a car and a member of staff carried out an examination and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing  that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a potential £60 cleaning charge.

“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with.  I covered my nose because I noticed that there was funny smell and I reminded him that I am Sixt Platinum customer and he backed down and said not to worry because  the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.

Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not).  In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel with a wet-wipe just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!

These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

So, what is the solution?  There is an alternative.  Buy some cheap car hire insurance in the UK and when under pressure at the sales desk think of Captain Kirk and raise a force field around yourself to resist the hard sell.  It usually means leaving a deposit on the credit card to pay for damages but this can then be claimed back from the cheaper insurer.

It works.  This year I went to Ireland and one day had the misfortune to get a puncture.  I was really annoyed about that because I hadn’t bought tyre damage insurance from the car rental company; I always buy tyre damage insurance and I have never had a puncture so I cursed my misfortune on that day.  I needn’t have worried.  When I got home I made a claim on the cheaper ‘buy before you go’ option and they promptly paid up!

The puncture story reminds me of another.  In 1986 I went to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands and mid-way through the holiday hired a car, a little blue Seat with an open top and on the first day set off into the mountains in the interior.  This turned out to be rather hard work as the road looped in extravagant sweeping motions around deep valleys and gorges and followed a precarious route to the top.

Actually, we didn’t get to the top because after an hour or so we got a puncture and I had to change the wheel at the roadside.  We were high up and close to the edge and part way through the process the car started to slide off the jack and I wondered how I was going to explain to the hire company just how the car had fallen off the road and disappeared into a ravine.

To my eternal shame I didn’t own up to the puncture but just put it in the boot without even pumping it up and left it.  I have always felt guilty about that!

Car Hire Gran Canaria 1986

Top Ten Tips for Iceland

Iceland Cover

I have been posting here since 2009 and for the first time in six years I have had a request.  My blogging friend Sue from Travel Tales of Life has asked me to put together of top ten things to do in Iceland and I am therefore delighted to offer these suggestions.

Reykjavik

This may seem rather too obvious to mention but I do so because some friends of mine recently visited Iceland and stayed in Kevlavik.  The man at the hotel gave then some useful travel tips but bizarrely suggested that it wasn’t really worth going to Reykjavik because it is just a city.  Now, I would guess that unless all you want to see are whales and puffins then a visit to the capital of the country is on everyone’s itinerary.  If you ever stay in that particular hotel then I urge you to ignore the ‘don’t bother with Reykjavik’ advice!

So, some top things to do in Reykjavik:

Discover the Vikings

Lief Ericson Statue Reykjavik Iceland

On the seafront along a granite boulder promenade you will find the Sólfar Suncraft, which is a stainless steel 1986 sculpture of a Viking long boat that occupies an impressive spot overlooking the bay and Mount Esja on the other side.

Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the story goes that the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the comforting plumes of hot steam that were escaping from the nearby hot springs.

Climb the Cathedral Tower

Hallgrímskirkja, Reyjkavik Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja is the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.  The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off.

The main purpose for visiting the cathedral is to take the lift to the observation tower at the top of the seventy-three metre tall tower.  It cost 700 krona (about £3) and it was worth every one because from the top there are glorious uninterrupted views in all directions, to the sea in the west, the glaciers in the north, the islands in the south and the ragged coastline to the east.

The Penis Museum

Icelandic Penis Museum Reykjavik

I am confident to declare the Penis Museum the oddest in the World, even more bizarre (although I haven’t been there) than the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in the USA, the Dog Collar Museum in the UK or the Toilet Museum in New Delhi, India.  If anyone has any alternative suggestions by-the-way then I am happy to consider them for inclusion in this list!

“…collecting penises is like collecting anything. You can never stop, you can never catch up, you can always get a new one, a better one a bigger size or better shape…”  Museum owner, Sigurður Hjartarson

Beyond Reykjavik…

Search for the Hidden People

Little People Elves Iceland

The hidden people are called Huldufólk and are special here and it is said often appear in the dreams of Icelanders. What makes seeing them difficult is that they are invisible and Icelanders prefer big people to be careful in case you accidentally step on one and they even frown upon the throwing of stones in case you inadvertently hit one of these small invisible people.

These are said to be thousands of elves who make their homes in Iceland’s wilderness and coexist alongside the Icelandic people  and in a survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 it found that sixty-two percent of the respondents thought it was at least possible that they exist and if you only need one reason to visit Iceland then that must surely be it!

See the Northern Lights

Northern Lights Iceland

Unfortunately the sighting of this natural phenomena cannot be guaranteed, it is not like the Blackpool Illuminations, they can’t just be turned on and off for the benefit of tourists, no one is assured to see them (unless you happen to be Joanna Lumley making a television programme that is) and many people leave disappointed.

“Always travel in hope, rather than expectation, of seeing the Northern Lights. For the best chances of seeing the lights, head north – but not too far. ”     Alistair McLean, Founder of  The Aurora Zone.

Gulfoss Falls

Gullfoss Falls Iceland

“No waterfall in Europe can match Gullfoss.  In wildness and fury it outdoes the Niagra Falls in the United States”                                                                                      From the Travel Diary of two Danes in the retinue of Frederick VII of Denmark (1907).

The falls are where the wide Hvítá river, swollen with melt waters from the nearby glacier rush southward and about a kilometre above the falls turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three step staircase before abruptly plunging in two stages into a crevice thirty-two metres deep with a thunderous roar and unstoppable force.

The river is wild and untamed dashing madly over rocks and advancing like a cavalry charge racing to the precipice and the final crevice which is about twenty metres wide, and is at right angles to the flow of the river which results in a dramatic water plunge and an atmosphere full of hanging mist which leaves no one in any doubt about the wonderful power of nature.

Visit the Geysers at Geysir

Stockur Geysir Iceland Geysir Golden Circle

The original great Geyser erupts only infrequently now so you could be a long time hanging around waiting for a show.  Apparently people used to encourage it to blow by pouring soap powder into the borehole as this was a generally reliable way of encouraging it to perform but eventually this stopped working because the residue of the soap clogged up the underground vents and geologists now believe that it requires a dramatic event such as an earthquake to set it off again.

Luckily the nearby geyser Strokkur erupts much more regularly every five minutes or so to heights of up to twenty metres (that’s the equivalent of about five London double decker buses).  Crowds of people gather expectantly around the glassy pool waiting for the translucent blue water bubble to foam and then dramatically break through the surface forcing many gallons of boiling water and hissing steam into the air. 

Þingvellir National Park

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

This is the site of the historic Icelandic National Assembly.  This was called the Althing and was an open-air assembly that represented the whole of Iceland that was established in the year 930 and continued to meet for eight hundred and fifty years or so after that.

This history and the powerful natural setting of the assembly grounds has given the site iconic status as a national shrine and on 17th June 1944 thousands of Icelanders flocked to this place for the historic foundation of the modern independent republic of Iceland. 

This is also a place where the land is literally tearing itself apart in a sort of messy divorce settlement as the tectonic plates of Europe and America meet and are in continual conflict with each other as they are drifting slowly apart at a rate of 3mm per year, which may not sound a lot but in geological terms is almost as fast as Usain Bolt!

Finally – Take a Swim in the Blue Lagoon

Iceland Keflavik The Blue Lagoon

This place is horribly commercialised and wickedly expensive but having travelled all this way it is stubbornly on most people’s ‘to do’ list.

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The steamy waters are part of a landscape constructed by lava formation with warm waters that are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and are used as a skin exfoliant. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages a very comfortable 40° centigrade all year round.

If anyone is put off by the absurd €40  basic admission price (a premium spa and treatments package costs a wallet busting  €430) there are a number of alternative geothermal heated pools in Reykjavik without the marketing hype for only a fraction of the price (but also without the location).

So, that is my top ten Iceland suggestions.  There are other things to do of course like whale watching, pony trekking, hiking and land rover safaris to the glaciers but I haven’t done any of those. Yet!

Sue also suggested a list of things not to do in Iceland and I can only think of one – Don’t get too close to an active volcano especially if you haven’t taken out the additional volcano damage insurance on the hire car!

Iceland Volcano

Iceland, Car Hire and Volcano Damage

Iceland Volcano

As a sort of postscript to my previous post I started to think about other dangerous volcano areas that I have visited and where it may not be a good idea to take a hire car if there is a genuine threat of paint stripping damage.

Firstly Mount Vesuvius near Naples in Italy:

Vesuvius the crater

Mind you, you would probably consider yourself spectacularly unlucky if the thing went off while you were on a tourist visit to the top of the crater.  But then don’t forget that it is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years and that was in 1944 when it destroyed a handful of communities and an entire United States bomber squadron, which makes you wonder why they didn’t just take off and go somewhere else!

Second, Timanfaya or Fire Mountain on the Spanish Island of Lanzarote:

Parque Nacional de Timanfaya Lanzarote

When I visited this volcanic site we arrived at the visitor’s car park and that was as far as you could drive into the park and there I tagged on to some coach party trips and watched several demonstrations by a sun gnarled old man with a face of weathered leather and  hands with knotted knuckles of ‘how hot‘ the area is because temperatures just a few metres below the surface here reach between 400°C and 600°C!   First of all he threw dry brush into a harmless looking hole in the ground and it immediately caught fire, while water poured into a bore hole erupted seconds later in the form of steam – like a mini-geyser and he finished this off by demonstrating a natural gas vent that doubled as a BBQ!

Also in the Spanish Canary Islands on nearby Tenerife there is the still active volcano Mount Teide  which I visited in 1989:

Mount Teide Tenerife

The summit of Mount Teide at just over three thousand, seven hundred metres is the highest point in Spain and the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic.  At 7,500 m from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world and its altitude makes Tenerife the tenth highest island in the world (although to be fair this is another of those biggest, largest, highest statistics to be wary of). It remains active: its most recent eruption occurred in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent on the north-western Santiago rift. The United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Teide what they call a Decade Volcano because of its history of destructive eruptions and its proximity to several large towns.

Finally and probably the most dangerous of all, Yellowstone National Park in the USA:

Yellowstone is a super volcano called a caldera (which is Latin for cauldron) that are so explosive that they just burst open and blow everything away in one almighty blast of truly biblical proportions.  And this event would be so huge that it is the reason why previous eruptions have not left behind a classic volcanic mountain, like say Vesuvius or Mount Etna.

The Yellowstone caldera measures nine thousand square kilometers and the crater is almost sixty-five kilometers across, so as you can probably imagine that would have been one almighty explosion!  Luckily these super volcanoes don’t go off very often, the last time was six hundred and thirty thousand years ago, but if it did explode you would definitely want to stand well back because one thing to be sure is that nothing for thousands of miles around would survive and the paint stripping insurance for the hire car would be completely irrelevant and a total waste of money.