Hawaii car hire

Is it easy to drive in Hawaii? Yes!

We like independent travel and taking the time to explore the places we visit, so outside of major cities we tend to hire a rental car. On a trip to Hawaii in 2018 we visited the islands of Kauai, Maui, the Big Island and Oahu. Apart from exploring in and around Honolulu, a rental car is by far the best way to get around these beautiful islands. Here are a few tips and a heads up on the insurance, which can be expensive if you don’t have existing cover.

Getting to know the Hawaii road rules

As part of our holiday planning, we make an effort to get up to speed on the local road rules and road signs. It takes a lot of stress out of that first drive.
In Hawaii for example, unless a sign says otherwise, you can turn right on a red light provided you come to a complete stop and yield (give way) to other traffic. At some four-way intersections everyone has a stop sign. In this situation, the first to arrive at the intersection has right of way, but if you’re not sure who arrived first, then give way to cars on your right. There are more rules for these intersections of course.
Hawaii also posts minimum speeds on its highways, so you might pass a sign saying speed limit 50 (miles per hour) then almost immediately an identical looking sign with the number 35. This can be confusing if you simply focus on the numbers and miss that the second sign said minimum speed.
To find out more, visit driving-tests.org to download a free copy of the Hawaii Drivers Manual.

Test driving your first route

Before leaving home, we also like to ‘drive’ key parts of our first route on Google Maps street view. It gives you a practice run and lets you identify landmarks before crucial turns, so it all seems more familiar. You also get to see the various road signs and lane markings along the way to make sure you know what they mean.
Leaving the rental car area at Maui airport
Image: Google Maps

Driving like a local

We found the vast majority of Hawaiian drivers to be refreshingly patient and courteous. They don’t tail gate, only use the horn in a true emergency, and show a great deal of care for cyclists and pedestrians. So remember to allow plenty of time for your journeys, relax, concentrate and go with the flow.

Rental car insurance in Hawaii

Although hiring a rental car in Hawaii is reasonably affordable, the insurance is expensive, especially if your existing insurance doesn’t cover rental cars. Depending on your travel budget it could put you off hiring altogether, so read on.
It is illegal to drive without insurance in Hawaii. If you haven’t already chosen your insurance when booking the car, you’ll typically be offered three options when you pick it up:
  • Full cover if the vehicle is stolen or damaged (loss damage waiver)
  • Option 1 plus additional cover for roadside assistance and for your liability if you hit a pedestrian or damage someone’s property while driving (supplemental liability protection)
  • Option 2 plus injury cover for you and your passengers (personal accident insurance) and for theft of your belongings from the car (personal effects insurance)
Prices depend on the vehicle you’re hiring and how long for etc. As a rough guide, in August/September 2018 and hiring a mid-size car for a week or more at a time, the first option was around US$40 a day, the second option was around US$55 a day and the third was roughly US$70 a day.
Before you leave home it pays to check what your existing insurance and travel insurance does and doesn’t cover. Our New Zealand car insurance did not cover rental cars and our travel insurance specifically excluded damage and third party injury cover when driving a rental car. So we chose the middle option each time, which brought our rental car, insurance, taxes and surcharges total to around US$100 a day.

Refuelling options

The car should have a full tank when you pick it up, but remember to check. On one occasion ours was less than half full. We were well on our way before we noticed, so we had to get off the highway, reset Google Maps and double back. They were very apologetic and filled it straight away.
When you pick the car up they’ll offer three options for refuelling on return:
  • You return it with a full tank
  • You pre-pay for a full tank at a slightly discounted price, with no credit for any fuel in the tank when you return
  • The rental car company refills it at an above market price per gallon
Option one or two are usually the best. The choice just comes down to convenience and whether you think you’ll use close to a full tank.