The absolute best way to get around Hawaii and see whichever island you are staying on is by hiring your own car. Driving in Hawaii is really easy as the roads tend to have an Island vibe about them, and no one is rushing anywhere. One option for a rental car is a Jeep Wrangler. These are really popular and you will see many happy and smiley tourists loving their top-down vacations in paradise.
However, Jeep Wrangler Rentals are pretty expensive and there are some serious downsides to renting a Jeep in Hawaii. So we take a deep look at the real pros and cons of renting your very own Jeep Wrangler. We had a Jeep on our recent tour to Oahu but the same issues face Tourists on all of Hawaii’s Islands. Is a Jeep Rental a good idea? Our 7 days with the jeep gave us a really good understanding of what a Jeep is like to live with so can really help you understand if renting a Jeep is right for you.
Our Experience renting a Jeep on Oahu
On our recent trip to Oahu (which you can read about here), we rented a jeep Wrangler for the first time. We have wanted to try out a Jeep in Hawaii for years, but just never quite got around to it. Opting instead to use the extra money on other things. We often see people cruising with the top down and feel quite jealous in our mid-size/compact cars.
But on this trip, off the back of the Pandemic, things were very different. The Rental Car market had gone to hell. Normal rules and pricing had just gone out the window. Rental companies had liquidated fleets to stay solvent and there was a real scarcity of cars. Prices were through the roof. For our 7 days in Oahu, we were being quite upwards of $500 for a basic compact car!
For around the same price Jeeps were coming up on the search platforms. This is pretty similar to the prices we would have paid previously and was due to the Rental Company’s not liquidating their Jeep stock as they would be harder to replace. So instead of paying way over the odds for a basic compact, we went for the Jeep so at least we would have something memorable for the money!
Unfortunately, this trick seems to have dried up as prices have stabilized, albeit at extremely high prices. But you still may be considering renting a Jeep as the idea of cruising along the coast is really appealing and we admit it was a real highlight of our trip.
Where to rent a Jeep?
We rented our Jeep from Budget Rental Cars at Honolulu Airport. The total cost was $564.00, and this included insurance which was a great deal as we are from the UK and insurance can be an issue with US Car rentals. Pick-up was a doddle, we jumped on the Shuttle Bus to the Car Rental Location and headed upstairs t the desk. There were zero queues which reflects both the time we arrived (6 am) and the fact the Islands were not really back to full speed yet. Check-in was super simple and in less than 15mins we were at the jeep loading up the luggage.
We chose Budget mainly because of the price. We have our favorite Rental Providers but TBH, we still mainly make the judgment on price. Why pay more for the same thing right? In Hawaii, our preferred place to compare prices is Hawaii Discount Car Rental. We have used these for Decades now and always get a great price, better than most mainstream aggregates, and they offer free cancellation so you can secure a price then just re-book should the prices drop!
Check them out here they offer rentals on all islands and you can easily find the best price on a Jeep Rental here, or another car if you decide against a Jeep.
We then headed out to explore the Islands. We clocked up 350ish miles over the 7 days as we explored the whole island with 3 nights on the North Shore and 3 Nights in Oahu. The Jeep really provided a fun and laid-back beach vibe to our trip and on the whole, there were NO serious issues with the rental. It was all top-down stereo-up fun, however, all is not rosy in the Jepp Wrangler rental world. We had no serious issues but there are parts of living with a Wrangler that are challenging…
The Negatives – What we disliked about renting a Jeep
There are some real drawbacks to living with a Jeep. The Positives help offset some of these but on the whole, the drawbacks are pretty significant.
These are not fun cars to drive. They may look it, but there are not. They are slow to get going, slow to slow down, heavy and handle like they are about to fall over. The large tires and soft suspension give a ride that is both wallowy and crashy at the same time. There is zero road feel until you hit a small pebble, and then you need a dentist. It is not a fun drive.
They are also BIG…Like hardly fit in a lane big. On Oahu’s freeways they took up the entire label so any slight wandering had you over the white line. Out on the normal roads and you were taking up a lot of room again giving little leeway when a car is coming the opposite way. The way the tires stick out also makes judging this difficult, by the end of our trip we had it down pretty well, but it’s something you have to get used to.
On narrow lanes, they are basically too big and you will find yourself stopping lots to give way! Overall there is little about the driving experience to recommend one. These are not a driver’s car, everything that makes them good off-road makes them bad on one…speaking of which…
We didn’t do any. Despite hiring an offroad 4×4 you are really not allowed to do any Off-Roading. Any real off-roading is against the terms and conditions and you will not be insured. There are a few roads where maybe a 4×4 is a minor advantage, especially in poor weather but not really any we can specifically think of.
On Maui, the back Road From Hana and the Kehekili past Kahakuloa are still forbidden. Essentially the one main purpose of the Jeep is something you will not use when on vacation in Hawaii.
Oh Boy, do they drink! We actually didn’t record the fuel consumption as it was too severe and focussing on that would spoil the trip! We did a full lap of the Island along with several out-and-back trips, probably clocking up 350ish miles and we needed to fill up twice. Fuel is always more expensive in Hawaii, but with current Fuel prices, the gas mileage really hurt! We were just lucky we were not clocking up the miles!
Rain and Weather
We were really lucky when we rented our jeep, the sun shone most of the time and the worst weather situation we faced was a little cloud…Until the last day. After enjoying a morning on a catamaran Cruise we headed off to Pearl Harbor, as we left the dock, it was 90°F and glorious sunshine, we were actually concerned about sunburn, then along the H-1, with the top down, all hell broke loose!
A small shower burst had spilled out of the mountains and drenched us and the car. We were on the freeway so nowhere to stop. And besides the top is so awkward we would have been drenched regardless. It’s Hawaii and was sunny 5 mins later and we could just laugh it off, but it’s a real consideration!
They are not Convertibles where the hood comes up at the touch of a button. If it rains and you have the top down, you are getting wet!
This is the big one for us. We never felt safe at all. There is absolutely no protection from thieves in any way. While this may be a good thing as at least they won’t smash the window. If you leave anything in the car do not expect it to be there when you return.
We actually had no problems at all, but this was mainly from refusing to leave the car when we had stuff with us. If we had to leave the car, everything came with us. This was most challenging when we were changing hotels, or when we first arrived. For these periods we had everything. Several thousand pounds of cameras and laptops, all our luggage, passports, cards money. It meant we just couldn’t leave the car anywhere, not without the potential for a serious loss!
This is quite restrictive. It’s never a good idea to leave things in the car if you value them, but often leaving things out of sight is ok for a short while. But with nothing but a piece of plastic protecting your stuff, it is madness to leave any valuables at all in the jeep.
These are BIG cars, but they make terrible use of the space. The actual cabin space is pretty small there is minimal space on the back seats and the boot is tiny, if you have the top up, if not there is no boot!
We could get one large case in the boot, along with a carry-on bag, and the second case needed to go on the back seat! We could have folded the seats down, but not if you had more passengers. For a family of four, this would be impossible! We got by mainly as we would never leave the car with stuff in it, and there were just the two of us. But for such a big car they are so impractical.
Interior and feel
Overall the cars feel so …agricultural. There is nothing fancy about them at all. They rumble along with their plastic interior and basic equipment and just feel old and utilitarian. After a week in one, we got back to L.A. and rented a Hyundai Elantra and felt like we had been given a spaceship! With the current level of sophistication of even cheap basic cars nowadays, these feel like driving a tractor!
Most hire companies offer some pretty worn examples as well and the cheaper outfits offer REALLY old cars. So expect high milage and worn interiors. We had no Tool kit for changing a tire and the whole boot was rusty from exposure to the seawater.
The Top Itself!
Finally, there is the Top itself. It is incredibly difficult to put down and takes up the whole boot. And that is a doddle compared t putting it back up. We have to say we never really worked it out. We could just about get it up, but it definitely wasn’t right. We don’t know if we just had a dud or we were just dumb, but it just did not go up and down in any sort of logical manner.
It was basically a nightmare and the weather had been more changeable, which it can be in Hawaii, we would have been soaked on multiple occasions.
The Positives – What we loved about Renting a Jeep
We didn’t realize how bad this sounds until we wrote it down. We think maybe by this point you have written the idea off, but we would not be too hasty, as overall we loved the old girl. Practically speaking they are a nightmare and should be avoided at all costs, but who goes on Vacation and worries about practicalities? We could not possibly recommend buying one, but can you live with the issues for a week or so?
With the top down, The Hawaiian Sun on your face, and the Sea Breeze in your hair nothing feels better. Sunglasses on, Summer playlist on the radio, and cruising along a coastal highway. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
The ride height of the car means you get a fantastic view of the surroundings. The added height really gets you up and above the hedges and walls so you can see out over the stunning Hawaiian landscapes.
As we said above, there is basically NO security from having a Jeep, and while 90% of the time that’s a disadvantage, there are some upsides. The security of the soft tops is so poor, that you know 100% not to leave anything in the Jeep. In doing so, you at least kind of know the car will be as you expect when you return. We hear SO many stories of breaking and smashed windows in rental cars and while these are often covered by insurance it’s always a huge pain in the rear.
With a Jeep, any would-be thief could just unzip the top and reach right in. As you have left nothing, this doesn’t matter and you will probably never know. Much better than getting back and finding the boot jimmied open and the side window smashed, all for a handful of change!
This is a stretch, we know, but silver linings and all!
Really the advantages are all about the Feels. There was not a single point where we thought, oh god good job we had a Jeep in that Situation! But for the majority of the trip, we were just glad we did as it felt so right. Cruising along the coast with the top-down really matched the beach vibe of Hawaii SO well and pulling into a beach parking lot in the jeep makes you feel that everyone is looking at you…they are probably thinking “idiots” but you know haters gonna hate!
We think the biggest thing is it’s just memorable. So many of the quirks make the Jeeps endearing. In 2018 we ended up with a Jeep Compass, an SUV and that was just a bad car. It had a lot of the issues of a Wrangler, but none of the personality. After a while, with the Jeep Wranglers, they just grow on you. You learn to love the quirks and by the time you hand the keys back you miss them.
This just adds memories to the experience and that is what travel is all about. We often have a hard time remembering what rental car we had on what trip as so many modern cars are just White-goods now. Functional but instantly forgettable.
Renting a Jeep is anything but forgettable and if you can live with the foibles they are a real hoot!
So Is Renting a Jeep Wrangler a good idea?
For our trip it was absolutely, we were there at a strange time and the same price would have got us a tiny Economy box that would have provided no joy at all. So apart from the added fuel we pretty much got a bargain, but we still had a hard time living with the Jeep.
The lack of handling and road feel is pretty unimportant as the option of a regular Compact, is equally unexciting, the fuel is just something you accept, the older clunkier features take in a personality, and getting drenched is just something you have to accept, and laugh off if you do get caught out! These negatives sound worse than they are.
The only two BIG issues really are the limited space and the security. If you can cope with never having to leave anything in the car and there is enough space for your party AND their luggage then renting a jeep is really good fun.
If you think you might need one, forget it…tbh with the road tires fitted they are scarcely more capable than a basic FWD vehicle, it is far more about being seen and having a fun memorable trip.
This is kind of the point, if you are not sure about a Jeep, maybe that money would be better spent elsewhere, but if you have your heart set on a jeep and are looking to be talked out of it, we would say go for it. You only live once.
Just make sure you can live with the practicalities.
However it’s worth saying, on our next trip we have gone back to a standard car, but Jeep Rentals for our dates are nearly twice the price of a standard car!
Have Your Say
Have you ever hired a Jeep in Hawaii? how did you find your experience? Did you have any issues we didn’t mention? Maybe you found a use that only a jeep could solve? Or maybe you hated it and regretted the experience completely. Whatever your views just fire away in the comments and if you have any pressing Jeep-related questions just fire away!