Q We plan to travel in Ireland with another couple in September. Any recommendations for a car rental company? Type of car? Any restrictions for age of driver? Minnesota license valid to drive in Ireland? Suggestions for insurance coverage for rental car? I heard a certain credit card is needed. Please help.
A Let’s dispense with the easy stuff first. A Minnesota driver’s license is all you need to legally get behind the wheel in the Republic of Ireland, provided you’re at least 23 years old and have had your license for more than two years. Until recently, no one over 75 could rent a car on the Emerald Isle, but an elderly gent contested that law in court and won. (Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, so different rules apply.)
According to Ruth Moran of Tourism Ireland, Hertz, Avis and other U.S. car rental companies operate in Ireland along with a host of reputable Irish companies, such as Dooley Car Rentals. A list of companies approved by the Car Rental Council of Ireland and their contact information is at the official website of Tourism Ireland. There are a few things to consider when deciding on a type of car. Those with manual transmissions will likely cost less; it’s Europe, after all, where stick shifts reign, according to Brennan Breene of the tour operator visitireland.com. Get an automatic anyway, suggests Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune senior books editor and author of several Ireland stories for these pages. You’ll be driving on the other side of the road, and that may be challenge enough. Plus, “you have to deal with the gear shift on the left instead of the right,” she says.
Keep in mind that country and village roads are narrow, says Breene. “If you were to rent a typical American full-size car, you would be miserable driving in Ireland, navigating the narrow streets,” he said. Plus, the price of fuel is significantly higher there.
As for insurance, check with your existing credit card company to see if they offer coverage in Ireland, and ask what any deductible might be. Visa, Mastercard and American Express generally offer coverage, but exact conditions depend upon the issuing bank. Breene warned, however, that some rental car companies in Ireland do not accept credit card coverage, in which case you would need to purchase the coverage they offer. Moran was unaware of any such cases. Be on the safe side and check the policy of your rental car company.
One last bit of advice from Hertzel, our resident Ireland expert: Avoid driving in cities since it’s very busy and confusing and roundabouts are plentiful and nerve-wracking. Outside of towns, be prepared to share the narrow, winding roads with bicylists, tour buses and fast-driving natives. Also, drinking-and-driving laws are very strict. “All that said, I have driven through Ireland at least five times and never had an accident, never ran anyone off the road, never got a ticket. It’s a beautiful way to see the countryside.”