There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click on any of these links, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you (which I really appreciate, thank you!) The full disclosure policy can be found here.
Do you need a rental car in Hawaii?
So you’re planning a Hawaii vacation, yay! One of the questions that I’m asked the most is “do you need a rental car in Hawaii?” The answer is YES. Let’s talk about why.
**2021 update: there has been a shortage of rental cars in Hawaii. I recommend booking ASAP to ensure that you have a car for your Hawaii vacation.
If you’re looking for the best way to rent a car in Hawaii, I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You’ll find the best deals on any of the Hawaiian Islands.
Are you looking for Hawaii travel tips, or planning your first trip to the islands? You’re in the right place! You can start by checking out which Hawaiian island to visit or 10 things to know before going to Hawaii.
So, WHY do you need a rental car in Hawaii? First, let’s start by saying that “do you need a rental car in Hawaii?” is a really broad question.
It will depend on which island you’re visiting and the type of vacation that you want.
Rental cars in Hawaii
There are four main islands in Hawaii: Oahu, Maui, Hawaii (the Big Island), and Kauai. Each island is very different, and how much you need a rental car will vary based on where you’re staying.
I will say that Hawaii isn’t the kind of place to stay at a resort and never leave. If that’s the kind of vacation you want, try Mexico instead, it’s much cheaper!
There’s too much to experience in Hawaii to stay at a resort. Of course, staying at a beautiful resort is fun and relaxing, just make sure to get out a bit too. If you’re trying to figure out where to stay in Hawaii, check out my “best resorts” posts:
- The 7 Best Luxury Resorts on Oahu
- The 7 best resorts on Kauai
- Best honeymoon resorts in Hawaii
- 10 best Maui resorts
- 7 Best Big Island resorts
Hawaii rental car tips
There are only so many rental cars in Hawaii, and you’ll want to reserve yours as soon as possible. Unlike many areas, rental cars in Hawaii rarely go down in price as you get closer to your travel dates.
That is because rental cars often sell out. Book as soon as possible to avoid being stuck with more car than you need (and a bigger bill.) If you haven’t rented a car yet, check prices on Expedia or Hertz.
You will often get a different vehicle than what you rent in Hawaii. We’ve been upgraded to a larger car than what we reserved several times.
Gas is pricey in Hawaii, so I recommend going with the smallest car that you need. We were once offered a van in Kona, and we declined until they “found” a car.
It can be fun to upgrade to a Jeep or convertible (keep reading for my tips on when to get a Jeep.) I recommend reserving a Jeep immediately rather than hoping for a cheaper upgrade at the counter. You’re taking a gamble that the upgrade you want will be available.
Now, let’s talk about the different islands and whether you’ll need a rental car on Oahu, Maui, The Big Island, or Kauai.
Do you need a rental car in Oahu?
You might have heard some people say no, you don’t need a rental car in Oahu. I disagree. Yes, it may be an extra expense to park your rental car, especially if you’re staying in the Waikiki area. However, there is so much more to Oahu than Waikiki/Honolulu.
Oahu does have an excellent bus system, especially in the Honolulu area. So, do you need a rental car in Oahu? If there is one island where you don’t need a rental car, it’s Oahu. However, I’d recommend getting one if you don’t want to rely on public transportation.
There is one exception. If you are flying into Honolulu (many people do as flights are often cheaper) and spending a day or two, you might not need a rental car.
If you plan to stay only 1-2 nights in Honolulu/Waikiki and hang out at Waikiki Beach, visit Pearl Harbor, or stay in that general vicinity, you can skip the rental car. Here are 10 things to do in Waikiki.
You might also want to check out the 10 best things to do on Oahu.
Do you need a rental car in Maui?
You probably guessed what I am going to say; you need a rental car in Maui. On Maui, any rental car will do. Feel free to upgrade for fun, but you don’t need a Jeep on Maui.
We have done the road to Hana (as well as the backroad from Hana) in a small car with no problems at all. It can be a bit of a scary drive, but I’d honestly prefer to be in the smallest car possible in case you meet other cars along the road.
If you’re interested in driving up Haleakala, you will most likely be able to do that in a car. Unless you have no experience driving in the hills/mountains, you should be just fine.
If you’d be more comfortable taking a tour, that is an option. I would consider it a moderate drive, not too difficult. If you can drive the Road to Hana, you can drive up Haleakala. 🙂
Want to know my Maui recommendations? Check out 7 things to do in Maui or 50 things to do in Maui.
Do you need a rental car on the Big Island?
The Big Island is, well, big. You can fit all of the other islands on the Big Island, twice! You’ll need a rental car to see all the sights.
I do recommend renting a Jeep on the Big Island over all of the other islands. There are beautiful places that you’ll want to see (Mauna Kea, Waipio Valley) and some of them are inaccessible by car.
Check out my list of the 7 best things to do on the Big Island. You’ll see that they are pretty spread out over the island, you’ll need a car.
Do you need a rental car in Kauai?
Although some of the most beautiful spots in Kauai are inaccessible, even by car, you will need a rental car on Kauai. Kauai is another place where I’d recommend upgrading to the 4-wheel drive if you’d like to have more access to certain areas. Some roads can be hard to access by car, especially if there has been a lot of rain.
There will be rain. Did you know that the rainiest spot in the world is on Kauai? Mt. Waialeale averages more than 373 inches of rainfall each year.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that all of Kauai is continually raining. Much of the island remains dry and sunny, especially in the summer. If you want to learn more about the weather in Kauai, check out my post about the worst time to visit Hawaii.
I wouldn’t skip the rental car in Kauai; you’re going to want to explore the beautiful Garden Isle as much as possible. Check out my top 10 things to do in Kauai for what to do while you’re there.
Do you need a rental car in Hawaii?
You’ve probably gathered that I generally recommend renting a car in Hawaii no matter which island you’re visiting.
For multi-island vacations, it may be okay to skip the rental car in Oahu. Especially if you’re only staying for a couple of days. If that’s part of your itinerary, you may also want to check out the best airline for interisland flights.
If you’re looking to save money, I recommend looking to save money elsewhere and spending the money to rent a car.
Let’s plan your Hawaii vacation
Although I am a Hawaii Travel Agent, I am only taking on a few clients for 2021. You can contact me if you’d like more information. I would recommend starting with my Hawaii travel guide if you plan to DIY your vacation!
The best way to get Hawaii travel tips and the most current travel information is to sign up for my email list. I send out one weekly email with the latest news, travel deals, and more. Sign up below.
Pin it for later:
We are taking a cruise that will visit 5 islands. Will it be a logistical nightmare to rent a car from the cruise ports? We are traveling in early April. Thanks!
Hey Cathy! I just booked a client on a Hawaii island cruise. Are you going with Norwegian Cruise Lines? I believe they only do 4 islands so you may be with another cruise line.
The rental cars will be at the airports, but most of them run shuttles to the cruise ports. I would call the cruise line and ask for assistance or call the rental car company directly! I would honestly recommend getting the car so that you can do some exploring, especially if none of the excursions are exactly what you want.
For anyone reading this later, this is a great reason to work with a travel agent! This is the kind of thing that a travel agent can easily handle so that you don’t have to deal with the hassle!