4WD or 2WD? What to rent on the Big Island

Jeep Mustang Hawaii

Not sure what car to rent on the Big Island? Confused over whether to rent a Jeep or a convertible? We take a look at the options and tell you what you need to know.

Big Island rentals

Kona airport Hawaii rental car
Photo credit: Kona Airport

Renting a car while staying on the Big Island of Hawaii is essential in order to take advantage of everything the island has to offer. While it is possible to do without a car if you intend to stay at a resort for the entirety of your vacation, we thoroughly recommend hiring a car to make the most of your Big Island experience.

All of the national car rental companies operate out of Kona and Hilo international airports. There are also some rental car locations in Kailua-Kona as well as at the resorts north of Kona in Waikoloa.

4WD or 2WD?

Photo credit: rentaljeeps.com

Trying to decide between a 4WD or a 2WD rental vehicle depends on what you might do on the island and whether you want to feel the wind in your hair!

White mustang



  • Easy access to everywhere on the island including Green Sand Beach and Waipio Valley – where 4WDs are mandatory (for Mauna Kea – see details in the next section).
  • Fun to drive


  • More expensive
  • Functional, but the tradeoff is often less comfort



  • Larger range of cars to choose from – and more fun if you choose a convertible!
  • Cheaper


  • You won’t be able to go everywhere the 4WD can
  • With the top down on your convertible take care in the sun and also watch out for rain showers – they can appear and disappear on the island quickly.

Getting up Mauna Kea

Harpers rental cars
Photo credit: Harpers Car Rentals

Access to the summit is currently closed due to protest action – for more detail on what’s going on check out our blog post https://horizonguesthouse.com/2019/11/13/whats-going-on-with-mauna-kea/

The bad news is that even when access is restored you will need a 4WD to reach the summit and most car rental agencies will not allow you take a car any farther than the visitor center. Your options are to either join a tour to experience the summit, or to rent a 4WD from Harpers Car Rentals – the only car rental agency that allows its 4WD rentals to traverse the Saddle Road to the summit.

Chevy Suburban
Chevy Suburban

Do I need to book early?

It can pay to book early during peak holiday season (between Christmas and New Year) and also during events that draw a lot of visitors to the island, in particular the Merrie Monarch festival (a famous hula competition) in mid-April and the Ironman Triathlon (October 10, 2020). Don’t be caught out – make sure you book early if you’re on the island during these periods.

To make a reservation at Horizon Guest House click the Book Now button below.

Author: Angus Meek