Question - 4Wheeling with a Rental Car

The following question was submitted to us via email:

Hi, I’m planning to rent a Jeep on my vacation to the Big Island and was wondering why most rental companies do not allow travel on Saddle Road (off-roading)?
Also, have you heard any stories of the consequences if the rental companies find out if you have taken their vehicle “off-road”?
And how do they check?
Thank you, Bobby



The reason rental car companies forbid you (contractually) from driving on the Saddle Road is due to that road’s very poor state and poor overall driving conditions.  The Saddle Road is minimally maintained, has large deep potholes throughout, is winding with many undulations and blind turns, and is often plagued by fog or other low visibility.

There are plenty of other places to go 4-Wheeling on the Big Island that are much safer (especially in a jeep) such as down to the Waipio Valley, road to the Green Sand Beach, Kona Coast State Park, and up to the summit of Mauna Kea volcano.

The main factor with the rental car restriction is the issue of liability on roads that they consider “dangerous”.  Also, most of these remote areas do not have easy access by crash/rescue vehicles and/or tow trucks - so if you get stuck or wreck, you are on your own!  That said, you can still take your jeep off-the-beaten-track.  No one is out to spy on you and report your rental vehicle’s presence at any of these locations - however, if you return your vehicle and the undercarriage is damaged or the car is covered in red sand and mud - there is obvious reason to suspect you went off-roading.  We just recently took our 4×4 rental down into the Waipio and to Green Sand Beach - we simply rinsed it off, cleaned it up (inside and out) and of course made sure we didn’t damage it on the trails.  Voila!  It looked good as new when we returned it.

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  1. Merideth says:

    Also, another reason is that the state also wants you to take with main roads and stop in at the stores and spend your tourist money. And for those people who take the lovely drive/short cut through saddle road they know you aren’t spenders. Also My husband and I do not reccommend you renting a 4×4 jeep (newer ones 4 door). They are gutless piece of junk, not comfortable for island drive. I have a F150 so I know w 4×4. Taking roof off was convienient and that was it. We camped around the whole island.

  2. Kelbel says:

    Please keep in mind regarding Saddle Road, you may have noticed since earlier 2010 that the roads across Saddle have all undergone major reconstruction. They are not jagged, and are nicely flat and resurfaced. Speeds however are still monitored by Highway Patrol, drive accordingly. A Summit Mauna Kea adventure can still be had by driving to the base and getting a tow in 4W with a tour co.

    • Letsgo-Hawaii says:

      Thanks for the feedback - it has been years since I drove on the Saddle Road and back then, it was quite rough and potentially dangerous. Good to know they have repaved it.

  3. Bert says:

    For all rent a jeep co,
    You must not have been down Waipio Valley, Saddle Road is a much better raod to drive than Waipio .
    The farmers have a hard time just to cope with normal traffic. Now you allow these Jeep to go down the valley? Most of the renters don’t know what there are getting into.
    Waipio is the most damgerous place for a tourist to drive. It,s about a mile down with places that only one vehicle can past. Over have of the tourist don’t read the warning signs, which cause the hard working farmers to change there way of hauling there Taro up the Valley.
    Tha most important thing is the disrespect they have for the valley. There are many sacred grounds and for those that don’t know this are You to blame. Educate them before you rent that all mighty dollar !

    • letsgo-hawaii says:

      I agree, if you do venture into the Waipio Valley, please be respectful of the farmers, the Hawaiian Homeland sacred areas, and overall try to be unobtrusive and leave no trace.

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