How to Choose The Best Car to Rent in Maui

by | Jan 16, 2020 | Get Started, Maui, Planning

It is your first time to Maui and you want your trip to be fun and safe, with the right rental car. The Valley Isle is a large place and you have a full itinerary. Getting a rental car is a wise decision. But what is the best car to rent in Maui?

The best kind of car to rent in Maui is one you are comfortable driving. Maui roads are wide, modern, and well maintained. Any rental car type is sufficient for Maui roads. A Jeep Wrangler is fun in Maui but not necessary. Even the Road to Hana is safe to drive in any car.

The Road to Hana was dangerous decades ago but it has since been updated and is well-maintained. Hundreds drive it every day in rental cars ranging from compacts to lifted Jeeps. Hana is but one journey in your rental car.

After over 20 trips to Maui with rental cars and now living on the island, we know the terrain, roads, and vibe to get the right rental car for your Maui vacation. 

Decide what is the best rental car for your trip below. 

Maui Car Rental Options: What Type of Rental Car Do You Need

The Road to Hana is just one of many activities that you will need to have a rental car to experience. Driving up to the summit of Haleakala is another. 

Sure, Uber and Lyft are on Maui but if you are doing more than 3 activities, then a rental car will be cheaper.

Having the right rental car for your trip is important for comfort and fun. You left the Dodge Stratus at home, on Maui you are a Jeep Wrangler driver. 

Picking a fun or luxurious rental car for your Maui vacation is different from picking what you need in Maui. 

As this may be your first trip to the Hawaiian Islands and/or Maui, you don’t know what to expect for Maui drivers and Maui roads. As a resident of Maui, let me put you at ease. 

The roads on Maui are better than most roads on the mainland. There is no winter on Maui to beat up them up. There are country roads into the lush valleys, scenic drives, and parks that you will want to explore but these roads are also in good condition. 

Any Maui rental car can navigate Maui roads. The biggest concern with Maui roads are they get narrow in spots with little to no shoulder but they are safe with slow, defensive driving.

maui rental cars roads are good

A Maui country road on a Maui day.

Rental car companies do not have any unique restrictions for Maui. The general restriction is “off paved roads.” This is a general restriction on all rental car contracts in the US. 

The only popular drive with a few miles of unpaved roads is on the return trip from Hana via the backside of Haleakala, past Oheo Gulch. The chance of damage is low. We drove it and it was a lovely, albeit not as scenic of a drive as going to Hana. The threat is a rental car company will charge you for towing or roadside assistance on the backside of Haleakala on the unpaved section. 

FAQ: Is the Road to Hana Dangerous?

Dangers exist on the Road to Hana. As the leeward side of the island is the rainy side, you may encounter constant rainfall and wet roads along the drive. Not usually an issue but combined with hairpin-turns, narrow roads on cliffs, single-lane bridges, speeding locals, and rubbernecking tourists, you should drive cautiously.  The stigma about the danger of the Road to Hana is a few decades ago the road was poorly paved, lacked guardrails in spots, and had old bridges. As the tourists came, Maui County improved the road and bridges making it safe to drive today.

You have to hunt out the dirt roads on Maui, they are not common thoroughfares. 

Even though you don’t need a Jeep Wrangler or a pickup truck for Maui, you may still want to rent one. See the section below on renting a Jeep Wrangler.

Not interested in a Jeep Wrangler or Mustang convertible? Then, Maui rental car companies have all the major car brands and types to choose from for your holiday.

Related articles:

Maui Road and Highway Map for Safe Driving

Roads and Highways of Maui Photo Credit: Hawaii Department of Transportation 

Types of Cars to Rent in Maui

10-years ago the island was swarmed with Chrysler PT Cruisers. I figured Chrysler made a last-minute decision to drop them off in Hawaii instead of the Mariana Trench. 

Nowadays, there is a broad selection of rental cars. As a local, the only way to identify a rental car if the car looks new and shiny.

Discount Hawaii Car Rentals, our favorite car rental comparison website for Hawaii (see our review here), works with all the major companies and rental car types. Here is a breakdown of the types of cars to rent in Maui by category.

Note, this is not a full list (about 85% of the car types are listed) but a sampling to give you a flavor of the rental car types available on Maui. Check out Discount Hawaii Car Rentals to see them all. 

🍍 Economy

  • Toyota Yaris
  • Chevrolet Spark
  • Ford Fiesta

🍍 Compact

  • Nissan Versa
  • Ford Focus

🍍 Standard Sedan by Size

  • Intermediate: Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, etc.
  • Standard Size: VW Jetta, Chevrolet Cruze, 
  • Full Size: Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, etc. 
  • Premium: Chevrolet Impala, Nissan Maxima, 

🍍 Convertible

  • Ford Mustang

🍍 Jeep Wranglers: 2-door and 4-door

🍍 Minivan

  • Nissan Quest
  • Kia Sedona
  • Chrysler Pacifica

🍍 SUV by Size and Luxury

  • Compact SUV: Buick Encore and Ford Eco Sport
  • Intermediate SUV: Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Jeep Renegade
  • Standard SUV: Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Standard Elite SUV: Ford Explorer
  • Full-Size SUV: Chevrolet Tahoe
  • Premium SUV: Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition
  • Standard 7 Passenger SUV: Nissan Pathfinder

🍍 Pickup Trucks

  • Nissan Frontier
  • Ford F150

🍍 Luxury: 

  • Chrysler 300

Specialty Rental Vehicle Types in Maui

Away from the airport and the big rental car companies, you can find boutique rental companies that offer fun and adventurous vehicles to rent. I have only rented electric bikes (so much fun), so I can not attest to these companies but they do have outstanding reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Choose a company based on where you are staying as the list of companies below is a mix of the Westside (Lahaina) and Southside (Kihei) of Maui.

🍍 Campers – camp on a beach in Maui

🍍 Mopeds – you can rent a 50cc scooter without a valid drivers license in Hawaii, a top speed of 30 MPH (Hawaii Moped Law FAQs)

🍍 Electric Bikes – a great way to get around Lahaina and Kihei

🍍 Motorcycles

🍍 Dune Buggies

🍍 Roadsters

What Kind of Car Do You Need in Maui

Now that you know the types of rental cars available on Maui, what is the best rental car for you?

Consider these Maui specific conditions to help you choose the best rental car for your Maui itinerary.

type of car to rent in maui

Honoapiilani Highway along the westside of Maui is wide, modern, and easy to drive. The view isn’t bad either.

Parking

With over 25,000 tourists visiting Maui on any given day, parking can be hard to find. 

Compact car parking spaces are common. You have a better chance of finding parking if your rental car can fit in a compact parking space. 

Gasoline

Gasoline and diesel are well above the national average. Budget for the high cost to fill up the tank. Maybe you don’t want to get that Suburban. 

Being on an island comes with a long logistics train to get crude oil and get it refined. All gasoline comes from Oahu, either refined or imported. Therefore Maui prices are high.

Gas prices are currently $3.85 to $3.93 per gallon. Check out GasBuddy for current prices.

The cheapest gas is always had Costco. Typically, $0.60 to $0.80 per gallon cheaper. The best part is Costco is near the airport, so fill up your tank before you return your car. 

The second-cheapest gas is at Safeway off Haleakala Highway in Kahului. Also, near the airport.

Narrow Streets

The historical towns on Maui have narrow streets. Towns like Lahaina, Makawao, and Paia are cute due to their small-town vibe and tiny streets. 

You can still navigate these streets with a large SUV but you need to stay alert and drive slowly.

Winding Roads and Low Visibility

The Road to Hana isn’t the only winding road with hairpin turns. Crater Road has over 90 hairpin turns as you climb to the summit of Haleakala at 10,023 feet. You are literally driving in the clouds as you navigate the turns.

The Kula Highway in upcountry is also windy as you drive the side of Haleakala. 

As you drive the leeward side of the island (the rainy side) and at higher elevations, you can experience wet roads and low visibility. 

Choose a rental car that handles well for your driving ability and speed preference. A standard sedan may be your best choice. 

Security 

Non-violent crimes like car break-ins do happen in Maui. You can best prepare by not leaving valuables in your car. See the section below to best avoid having your rental car broken into. 

If you must leave valuables in your car during your stay, then consider a rental car that has a secure trunk. 

If you have to check out of your hotel 8-hours before your flight, a Jeep or pickup truck may not be the best option for you.

Renting a Car in Maui: The Practical Approach

Selecting a rental car for Maui is similar to selecting a rental car on the mainland. I have no intention to talk you into a convertible or a luxury SUV if you don’t need one. 

The rental car agent gets paid a commission, I do not. So this is my practical advice (translation: motherly-advice) for choosing a rental car in Maui.

The main deciding factors for choosing a rental car type in Maui are the following:

🍍 Comfort

🍍 Budget

🍍 Experience

To keep your passengers and yourself happy, comfort is the first rule in rental car selection. Where Maui is different is the amount of time you may spend in the car compared to other vacations and other Hawaiian islands. 

Maui is a large island. With two volcanoes flanking the valley, to get from activity A to activity B takes some time. Personally, it feels like everything takes 30 to 40 minutes to travel due to all the roads run through Maui’s central valley. Google Maps backs me up on this. 

If you have a full itinerary, plan to spend one and a half to three hours in your car every day. Stay comfortable by getting a car with plenty of legroom. If you have 4 passengers, a medium to large sedan would be perfect. If more than 4 passengers than consider a minivan or an SUV for extra space.

Drive a car that you are comfortable driving. You may be coming with a large family so you feel inclined to rent a full-sized SUV like the Nissan Armada or Chevrolet Tahoe. If you drive a minivan at home, consider your comfort level in driving such a larger car. 

While the main roads are wide, there are narrow roads through the historical towns like Lahaina and Makawao. There are single-lane bridges on the Road to Hana. A large car is a bit more difficult to manage on these narrow roads.

I’m a confident driver and I am hesitant to drive a Tahoe down some of these Maui Streets. I’m sure you are confident also. “Men, in particular, are confident in their driving skills with 8 in 10 considering their driving skills better than average, “ says a survey by AAA.

Budget, perhaps the biggest deciding factor. Rent a car that fits your budget while balancing your comfort level. Maui roads are in excellent condition. You won’t find yourself on dirt roads in Maui unless you go hunting for them. Therefore, if it is just two of you on vacation with a few bags than an economy car is an ideal option.

When it was just Erica and me, we would always go for the economy car. Now with Henry and Hattie (our dog) plus all the toddler supplies, beach umbrella, toys, etc. we need a medium-sized car. 

You may need an economy car but you want a Jeep Wrangler. That is where experience comes into play. Rent a car that gives you the Maui experience you want. 

Cruising with the top-down as you drive through lush jungle valleys looking for dinosaurs is the Maui experience for those of us who grew up with Jurrasic Park. 

Or a Mustang convertible may be your thing. Or renting a Harley-Davidson or a roadster. Luxury and special rental cars and motorcycles are available on the island. Go spoil yourself, drive a car that isn’t your Honda Civic parked at home. 

Use the three deciding factors (comfort, budget, experience) to decide what kind of rental car you need or want in Maui. Combine this sage advice with the list of cars to rent in Maui above and then go price shopping.

Will a Nice Rental Car Be Broken Into Often?

We get this question a lot as travel forums are littered with car break-ins in Maui and Hawaii in general. Maui is a safe island to visit. But a common crime is car break-ins at tourist locations. No more than other tourist cities, though.

Having a luxury car rental, like a Chrysler 300, does not put you at an increased risk of a break-in. 

What puts you at risk of a rental car break-in is when the burglar can see valuables in your car.

To avoid a broken window and lost possessions, I highly recommend not leaving valuables in your car. If you must, put them in your trunk and out of sight.

Soft-top Jeep Wranglers are most susceptible to break-ins as thieves can slash the soft-top. Once again, avoid leaving valuables in plain sight in the Jeep. If the thief doesn’t see anything, they will most likely not take the risk to slash the top.

For extra security and comfort, I have heard some people rent or purchase a security bag or box for their Jeep rental. This provides extra peace of mind and allows them to leave cameras, phones, and other items in their car when they hit the beach. 

Extra Safety Tip: When at the beach, put your bag with your valuables and car keys in front of you. Thieves can easily grab your bag when it is behind you, as you gaze at the turquoise waters. Once they have your keys, they can get into your car by walking the parking lot with the beeper.

Rental Car Locations in Maui

Airport and Resorts

The main rental car location in Maui is at Kahului Airport (OGG). You will find all the national carriers outside the terminal like Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Advantage, National, and E-Z Rent-A-Car. 

The rental car desk is outside and to the left (south) of the baggage claim (arrivals terminal) in a large, brown parking garage. It is a 6-minute walk or hop on the people-mover green train. Follow the signs to Rental Cars.

The Kahului airport train to the rental car desk

When you exit baggage claim, the green train to the rental car desk is across the road.

Kaanapali and Kihei are home to the national carriers’ satellite rental car offices. These rental car locations within the resorts have a large selection of cars. These offices are very convenient if you only need a rental car for a day or two during your stay.

One rental car company is not better than another in my opinion. I’m sure business travelers have their favorites due to reward programs. I’ve had problems with canceled reservations, long lines, or dented cars with almost all companies. If you have your favorite or see a car you like, then go for it.

rental car at Kahului Airport

A rental car being loaded at Kahului Airport.

Cruise Ship Rental Car Locations

National rental car companies and boutique companies, like Maui Jeeps, offer rental car locations near the cruise ships’ departure locations. 

Cruise ships will transport passengers to the local rental car offices near Lahaina and Kahului. 

Low Cost, Family-Operated Rental Car Locations

Family-operated rental car companies can be found in Wailuku, Kahului, and Kihei. 

See our Hawaii Recommendations – Rental Car section for our trusted, family-operated rental car companies. 

Kihei Rent A Car is a fine example of a well-run, family-operated rent a car on Maui. They are super friendly and offer some great deals on cars. They also have a well-maintained fleet.

These are located away from the airport but they will pick you up and drop you back off at the airport. The extra hassle and time are well worth it for the personal experience and, most importantly, the lower cost compared to the national car rental companies.

Related articles:

 

Maui Jeep Rental: Do You Need a Jeep in Maui?

I don’t blame you for wanting to rent a Jeep on Maui. I owned a 1994 Jeep Wrangler YJ for 15 years. When I lived on Oahu, I shipped it out because it was awesome to drive a soft-top Jeep in Hawaii.

Renting a Jeep Wrangler in Maui is more for the experience than being practical. A Jeep allows you to take the top down on a tropical island, enjoy the sun, drive out onto some Maui beaches (Papalaua State Wayside Park), and feel a sense of adventure. 

For some fun and sun, you may only want to rent a Jeep for a day or for a specific activity like driving to Makena Beach or the Road to Hana. You can pick up a Jeep from the satellite car rental offices in Kihei and Kaanapali instead of trucking back to the airport.

Pros of Renting a Jeep on Maui

✅ The 2-door Jeeps are small cars so they have tighter turning and are easier to park. Jeeps

✅ The tops come down to enjoy the sun and the scenic views in all their glory

✅ A few roads are rough in upcountry or when driving to hiking trails so Jeeps are more rugged

✅ Jeeps are fun to drive in Maui, a sense of Jurassic Park and adventure

✅ Jeeps ride rough which is part of their charm.

Cons of Renting a Jeep on Maui

❌ Poor gas mileage

❌ No trunk or hidden spaces (except glove compartment) so need to take valuables out of the car

❌ Soft-top Jeeps are noisy on the inside

❌ Limited space for luggage

❌ Jeeps ride rough which is part of their charm

❌ Space for 2 comfortably in a 2-door, 4-doors can seat 4 passengers

❌ If the weather changes, it takes longer to put the top back on than a convertible (weather changes fast on the leeward side of the island (north side)

best car to rent Jeep Wrangler Maui

Erica and me in our ’94 Jeep Wrangler YJ on Oahu in 2011. This was the right way to drive the North Shore.

Do You Need a Jeep for the Road to Hana?

You do not need a Jeep for the Road to Hana. The road has been improved so there are few potholes or rough spots.

A Jeep Wrangler for the Road to Hana is purely for sport. Enjoy seeing the waterfalls and cliff-top drives with the top removed and at an elevated height.

Where to Rent a Jeep on Maui

I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental to price out Jeeps. They price compare all the major car companies and have negotiated deals with them.

You can also use them if you are not renting from the airport as they connect you with the car rental offices near the resorts.

Maui Jeeps is also a good place to shop for a Jeep. Their prices, per my research, match Discount Hawaii Car Rental as they also use the major car carriers. The benefit of Maui Jeeps is they have 6 locations around the island. Maui Jeeps is worth taking a look at for a good deal when shopping for a Jeep rental.

Jeep Wrangler Rental at Kahului Maui Airport

A 4-door Jeep Wrangler waiting to be rented at Kahului Airport.

Jeep Wrangler in maui best car to rent

A Jeep Wrangler rental witnessed in the wilds of Maui.

Maui Rent-A-Wreck Car Options

Erica and I went to a rent-a-wreck company when we first moved to Maui. We needed a large car for our move, like a minivan or an SUV. To save money we went to a rent-a-wreck company.

Our overall experience was good. The owner picked us up at the airport. Took us to their lot and we got to pick the car we wanted. It was very informal and friendly. 

It was rough on the edges. The lot was dusty and there were some very damaged cars. One patron was exchanging a car while we were there as it had troubles. The interior was not spotless and the exterior was dusty and banged up. 

We didn’t have any issues with our car though. It got us around for 2-weeks and bought us time to shop for a car to purchase. I would do it again as it was a fraction of the cost of a regular rent a car.

Kahului Auto Rentals is who we used for our Maui rent-a-wreck.

Itineraries to Consider for Your Rental Car Adventure

Road to Hana

Maui’s main driving attraction, leave early in the morning (recommend 8 am), and download an app to get the full experience. Take the time to stop at the beaches, waterfalls, food trucks, and hikes as those are what make the drive so magical. 

‘Iao Valley near Wailuku

Follow a rushing river up a tropical jungle valley to the historical and beautiful ‘Iao Valley State Park and ‘Iao Needle. 

Haleakala Summit

See the sunrise (reservation required), sunset, or go during the day to the top of Haleakala. Drive-up Haleakala Highway (aka, Crater Road) on a two-lane road with over 90 switchbacks as you get close to the top. 

Drive through the clouds, see Nene birds, and enjoy the view as you climb to 10,023 feet. 

Maui Road to Avoid

Erica and I do not endorse driving the Kahekili Highway that goes around the west side of Maui. 

Read Is Driving in Maui Dangerous? for details, Kahekili Highway section towards the bottom of the article.

Maui Car Rental Discounts

Erica and I always go with Hawaii Discount Car Rentals when we island-hop as it is the cheapest while maintaining a reliable booking service.

Out of habit and being budget conscience, we shop around other websites and rental car companies but we always find the cheapest prices on their site. 

If you are looking for our other preferred modes of transport, with discounts, check out our Hawaii Recommendations.

Perhaps for our upcoming trip to Oahu, we will get a Jeep Wrangler. Driving a Jeep on Oahu will be like old times, except a baby seat will be in the back. 

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Jordan Fromholz

Jordan Fromholz

Author

I'm the co-founder, with my wife Erica, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I have a thing for photographing pineapples and learning to surf.

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