There’s money to be made in the car rental business and the reason why car rental companies in Costa Rica don’t want you know all the associated costs that increase their profits. They goal is to get the cars off the lot and if that means giving you a raw deal, so be it.
The following is a list of what I call little dirty secrets I’ve learned in renting cars in Costa Rica. Most I learned by accident, the rest by the friendly staff of several car rental companies I use regularly. On average, I rent up 2o times a year, from one vehicle for one day to multiple vehicles for up to a week or more.
1. There’s Not That Much Competition As You May Think
Most of the car rental companies in Costa Rica are franchisees that include Avis, Hertz, Economy, Dollar, Enterprise, Alamo, Budget, Thrifty and National. Some franchisees own multiple franchises. For example, National, Alamo and Enterprise are all part of ANC, with ties to the Toyota dealer. Avis and Economy are owned by the exclusive Nissan and Audi dealer. The “independents” include large and small operators like Europcar, Sixt and Vamos, among others. The Toyota rent-a-car is owner by the Purdy Motors, the exclusive Toyota dealer in the country.
As to the franchisers, for example did you know that Avis owns Budget and Zipcar, Hertz owns Dollar and Thrifty, Enterprise owns Alamo and National, and Advantage owns E-Z Rent-A-Car? Now you do.
2. Sign Before You Drive
One of the most important aspects of renting a car in Costa Rica is signing the vehicle inspection form before leaving the car rental place. But, before you sign, be meticulous on every scratch, dent, whatever. Check under the hood to make sure caps (radiator, oil, etc) are not missing – or even engine parts. As I have been told by some car rental company staff, you’d be surprised on some people will rent a vehicle to swap out a car part.
In the trunk, check the spare time, jack and safety kit. Inside the vehicle, check for any loose nobs, switches, belts, etc. Anything missing or damaged from the previous rental could become your ownership (you paying for them).
3. To Insure Or Not To Insure
Unlike in the U.S. or Canada where you really don’t have to pay for insurance if you are using a credit card to rent the vehicle, in Costa Rica, the credit card coverage may not apply or at best be limited in coverage. Before you call off on any additional insurance, check with your carrier first. That is call your credit card company to understand your coverage completely.
Having said, in Costa Rica, everyone pays for basic insurance despite your credit card company may be covering you. What you don’t need to buy, but you should, is the additional insurance. Most of the large rental companies offer zero deductible, full coverage. This option, combined with the basic insurance, will probably be more than the basic car rental. But worth it. That ding could cost you hundreds of dollars or more. And it wasn’t even your fault.
But, even with “full coverage” is used, make sure what is fully covered. Full coverage is not full in most cases. For example, damage or loss of a radio is not part of the full coverage. Neither is damage caused by your negligence. Uh, say what? And of course, any damage caused while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or breaking of a traffic law, like speeding, is not covered. Remember, they have your credit card on file and the contract gives the car rental company the right to make charges to that card even long after you’ve returned the vehicle.
Every car rental car company will want a deposit. They will insist on a credit card for that, but, if you have one of he raised letters type of debit card, you may be able to use it. Deposits can be up to $2,000 dollars, depending on the vehicle and insurance coverage.
For example, at most car rental companies if you purchase the full coverage, the deposit is usually half. They won’t tell you that, insist on something since you are paying for full coverage. Having said that, with some high end vehicles, even though you are fully covered, the full deposit will be demanded.
Now, something you need to understand about deposits. One, they do not get returned upon the return of the rental vehicle. No. Depending on the car rental company and the credit card issuing bank, it can be 30 days or more before the deposit is released. If you using a credit card, the amount is blocked from your available credit. If a debit card, the card processor will have use of your money.
For cards issued outside Costa Rica, a deposit can be released within 72 hours if the charge is not completed by the car rental company. But not with all. For credit and debit cards issued in Costa Rica, expect nothing less than 30 days unless your car rental company cooperates and send their card processor a letter, that will then authorize your bank to release the hold on the charge.
Ask your car rental company for their policy on deposits. And don’t just take it for granted that they will stick to it. One car rental company I use I have to go out of my way to ask for the release. Another, will do so automatically, without a call or fuss, within 7 days or return of the vehicle. With this one car rental company, since I rent often, they ask me if I want them to hold it for the next rental, but within less than 30 days or they will automatically issue the release. For example, one car rental company has some 3,000 vehicles in its fleet, with more than 2,000 on the road every single day. 2,000 times $2000 deposit is? do the math.
5. Gas Up Before Returning
In Costa Rica, gasoline prices are regulated. The price of gasoline is the same at every gasoline station across the country. For that matter, it’s also the same gasoline. But, when it comes having the car rental company gas up for you, the price can be 2, 3 or more times the st price at the pumps. It’s in the contract.
In most cases your rental car has a full tank. Take the extra few minutes to fill up before returning the vehicle. It will save you a lot of money. (If you got the tank at 3/4 full for example, top it to that, not the full). While you may feel it is a great convenience for the car rental service to gas up for you, you’re going to waste money for nothing. In addition, most car rental companies don’t actually go to fill the tank and charge you based on the amount pumped, no, no, no, they will charge you a flat rate for the missing 1/4 , 1/2 or 3/4 tank based on the type of vehicle and size of tank.
6. Driving in General, The Vehicular Restrictions And Traffic Fines
Don’t get suckered into a car rental company charing you extra from driving out of the Central Valley (San Jose) or mileage. Most rental car companies in Costa Rica don’t charge for driving out of the city, like Guanacaste, and mileage is unlimited.
When it comes to the vehicular restrictions of In San Jose, rental cars are exempt. If you get pulled over by the traffic police for violating the restriction, show your rental contract. MAKE SURE YOU ARE THE NAMED DRIVER ON THE CONTRACT.
If you do get a ticket for violating the restriction, report it to the car rental company on returning the vehicle, to avoid having you credit card dinged for the fine, plus all the other costs tacked on by the car rental company. For all other traffic fines, pay the fine, if possible before returning the vehicle (at any national bank) or notify the car rental company of the ticket. They will charge you at the time of the rental return, avoiding all the extras in the future.
7. It’s All About That Base Rate
Advertised will be the “base rate” for your rental. Rental car companies don’t include all the extras – insurance, GPS, Quickpass, etc – in the their advertised rates on their websites. Some car rental companies will give you a “total” rental cost before reserving online. Compare this with other car rental companies. BUT, before you sign on the dotted line at the counter, get the total rental rate in writing – it should be on your preliminary bill. I say preliminary, because on the return of your rental, that bill, the one you signed, will be amended to include all the other extras – traffic tickets, that ding in the door, the missing oil cap, etc. They will even try to pull that on you if you are paying full coverage and is not one of the excluded items.
8. Extra Drivers, To Add Or Not To Add
One driver is usually enough. Car rental companies will charge for any extra drivers on the contract. If you are going to be only driver fine, but, if travelling with family or friends, you may want to pay the extra for an additional or additional drivers.
Here’s why. One, if there is a problem while someone else (not named in the contract) the rental car company will null any coverage of any insurance and ding you for whatever. And two, if the vehicle is pulled over by a traffic cop and the person behind the wheel is not a named driver on the rental contract, the vehicle may be subject to seizure.
9. Customers Are Always Right?
Well, maybe, but not necessarily in Costa Rica. As a customer you may make reasonable requests, even reasonable assumptions. And what is done at home (in your country of origin) by the local rental car franchisee, it doesn’t mean it is the same with the franchisee in Costa Rica.
Car rental companies in Costa Rica can sometimes overlook “important” things (like the aforementioned insurance), taking advantage of visitors who will be under the assumption of conditions of the master franchise. If you have a problem, you will quickly learn, that in Costa Rica, anyways, the “customer is not always right”.
10. Problems With Your Rented Vehicle
If you experience a problem with your rented vehicle a call to the rental company’s hotline will usually mean help is on the way. This could include delivering you a new vehicle or simply picking you and the vehicle up where you are. Depending on the car rental agency, it may be your responsibility to get the rental to them. Others, on the other hand, will even allow to switch out a vehicle (in the same class or lower) if you don’t like say the colour you got that day.
11. Returning Your Vehicle On Time Or Early
A typical car rentals are for a 24 hour period. Each car rental company has its particular policy on return times. Most will adhere to a one hour grace period, anything after that it can cost you an hourly rental (not prorated to the daily rental, but a set rate by them) that can add up to more than the daily rental. If you are going to be returning the car late, call ahead, reconfirm the policy, ask – you may not get it – for an extension or consider keeping the vehicle the extra day.
For example, at one car rental I last used (won’t mention the name), I would have to rent the vehicle for two days for my particular need of only using the vehicle for specific hours of one day. At the other car rental company, the one I did rent from, since they generally close at 7:00pm and it being Sunday, closing is at 5:00pm, they applied the overnight policy (recognizing that they hours would not permit returning the vehicle within the usual 24 hour cycle) and thus was able to return the vehicle first thing Tuesday morning for the one day rate. Sweet deal.
Returning early there is no benefit to you, so drive that rental to the very last minute. But if returning late, it will cost you dearly.
Also, check with your car rental company on returning the vehicle at a different location. Some companies will charge extra for that. If are going to return at a different location, arrange it ahead of time and you may avoid the extra cost.
12. Rental Location, Sales Tax And Discounts
In Costa Rica sales tax (13%) is applied to all vehicles rented at the airport in San Jose and Liberia, event though the car rental companies do not have their cars at the airport and you will be shuttled to a nearby location.
If you are flying into the country, it is convenient for you to pick up and return the vehicle at the “airport”. However, if the vehicle is rented out from a “non-airport” location, say in San Jose or Santa Ana, the sales tax doesn’t apply. They will most likely add it, but protest.
When making a reservation, check the location nearest where you will be staying (say a hotel or condo) or where you live and arrange for the rental pick up there and you will save. This also brings up discounts. Since the rented vehicle is not coming out of the airport location, besides the sales tax, ask for other discounts that can, depending on the staff, magically appear on their rental system. Especially if near closing time and it has been a bad rental day.
Use the comments section below or post to our Facebook page on your experiences in renting a vehicle in Costa Rica. If you have any questions, write me and will try to answer or point you in the right direction. Renting a car in Costa Rica doesn’t have to be a bad experience. And please SHARE!