Home Website Review Which Costa Rican Car Company Is Best?
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Which Costa Rican Car Company Is Best?

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Renting a Car in Costa Rica? Which company should you choose?

There are so many rent-a-car companies to choose from in Costa Rica – from the large international firms to the smaller national agencies. Reviews on the internet invariably either damn or sing the praises of each company to the extent of being almost useless. So how do you choose the best place to hire a car for your trip?

Many tourists that rent vehicles in Costa Rica complain that they have been ripped off when they realize the extra cost of insurance they are obliged to pay or that they have been charged a dollar rate that reflected the currency rate and not the quoted rate. Understanding the insurance laws and charges that bind the Costa Rican car rental companies may help you to ask the right questions when you are reserving your vehicle and avoid a nasty shock upon arrival. If a company is not upfront about its additional costs; you may wish to consider whether it is a company that you choose to take your business to.

I have worked within the tourism industry in Costa Rica for the last six years and have lived here since 2000. I am familiar with the feelings that many visitors to the country experience when dealing with rent-a-car companies. These can range from delight to discomfort to outright fury; sometimes due to the inefficiency, or even dishonesty of the rental agency, but also due to the renter’s lack of understanding of the legally binding restrictions within which Costa Rican car rental firms must work. I hope that while this article won’t guarantee you trouble-free vehicle rental; it might make you a more knowledgeable customer.

Insurance needs, additional costs in rental and surcharges are considered in more detail below:

Insurance:

Basic insurance is mandatory. Costa Rican law is very clear on this and your rental car company cannot allow you to leave with their car without having agreed to pay it. Expect to pay somewhere between $9 and $20 per day on top of your car rental rate. An honest, car rental agency will make this very clear in their pricing. If it is not clear whether the insurance is included in the rental cost; ask for clarification and be aware of other potentially unstated costs.

Check whether your insurance policy covers you to drive in Costa Rica. Some policies include Collision Damage Waivers and will cover Central America. If you are covered, bring proof (in writing) for your vehicle rental company. If not, consider whether you would be safer to pay the extra cost of this additional coverage. This part is not mandatory.

Zero liability is offered by rent-a-car companies. You may wish to consider whether you would feel more at ease knowing that you would not be liable for any costs should something occur while you are renting their vehicle. You are not obliged to buy this supplemental insurance.

Additional Fees:

Many car rental companies will charge additional fees for a child/baby seat, an additional driver, luggage racks or cooler. You can expect to pay up to $8 daily for each of these extras. Although by shopping around, you can find companies that will offer some or all for a lower price, or even free.

With Costa Rican roads being notoriously poorly signposted and the whole country operating on an address system based on landmarks rather than road names or numbers, a GPS is essential for many car renters. You will usually pay between $8 and $15 a day for this service. It is fairly common practice to allow renters to use one of their cell phones for the duration, but if you wish to use it for your own calls; you’ll obviously be charged.

Surcharges:

Some rental car companies incorporate taxes and additional fees into their rental cost; others don’t. Make sure you know what you will be charged for on top of your rental fee. Airport fees can be charged at 13% of your rental cost which is a sizable fee to pay in addition to an agreed rental charge. You may also be charged a license plate charge, environmental fee and/or any other charge that the rental car company has to meet (or pocket).

Prices for the rental will be given in US dollars, but as the local currency is colones, you should understand that exchange rates change daily and what you are charged on your credit card on the day of payment may vary slightly from what you were quoted.

Criteria for Rating Car Rental Companies:

For this article, three (3) main points were considered for each company:

1) Value: Is the rental rate competitive?

2) Efficiency: How fast do they respond to the needs of the client?

3) Transparency: How clear is the information provided by the company?

You may have your own criteria, but based on complaints from previous customers on community websites like Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, etc., the requirements of those clients seemed mainly based around these three basic areas.

The companies surveyed below are a mix of local and international firms. Each company was researched based on a week’s rental of a Daihutsu Bego with mandatory insurance.

Dollar Rent-A-Car:

Value

– $300+ USD.

– Extras are at average prices.

Efficiency

– They have 3 offices nationwide.

– Email inquiry returned within 24 hours.

Transparency

– The prices for rental vehicles are displayed on site but a side box contains a ‘Daily RA’ with dollar amount. This is the mandatory insurance.

– Reservation price is listed as ‘Base rate’ and doesn’t include insurance.

– Dollar has received mixed reviews in sites such as Trip Advisor.

– A toll-free number is available.

Vamos Rent-A-Car:

Value

– $300+ USD.

– Only GPS and cell phone use are charged. All other extras such as child seats are free.

Efficiency

– They have 3 offices nationwide.

– Email inquiry returned within an hour.

Transparency

– The website clearly states prices and insurance.

– Toll-free number and live chat are provided.

Wild Rider:

Value

– $300+ USD.

– Additional driver is free.

Efficiency

– Email inquiry returned within 2 hours.

Transparency

– Prices are displayed very clearly onsite and include insurance.

– The company has almost 100% positive reviews, but with a fleet of only 30 vehicles and one central office; it may be difficult to help clients who are in difficulty outside the capital.

– They cannot provide a vehicle for the Liberia airport, just San Jose.

Budget:

Value

– $400+ USD.

– Extra charges for baby seat, additional driver etc.

Efficiency

– The company has 9 offices nationwide.

Transparency

– No prices displayed with vehicles information.

– Budget has received mixed reviews.

– Surprisingly for a large company, it provides no live chat or toll-free number for clients in the USA.

Service Car Rental:

Value

– $400+ USD including mandatory insurance and taxes.

– Extras such as additional driver and child seat are charged, but at cheaper rates than most companies.

Efficiency

– The company has 5 offices nationwide.

– Email inquiry returned within an hour.

Transparency

– Their rates are clearly shown on site.

– Service has received mainly positive reviews.

National Car Rental:

Value

– $400+ USD.

– Extras are priced a little above average.

Efficiency

– They have 23 office locations, although some are Alamo.

Transparency

– Price estimates online do not include insurance or additional charges; however, they are displayed in the full quotation.

– They have received mixed reviews.

– Both live chat and a toll-free number are provided.

Economy Rent-A-Car:

Value

– $200+ USD, but it seems possible to reserve a vehicle without inclusion of any insurance.

– Extras are average in price.

Efficiency

– They have 12 offices nationwide.

– Email inquiry returned within an hour, but email inquiring about insurance was not returned.

Transparency

– Website does not make mandatory insurance clear.

– Economy has numerous negative reviews.

– Both live chat and toll-free number are provided.

Hertz Costa Rica:

Value

– $400+ USD, but actual rental price is not made clear.

– Extras are pricey.

Efficiency

– 6 offices nationwide.

– No contact email.

– Telephone numbers are available for different offices around the country.

Transparency

– Very confusing quotation system. Two rates are offered for a vehicle and chosen dates. The cheaper option does not include mandatory insurance and it is in very small print under the final quotation price. The more expensive option includes non-mandatory insurance along with mandatory.

– Mixed reviews.

– Both live chat and toll-free number are provided.

Adobe Rent-A-Car:

Value

– $400+ USD.

– Extras are at low prices.

Efficiency

– The company has 9 offices nationwide.

Transparency

– Online estimate includes insurance.

– Adobe has received mixed reviews.

– A toll-free number is provided.

Tricolor Car Rental:

Value

– $300+ USD.

– No charge for pick-up or airport fees.

– Extras aren’t listed or provided in quotation email, although cell phone price is given.

Efficiency

– 3 offices nationwide.

– Email returned within 2 hours.

Transparency

– Website is not very user friendly.

– Reviews are mixed.

– Toll-free number is provided.

Finalizing the Three Criteria:

Economy, at first, appear to be the cheapest company to rent from, but unfortunately this is due to their failure to declare all costs incurred by the renter, rather than a genuine, good deal. For real value, Dollar, Vamos, Wild Rider and Tricolor come out on top for competitive pricing for the basic rental fee, plus mandatory insurance. Vamos is noticed for being the only firm that does not charge for extras such as a child seat or surcharges. Adobe and Service have low cost extras, whereas Hertz has the most expensive rates for extras. Wild Rider does not charge for an additional driver.

Only Economy failed to respond to email inquiry. All other companies responded quickly and with clear answers to inquiries. Wild Rider, as the smallest firm, cannot offer nationwide service, but reviews suggest that they have met customer needs to date. All other companies can offer services from offices in locations outside of the capital city — increasing their ability to serve clients effectively.

Adobe, Wild Rider, Vamos and Service have websites that clearly show rental prices and insurance. Economy and Hertz somehow seems to be deliberately misleading on their websites. The other companies’ websites provide the required information – even if it can take some time in hunting it down.

Conclusion:

This brief survey would suggest that Vamos, Service, Tricolor and Wild Rider would be the best companies to begin your rental research, whereas Economy would be best to avoid.

Now you know as much as I do! The information here is supposed to be your starting point and not the end point. Hopefully, you will know the right questions to ask when you’re looking for a rental vehicle to ensure that your dream vacation begins smoothly without any nasty shocks, like hefty extra charges when you land. Enjoy the drive!

By Sara P Ford

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