Choosing the best car rental agency in Costa Rica

With all the incredible things to see and do in Costa Rica, one is probably wondering what is the best option for getting around in Costa Rica. With a rental car one can travel more spontaneous and leave the itinerary more flexible, one does not have to care about the bus schedule.

If you’re the type of tourist who likes to leave the main road to check out lonesome beaches or a remote volcano, renting a car is probably your best transportation option.

Renting a car has many advantages over classical forms of transport like a bus. The only aspect that needs to be given a lot of thought is picking the right rental car company. Renting a car in Costa Rica can be a fun and challenging experience. Aside from ensuring that you get a good rate, you should also check if the car you are renting is in technical good shape.

In the wet season the rates for rental cars are much lower than in dry season. Between Christmas and New Years Eve and during Easter week is the most expensive time to hire a car. It is highly recommendable to have a car reserved for those dates.

Many roads in Costa Rica are still unpaved and in bad conditions. So vehicles suffer a lot more than in countries with a perfect road network. So rental cars might not look as shiny and new as you are used to. Because of the bad roads it is extra important that your rental car is in good condition when you receive it.

In some regions of Costa Rica there are several rivers without bridges to cross

Don't assume that it's safe to cross a river just because there is a a road on the other side!

Walk through the river, that’s the only way to estimate the depth of the water. Or wait that another car drives through the river. In the rainy season there are several rivers that are usually too deep to cross with a car.

Don't plan to drive long distances at night. Most of the streets are not well lit and you might hit a pothole.

Having a flat tire when driving is always a problem, but at night it is even worse. Avoid having to change a tire on the side of a dark road, with cars buzzing by inches away.

Check if the rental company provides you with 24 hour roadside assistance, in the event of your car breaking down. Usually the client is responsible for changing flat tires and getting flat tires repaired. Make sure to have an intact spare tire at all times.

Before you make a reservation you should always as for the final rate with all taxes and hidden costs! The rate you see advertised sometimes becomes so inflated with airport surcharges, additional driver fees, insurance, license plate fees and drop-off charges that you end up paying more than at a competing agency that had all those costs already included in their rate. When you travel to Costa Rica take a printed copy of the offer with the final rate with you.

Once you pick up your vehicle the car rental agent will inspect the car with you and mark on a form any damage that the vehicle already has. So take some time to make sure that your ride is ready to take you to whatever place in Costa Rica. You don't have to be an auto mechanic to check that your car complies the basic technical requirements. Just check all of your vehicle's fluid levels: coolant, engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Aside from that, you should also check if the car you are renting has good tires.

Credit cards and car rental insurance: What’s covered and what’s mandatory

The cost of car rental insurance sometimes is higher than the actual rental rate, always ask for the final rate!

A common question about car rental insurance is: I have a credit card which includes auto insurance coverage. Do I still have to pay the mandatory insurance for the rental car?

Some companies accept the insurance of the credit card. CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), THEFT and VAI (Vandalism) can often be waived with credit cards, some have exclusions against Latin American car rentals. Usually the security deposit is higher if clients use the insurance of their credit card. Many credit card insurance companies also have a limit of $ 50,000, -. The customer is responsible for costs exceeding the limit. It should also be noted that cars in Costa Rica are much more expensive than in many other countries. This is due to the high import duties. In case of damages to the vehicle, will turn to the client to get te expanses refunden. You will be responsible for opening a claim with your bank and request refund from your credit card company. It is very likely that you will have to present receipts and a police report, in case you were involved in an accident. The rental company will not negotiate with the credit card company but with the client. Usually it is easier and less risky to take the insurance provided by the car rental company. The credit card insurance can still be useful in Costa Rica. Who rents a car in Costa Rica has a deductible to pay in the event of damage, unless you have a rate with zero deductible. The amount of the deductible depends on the car rental company and the vehicle type. It is normally between $ 400, - and $ 3000, -. If you pay the rental car with the credit card and open a voucher for the security deposit with the credit card, in case of an accident the deductible can be refunded by the credit card company. To what extent this is possible depends of course on the respective conditions of the contract with the credit card company.

Important telephone numbers while on the road in Costa Rica:

Tourist police: 2258 1008 or 2258 1022
Insurance (INS): 800 800 8000
Transit Police: 800 87267486 (800 TRANSITO)
Police (Emergencies): 911
Collect call: 1110 + number
And the number of you car rental agency in Costa Rica!

Checklist when you pick up your rental car:

  • Do you have a copy of the rental contract?
  • Does the final rate (incl. all taxes (possibly 13% airport tax)) correspond with the initial quote?
  • Is there a surcharge in case the rental car will be returned dirty?
  • Is the gas tank full and does the car has to be returned full as well?
  • Do you have the telephone number of your car rental agency, transit police and insurance?

Vehicle checklist for your rental car:

  • Take a note of scratches and defects in paint work
  • Look for fender benders and dings
  • Check tire tread depth
  • Check light and indicators
  • Check windshield for rock ships
  • Test breaks and break lights
  • Check windscreen wiper blades and washer jets
  • Look if there is a spare tire, triangular safety reflectors and a jack
  • Test the air conditioning system
  • Did you get the documents of the car (RITEVE, Marchamo), check that the documents are from your rental vehicle