Renting a car in Costa Rica – Things you should know

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Renting a car in Costa Rica – Things you should know

If you are traveling Costa Rica by rental car:  These are things you should know.

First: Rent from a reputable rental car agency.  So how do you know if they are reputable?   First  are the well know companies such as Dollar, Avis, Hertz, etc  but then there are the Costa Rican companies many of which are good. But,  you need to do your homework.  If they list a phone number, call that number and see what kinds of answers you get.  See if you have a good feeling from your conversation.  Ask how old the car are and ask about their maintenance policies. This is a very pertinent question because  the last thing you want is to have problems with the car after you start on your vacation.

Prices:  Cars are more expensive to rent in Costa Rica than say in the United States.  A lot of the cost is the insurance.  (See my paragraph below on insurance).  Size and Auto Brand determine the base price  then  you have to add the  cost of the insurance.  A general ball park figure for a Suzuki Jimmy 4×4

Gasoline is around $3.50 a gallon.    2. If you are planning to drive in the countryside then you want to rent a vehicle that is high off the ground.   Potholes are common and vehicles low to the ground cannot stand up under these conditions.   If you are going to drive only in the city, then a small car might work for you.

Specify  if you want automatic or straight shift.  The straight shift type is most common in Costa Rica.  Specify if you want air conditioning.   Also, Rental companies offer a cell phone with your car for around $10 a day, for calling inside Costa Rica.  Calling outside Costa Rica is expensive.  Best is purchase a prepaid calling card.  Ask at the rental car agency as to where to buy these cards.   Also,  some companies, but not all,   offer GPS systems with the car.  (extra charge)

Inquire about the age of the vehicle.  Most reputable agencies don’t rent vehicles over   2-3 years old..

NOTE:  Traffic violations fines recently put into force in 2009  are extremely expensive!!

Carry with you while driving:  your current drivers license from your home country and your passport.

Observe speed limit at all times.  The fine for speeding is very expensive, over $200.00!  On highway 1 (Pan American)  you will encounter many patrol cars sitting by road with radar devices, so beware.

By law every passenger in the car needs to wear the seat belt.  Again the fine for not doing so is steep!!

Fines for minor traffic violations are very expensive!  So don’t run red lights, stop at stop signs, etc.

Driving under the influence of alcohol  can lead to a jail sentence.

Lock the vehicle and don’t leave valuables visible inside your car if you are not inside the car.   Breaking windows by thieves to remove your valuables is not uncommon.

In case of accident to not move the vehicle.  Call 911.    Police and will arrive, and ambulance if needed.     Also call  your  rental car company right then if you are able to make a call.   They will send an agent at that moment to the accident site. Never leave a rental car.  Stay at the scene of the accident until everything is written up by the police and also by the car rental agent.

Unfortunately, car theft is not uncommon in Costa Rica,  so park only in designated  well lighted parking lots.

Try not to drive in the countryside at night, since some roads are not well marked.

Most agencies will deliver the vehicle to your hotel and pick it up at the hotel upon your return, just have to arrange all this ahead of time.

Not every rental car agency rents larger vehicles such as Toyota Hiace mini vans (passenger capacity is 8 persons comfortably plus it has 2 jump seats  (not so comfortable).  With luggage rack on top.  One agency which does rent mini vans is Nature Vacation Travel Agency in San Jose.   Their phone 1 800 235 9272  which is free from outside Costa Rica.   Nature Vacation offers the service of delivering the vehicle to your hotel.

Make sure the spare tire is locked.  It is usually mounted on the rear of the vehicle.

Many agencies offer  “drop off at a different location than where you rented the vehicle”  Ask if they charge extra for this.

Car Rental Agencies are located in  many areas of high tourist traffic,   not just in the Central Valley of San Jose and Alajuela.

Road conditions:  Generally speaking most of the main  roads in Costa Rica  are good.   When you get off the beaten path often you find the roads are often bumpy, and not all are paved.  The main roads have good road signs.  The secondary roads do not.   Traffic congestion  is bad in the Central Valley between San Jose and Alajuela..  (this is where the international airport is located.)   Rush hour between  7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.  and  4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.  is very heavy traffic in the central valley areas.

Fill your tank with gas in the towns.  In the rural areas the stations are far a part.

What are Costa Rican drivers like?  I hate to say this, but they are very aggressive.   It seems the gentle Tico becomes a different animal behind the wheel.

Driving in San Jose:  I do not recommend this.  The traffic is unbelievable congested and the street and avenue names are rubbed of the side of the buildings they were once written on.  It’s almost impossible to locate any street address. It’s hard to tell which streets are one way. And lots of big buses everywhere!  And very  difficult to find a public parking lot for your car. So what should you do if  you need to be in San Jose?   Hire a taxi to drive you into San Jose or take a public bus from any town outside San Jose and once you are there, take taxis to your precise destinations.  Taxis are not expensive in San J.

Ann’s story of renting a Jimmy 4×4 in Costa Rica.  Learn from her. Insurance coverage can be confusing!

I rented a Jimmy 4×4 last summer for 6 weeks in Costa Rica, from  Solid Rental Car company and was very pleased with their services.  It was small  but large  enough for my husband and me, and our 2 suitcases.  I paid $46.00 per day.    However, left was what they call the “deductible”  This is the amount  the insurance  does not cover.  The car agency ask me to sign a credit card authorization for $850 (the deductible), which they tear up in front of me  when we  returned  the car in same condition  we got it.   Now, If I had an accident-even a small one-they keep the $850 until all repairs are done.  I have heard about people who have had fender benders, relatively inexpensive to repair and having problems getting the remainder of their $850 returned.  So, I choose call up my American Express Card company  here in US before departing for Costa Rica, and purchase for  $28 a policy to cover this deductible, theft, Damage and Collision,  EVERYTHING EXCEPT LIABILITY.  American Expressed mailed me a policy which I got before departing for Costa Rica, and of course I took the policy with me and presented it at the time I picked up the rental car.    Then, I purchased the liability  insurance at the rental car agency in Costa Rica.   Important! Before driving the car off the lot, the agent asked me to inspect the car very carefully for scratches, dents, etc. and then sign a form stating the car was free of these.  Additionally, the Solid Rental car representative told me that Costa Rica liability insurance does not cover negligent driving such as:  under influence of alcohol,  driving  across  big streams or rivers,  running intentionally thru bogs of mud, etc.  So be aware of this!

How much does it cost to rent a car in Costa Rica? Varies to size and type.  Generally speaking,  car rentals are not as inexpensive as say -in the United States.  Insurance is a large portion of the cost.  I opted for the full insurance coverage because in case of an accident I did not want to have to deal with anything. (afterwards). And in case of a serious accident with death involved–it’s best to have the full coverage!

More about insurance coverage with rental cars Check with your credit card company.  Ask if they offer coverage on a rental car in Costa Rica.  If so,  you can save money by purchasing what they offer and when you get to Costa Rica then purchase from the rental car company the liability portion (which your credit card probably won’t cover).  Important:  Be sure you know exactly what coverage you are getting if you purchase thru your credit card company.

After a few days of driving, my husband said “Well, the only way to survive driving here in Costa Rica is to drive like the Ticos.”  Which meant driving aggressively!  I must admit I had a few butterflies in my stomach when we took on the mountain roads.

Also please read my blog post of 3-24-09 (category-travel)  “I rented a car in Costa Rica, Tips for saving time and money.”  I welcome questions.  just click on no comment and I will receive the question and will ans it timely.

Here at costaricalearn we hope your car rental experience is a good one.  Adios!  Ann

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