In all my years packaging Costa Rica, the single greatest challenge has always been rental cars. Companies come and go. Less reputable companies run damage scams. Some overbook. Others do not have replacement vehicles if there is a problem, or offer proper support. Some just have old beat up cars.
How new are these vehicles? The roads can be tough on rental cars to begin with, and customers tend to drive them harder than they would a vehicle they actually own. Rental cars have a short shelf life. This is important. The better rental car companies tend to buy brand new vehicles, and turn them over before they put too many miles on them. Turnover like this is expensive.
The cars are sold at auction, often to other rental car companies. So a car that one company deemed to old for their customers becomes the newest car on the lot at another company. This is something to consider if two companies are offering what appears to be the same model and the same year at vastly different prices.
How many offices does the company have? If you break down in the boonies, is there support close by? What if you break down at night, will someone answer the phone?
Are you going to have a problem with false damage claims? Other than the company’s own testimonials, what kind of references do they have? It is difficult to challenge a foreign credit card charge. What recourse do you have if there is a problem?
Will they accept any credit card coverage that your credit card offers? There is a government mandated liability insurance that you must buy. But sometimes you can waive the comprehensive coverage if this is offered by your credit card company.
A good rental car is essential for a positive travel experience. Look at it this way: A family spends $2000.00 on airfare. Say you spend another $1500.00 on hotels and tours. This means you are paying well over $500.00 a day to be there. When you factor in what you pay for hotels and airfare, paying an extra $100 for a week of is not much in the whole scheme of things.
It is something to think about when your rental car is broken down in Northern Guanacaste. A large national company will get you a replacement from Liberia in an hour or two. It might be difficult to get anyone on the phone at a small company that only has a few cars.
I have seen one of the companies that I deal with bring a replacement car on a flatbed truck up the mountain to Monteverde, AFTER DARK. That’s worth $100.00. Anyone who has driven that road in the daylight will agree!
This is where postings in the travel forums or an experienced Costa Rica tour operator is important. You cannot make this decision based on price alone. A US badged company is also not a guarantee. Many of these are smaller companies paying a franchise fee. Educate yourself as much as possible. This is one case of getting exactly what you pay for.