Renting a car in Central America is so different from the United States because there’s an enormous amount of precaution and paperwork. So far, I’ve rented cars in Panama City, Costa Rica, and most recently in El Salvador. Even though you may be enticed to rent a car in Central America due to seemingly low daily car rental rates, you may be in shock with your final bill. Here are 5 common car rental scams in Central America.
1. Manual v. Automatic Cars
In Central America, most of the lowest priced cars are actually manual cars, meaning manual transmission. If you’re not comfortable with driving manual, book a car with automatic transmission. Most people assume that the car they’re getting is an automatic (like in the United States), but look closely at the car you book because there will be a huge up-charge at the rental car facility to change cars.
2. Car Rental Damage Scam
A common scam with renting a car in Central America is a bill for damages that you did not cause. After returning your car, the rental car company might accuse you of pre-existing damages. The only real way to prevent this scam is by taking videos and photos of rental car before you drive it off the lot. Take a video with your iPhone clearly noting scratches, dents, and other damages to the car. After that, take lots of pictures with your mobile phone highlighting the affected areas. Also, tell the rental car agent to make note of the damages on the paperwork (which usually shows an image of a car) and highlight the affected areas .When using video and picture evidence against the rental car company, they will most likely back down.
3. Fuel Scam
Another common scam is getting billed for fuel at an exorbitant amount such as $10 a gallon plus taxes and service charges when you returned your rental car with a full gas of tank. You can prevent this scam by saving all your receipts from gas stations (yes, always get a receipt) and take a picture of the odometer and fuel gauge upon return of the rental car. With irrefutable photo evidence, the rental car company will back down on their claim.
4. Mandatory Supplementary Liability Insurance (SLI) Scam
You many have heard of the infamous mandatory Supplementary Liability Insurance scam or SLI scam. There are also variations of this ‘so called’ insurance called third party Additional Liability Insurance (ALI) which can cost $14.99 a day + taxes.
The so called mandatory SLI/ALI insurance is not really insurance at all. It’s basically free money in the car rental company’s pockets. $14.99 a day can really add up if you’re renting for a week. I highly recommend buying the American Express Premium Car Rental Coverage for a flat rate of $24.95 up to 42 consecutive days of coverage. Again, most rental companies in Central America will INSIST that you purchase the ‘mandatory’ SLI/ALI insurance even if you have the alternate additional Amex Premium Car Rental Coverage, so make sure you contact the rental car company beforehand to confirm. Car rental companies can hold up your car reservation hostage if you decline to pay for SLI/ALI insurance and you can’t prove you have alternate premium coverage.
5. Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) Scam
Never, ever pay for Collision Damage Waiver or CDW insurance if you are paying with a major credit card that has rental car insurance benefits. Why pay for redundancy? The cost of CDW insurance is not cheap as well and can cost up to $24.99 a day plus taxes.