As the average price of a rental SUV has pushed past $100 per day there has been an explosion in “private rentals”. Individuals who have an extra vehicle or don’t need theirs for a few days see the opportunity for huge profits. An average salary is less than $1,000 a month in Costa Rica and making two or three times that much, tax free, for a few minutes work is very attractive.
The main upside for tourists is that it may be 25-30% cheaper than a rental from a legal, registered, insured agency.
The downsides may include
- It may not be cheaper. We’ve seen private rentals priced higher than comparable corporate rentals. They are simply taking advantage of the fact that not all travelers comparison shop and assume they must be getting a bargain.
- It may not be legal. One of the reasons it may be cheaper is that you are evading laws and regulations concerning inspections, income and tax reporting and insurance for rental vehicles.
- It may not be reliable. We’ve seen numerous complaints on the Costa Rica travel group about breakdowns, leaky tires etc. Since there’s obviously no replacement fleet hanging around the best you can hope for is they’ll help you get it fixed. We’ve seen complaints that renters were told to take it to a mechanic and pay for it then were not reimbursed as promised.
- You may have to pretend to be “Carmela’s cousin’s college roommate, Juan” and lie about paying to use the car. Personal insurance policies don’t cover renting to strangers. If there is an accident you have to pretend that you borrowed the car from a friend so you are not held personally liable because you’re uninsured.
- There’s no payment or deposit security or recourse for rip-offs. Payments are usually made via app transfers or using cash neither of which afford the same protections as using a credit card for a standard rental. There have been complaints that although the deposits are smaller than with rental agencies sometimes they just won’t return it.
What about Turo and other “legit” options?
Person-to-person rentals can be made safer and legal by adding insurance and meeting tax and other requirements through apps including payment protection like Turo. Unfortunately, Turo stopped operations in Costa Rica in mid 2022 without ever really catching on. There were never large numbers of vehicles listed and they tended to actually be priced higher than similar commercial rentals.
Should I rent a private vehicle in Costa Rica?
If nothing goes wrong a private vehicle rental could save you a little money and put some money in the pocket of a local instead of a corporation.
Where can I find a private vehicle rental in Costa Rica?
If you know someone else who’s done it and can make a personal recommendation that’s probably the best option. Otherwise, individuals will offer vehicles on sites like tripadvisor or facebook groups. There is nowhere in particular to get information about the reliability or legitimacy of private vehicle rentals.