As I explained in a previous post (Beware of the Fine Print - Oct 1), renting a car in Panama can be a little tricky - mandatory insurance coverages, etc. I had done my homework and was prepared for the sales pitch at the rental counter - I thought.
When we arrived at the Thrifty Car Rental office at the David airport (via taxi from our hotel), they pulled up our reservation. Keep in mind that my online reservation showed an "Estimated Grand Total" of $70.78 for a 7 day car rental. I knew this wouldn't actually be the case, because I knew I would at least need to add the required-by-law minimum liability coverage of about $17/day. If I could convince the rental agent that my credit card covered damage to the car, I should be able to keep the total cost to around $200.
I had a letter from my credit card company and I held my ground on the collision damage. The agent gave me a quote (with the added liability coverage) for about $210 - as expected. He then began to explain that our credit card would be charged in the event of any damage to the car (he said even minor damage could easily run $2,000 or more in Panama). We would have to pay and then get reimbursed for the charges by our credit card company. I still held my ground.
Tina asked what would happen if someone else hit us. The rental rep said we would still be liable for the damage to the car - it would be charged to our credit card. We would need to get a police report and likely have to go to court to get money from the other driver. That can take 3-6 months and we would need to hire a lawyer to represent us. He noted that only about a third of the car owners in Panama have insurance. That was very reassuring. [Note: subsequent research supports the agent's statement.]
The safest thing to do, according to the agent, is to get their super-duper Thrifty coverage, which relieves us of responsibility for any collision damage to the car - whether our fault or not. For some strange reason, though, it excludes any damage caused by someone breaking into the car (like a broken window). I guess if we left anything in the car that was tempting, that was our fault...
The new quote, with the super-duper coverage, was going to be ... wait for it ... over $400! Keep in mind this is for an economy car. We were renting the car about 11am and on our last rental day, we were planning to return the car in the evening. This meant we would be charged for an extra day to keep the car from 11am to 8 or 9pm. If we returned the car in the morning, instead of the evening, we could reduce one day's worth of rental charges. This would bring our grand total for the 6 day rental - with super-duper coverage - to a mere $350. After going through that whole process and the nightmare scenarios, and being unfamiliar with the country, not knowing how people drive (are they as crazy as the Costa Rican drivers?) and not wanting to be stressed out every time we're on the road, the extra $150 starts looking like it's worth it.
We gave in. We signed up for the "full monty" and chalked it up to "peace of mind insurance." Yeah, they got us.
Posted by Mark