Car Hire: Car Rental COSTS
A guide to the cost of renting a car or jeep on Tobago
You should budget US$35-65 (£20-40) a day for a small car or 4x4 from a reputable car rental agency. Larger or more luxurious vehicles obviously cost more. Daily rates are discounted for weekly or longer periods of hire – typical costs are US$225-400 (£135-250) a week.
Smaller agencies and villa owners often rent private vehicles to visitors for as little as US$20 (£12) a day. This may seem a bargain, but be warned; the car may be older than your children and less well nurtured. Worse, the legal and insurance position may be uncertain and could present problems in the event of an accident.
When comparing offers, it is important to make sure that you are comparing like-for-like. Differences in price may simply reflect the age of the vehicle. That US$10 per day saving could be the difference between a one year-old car and a five or six year-old banger.
Based on long experience of the Tobago car hire market, my unreserved advice is to bite the bullet and hire from one of the larger more reputable agencies. Better still, I highly recommend the excellent Yes Tourism brokerage service (reviewed here) which allows you to book online, gives you local representation and guarantees that you will not be fobbed off with the dog of the fleet.
Vehicle Insurance on Tobago
Basic hire generally only includes statutory third-party insurance. You should always check the limit of your liability in case your are involved in an accident or sustain damage to the vehicle. Some policies limit the hirer's liability to a reasonable sum - say US$600 (£400). Other offer no protection whatsoever. In the event of an accident or damage you could potentially be liable for the full cost of repair, recovery costs and possibly even the owner’s loss of earnings while the vehicle is off the road and unavailable for rental.
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) offers protection against liability. Full CDW absolves you of any liability and typically costs from around US$20 (£12) per day. Partial CDW limits your liability to around US$500 (£325) and typically costs US$5-10 per day. It is worth checking the terms and features of your credit cards; some cards, particularly in North America, include CDW protection when the car is used to pay for car rental. However, it is important to check the cover carefully and ensure that it is applicable to rentals in Tobago.
Bear in mind that insurance policies only protect you while you are using the vehicle normally. Standard policies specifically exclude off-road use of the vehicle. This means anywhere not on the public highway. All those interesting tracks down to remote beaches are off-road. Before you hammer your jeep down a track, imagining that you are on the Paris-Dakkar Rally, remember that Suzuki 4x4s and their ilk were designed for nothing more taxing than climbing the kerb while parking. The cost of a replacement gearbox or axle could seriously hit your holiday budget.
By law, every Tobago vehicle must carry a current certificate of insurance. This is normally kept in the front dashboard locker. Check it to make sure that the vehicle is insured and note any exclusions. (See next page)
The complexity of the different insurance options makes it difficult to compare different agencies. However, it is one topic where the saying '"you get what you pay for' tends to be very true.
I must add a word or warning here. Over recent years I have received a number of complaints from visitors, hoteliers and other sources on the island advising me that one or two small hire operators are ripping tourists off by deducting charges of up to TT$8000 for alleged damages to rental vehicles. Always ensure that you check the vehicle on delivery and again on return.