BA Notes: Renting a Car

Renting a car in Argentina is not like in the US.  It’s strange to me the agency we chose, Europcar (which is a major international agency), didn’t provide any instructions in my reservation on how the process works.  Unlike in the US, the agencies don’t have cars at the airport and I don’t believe they have shuttle buses.  Instead, they bring the car to you.  Had I understood this, we would have taken a very different approach than we did: rather than using a car service to get to our destination and going out later for the car, I would have instead coordinated a car pick-up immediately at arrival and would have saved several hours (literally).  But I didn’t know any of this until after I got there.

Before we left for BA, I had done some investigating and scoped out the address for the rental company offices.  I didn’t take long to figure out that the address was nowhere near the airport (it was actually some 20km away), so we decided we’d use a car service to get to the home of the friends we were staying with, Doug & Kelly Parker.  I figured everyone would be tired and nobody would be up for a long shuttle ride.  After we’d gotten to our destination and settled in a little, one of our hosts could run me to the car place.  With this simple plan made, I actually changed the reservation to rent from an office with an address near Aeroparque Jorge Newbery which was closer to where we were staying than the address for the office associated with Ezeiza International Airport.  BA has an international airport (Ezeiza) and a domestic / regional airport (Newbery).

After I got my family settled in, Doug and I hopped in the car and headed out to Newbery.  We arrived to discover Europcar didn’t have a service counter there.  I looked at my reservation info and we determined the address was about 10min away in the CBD.  We later found the office, but it was closed despite being about 2:00pm in the afternoon and clearly within the office hours on my confirmation.  I was eventually rescued by Mercedes, a local woman who works in Doug’s office.  She made some calls the next day and determined the office was closed because the person was shuttling a car to someone else.  Mercedes told me that everything was sorted out and I need to go to a location altogether different than the pair I knew about.  She sent a car service to retrieve us, I gave the driver the address (he knew zero English) and 20min later we arrived at the Buquebus building downtown.

Buquebus is the dominant company operating ferry services to Uruguay and other destinations around the River Plate Delta.  It turns out Europcar had a counter at the ferry terminal.  We walked into the terminal and I immediately saw signs for Europcar.  Hooray!  We followed the signs to a very nice office area with a waiting room and a bunch of cubes filled with people in matching uniforms meeting with others.  Apparently, Buquebus also has a travel agency business.  We waited our turn and then we were re-directed back out into the main hall of the terminal to a unmarked service counter.  We had walked right past the Europcar guy.  I strode up to the counter and announced who I was.  He spoke very little English, but he figured out that I was the guy that had been looking all over town for a car (Mercedes is apparently a very effective communicator and networker).  He had paperwork with my name and had the rate correct, so things flowed pretty well from there.

The only oddity was when we talked about insurance, he showed me a figure on the rental documents that was in US$ for about 4x what our rate was.  It made no sense and the language barrier was in our path.  He put me on the phone with an English speaking co-worker who explained they don’t do insurance there.  Instead, they pre-authorize a deposit on your credit card.  You wreck the car, you lose the deposit and that’s it.  Nothing else to worry about.  You don’t wreck the car, no loss of deposit.  This sounded odd to me and I couldn’t see how that amount of money would cover: a) a serious wreck or b) injuries, but it was difficult to communicate, so we went with it.  I later inquired with Mercedes about this deposit business and she too found it odd.

After all the paperwork was done, we settled on a rendezvous point for dropping off the car at the end of the week.  In the prior 24hrs, I had begun to get a picture for how things worked and we settled on dropping off the car at the United Airlines ticket counter at Ezeiza the evening of our return to the US.  We went to the car, inspected it (a late model Renault Mégane with a 5 speed manual transmission), signed the paperwork and off we went.  The car was fine all week with no complaints.  I did have to get gas part of the way through and this too was a little different than the US.  Argentine gas stations make use of the service model we had in place in the US back in the ‘50s: an employee of the station fills your car.  Simple enough provided you know how to indicate the amount of fuel you’d like (I did it the easy way and ask for “completo”… fill ‘er up) and that you remember to give the person a tip.  AR$2 or AR$3 is usually enough.

At the end of the week, we managed to return the car, but not without a little drama.  I had set a time that was a couple hours before our flight.  We checked in with the airline, got rid of our bags, then hung out in the United Airlines ticketing area.  15min after the appointed time, still no guy from Europcar.  I wandered all over looking for someone who might be looking for me (with about 5,000 other people also looking for someone) and finally walked over to the area where most of the rental car agencies had counters.  I was getting a little desperate to rid myself of the car as we had been told the security lines were at least an hour long.   I found an English speaking employee of another car company who actually knew the person from Europcar that shuttled the cars back n’ forth to the airport.  What were the odds of that?

He called the guy on his mobile and he soon arrived in front of me.  We walked to short term parking to inspect the car and sign the paperwork again.  I also gave him my ticket for the parking lot.  One disconnect was the final receipt he wanted to give me showed a much larger US$ than it should have.  I thought to myself: “Is this the deposit coming back to bite me like some sort of super insurance surcharge?”.  The Europcar guy spoke no English, but he quickly figured out  my concern and indicated it was a mistake.  He said they would mail me the receipt.  Nearly a month later, still no receipt at my home, but the credit card charges match my reservation, so I guess it all worked out.

Looking back on this, there appear to be two different scenarios.  One, agencies that have a presence at the airport.  Usually a small service counter or kiosk.  The other scenario is agencies that have no formal presence.  For both, the process is best started with making a reservation on-line.  I would NOT recommend trying to rent a car on the spur of the moment as I expect it takes a LONG time to handle such a transaction.

Scenario 1: With a Presence

When you arrive at the airport, check in at the kiosk for the agency you have selected.  The agency will work out the paperwork with you (credit card info, passport info, etc).  Ahead of time, they should have shuttled your car to the airport.  The agency staff will go out into the short term parking area to inspect the car with you.  Sign the paperwork and away you go.  It is not a fast process, but it works.  I did notice that at Ezeiza International Airport a couple of the big car companies had a few cars sitting in short term parking.   There were signs for Alamo, Hertz and Avis sitting in front of 3-4 parking spots.  So these companies at least have reserved parking spots for their cars, but that’s not the same as having a whole parking lot of cars waiting for you.  If you haven’t made a reservation in advance, I suspect you’ll be waiting a very long time for the agency to call the compound where their cars are stored, find a driver and have the vehicle shuttled over to the airport.

Scenario 2: Without a Presence

If the agency does NOT have a kiosk (e.g. Europcar), then I believe their people will meet you in the arrivals lounge at the airport with a printed placard showing your last name, much like a car service would.  The agency staff will go out into the short term parking area to inspect the car with you, work out the paperwork, etc.

Returning your car under each scenario would follow similar processes, but in reverse.  All in all, it was slow and confusing, but it will obviously be much easier the next time.  If you absolutely must rent a car in Argentina, just be prepared for what I’ve described and it should work out.  While I haven’t been to other countries in the region, I’d bet the process is similar in many places.  Just inquire ahead of time.  Good luck!

Tips

  • Be patient.
  • When filling up your car with gas, go “completo”.  Unless you actually know Spanish.  Don’t forget to tip.
  • Allow extra time to pick-up and drop-off your vehicle.  And do it at the airport.
  • Don’t lose the airport parking lot ticket.
  • Find out about insurance and deposits before you go.

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