Most big-name car rental companies have offices in Quito, as do a handful of Ecuadorian operators. You can book anything from a 4×4 jeep all the way to hiring a limo driver for that late-night ride home from partying in La Mariscal.

To rent a car in Ecuador you need to be at least 25 years of age, hold a valid driver’s license, and carry an internationally recognized credit card. Realize, however, that car rental in Ecuador is vastly different from that in the USA or Europe, mainly because there is no CDW (Collision Damage Waiver). Practices differ from company to company, so you need to make sure you fully understand the details of the contract and your responsibilities. Generally speaking, you can expect the following when renting a car in Ecuador.

The daily rental rate will not include 12% tax and insurance coverage (nor the %8 fee that companies charge you  at airports only) – these are extra and obligatory. Read the details of the insurance coverage extremely carefully – it will not be as comprehensive as car insurance back in your home country. Typically, there are two options: Basico (basic, ~$15 per day) and Completo (complete, ~$25 per day). The former has a deductible, while the latter has no deductible and is more expensive as a result.

Even though you can pay for the rental with cash or traveler’s checks, you will need a credit card to guarantee the booking. You will be required to place anywhere around USD 1,000 – 2,000 which will be split between two vouchers: one to guarantee the rental, the other to guarantee against damage (a.k.a a damage deposit). After you return the car, any amount over the cost of the rental will be refunded to your card – a process that can take a few weeks.

Car rental companies require a police report in the event of an accident. If you are involved in a collision however, you may find that the other party is reluctant to involve the police – especially if they are responsible. They may prefer to come to a financial agreement, or go to a local garage and pay for the repairs right then and there. Note that car rental companies prefer to carry out the repairs themselves.

If the police are called and there is no agreement about responsibility, both parties may have to stay in the police station until an agreement is reached. Depending on the car company and the insurance you purchased, you may be responsible for the first USD 1,000 – 2,000 in repair costs. If the other party is liable, legally they should pay. There may be rare cases where you’ll find that the other driver does not have that kind of money, and you may end up covering these costs yourself.

Ecuador has obligatory insurance for all car owners and drivers known as SOAT, which stands for Seguro Obligatorio de Accidentes de Tránsito (Obligatory Insurance for Transportation Accidents). This insurance is solely for the victim(s) of the car accident that have either been found injured or dead, and does not cover damages to the vehicle itself. This cost is covered by the rental company and is already included in the car rental fee.

Roads in Ecuador used to be notorious for their pool quality and maintenance, but in recent years the government has picked up traction in terms of fully revamping their autopistas (highways) and main roads that connect to all the major cities and towns throughout Ecuador. The total investment and cost of the construction, renovation and signage of roads in Ecuador is over 4.6 million. Needless to say, there’s still a large network of secondary roads that suffer from poor maintenance and construction work, with some being no more than mere dirt and rock, so be prepared.

Before leaving the car rental location, always make sure that there is a car-jack (gato) and a spare tire (llanta de repuesto) in good condition. You should also check the car thoroughly inside and out, since you will be responsible for any scratches or damage when you return it. Replacement of the spare tire is rarely included in your insurance, but you will find tire replacement centers (vulcanizadoras) on roadsides throughout Ecuador. In the case of mechanical failure, Ecuador is relatively small and you will rarely be more than five hours away from Quito or Guayaquil, so roadside rescue or car replacement is not too complicated.

Most rental fleets in Ecuador feature cars with manual transmission; automatics are rare. If you require an automatic, particularly in high season, you should request it in advance. Cars which run on unleaded gasoline are also an anomaly so you’ll find that your car runs on either Extra or Super. Diesel is also available. Gasoline prices are similar, if not lower, compared to U.S. prices. Drop-off charges regularly apply.