Conscious Aging: Panama Car Rental

I just got smacked upside the head when I went to book the rental car for Panama 2018. All of the major rental car companies have an age limit of 70. I did rent last year at 71, which may have been a fluke. Budget accepted a reservation for an office near the village that had closed before I arrived in country, and they didn’t notify me of the change. We only found out at the airport upon arrival when David, who was going to drive us out to the villa and then take me to get the car, went to the Budget counter to ask where exactly the Santa Clara office was located. The answer was, “It isn’t.” In the confusion of finding me a new rental that I could drive from the airport, I suspect nobody looked at my age.

One of my 2018 guests emailed me that he had this problem in Ireland, but was able to rent from a smaller company with a note from his insurance company that he’s had no accidents for five years and from his doctor certifying his good health. Given Panama’s general inefficiency, I can imagine making those arrangements online, coming with the documents, and being denied anyway. And there’s no telling what extra premium a company in Panama would charge for an over-age rental.

I do have the option of simply hiring David for the whole two weeks as my driver, which I’ve been thinking about anyway because renting in Panama is so expensive. U.S. insurances don’t apply, and rental car coverage is exorbitant. But it’s slightly less convenient to have to call David to come over from the village, or to plan ahead my use from day to day, instead of having the car at the ready.

I’m also concerned about implications for car rental here in the U.S. I just rented at Newark Airport without incident, so am not sure what the cutoff age might be for U.S. rentals.

This isn’t an issue for urban trips, as I’m happy to use Uber or Lyft and would anyway. But it is sharply limiting for anything else. I perfectly understand the risk management calculations of a global car rental company, and am not surprised that 22-70 winds up being the sweet spot. The fact that I may be healthier and sharper than many over-70 year olds doesn’t apply in a statistical analysis of a large population. But it really is startling to run up against this strict limitation by age.

9 thoughts on “Conscious Aging: Panama Car Rental

  1. I have rented a car several times in the US in recent years with no age problem…..and I have a few years on you!

  2. for Phyllis and Ada: I’ve rented recently too, without issue. The thing in Panama feels like a harbinger of the day I’ll no longer be able to drive, and I don’t like it one bit!

  3. for Ada: No, none of us does. I think a lot about aging gracefully … and one of my most beloved role models, a Rochester friend in her early 90’s, is slipping into a kind of drifty state, not exactly dementia, but not all here either. Sigh.

  4. It’s very distressing to hear the age cut off. My husand is 71. We are renting a car for our Southern California family vacation. I understand the actuarial forecasts but agree, my friends in their 70s are great drivers. I like your idea of an MD note. I do hope American car companies do not follow this practice. Could this be an opportunity to invoke the advocacy of AARP?

    I guess I shouldn’t put my Mom down as an additional driver on our California car rental. She turns 90 4 days before our vacation.

  5. for Katie: I think we all understand a global car rental company using statistics to make actuarial forecasts, but it certainly disadvantages those of us who are healthy, alert, and capable drivers even beyond age 70. You’ve been to Panama, and you know how arbitrary and disorganized they are — which makes me not trust, even if I’d arranged a letter ahead of time, that they’d give me a car. Better to work out an arrangement with David.

  6. for Ada: This is very helpful, thanks. I too have had no trouble renting in the U.S., but the arbitrary deadline re age is sobering for anyone who travels.

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