Oct 21, 2004, 8:51 PM
Post #2 of 6
Car rental in Mexico is much more expensive than in the USA. I recommend that you get the Mexican insurance, which makes it even more expensive. The rental car insurance from your credit card, if any, does not work in Mexico.
Some general thoughts on car rental and driving below.
AUTO RENTAL AND DRIVING TIPS FOR MEXICO
I have often rented cars in Mexico, although I rarely drive my own car across the border.
RENTAL CARD VS. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
With the low price of taxis and busses, and the high price of rental cars in Mexico, it is usually much cheaper to use public transportation, and I have an info sheet available that discusses the Mexican bus system.
Trips in which a rent-a-car makes sense: You desire to visit out-of-the way villages, or just drive around and explore.
Trips in which public transportation makes sense: You will spend most of your time in a city or a beach resort, without daily trips far from your hotel. For instance, I think that it would be crazy to rent a car to see Mexico City.
Of course, a compromise is to rent a car for a couple of days of exploration, and use public transportation the rest of the time. Sometimes tours are available, even by taxi, to out-of-the-way destinations.
Rental cars in Mexico vary in quality, even when using name brand US car rental companies. Look over the car carefully before you accept it, especially the tires and spare.
Generally, you will save money by reserving a car before you arrive in Mexico.
I recommend that you accept the local insurance, as your policy on your car in the US or Canada does not apply there.
GENERAL DRIVING TIPS
1. Do not drive at night. Essentially all authorities will tell you this. I occasionally violate this rule, but only for short distances when I know the road. Some of the reasons include: topes, corrupt police, poor signage, bandits, livestock in the road, and cars driving without lights.
2. Stay alert for topes (speed bumps) outside and inside villages, marked or unmarked.
3. Realize that highway signs in Mexico are not as complete as those in the US. Maps may not be readily available. I sometimes stop and ask for directions.
4. Realize that corrupt police sometimes target tourist drivers. Although this has never happened to me, there are plenty of stories out there. Some people talk about the art form of the mordida (small bribe), some people say that you should not encourage corruption, etc. If you are stopped, don't panic, take your time, don't assume that the cop is corrupt, and offer to pay your fine at the station. If the cop makes it clear he is looking for cash on the spot, I leave it to you what you want to do. I have a funny story about cops and cars. We were on our way to the airport with a rent-a-car, and stopped for breakfast. On our way out, we saw our car on a towtruck. Apparently there was a footrace, and they were clearing the street (we did not see any signs). We rushed up and talked to the tow truck driver, who was not sympathetic. The sergeant came over, explained this situation to us, and asked if we had our keys. The sergeant told the towtruck driver to lower the car, and told us to drive away. We shook his hands with a muchas gracias, and drove to the airport. So don't assume that you will have a problem just because a cop has stopped you.
5. Roadblocks are sometimes seen on highways, especially at the border of two states. They may want to look in your trunk, or even open luggage. Do not panic, watch them work, and you will be on your way in a few minutes. Sometimes these roadblocks are run by police, sometimes by soldiers or police carrying large rifles. This is normal for Mexico. They may be looking for drugs, guerillas, or unauthorized agricultural products.
6. Toll roads, marked "cuota", are common in Mexico. Sometimes these are moderately priced, sometimes they are extremely expensive. By expensive, I mean 20 dollars US for a two hour ride. You may wish to find out the price before you get on the toll road, as the price is not marked until you get to the toll booth. The toll roads are comparable to US interstate four-lane highways, usually have few exits, and are the fastest and safest way to travel long distances, although you won't see the villages.
7. You must have Mexican insurance, whether you drive your own car or a rental car. According to Mexican law, if you have an accident and do not have insurance, you can be thrown into jail; this is especially troublesome if you are injured in the accident, as you will not be able to get home for medical treatment. Get the Mexican insurance.
While I believe that most of Mexico is safe to drive around, there are a few troubled areas in Mexico, and some sources list specific roads as potential security concerns. Mexico Mike lists specific roads where extra care would be advisable in his section on Safety Tips. The US state department also lists specific roads with concerns. Take the couple of minutes to review their information before you go. If the area of your trip is not listed, you can relax and travel normally. If the area of your trip is listed, the rule of no night driving applies double, and local enquiry should be made before getting off the beaten path. Mexico City is not a good place to drive around, especially with US licence plates, as foreigners and locals are sometimes targeted by corrupt police. Mexico City is also a hard place to drive, I do it every 10 years or so, after I have forgotten how tough it was the last time. ;-)
If you plan to drive your own car into Mexico, be sure you buy Mexican auto insurance from Sanborn or another Mexican insurer, before you cross the border. You will need registration papers, and a credit card to guarantee that you will return the car to the US, etc. If the car is not paid for you may need a letter from the bank. The Sanborns insurance web site has useful information.
Here are a few web sites that relate to driving in Mexico:
http://www.sanbornsinsurance.com (Good on border crossing info)
http://travel.state.gov/tips_mexico.html (somewhat dated)
May 2, 2004