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The honest truth about renting a car in Mexico

From the questions I am receiving from readers, I realized how many people are concerned about renting a car in Mexico, for many different reasons, but most of all because they don’t feel comfortable driving in a foreign country that is also considered “dangerous”. I get it, and in this post, I will give you some useful advice on renting a car in Mexico without getting scammed. I will also share some tips on driving in Mexico. I hope it will help you feel more comfortable and set off for your amazing road trip adventure in this beautiful country.


I have been living in Mexico for the past 10 years, and for most of the time, I used to drive around in my own car until I sold it to set off for my adventure around the world, but that’s another story.

Before leaving Mexico I have traveled around the country and on many other occasions, I have been using car rentals. That’s why I feel confident that I can share some useful advice from my personal experience.

I have learned a lot of tricks and unwritten rules about car rentals and I decided to write this post and share them with you with the hope that you will feel more confident about renting a car in Mexico, but also for you to learn “how to play the game”.

The general reputation of car rentals about using scammy practices might also put you off and let you opt for a car-free vacation.

However, I still believe that driving around is the best way to know a place and if you know how to book and what to look forit will make your life easier when renting a car and spare you from headaches.

Some Spanish knowledge also could help.

Although I recommend renting a car to explore a region I believe it’s not necessary when you visit major cities such as Mexico City or Guadalajara or Queretaro, where traffic is too high and you are much better off using UBER or taxis. It’s easier, cheaper, and it spares you some headaches/

But let’s go by steps and answer the most important questions about renting a car in Mexico.

Read also: Driving in Mexico: all you need to know

How much does it cost to rent a car in Mexico?

It’s very easy to find car rentals promoting daily costs as low as 6 USD per day. It seems crazy and it has the clear look of a good scam.

The thing is that rental price usually doesn’t include insurance coverage and other tax fees.

So it’s very important that when you make your reservation you read through all the clauses of the booking and make sure that what is included in the rental rates is very well detailed.

Car insurance is a whole different topic and I will talk about it later on in this post.

Keep reading because you need to know this. 

You can consider that a more realistic price which includes full insurance starts from 40USD per day for a basic car model.

What is the best way to rent a car in Mexico?

In Mexico, you will find all the major international car rentals, such as BudgetAvisHertzSixt, and some local ones such as Mex car rental, which I used once, and I honestly found very good, with straightforward guidelines and clear rates.

So here below I am going to share my thoughts on renting a car in Mexico.

Renting a car online through a third-party site

I use discover car rental, which has a very user-friendly site and shows different rates and car options from all the major car rental companies operating in Mexico.

Pros – It’s great to compare prices among different companies

Cons – although third-party companies are very useful anywhere else in the world, in Mexico, car companies tend to give priority to direct bookings and would not honor third-party insurance. (See below chapter on insurance)

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Make a booking directly with the rental company

If you have time to do a quick research you can check directly on each car rental website and see if there is some promotional rate, but always make sure to check what the rate includes because some rental price offers are honey traps.

Pros – You can find great deals

Cons – It requires a lot of time to do the search.

Direct booking – Walk-in

It can be more convenient to find the best deals if you just show up at the car rental office (just not at the airport). However, you might want to avoid doing it for the Easter Holidays or Christmas, where you don’t want to run the risk to find yourself without a car and have your itinerary plans completely spoiled.

Pros – You can get great deals

Cons – You run the risk to end up without a car or spend more in high season.

One-way rentals

There are local agencies for the major car rentals in the major cities. However, keep in mind that dropping off the car at a different agency is expensive. On the other hand, even though renting a car at the airport is usually more expensive, renting a car in Cancun airport or Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta Airports is usually not more expensive than renting it in any other local agency.

What kind of insurance do I need to rent a car in Mexico?

Now, this is a hot topic that requires attention.

I have been talking to several car rentals and tried different kinds of car insurance myself. I never need to use it luckily but I always purchase full insurance for the sake of my peace of mind. And now I understand how it works.

This is what you need to know:

  • First of all, I would suggest you should purchase full coverage with zero deductible, which means that if you damage the car for whatever reason you don’t have to pay a dime for it (normally windows and tires, and losing the keys are not covered). You will know if there is zero deductible because the deposit you would be required to leave by credit card is minimum, not more than 100 USD.
  • Usually debit cards are not accepted as a deposit, because they rental companies don’t actually take you any money, they just make an “authorization” which means they block an amount on your card which they will use in case of any fault. They cannot do that on debit cards. That’s why they are not accepted. But you can pay by debit card, by all means. All major credit cards are usually accepted
  • If you buy the basic insurance you will need to leave a deposit that goes from 700 to 1500 USD depending on the amount of the deductible.
  • It’s always more convenient to purchase the full package car rental + full coverage directly with the car rental company instead of the third party.
  • The insurance purchased with the third party company has nothing to do with car rental, it’s never FULL coverage and you would need to anticipate the payment for the damages first.
  • The insurance included by your credit card (if you are from the United States) is not always valid in Mexico, which means that if you don’t purchase the insurance with your rental car company you will still have to pay for the damage from your pocket and then claim a refund with your credit card. I would suggest you make sure you check with your credit card company if they cover your rental in Mexico.
  • The CDW (collision damage waiver) is an insurrance that you have fully included with 0 deductible if you purchase the full coverage. Otherwise it’s offered by the rental companies as an additional insurrance that covers damages to the car in case of an accident but not injuries. It normally comes with a deductible.

Hidden costs of renting a car in Mexico on line.

What is sometimes perceived as a scam, it is actually misinformation on our end.

When you book online you will normally find absurd rental rates such as 8 USD per day car rental or 15USD for a luxury car price that will get outrageously inflated when you actually go to the rental office and pick up your fabulous deal.

The thing is that those third-party companies get a commission from their sale but not from the taxes and additional fees, and that’s why they are added to your final bill directly in the car rental office, as they are totally up to the rental company. It should normally appear in the rental clauses in small letters when you book.

That’s why I never get tired to repeat that you MUST read very well all that is included in the price you are paying.

Being informed is a great way not to get scammed.

Is it safe to rent a car in Mexico?

It is relatively safe to rent a car in Mexico although you would need to know some tricks on Mexican Roads and Gas stations.

You can read my full guide to driving in Mexico for more details. I assure you it will be very handy.

The first rule, though, is to respect the speed limit and the basic international rules, including wearing a seat belt and not using your phone while driving.

The stories that you hear about the police stopping you with any excuse to try to bribe you are very likely to be true.

Therefore avoid offering them excuses to stop you.

I have been stopped quite a few times and never give them a dime as I don’t like to support this unethical practice.

Sometimes they let me go with a verbal warning, in other cases, I just paid the fine.

Is it worth renting cars in Cancun?

Cancun car rentals require a separate section because like with anything else in Cancun I found it a little more complicated. I used to rent a car with American Car Rental before buying my own car when I was living in Cancun and I never had any problems, until I had one, a year ago. I also rented it with Payless car rental which became more expensive over the years.

I just feel like in Cancun it is getting more difficult to find genuine and honest companies, and they find an excuse to rip you off. Maybe it’s just my impression and you may prove me wrong.

Just please pay more attention and make sure you take a picture of the car before signing off every piece of paperwork.

To be honest, it is indeed worth renting a car in Cancun, because you can explore places where local transportation doesn’t go, around Cancun and the surrounding. For example, you may like to explore the beautiful Cenotes near Cancun on your own and you will need a car for that. Much better than taking a taxi or joining a tour.

You can check out some rates through Discover Car Rental and see what deal you can get.

Scam to avoid on the road after renting a car

Scams are mainly found at gasoline stations.

Also, sometimes they will tell you they cannot accept credit cards because the system is down.

I am not sure whether it is true or not, but it is advisable to have some cash with you, always.

  • When you stop for gas, always ask by the quantity (20L or 40L) and not by the amount of money, otherwise, you will get less gas. (I am not sure why, but so I was told by a local friend)
  • Also, it has been a habit to scam distracted drivers that pay by 500 MXN note by telling them it was a 200MXN so they won’t give you any change. Make sure you know well how much money you are handing out and if they try to cheat, do not be afraid to speak your mind. They usually tend to give up if they see you are firm and confident. I know it sounds crazy but it happened to a couple of friends of mine.
  • The other thing you must do is to check the gas meter and make sure it’s on zero because some dishonest gas stations tend to reset the number and give you less gas than what you have paid for. Since it has now become a very well-known issue, many gas operators would show you first that the gas meter is on zero, before start filling your tank.

Driving in Mexico: a few things to know

  • There are toll roads in Mexico as well. In the Yucatan peninsula, there is only one that takes you from Cancun to Merida. But it’s much more fun to drive on regular roads as you pass through small towns and villages.
  • If you don’t take the toll roads be careful to speed bumps (so-called topes). They are not marked and most of the time they are really high. If you drive fast over them you can damage the car.
  • Pay attention to road signs and respect them
  • You don’t need an international driver’s license to drive in Mexico. A valid driver’s license from your country is enough.
  • A rental vehicle is normally on a target for the police especially from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, for some reason, so make sure you don’t give them a reason to stop you.
  • Take some Mexican Pesos with you to pay for the gas.
  • Road conditions are not always the best unless you drive on toll roads. You will find a lot potholes, especially on secondary roads. So be careful.
  • You can find mainly cars with automatic transmission
  • Buy a Mexican phone sim card and use google map to find your way around
  • Car rental insurance is usually the best option
  • Not necessarily smaller cars have better rates. Always ask the car rental company if they have any deals for bigger cars. Sometimes they do.
  • Keep in mind that the gas station staff sometimes doesn’t even get paid or a very low wage, so giving them a tip is a common practice. I usually give them 20 pesos, although normally they get from 10 to 20.
  • If anything happens immediately contact customer care. The car rental company should have given you a 24/7 phone number (one more reason to buy the local sim card)


And that’s the end of my guide on renting a car in Mexico. I hope it was helpful. Obviously, if you think I left anything out or you have a question, don’t be shy and let me know in the comments below! Happy driving!


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citycarrentals

Friday 25th of June 2021

thanks for the FANTASTIC post! This information is really good and thanks a ton for sharing it :) Keep it up

Tony Nesta

Saturday 12th of June 2021

My experience with renting a car in Mexico is like dealing with scam artists and getting overcharged. First of all, Never Ever pre pay for anything on your car rental online. That means NEVER use a third party vendor to reserve your car; you will prepay for insurance that the car rental company does not honor in case of an accident and you will lose the money you paid online to the third party vendor for LDW or CDW. And they don't honor credit card insurance in case of an accident (meaning that you will have to pay for any damages upfront and then get reimbursed later by the credit card company, if possible). ALWAYS go directly to the car rental company to book your car. They will sell you the insurance directly. I've had expensive experiences with renting a car in Mexico in that I always end up paying in the range of $45 to $50 USD a DAY (2020-2021, with full insurance included).

Isabella

Saturday 12th of June 2021

Hello Tony, thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your experience. I am glad you are confirming what I mention in the article. Happy travels!

John carter

Friday 28th of May 2021

very good blog. I like it. thanks for sharing such great information with us. I hope you will share some more info. keep it up

Isabella

Saturday 29th of May 2021

Hello John,

thanks a lot for your kind comment. I am glad you like the blog. Keep following! :)

Angie

Sunday 16th of May 2021

You mentioned Mex Car Rental having straightforward rates. Were renting 2 vehicles in June from the airports. I spoke with their customer service and asked if I got the full coverage if there were any additional rates. They assured me there weren't but I can't help and be skeptical after all I've read. Did you have any hidden fees with them or anything outside of paying for full coverage? The TPL is included.

Tony Nesta

Saturday 12th of June 2021

@Angie, You get a copy of the car rental contract when you check out with the car. You will be paying that amount on the contract and nothing more; unless you extend the rental or god forbid, you get into an accident and didn't purchase insurance directly with them.

Isabella

Sunday 16th of May 2021

Hello Angie, thanks a lot for writing in. No, I didn't pay anything else except for what was mentioned during the reservation. Actually, I returned the car one day earlier and they reimbursed me for the unused day. However, since it was one year ago I have sent them a message and ask specific questions. I will get back to you as soon as they reply. Although I cannot guarantee for them because I am not responsible for their decision and practices, I can tell you that my experience with them was great. The best among all the car rentals I have used in the past. And definitely the cheapest. I will get back to you again as soon as I know more. :)

Ryan

Monday 26th of April 2021

Hello! I'm hoping you can clarify something for me. Last time I rented a car in Florida I had no issues using my bank card with a visa logo. Do you know if this is acceptable at Mex rent-a-car. I emailed the company and they just sent me the same verbiage as their website. Thanks for your help!

Your travel guides have been extremely helpful! Thank your for those as well!

Tony Nesta

Saturday 12th of June 2021

@Ryan, I think what you're asking is if they accept debit cards? I think Mex rent a car (or any car rental company) does not want or does not accept debit cards. They want you to use a credit card. And I think using a credit card is the safest way to go in case you have a dispute with the charges, they can easily be disputed.

Isabella

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

Hello Ryan,

thank you for your kind words. I am extremely glad that my guides were helpful. As for car insurance, the last time I rented a car with Mex car rental I asked them specifically about cases similar to yours. They explained that you can by all means avoid purchasing their insurance if you have your own. However, they said, most of the times when something happens,(God forbids), the credit card insurance from the US doesn't pay upfront, but you would have to pay for all the damages and then ask for the refund once you get back. That if your card covers that kind of damages related to car rentals in Mexico. That's why I always suggest checking with your insurance company and make sure you are covered. It's really up to you/them. Mex car rental (or any other car rentals don't really mind, they just don't respond if you are not insured with them). I hope that clarifies. Please let me know. Best, and happy travels!

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