playa and road

The honest truth about renting a car in Mexico

In MEXICO, TRAVEL HACKS by IsabellaLeave a Comment

From the questions I am receiving from readers, I realized how many people are concerned about renting the car in Mexico, for many different reasons, but most of all because they don’t feel comfortable driving in a foreign country.

Most of you know that I have been living in Mexico for the past 10 years, 4 of which I used to drive around in my own car while on many other occasions I have been using car rentals.

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 you know 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, it will make your life easier when renting a car and spare you from headaches.

Some Spanish knowledge also could help.

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

me walking towards the car

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 all the characteristics of a good scam.

The thing is that price usually doesn’t include insurance 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 price is very well specified.

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.

view of a beach from the road

Scam to avoid when renting a car

Scams are mainly found at the gasoline station.

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.
  • 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.

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

In Mexico, you will find all the major international car rentals, such as Budget, Avis, Hertz, Sixt, 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 is how you can rent a car in Mexico.

car by a bungalow

Rent 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)

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 what the rate includes as some offers are traps.

Pros – You can find great deals

Cons – You need quite some time to do the search and you might get inaccurate information.

Direct booking – Walk-in

It can be more convenient to find special deals if you walk in the car rental office (just not at the airport). However, you might want to avoid doing it in easter holiday or summer, where you might want to avoid the risk to find yourself without a car and 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.

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 understood 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.
  • 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 is not always valid in Mexico, which means that if you don’t purchase the insurance with your car rental 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 company if they cover your rental in Mexico.

Car in front of a bungalow

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 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 what 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 station.

You can read my guide to driving in Mexico for more details.

The first rule, though, is to respect the speed limits 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 the main rule is avoiding 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.

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

Is it worth renting a car in Cancun?

Even in Cancun, it is worth renting a car, in my opinion, because you can explore places where local transportation doesn’t go.

However, if you don’t feel comfortable you can always hire a taxi or book an organized tour.

I hope this small guide on renting a car in Mexico was helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments below. 

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