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The honest truth about renting a car in Mexico

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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 and I will 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 while 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 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 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.

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 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 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)

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 because some 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 special deals if you walk in 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 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 always purchase a 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.
  • 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 credit card 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 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 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 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.

Some times 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 to the car before signing off every 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 the 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.

A side note, 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.

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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