Car Rental Companies
There is a wide array of car rental companies in Mexico, some of them are part of international chains that you may be familiar with, such as Hertz or Thrifty. You may feel safer renting from one of these companies, but local car rental companies usually offer more competitive rates. Important note: the big international companies are franchises in Mexico and may not actually offer better service than local agencies. In fact, they can be a nightmare to deal with. The franchise owner (Hertz, Avis etc) provide just the basics; booking and a logo - and that's about it. Don't expect that your usual "Gold" status will mean much in Mexico.
We recommend Prestige Car Rentals - this is a small locally owned business with an airport pickup location as well as an office in Old Town. Hours: Monday thru Saturday from 8am - 8pm, Sundays and holidays 8am - 2pm and 4pm - 6pm. They have promotional rates for 3,5,7 days with advance reservations, drivers need only be 21 years of age and they do accept debit cards. Click here for more info or you can email them at email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you make your car rental reservation online, print out all the details and present your printed document at the rental company when you go to pick up your car to be sure they honor the original agreement that you selected online and don't try to charge you a higher rate. Be aware that prices quoted in dollars will be converted to pesos for payment, and most likely not at a favorable rate, so it's best to get your rate quoted in Mexican pesos. As with any rental, make sure that you know if mileage is included.
Drivers are usually required to be at least 25 years of age in order to rent a car in Mexico, drivers license from your home country is accepted for driving in Mexico. You will need a credit card to make a security deposit on the vehicle.
Insurance for Rental Cars
The initial cost for a car rental will likely seem very low. The cost of insurance can easily double or more the cost of the rental, so be sure to add in the insurance in order to find out how much it will really cost you. Unfortunately, most of the rental websites won't offer all or any of the insurance options online. They will try and do the heavy upsell in person. That said, you definitely do need to have Mexican insurance because if your vehicle is involved in an accident, according to Mexican law, uninsured drivers may be arrested and held until any damage is paid for.
Different types of insurance
Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI)
Personal Accident Insurance (PAI)
Loss damage waiver (LDW) or collision damage waiver (CDW)
Some of these types of insurance might be covered on your credit card, but double check with your credit card company in advance to be sure and if possible - print out the details and keep them with the rental contract in the car. Often in order for your credit card coverage for this insurance to be valid, you will have to pay the full price of the rental on your card and decline LDW/CDW from the rental company.
When you pick up the car, the rental agent will inspect it with you and mark on a form any damage that the car has already sustained. Check to make sure the headlights and windshield wipers work as well. The car should have a spare tire and jack in the trunk. If you return the car with any damage to it other than what is marked on this form, you will be charged for it, so take your time and check the car scrupulously. Unfortunately, some travelers have found they are charged for damage that the car already had on it, so be sure to inspect the car along with the agent.
In our opinion it's not just a good idea to take photos with your digital camera, it's imperative! We even recommend downloading a date and time stamp app as well in order to have proof of the condition of the car when you received it. You can find free apps that do this very easily and they are super easy to use. We also recommend taking a photo of the odometer. While you are doing that, check to see how much gas is in the tank - see paragraph below. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of the inspection and the photos. You are anxious to get underway and you've been standing in line and it's been a long flight, but don't skip this step as It is one of the most common ways that tourists get scammed at car rentals. The good news is that it is easily avoided.
You will be expected to return your rental car with the same amount of gas with which you received it. Often you'll find that the car has an almost empty tank when you pick it up, make sure there is at least enough to get you to a gas station!
If you'll be traveling long distances, remember to fill up your tank at major towns because there can be long stretches of highway with no gas stations. Should you run out of gas near a small village, ask around and you will likely find someone who sells gas from containers out of a local shop or home.
Prior to 2018, petrol was a nationalized resource in Mexico, and only one company was authorized to sell gas: Pemex. Since this was a state-owned company, all Pemex stations across Mexico sold gas at the same price, so there was no need to look around for the best deal. Since 2018, the market has opened to other gas companies and now there is some competition, so you may find a slight difference in price at different stations.
All gas stations in Mexico are full service, so you will not need to pump your own gas.
Pemex stations sell three different types of gas:
Magna (regular unleaded)
Premium (high octane unleaded)
Let the attendant know how much you want and which type. Some rental cars are diesel - make sure you know what type of fuel your car uses. Gasoline is measured in liters, not in gallons in Mexico, so when figuring out how much you're paying for gas, remember that one gallon is equal to 3.785 liters.
Payment at gas stations is usually in cash (Mexican pesos, no foreign currency accepted), and this is usually easier and more convenient, but some stations do accept credit and debit cards. You may have to get out of your car to go to the machine and type in your PIN number. The attendant will let you know if that is the case. Our recomendation - bring Pesos!
It is customary to tip gas station attendants only if they perform some extra service like washing the windshield or checking your tires or oil, in which case, tipping between five and twenty pesos depending on the service is reasonable.
Useful Phrases at the Gas Station
"Lleno de Premium, por favor" (yeh-no deh preh-mee-oom por fah-vor) Fill 'er up with Premium, please.
"Cien pesos de Magna, por favor." (see-ehn peh-sohs deh mag-na por fah-vor) One hundred pesos of Magna, please.
"¿Puede lavar el parabrisas, por favor?" (poo-eday lah-var el para-bree-sas, por fah-vor) Would you please wash the windshield?
Avoid Gas Station Scams
There are a few scams that tourists have encountered when buying gas in Mexico. This is not very common, but it's good to be aware so you know what to watch out for. Before the gas station attendant begins to pump your gas, check to make sure the counter on the pump starts at 0.00. It happens rarely, but some attendants may (purposefully or not) neglect to reset the counter before pumping, making you pay for more gas than you actually receive. You should also remain attentive while stopped at the gas station and make sure you don't leave valuables next to an open window.
Pay attention to how much the total is, what denomination of bills you hand over to pay, and how much change you should get back. If you think you may have been a victim of a scam at a gas station, be sure to ask for a receipt so you have proof of the time and place of your purchase, and you can present a complaint at PROFECO, Mexico's consumer protection agency which is in charge of weights and measures as well as consumer protection of everyone in Mexico regardless of whether they are nationals or tourists. The Mexican government encourages people to report problems to PROFECO so that they may be resolved as soon as possible.
What to Do if You're Pulled Over
You are most likely to experience a mordida (bribe) when you're driving in Mexico and are stopped by traffic police. If you are pulled over, stay calm and present your driver's license. If the officer brings up a ticket, request that the cop take you to the station where you can fill out the appropriate paperwork and pay your fine legally. Fines for traffic violations in Mexico are usually not that expensive. Plus, if you pay a ticket within five days of receiving it, there is usually a discount, so it is advisable to pay as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, there have been cases of cops pulling tourists over when they haven't done anything wrong. If this happens and they try to pressure or intimidate you to pay a mordida, firmly decline, even if they try to bargain the price. Do not encourage mordidas in any way. Instead, repeat that you haven't done anything wrong, and if the police officer persists, ask to be taken to the station so you can talk to the police chief. Usually, at this point, they will let you go with a warning. If they do take you to the station, explain the situation, and in the worst case scenario, you may have to pay a small but legal fine (although that's unlikely to happen).
If you experience any car trouble on Mexico's federal highways, you can contact the Green Angels for roadside assistance.
You can contact the Green Angels by dialing 078 from any phone in Mexico. The operator will transfer your call to the dispatch service and they will communicate via radio with a unit in your area. If you don't have access to a phone, just pull over and put your car's hood up. When the Green Angels pass on their regular rounds, they will stop to offer you assistance.
The 078 phone number is a 24-hour hotline that you can call for telephone assistance at any time. The Angeles Verdes service, however, runs from 8 am to 6 pm every day of the year.
Keep in mind that the Ángeles Verdes service is only offered on major highways and toll roads, so if you choose to travel on the free roads (carreteras libres), you're on your own, though you can still contact the 078 hotline for information.
Paying for the Green Angels Service
Any service provided by the Green Angels is free of charge. You will need to pay for any parts, gas or oil they may use to get your car up and running, though. If you appreciate the assistance they give you, do offer a tip. They may or may not accept it, but it's a nice gesture to offer.