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Renting a car in Mexico: everything you need to know not to get ripped off

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From the feedback I have been getting from my other blog Boundless Roads I am receiving from readers, I realized that there are many travelers that are a little skittish about renting a car in Mexico, for many different reasons. I wrote a post where I hoped to have debunked the myth that driving in Mexico is dangerous. In this article, instead, I am sharing useful tips about renting a car in Mexico, how to choose a car rental that doesn’t rip you off. I am sure it’s helpful.


When I was living in Cancun, for about 7 years, I used to have a car and drive around anywhere I wanted. However it took me 2 years to own my own car and before that I used car rentals every now and then when I wanted to explore around.

I am used to renting cars in new places and I have been driving a lot everywhere I went either for work or on vacation, and I believe it’s by far the best way to get to know a place.

I have learned the hard way that car rentals sometimes play smart, and you find yourself paying for something that it’s not exactly what you think it is. Especially when it comes to insurance.

Also in Mexico, I have been ripped off once because of my distraction. I don’t want that this happens to you and that’s why I am writing this post to remind you about all the things you need to check when renting a car.

Tolantongo pool private

Renting a car in Mexico: how and where to book

Let’s start from the very first step. Where to book your car rental?

I have been using a few different sites and I have had a great experience in all of them.

The first two are aggregators, which means that through their website you can compare different car rental companies and their prices and chose the one you like best. (Those are affiliation links and if you book through those links I get a small commission a 0 cost for you).

However, keep in mind that the insurance they sell it’s with them not with the car rental, which could be tricky. So if you are booking with one of those site, don’t book the full insurance, but buy it from the car rental directly when you pick up the car. It’s much more convenient, because if something happens you deal directly with the local car rental.

Mex Car Rental is a local company, that I have also used a couple of times, including for my road trip in Baja California, and found very reliable and with the best prices. They also have a very clear policy and full coverage (if you choose to purchase it) – I have no commercial partnership with them, so I am not getting any sort of compensation by promoting them. I am just sharing my personal experience.

My suggestion is to check on the three sites and compare, keeping in mind that there can be hidden prices so make sure you read through the clauses very well.

RENTING A CAR IN MEXICO - ROAD IN BAJA CALIFORNIA

Renting a car with an aggregator

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.

Gruta tolantongo

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

You are likely to find lots of promotions of care rental “starting from” 5 USD. If it’s too good to be true it normally isn’t, as the old saying goes.

The thing is that the promotional price NEVER includes insurance and many other additional taxes that are always adding up. That’s why I always say to read through all the clauses before confirming the booking.

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

Scam to avoid when renting a car in Mexico

Unfortunately, sometimes, you believe you are completely covered by the insurance only to find out you are not, or they are charging for some damage that you haven’t actually done. That’s what happened to me during my last car rental in Cancun with American Car rental. I was charged for two damaged tires. I did damage one, but the other was not my fault. Unfortunately, I forgot what I usually suggest everybody do, which is take a picture of the car in all its part. So you can prove that the damage was already there. This time I forgot completely and I paid for it.

So remember to do it. Also when you do the car check and mark any damages on a piece of paper and sign it, make sure you also take clear pictures of all the sides, so if they accuse you of any damage you have solid proof that they are wrong.

For other scams on the road, you can refer to my posts on driving in Mexico, where I speak about that in detail.

Carizarillo beach in oaxaca - an enclosed bay with green water surrounded by a tropical vegetation

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

I can’t stress it enough, having insurance is super important when it comes to traveling in general and car rental as well.

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:

  • The full coverage with zero deductible is what you will need. This way 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 from your credit card is minimum, not more than 100 USD, but always make sure you ask.
  • The basic insurance requires you 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 through the third party company is not with the car rental, it’s never FULL coverage and you would need to anticipate the payment for the damages first.
  • Another important point I have learned is that the insurance offered 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. Therefore I would check with your company if they cover your rental in Mexico.
a girl by a car with door open at a gate

Hidden costs of renting a car in Mexico on line

This is a very important point because sometimes we believe we are getting ripped off or scammed when it’s actually our lack of information, aka, our fault.

When you book online sometimes you can find ridiculous rates such as 8 USD per day car rental or 15USD for a luxury car price. Once you get to pick up your car, you will notice the rate will be inflated, or better said, back to a reasonable rate.

Why?

That’s because those third-party companies receive a commission from the car rental company 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. That’s why I always remind you to make sure you read all the rental clauses, sometimes included in very small letters.

Staying informed is a great way not to get scammed.

El chiflon waterfall- surrounded by vegetation

Is it safe to rent a car in Mexico?

I find it relatively safe to rent a car in Mexico but you need to know where you are going and ask about the area you are going to explore. Mexico is a huge country and there can be a huge difference between one area and another.

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, unfortunately, true.

Therefore try to avoid offering them an excuse for stopping you.

I have been stopped quite a few times and never bribed once because I don’t like to support this unethical practice.

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

loreto bay

Is renting a car in Messico worth it?

I believe it is. Even if you are in Cancun enjoying the spectacular beaches and turquoise waters. If you rent a car you can go and explore places where tours don’t go and local transportation doesn’t provide a service with convenient schedules.

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. 

on the road baja california sur

For further reading

road in baja california
Driving in Mexico: all you need to know
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