From the feedback I am receiving from readers, I realized that many travelers are a little skittish about renting a car in Mexico, for many different reasons.
Understandably, driving in a foreign country where you don’t feel familiar with roads and environments can be scary, and probably even more in Mexico, where general safety issues can be intimidating.
I have lived in Mexico for the past 12 years and loved driving around, mostly in the Yucatan peninsula and Baja California and I always felt very safe, even safer than in a taxi or a bus.
I wrote a post about driving in Mexico, 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, and 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 car and before that, I used car rentals 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.
Browse through international and local car rentals and find the best deal.
↳You can read my Discover Cars Rental reviews for further clarity.
Renting a car in Mexico: how and where to book
Let’s start with 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 with all of them.
But Discover cars is the one I would go to right now. It’s an aggregator, which means that through their website you can compare different car rental companies and their prices and choose the one you like best.
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 Discover car rentals and you book the full insurance, you will need to pay upfront and they will refund you.
But sometimes it’s still more convenient. Depending on the car rental you will ultimately choose.
Mex Car Rental instead is one of the most popular Mexican car rental companies, that I have also used a couple of times, including for my road trip in Baja California, and found it very reliable and with the best prices.
However, I have noticed that nowadays they have been increasing their rates.
That is why there is not an absolute BEST among all the car rental companies and that’s also why I always suggest using a company such as Discover Cars Rental so that you can compare prices and conditions in one place.
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 with an aggregator (such as Discover Car rentals)
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 search and you might get inaccurate information.
Direct booking – Walk-in
It can be more convenient to find special deals if you walk into the car rental office (just not at the airport). However, you might want to avoid doing it during the Easter holiday or summer, when you don’t want to risk finding yourself without a car and your itinerary plans completely spoiled.
Pros – You may get yourself great deals (or you may not)
Cons – You run the risk to end up without a car or spend more in high season.
How much does it cost to rent a car in Mexico?
You are likely to find lots of promotions for 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.
Browse through international and local car rentals and find the best deal.
What’s the cheapest car rental company?
In Mexico, there are many different car rental companies, and the best way to find the cheapest ones are through an aggregator such as Discover Car rentals where you can select your dates and then check out which car rental company offers the best deals.
Among the cheapest ones you will find both Mexican rental companies and international ones, it always depends on many factors.
Despite what people may think, renting a car in Mexico can become quite expensive sometimes, especially during peak season.
Usually, big international companies such as Hertz, and Europe Car are the most expensive ones, in my experience.
What’s the best rental car company in Mexico?
I am afraid there is no an absolute best. I have rented with different car rentals and luckily I haven’t had any issues with them.
I believe you can consider a good rental car company when they deliver good well maintained cars and when they manage any issue promptly and honestly.
They wouldn’t have hidden costs and they would explain what is included in the rental car insurance and what is not included.
The rental cars I have been renting with have been quite all right, so far. However, I can’t say which one is best.
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 done.
That’s what happened to me during my last car rental in Cancun with America 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 parts. So you can prove that the damage was already there. This time I forgot completely and I paid for it.
➢ Do I need travel insurance in Mexico? Yes, you do! I can never stress enough what a lifesaver it can be in unexpected situations. Although I hope I never need it, it gives me peace of mind to know that whatever happens, I am covered. I have been using Safety Wing, and I find it quite fair, covering a lot for its pricing level. Depending on your needs or you can compare different insurance companies on this useful site, TRAVEL INSURANCE MASTER. Make sure you read carefully what’s included before making the purchase. If you are undecided yet, you can read my post on the best travel insurance for Mexico for more clarity.
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.
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 renting a car in Mexico as well, and everywhere else, to be more accurate.
I have been talking to several car rentals and tried different kinds of rental car insurance myself. I never need to use it luckily but I understood how it works.
This is what you need to know:
✔ Full coverage + zero deductible
When renting a car always ask for full coverage with zero deductible. 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 or you have to purchase extra insurance.
Also, most car rental companies, such as America Car rentals, exclude what they call minor damages from the insurance coverage, which is odd and tricky because, how can you define Minor damages? It’s very subjective.
So this is one of the things I would consider scammy practices or another way to make more money (for the Rental Car companies of course)
In any case, make sure you cover those as well.
You will know if there is zero deductible because the deposit you would be required to leave from your credit card is a minimum, not more than 500 USD, but always make sure you ask for a breakdown of what the car insurance covers.
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.
✔ Credit Card Insurance
Another important point I have learned is that the insurance offered by your credit card company 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 credit card company if they cover your rental in Mexico.
Also for most rental car companies, it’s mandatory to purchase basic insurance with them, regardless. Some others include basic car insurance with the cost of the car.
What kind of insurance does the basic insurance include
Basic insurance sometimes includes a Collision Damage Waiver, Theft Protection and Third-party Liability, or sometimes one or two of these.
It all depends on both the car you choose and the legislation of the country where you rent the car.
There is no general rule. Here below I will try to explain each of them and what they mean.
✔ What is personal liability insurance?
Rental car insurance liability coverage protects you from lawsuits if you’re in an accident. For example, in case you cause an accident and someone sues you for their medical bills.
Mind though that while the liability insurance doesn’t provide any protection for damages suffered by you, your passengers, or the car (only the third party’s), the personal accident coverage includes medical, ambulance, and death benefits for you (the rental car driver) and your passengers.
Different car rentals company offer different levels of coverage, so you should inquire with the car company when you are renting the car.
✔ What’s Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)?
A Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is a waiver most car rental companies include in the car rental price.
This waiver limits the customer’s responsibility during the rental period and sets the maximum amount of money the customer will have to pay for potential damages, which is the deductible.
Also for the CDW whether it is included in your rental agreement or not depends on the type of car you select. That is where the full coverage comes in. If you want to reduce the maximum cost of damage to zero, you should ask for full coverage with 0 deductible.
Mind that not all car rentals offer this option! So if for you it’s paramount to have it, you should ask before renting a car.
✔ What is theft protection?
Theft Protection (TP) is a waiver that limits your liability up to the vehicle’s deductible/excess amount in the event the car is stolen. TP is frequently included in the car rental price but, again, if you want to bring your liability down to 0, you need to ask for extra insurance.
Regardless, for the TP to be applicable, you usually need to provide the police report as well as the car keys.
Car rental insurance pro tip
Keep in mind that no matter what kind of insurance you pay for, even the highest level of insurance won’t cover you in case of negligence, if you are drunk while driving, or if you don’t respect the traffic laws in general.
Hidden costs of renting a car in Mexico online
This is a very important point because sometimes we believe we are getting ripped off or scammed when it’s our lack of information, aka, our fault.
I know what you are thinking now, who the heck is reading the entire car rental contract and the fine print? true that, but unfortunately it can turn against you. That is when the car rentals are not completely honest.
For example, when I rented the car with America car rental I was told that if something happens and I don’t report it immediately to their assistance number, the insurance won’t cover the costs.
If the person who delivered the car didn’t tell me I wouldn’t have known, because I didn’t read the entire fine print! my bad!
When you book online sometimes you can find ridiculous rates such as 8 USD per day car rental or 15 USD 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.
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. (Hence, this article 🙂
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.
Sometimes they let me go with a surprisingly kind verbal warning, in other cases, I just paid the fine.
Renting a car in Mexico City
If you are planning to rent a car in Mexico City I would discourage you to do it for many reasons, but there are three main ones:
✔ Mexico City has a tremendous amount of traffic, which causes contamination and congestion. That means that the more cars are circulating the more you will breathe horrible unhealthy air but also, you will never get to where you want to go because of traffic.
✔ Parking is impossible, for the above-mentioned reasons
✔ There is Uber in Mexico City which is relatively safe, very convenient, and cheap. Drivers know how to avoid traffic and can get you wherever you want in less time than you would, for sure.
Renting a car in Riviera Maya
Renting a car in Riviera Maya is the best way to explore the area, as you will have the freedom to move around and explore cenotes and more beaches, and also drive around the Yucatan Peninsula.
Differently from other places, the airport doesn’t have higher prices compared to the city destinations, so it’s really up to you, wherever you feel more comfortable.
PARKING in the Riviera Maya – Keep in mind that if you park where it’s prohibited, they will remove your license plate will be removed and leave a note on your window screen for you to pay the fine. If you pay within 3 days you will get a 50% discount.
► You can also read: Renting a car in Tulum Mexico: Best deals and other practical tips
Renting a car in Merida
If you are staying in Merida and you want to explore the Yucatan state with all its amazing cenotes and beaches near Merida, the best way to do it is by renting a car.
The majority of car rentals have an office at the airport, which is easily reachable with an UBER ride if you are already in the city.
Although Merida is a busy city, it’s easy to drive around, with the help of Google Maps, and that is why I always suggest getting a Mexican SIM card as it will be much cheaper to use your phone DATA and you will be able to drive around anywhere without getting lost.
Renting a car in Baja California Sur
Baja California Sur is one of the best states to get your Car Rental and drive around. I went there a couple of times and had an amazing time road-tripping along the peninsula, whale watching, and enjoying the spectacular beaches in La Paz.
I wouldn’t have had the same amazing experience if I didn’t rent a car.
You can either rent a car at Cabo airport or La Paz Airport but you can also find a lot of car rentals downtown in both cities.
Usually renting a car at the airport in Baja California Sur is slightly more expensive due to airport taxes.
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.
Renting a car in Mexico: final thoughts
I hope this post helped you figure out the best way to rent a car in Mexico and learn how to avoid getting scammed. For further clarity you can check out my specific post on renting a car in Cancun, renting a car in Tulum, renting a car in Puerto Vallarta, cheap car rental in Guadalajara, and Where to rent a car in Playa del Carmen. Happy driving in Mexico!!