Mexico is one of my favorite places. The locals are friendly, they are deep in their authentic culture, and have beautiful beaches that are a surfer’s dream. They are also infamous for being absolutely terrible as a foreigner to drive or rent a car in. The Federales are infamous for pulling over gringos and basically extorting them, while the rental car companies are notoriously shady in scam charges and upsells. It can be very overwhelming for some people but after being there quite a bit, here are some tips I learned.
Renting a Car
First, avoid all the large companies if possible. They will, without a doubt, try to scam you on every single thing they can. They are mostly franchises in Mexico and these companies see you as straight dollar signs. They hold people up when they don’t want insurance or claim there is damage to the car after returning it. Changing of price between online and in-person is also a very common scam. Go down the depths of the internet and try to find local and small companies. I’ve been blessed by working with the owners directly and have had zero issues.
Second, make sure to establish insurance before you get there. This is where the real scams come into action. If your credit card covers international insurance, don’t fall into their trap of saying it doesn’t. You do legally need Mexican insurance for an accident, but many travel CCs have this covered. They will claim it doesn’t, but they are lying. Make sure to print out this waiver from your credit card company if doing so. Please do some research into this so you don’t get trapped when you pick up the car.
Make sure to use video recording when checking out the rental car. I do this no matter where I go, but this will save you a lot of headaches if they try to claim new damage to the car. This happens so often and such a simple tip would have hundreds of dollars.
Lastly, once you drive off the lot in your rental car, I recommend taking off the rental sticker (if you can easily) if there is one. Another way is to find a temporary cover for it like a magnetic bumper sticker. It’s nothing but a target on your back.
Avoid the Gas Scam
In Mexico, they fill your gas tank up for you which leaves room for error. The attendants handle filling your tank and paying for you, so pay close attention.
- Make sure before they fill that the gas meter on the pump is reset and at zero
- Watch the meter as they fill up the tank and remember the number it stops on.
- If paying cash, deliberately go slow and count the notes as you hand them so they can’t say you gave them the wrong note.
- Don’t forget to tip them some coins! These attendants do work on tips so don’t forget to give them some. I was always around the 30 pesos mark.
How to Handle Getting Stopped by the Police
First know, that all minor offenses are required for a ticket. There should never be any direct exchange of cash from you to an officer. They will threaten jail if you don’t pay cash but just politely, yet firmly ask for a ticket. More often than not, if they see you are not budging, they will just let you go. If they keep persistent, look for their name tag. Often, they hid it since they know this is something they shouldn’t be doing and more and more tourists are reporting them. Feel free to take a picture, this will often scare them off and leave you alone from extorting you.
If they do give you a ticket, there is a possibility they want your driver’s license. They want to make sure you go down and pay for the ticket. Don’t worry, they don’t want to keep it since its completely useless for them. I personally make a duplicate license for this reason and recommend making a copy of yours if this worries you. Just make sure to go down and pay the ticket at the station if it’s issued.