There is little doubt that making the decision to rent a car is the best way to see an area once you are ready to leave the city center. But there are articles out there suggesting it is too dangerous to drive in Mexico.
Although there is no better way to explore than with the freedom created when you are in control of every aspect of your transportation, it’s not going to happen if you are too scared to hit the road and can’t decide if you should rent a car in Mexico.
So let’s get some more information on the how and why when it comes to renting cars in Mexico.
I’m sure you have read or heard a horror story about things going wrong when someone rented a car in Mexico and I’m not saying something couldn’t go wrong.
But if you remain vigilant, follow the road rules and use a decent helping of common sense then there is no reason your experience shouldn’t be safe, fun and fulfilling.
We have rented cars in Mexico a few times and never had any safety concerns even when our daughter was quite young.
Do your research to discover the areas to be avoided, or ask for advice from the staff at the car rental office. If you don’t know where you are going and end up in a dangerous area you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Follow the road rules and stick to the speed limit. Actually, drive a little under the speed limit just to be sure. If you are speeding and get pulled over be willing to pay the “on the spot fine” and move on. Don’t argue the point.
Driving in Mexico, like many other countries, is quite safe if you take care.
Reasons to rent a car
So many of the highlights of this country are away from the main tourist towns and driving is the perfect way to find them. Sure you could probably find a coach tour to get to many of these places but then you are stuck to a tight schedule.
There is nothing like the freedom to stop on a whim when you spot something amazing. Travel on a bus or in a group and your freedom is gone.
The best reason to rent a car in Mexico is to use it as transportation for day trips from a central base. During our time in Cancun we took two day trips and used a different travel style for each.
For our visit to Chichen Itza we decided to use a major organised tour company. It was easy and reasonably priced but we lost an hour of exploration time because some passengers were running late and the driver would not leave base without them.
When it came to visiting Xel-Ha Eco Water Park we decided to rent a car and make our own schedule. For us the experience was so much better.
We were able to leave our resort when we were ready and arrive at the park hours before the tour groups, which meant we could experience the more popular activities without the crowds. It also gave us a chance to leave when we were done rather than cut our day short sticking to the tour timetable.
Why not to rent a car
Don’t focus on the over sensationalized stories of the dangers of driving in Mexico, as mentioned above common sense goes a long way. But there are legitimate reasons that car rental may not be for you.
If you are used to driving on the opposite side of the road then having to retrain your brain can be daunting. Consider your level of confidence in handling these changed driving conditions.
Drivers and driving styles in Mexico, and in many other countries, may be quite different to what is considered acceptable or normal at home. How people approach traffic lights, intersections or even general driver etiquette may be very different to the way you are used to.
If you are concerned at all about your ability to adapt your style then driving may be left to others.
Or the reason may be as simple as you feel that having to drive on vacation is too much like hard work and you want to just sit back and leave the responsibility to someone else.
What type of car to rent
The same considerations should be involved regardless the location of the car rental. Choosing the right car is just as important in Mexico as it is at home.
A couple doing nothing more than taking a day trip that will keep them on major roads can comfortably get away with a cheap and cheerful small car.
While a family looking to explore the Yucatan and find some of the more remote ruins or Cenotes may love the idea of a convertible Jeep.
Some of the beach areas may also have some quirky options which can be a lot of fun under the right circumstances. Try a Dune Buggy rental on the Island of Cozumel, so much fun.
Our Mexico car rentals
We have rented cars twice so far in Mexico and will not hesitate to do so again on our next visit. Both times we made the arrangements while already there rather than trying to prebook cars online.
It’s not that we have any concerns about booking online but more that our decisions were spur of the moment things. And we found the process smooth and easy.
If you are staying in a Resort then you will probably find that they have car rental options on site which make things simple. You can usually have the charge billed to your room account as well.
We were staying at the Moon Palace on the Riviera Maya and were able to arrange a Jeep for the following day with one quick phone call. The vehicle was near new and superbly maintained and the price was quite reasonable. Plus you get to pick up and drop off right there in the Resort.
Our second experience was a little different, actually a lot different. We decided to rent a cool Dune Buggy to drive around Cozumel for an afternoon after seeing them zipping around town.
After trying a couple of car rental shopfronts we found that they were all taken and needed to be booked at least a day in advance. However we could get convertible Jeep which seemed a decent fallback position.
We signed the paperwork and paid the seemingly bargain price before being led across the road to a dusty carpark. We were then shown our “chariot”.
Sure it was a convertible Jeep but it had been sitting in the open sun for the entire morning and the black seats and metal belt buckles were only just shy of melting point.
Speaking of the seats, somehow the padding had deteriorated completely and you were to sit on nothing more than some black material covering a few metal bars. So blisteringly hot and tragically uncomfortable proving you get what you pay for.
At least the drive around the island was spectacular and there were plenty of secluded beaches to cool your butt.
What else should you know?
Once again a little common sense goes a long way when picking up your rental car. As you would in any country do a vehicle inspection with the sales agent if possible and make a note of any dents or scratches. Take photos as backup evidence.
Check there is a spare tire and that it is road ready. And make sure there are tools to let you change it if the situation arises.
You will find some seemingly ridiculously cheap car rental prices online, perhaps as low as just a few dollars per day. But be aware that you will be charged additional and compulsory insurances when you arrive to collect your vehicle.
Speaking of insurance, the sales agent will also offer you additional insurance to reduce the excess you will have to pay in the event you are involved in an accident.
The chances are that your credit card insurance or your general travel insurance has this coverage already but confirm that before you go to pick up your car.
It is highly unlikely that you will require an International Driver’s Licence. If you have photo licence from your home country then that should suffice.
You must be over 25 years old to be able to rent a car in Mexico. Be wary of any agencies offering rental if you are younger than that.
Most rental cars in Mexico have an automatic transmission but be sure to confirm this before you sign your final paperwork.
Make sure you understand the terms of the rental agreement. Sometimes you may be limited to a certain number of miles per day before additional fees are added, there may be a surcharge for picking up or dropping off at a “premium” location, or if you return after the agreed time they may add another chunk of financial punishment.
You are much better off renting a car in mexico rather than trying to do so in the USA and then cross the border. Many companies do not allow this at all while the extra hassle of border crossings make this option a poor choice.
Car rental options in Mexico
In almost all cases you will find a better price for your car rental by booking online rather than walking up to a counter in an airport or Hotel. If you do so using a reputable company then you can be confident you are getting exactly what you paid for.
Many of the big players in the USA also offer car rental in Mexico like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, Budget, Thrifty, etc but don’t rule out a lesser known company as an option. Just be sure to check customer reviews online before booking with them.
So should you rent a car in Mexico?
Unless you have any of the concerns we mentioned earlier then my opinion is a resounding YES! We love the flexibility car rental gives us to explore and move at our own pace.
Do your research, pick the right vehicle for your needs and hit the road. But make sure you bring plenty of common sense along for the ride.
We would love to hear about your rental car experiences in Mexico so please leave a comment below.