A Guide To Renting A Car In Mexico

Renting a car in Mexico is the way to go if you want to explore the country at your own pace. That’s what my sister and I did the first time we visited Mexico, and sure enough we had a real blast during our road trip!

Many, however, have doubts that this is a good idea – they fear the country is not safe enough to drive around; they worry about traffic (here’s a tip: don’t drive in big cities such as Mexico City – not unless you want to give yourself a headache!) and road conditions; they think about the possible scams, and what not. Indeed, these are certainly issues you should be considering when planning your trip, but they should not put you off from renting a car.

Going in knowing what to expect will certainly help – hence why I have decided to write this post. Here are all the secrets to renting a car in Mexico and making the most of your time there.

Are you struggling putting together an itinerary for Mexico? Head over to my post The Best Itinerary For A Mexico Road Trip.

Renting a car in Mexico
Proud of our rental car in Chiapas

Should You Be Renting A Car In Mexico?

Mexico is a big country. Many travelers opt to join tours, use the extensive ADO bus network, or even join the locals on the colectivos to get around and travel from one place to the other. If destinations are particularly distant one for the other, you can even fly.

Did you know that having your own set of wheels gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore this vast country at your own pace? In the Yucatan Peninsula, particularly, driving is safe, the roads are well maintained, and you’ll be able to travel to destinations that aren’t very well connected by public transport (such as cenotes).

In other places, however, renting a car is not necessarily the best way to explore Mexico. For example, Mexico City is a huge urban hub with good public transport and terrible traffic that makes it bad for driving (and not very affordable either). Taxis can get you around well enough.

Elsewhere, car rental in historic colonial towns is not recommended. These charming cities and towns are best explored on foot, and there are always taxis to help you travel further distances too.

If you don’t want to have to wait around for public transport or pay for expensive tours and day trips, then you can take matters into your own hands with a rental car.

One good idea if you want to hire a car in Mexico is being based in one town – Tulum, for instance – and then using the hire car for day trips.

All in all, renting a car in Mexico allows you to travel at your own pace. To rent a car in Mexico, it’s probably a good idea that you are an experienced, confident driver who has had at least some time behind the wheel in a country that isn’t your own.

Driving in Mexico
Buckling up before hitting the road

How Much Does Renting A Car In Mexico cost?

The first thing you should consider if you want to rent a car in Mexico is the cost – is it going to be the right move for your budget?

The answer is that it depends. The rental rates vary depending on a number of factors – your location in the country; how long you want to rent the car for; what time of year you’re renting; how far in advance you book; which rental agency you use; and sometimes even how far you want to drive!

Some rental car rates in Mexico will be as little as $10 USD per day. Often these low prices may be attractive, but they exclude hidden costs such as sales tax (relatively high in Mexico) and therefore, that initial $10 USD is actually far more expensive than you initially thought.

Not all quotes will include unlimited mileage, so it’s a good idea to read up on all the details of the policy. Some car companies, for example, will include a free allowance of a certain number of miles, and then charge for every mile (or kilometer) on top of that. Other companies will charge per mile or kilometer as soon as you start your trip. Finally, the price will increase if you return the car to a different location where you picked it from.

Standard costs for renting a car in Mexico will vary, but generally, they start at around $25 per day. This is for a smaller vehicle with larger SUVs and other high-end makes costing up to $40 per day.

Ultimately, however, it’s actually often more expensive to rent a car in Mexico than in the US. In recent times, there has been a shortage of rental cars which has led people going to the extreme of hiring removal vans to get around – not something I recommend!

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in Mexico here.

What Is The Best Way Of Renting A Car In Mexico?

There are basically three ways to rent a car in Mexico.

Rent a car upon arrival

Firstly, you can wait until you actually arrive in the country and go directly to the counter of a rental car company at the airport, and then start talking with the staff there.

This is not the best way to rent a car in Mexico – depending on the time of year, you may not be able to get the car you want, or for the amount of time you want it for. You may also get confused by all the technical jargon used by the staff and subsequently end up getting talked into paying over the odds for insurance or the rental itself.

Generally, this is going to be the most expensive way to rent a car in Mexico. The other two methods are usually much cheaper.

Merida Cathedral

Book through a rental company

If you know which company you want to rent a car from in Mexico, then why wait till you arrive? Go directly to their site and scroll through for the car you want to rent, make the booking, then simply head to the agency when you arrive. Everything will be pretty much ready to go.

You will often find great deals directly through the site, and if you book far enough in advance, you can sometimes snag a veritable bargain. The only catch is that it can take some time to do the research in order to find the company you want to use in the first place.

Do you go with Hertz? Avis? Or maybe Sixt? There are dozens more, so unless you’ve got a tried and tested company that you like to use, maybe the next option is better for you.

Malecon Campeche

Rent a car online via a car rental site

There are a selection of car rental sites out there that offer up a comparison for users, doing the hard work of research so you don’t have to.

Simply put your details in, where you want to hire the car from, your dates of travel and what type of car you want to hire, and the third-party site will provide you with a list of rental car companies and prices to suit your search specifications.

This is a useful way to spend time and often means you can usually find the cheapest deal for your dates. Again, last-minute bookings may not be the best way to go, even on a third-party car rental site, but it’s still better than rocking up without any booking at all.

My go to comparison site for car rental is Discover Cars. It’s super competitive – you can use it to search the prices of all the main car rental companies, and it will pull up the most convenient one for your class range. You can check it out here.

Compare the prices of car rental in Mexico here.

What Kind Of Insurance Do You Need When Renting A Car In Mexico?

When it comes to car rental insurance, things can be a little bit confusing in Mexico. That’s because the insurance costs can often be hidden within the pricing of the car rental itself and can end up adding price hikes to the overall cost of the car.

It’s important to make sure that you are covered by comprehensive insurance that covers you for liabilities, just in case you might be involved in an accident while driving your rental car.

When it comes to insurance, the most important thing to remember is that even if you have your own insurance – via your credit card or otherwise – the likelihood is that this will not be accepted in Mexico. You will need to purchase third party insurance when you rent a car, and it’s actually compulsory in Mexican law. You have to do this!

Don’t worry, though – this doesn’t cost too much and is often included in the quote. It covers you for any damage that occurs in the event of an accident. However, it won’t cover you for just anything (such as vehicle theft, for instance).

Additional insurance beyond third party is optional – it’s up to you whether you purchase it or not. This includes CDW (collision damage waiver), which covers the vehicle if there’s an accident, PAI (personal accident insurance) that covers medical expenses for passengers in the event of an accident; and theft protection (just in case).

Again, whether you get these is up to you, and you may be covered by your credit card or travel insurance – just make sure to check before you travel.

Before you finally sign on the dotted line for your rental car, be sure to double-check that the third-party insurance is included in the quote (since it is compulsory, and you don’t want to be caught driving without it).

Is Renting A Car In Mexico Safe?

It’s totally natural to worry about the safety of driving in Mexico. Of course, driving anywhere that isn’t your own country comes with its own risks and differences, and it really pays to be aware of what might come up during your trip.

Overall, it is relatively safe to drive in Mexico – my sister and I never encountered any real issue, other than a few nuisances (and a very windy road) when we drove from San Cristobal to Palenque via Agua Azul. Driving in Mexico does change depending on where in the country you’re driving. Road conditions change, weather varies throughout the country, and general road safety is also not the same everywhere.

Somewhere like the Yucatan Peninsula is safe to rent a car, so if you want to drive up and down the Maya Riviera, it’s definitely doable. You should make sure that you understand the traffic regulations and signs, as they will be different from what you know.

Another thing to be careful of is sticking to the main roads if you’re not in a touristy area. Main roads are usually well maintained and easy to navigate – exploring down dirt roads is probably not the best idea, and it certainly is a good way to get lost!

Something else to bear in mind is the speed limit. Breaking the speed limit could easily lead you to be pulled over by the police (we had that happen, and had to pay a bribe so they’d let us rush to the airport for our flight). Speaking of speed, you should keep an eye out for speed bumps too – these can damage the car (and maybe you) if you hit them at high speed.

Another safety tip is to know some Spanish. Not only will this help you with road signs and traffic signals, but it also will help you ask for directions if you’re lost. It’s just a good idea to brush up on some basic Spanish before you rent a car in Mexico.

Finally, it’s best to avoid driving after dark. Hazards will be less easy to see, some roads may not be well lit, and it’s generally just not as safe as driving during the daylight hours.

San Juan Chamula

Useful Tips For Renting A Car In Mexico

Know what to do if your car breaks down

You never know when this might happen, and it’s not exactly an impossible scenario to find yourself in. When renting a car, you need to make sure that breakdown assistance is provided in the cost of the rental. Also, make sure that you’re provided with a number to call in event of a breakdown.

Be aware of scams

If you haven’t booked online and you’re booking at a car rental agency on the ground as you arrive in Mexico, you will be more liable to scams. Pay attention to hidden charges and stand your ground if you think it’s way too expensive. But don’t lose sleep over it – there are plenty of well trusted rental car companies in Mexico’s cities and airports, so just try the next one.

Scams can also be found more notoriously at gas stations (you can read more about it here). Fuel has been known to be sold at an inflated price, or the attendants may not have change to give you. To solve at least one of these problems, make sure you have small change (and note that at some larger gas stations you can pay with a credit card).

Take the toll roads

The toll roads are 100% the best roads to drive on in Mexico, and you should definitely not avoid them just to save a few hundred pesos. These highways are straightforward, very well looked after, and they connect you with various destinations – mainly larger towns and cities – very easily.

What age do I need to be to rent a car in Mexico?

This is pretty important! You have to be 21 years and older in order to rent a car in Mexico, and also you have to have held your driving license for two years or more. With some rental companies, if you’re under 25 years old, you may be subject to a young drivers’ surcharge.

Further Readings

These posts will come in handy when planning a trip to Mexico:

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