Running your own car in Mexico gives you flexibility that no other mode of private transportation offers. Some people learn to live well without a car in Mexico, although whether that is practical in your situation depends on your life stage and lifestyle routines.
This article describes the typical costs you need to take into account when you intend to own and run your own private vehicle in Mexico.
Bring you own car, import one, or buy locally?
Foreign residents moving to Mexico from the US or Canada might bring their car with them when they move—but there are rules and restrictions about doing this.
If you bring your foreign-plated vehicle with you to Mexico, you will need to pay for a Temporary Import Permit (TIP)—and note that you can only keep a foreign plated car in Mexico while you are a visitor or temporary resident. Permanent foreign residents cannot drive a foreign plated car in Mexico except inside one of the of designated ‘Free zones’ near the northern and southern border areas—see this article for details.
If your siltation doesn’t allow you to import a car temporarily to Mexico under the current rules, then you could consider importing your vehicle and getting Mexican license plates for it. You need to contact a customs agent to do this: the process is complex, carries costs and import duties, and not all vehicles can be imported.
The alternative to importing your own car (temporarily or through a permanent import procedure) is to buy a car locally. If you do this, we recommend you purchase the vehicle from an established dealer or agency, or from someone you know personally (or a direct personal referral). If you buy a car locally and use financing, be sure to understand the terms and cost of the car loan.
Car taxes in Mexico
Mexican vehicles must be licensed according to their intended use. Vehicles for private use need to have current plates, and some Mexican states also charge a Tenencia tax.
All Mexican-plated cars must pay the “Derechos” (license plate) tax. Plate fees and plate-update schedules vary by state—check locally for details. A plate change typically costs between MXN$2,500 and MXN$5,000 pesos but this plate change doesn’t happen annually.
Some Mexican States also charge an annual Tenencia car tax, that’s based on a percentage of the vehicle’s original purchase price with relief for depreciation, so you pay the tax on the current market value (sometimes referred to as the ‘blue book value’ ) of the car. This site publishes an article with details of the ‘tenencia’ tax by Mexican state.
Emissions verification testing
Your vehicle will need to undergo regular emissions testing if it’s over a certain age. Learn more about the emissions tests and vehicle restrictions in and around Mexico City.
The price of gasoline and diesel
Since November 2017, the Mexican gasoline market has been deregulated and individual stations can now charge whatever they want for fuel (competing with other local stations). Prior to this, the price of gasoline was set each month by the government.
Buying gasoline and using service stations in Mexico (includes a link to current gasoline prices)
Vehicle servicing costs
If you’re living in Mexico full time and don’t return to your home country for regular maintenance, you’ll need to find service options in Mexico to keep your car in good mechanical shape.
Some people will always take their car to a branded dealership; others will look for small independent mechanics to keep their car mechanically maintained.
Branded dealership servicing
Getting your car tuned-up at a branded dealership (“Agencia”) will cost more than getting the work undertaken at a local independently owned repair shop. If your car is new or not too old, it’s sensible to pay the extra costs and get the car serviced at the dealership where the work and parts will be guaranteed for a certain period—and having an agency service record might help to improve the value or at least the marketability of the vehicle if you sell it.
Using a local independent workshop
If you’re driving an older vehicle, choosing the local workshop servicing option will save you money. The quality of service varies and warranties from independent worships might or might not be honored. If you use a local workshop, we recommend you ask people you know and trust locally to get a referral from someone you know. We don’t recommend you take your car for servicing at a local independent service station you don’t know.
The cost of servicing your vehicle in Mexico
Annual car servicing costs will vary depending on your car type and model, its age, the mileage you have accrued, and any special attention it might need, e.g. new brake shoes, new suspension, etc.
As a rule of thumb, a mid-sized car that is one of the popular brands, of an average age, will cost between MXN$10,000 and MXN$15,000 pesos a year to keep regularly serviced at an authorized dealer. The most popular brands in Mexico are Volkswagen, Nissan, Mazda, Kia, Toyota, and Ford.
If you car is more luxurious, for example, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, you can expect to pay more as the service and parts for these vehicle brands is more expensive.
Ask around for quotes locally and if you use an authorized dealer, ask around at two or three agencies in the area as they are all independently run franchises and might quote different rates for the same service plan, or some agencies might have special deals on servicing.
Insurance for foreign-plated cars
If you bring a foreign plated car to Mexico, you’ll need to get it adequately insured as your home-country policy will not cover you for third party liability.
Auto insurance that covers third party liability is compulsory in Mexico, but this does not mean that everyone drives around insured.
Driving uninsured is a significant risk in Mexico as, in the event of an accident where someone is injured or killed, the police will get involved and arrest everyone until blame and damages have been apportioned: insurance is crucial in this situation.
Third party coverage is important when you’re driving in Mexico
If you bring your foreign-plated car to Mexico, your home country policy might cover you for damage to your own car and possessions, but it cannot (by law) cover you for third party liability.
If you are deemed to have caused an accident that brings damage (to other vehicles, as well as the road surface and roadside assets, e.g. lamps, signage), injury, or death to third parties and you are not adequately insured, you will become personally liable for these damages and your home country insurer will not cover you for them.
You there must purchase top-up insurance, the price of which varies depending on your vehicle and other personal circumstances. You can get full information and an instant quotation online from our auto insurance associate.
Insurance for Mexican-plated vehicles
Insurance costs for Mexican-plated cars vary widely depending on the vehicle, its age, the location where it’s kept, and the drivers who will use it. You can purchase auto insurance for Mexican-plated vehicles from your bank, a local insurance broker, and a plethora of online portals.
Miscellaneous costs of running a car in Mexico
In addition to obligatory taxes, insurance, fuel, and regular maintenance, you will also need to budget for:
Toll road fees
If you travel intercity, you can choose to use the free federal highways or the tolled autospistas. For speed and safety most drivers choose to take the tolled roads. In Mexico City there is also an option to use an elevated tolled beltway around the capital. See this article for more details. Toll road fees have been rising in recent years and can add significant costs to journeys, especially long-distance.
Car parking fees
There is often free parking available somewhere, but many drivers prefer to park in a monitored car park, for the convenience of being close to where they are going, and also for security. Many supermarkets and shopping malls charge for parking, some offer the first hour free (or discounted) with a purchase at the store. Fees per hour vary between US$10 and $50 pesos or more. Some parking lots offer a fixed price for an unlimited time during that day, from your arrival until their advertised closing time.
Car wash fees
There are lots of dedicated car wash centers in towns and cities across Mexico. Fees vary depending the size of your vehicle and the “package” you choose—these vary from a basic wash to a full interior and exterior valet including polish and wax. Package fees tend to range between MX$100 pesos for a basic wash and clean and MXN$1,000 or more pesos if you have a large SUV and want the full works inside and out.
Sometimes people watching over car parks will offer to wash the outside of your car while you are away shopping or eating at the store or restaurant. They usually charge around MX$50-$100 depending on the size of your vehicle.
Parking and speeding fines
Mexico City and other bigger cities are installing speed cameras and new parking meters with aggressive enforcement of speed limits and parking time limits. If you get caught out, you’ll need to settle fines before you can get your vehicle (re)tested for emissions, and re-plated, etc. On-street parking meter enforcers use a physical clamp to immobilize your car and don’t remove it until you pay the fine.
Learn about living costs in Mexico
Mexperience publishes a series of articles about living costs to help you consider your choices, research prices, and create a budget that’s based on your personal lifestyle situation.
- How to calculate your living costs in Mexico
- Cost of utilities and communications in Mexico
- Directory of stores, supermarkets and services in Mexico
- Read the latest articles about driving in Mexico
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