Renting a car in Mexico provides freedom and flexibility to explore the landscape, local features, and attractions on offer here
Car rental in Mexico can offer you the flexibility and freedom that other forms of transport simply cannot provide
Requirements for car rental
Car rental services
Car rental charges
Car rental insurance
Car rental booking
Driving across Mexico can be a rewarding experience as it gives you the choice and flexibility to visit remote areas which may be inaccessible using public transport and enables you to do so at your chosen pace and convenience.
A rental car can provide the freedom and flexibility that public transport cannot when you’re traveling longer distances, especially outside of Mexico City. If you want to see some of the outlying towns and villages “off the beaten track”, then taking a car is the most efficient way to accomplish this, unless you have the patience, time, and temperament to deal with local transport.
To rent, or not to rent?
In Mexico City, car rental is probably not a very good idea, unless you’re familiar with the city and plan to do a lot of traveling about from place to place inside the capital. Public transport in towns and cities across Mexico is excellent and travel by taxi in Mexico is affordable.
Car rental in most colonial cities is not a good idea, either. Most colonial towns and cities are best experienced on foot, using taxis to travel longer distances between major attractions, or back to your hotel after a long day’s exploration.
Instances where car rental is a good idea is when you are touring a region(s) of Mexico and need to get from city to city (and the towns and villages in-between) without being beholden to public transport schedules.
Another good way to rent a car in Mexico is to rent a vehicle from the city or town you are based at, using the vehicle to venture out on day trips and explore rural areas which may be poorly served by public transport and/or are too far away to take a taxi.
Mexico’s car rental business
Renting a car in Mexico used to be more expensive than renting in a car in the USA, but the Mexican market has become a lot more competitive in recent years, and prices have fallen, making car rental surprisingly affordable here.
As in all countries, quoted rental costs can inflate with the high cost of insurances which are added to the rental agreement. Although some insurances are optional, it’s advisable to get sufficient coverage in place in case of accident or mishap. See the insurance section later in this guide for full details.
This guide explains how the rental car business works in Mexico and steers you through the mechanics of successfully renting a car in Mexico and at the best price.
Most car rental agencies in Mexico operate strict criteria for car rentals.
Minimum age of the driver
In some exceptional circumstances, and usually accompanied by a hefty deposit and hefty excess charges for damage and accidents, car rental agencies may accept drivers below the age of 25, but most require that the driver(s) of the vehicle are at least 25 years of age and some even stipulate that the person must have held a full driving license for a minimum time period, between two and five years. Ask the sales agent or check the small print on the rental agreement for details.
Credit card required
Most car rental agencies will attempt to pre-authorize an amount from your credit card before they will rent a car to you. If you don’t have a credit card then you will not be able to rent a car. You must proffer a valid credit card for this procedure as debit cards are not accepted.
You will need to present a full, current, driver’s license showing the renter’s name and photograph. If your country’s driving licence does not display your photograph, another form of photo ID will also be required. Your own country’s license is accepted provided that it is printed with “Western Characters”. If you have, for example, a Chinese, Japanese, Greek or Russian document, you may be asked to produce an international driver’s licence, which you can acquire from your home country.
Acceptance of the agency’s terms
The precise terms of rental vary from agency to agency. The small print is always complex, presented in Spanish only, and absolutely in favor of the rental agency (this is true in all countries). The main things to check are your liabilities in the event of an accident or total loss of the vehicle, matters which are most often related to the insurance policy associated with the rental. Ask the rental agent for clarification if you are unsure about anything in relation to the rental agreement.
Car rental agencies in Mexico sell much more than car rental services these days. Some of the most profitable services have nothing to do with car rental and are sold (or offered) to you at the counter, not at the time you make an online booking. They include:
Insurance coverage products
All rental agencies sell a range of optional car insurance coverages, in addition to compulsory third-party insurance, to protect the driver, the passengers and the vehicle in the event of an accident. See the section about car rental insurance on this guide for more details.
Satellite GPS navigation systems
Car rental agencies now offer GPS, either built-in to the car or via a portable GPS unit in the car. There is usually an additional fee if GPS is not already built-in to the car’s system. If you have your own satellite navigation equipment, you can purchase a Mexico atlas and take it with you for use in your rental car in Mexico.
Child seats, roof racks, DVD players, etc., may come as standard or be charged as optional extras. Most accessories carry an additional daily charge. Check with the agency for details.
Cell phone rental
Some agencies offer local cell phone rental for an additional daily fee, which may include the cost of the calls and some mobile data. Check with the agency and the small print for details and conditions. See Also: Communications in Mexico
Additional drivers for your car
If you want to add additional drivers to your rental agreement, you will need to name them on the agreement and pay an additional daily fee for each additional “authorized driver” of the vehicle. If the car is involved in an accident whilst driven by someone not authorized to drive the vehicle, the insurance will usually become invalid, leaving you exposed to the repair or replacement cost of your rental vehicle AND any third party damages.
Rates for car rental in Mexico
Car rental rates vary depending on the location, the date and duration of the rental and, depending on the agency, how many miles you’ll clock up. Most car rental quotes by agencies in Mexico include the legally-compulsory third party insurance cover, but double-check, otherwise your online quote will increase when you get to the counter.
Standard quotes sometimes exclude Mexico’s sales tax (IVA) – so double-check when you’re buying whether your quote is inclusive or exclusive of sales tax, because sales tax is relatively high in Mexico and thus adds a significant amount to your final expected price if it’s not included.
Many, but not all, quotes include unlimited mileage. Some offer a free allowance and then charge per mile (or per kilometer); some charge for every mile or kilometer. Mexico is a big country so if you plan to do a lot of driving, try to find a rate that is all inclusive, or take the additional costs into account within your travel budget.
The longer you rent for, the cheaper the daily rate will be. Usually step-discounts apply when you rent for more than 3, 7, 14, 21, and 30 days; but the amount depends upon the location, the time of year, and the agency—as well as local demand: if there is a festival or event happening locally on the dates you want to rent, car rental rates can escalate.
Also check to see that the insurance cover you need is included in the rental price. “Full cover” insurance fees often add up to more than the price of the car rental.
If you rent from an airport or a hotel, you may pay a premium in addition to the rental charges. The premium is usually itemized on your quote and bill, but not always—so check if you are unsure.
One-way car rental and drop-off charges
Note that drop-off charges apply if you do not return the car to the same agency (not just the same town or city) that you rented the car from.
If you will not be taking the car back to the same agency where you rented it, expect a “drop-off” charge to be added to the account.
The amount of the drop-off fee depends upon the agency and is most usually calculated on a cost-per-mile basis, so the further away the vehicle is from the agency that hired it, the larger the drop-off fee will become.
As rule of thumb, expect to pay around US$1 equivalent per mile; so if the agency you rent from is 200 miles away from the agency where you intend to drop-off the rental car, the drop-off fee is likely to be about US$200.
Go online for the best rates
The most expensive way to rent a car in Mexico is to show up in person at the rental counter without a reservation when you need a vehicle.
If you plan to rent a car in Mexico, go online and book your rate in advance. You’ll usually get a better deal, which includes a lower price and a better specification car.
If you’re already in Mexico and decide to rent a car, you may want to consider going online to make a reservation before walking into a rental or travel agency in person. Most hotels have WiFi hot-spots if you are carrying a tablet, laptop or smartphone; otherwise, most hotels offer internet access on a desk computer or you can find an internet cafe usually no further than a few blocks from where you are staying.
Car rental quotes in Mexico usually show relatively inexpensive rates; however the insurance cover charges can ramp up the cost significantly. The insurance costs can (and often are) more than the advertised rental charges. However, we recommend full and comprehensive insurance when you rent a car in Mexico to cover your liabilities in case of a serious accident.
Third party insurance
Third party insurance is compulsory by Mexican law when you rent a car in Mexico. This insurance covers third parties for any damages in the event of a mishap, but it does not cover the renter’s liability for the vehicle itself. This insurance is usually included in the quote, but it might not be—double check, otherwise it will be added-on at the counter.
Additional insurance products
When you rent a car in Mexico, insurance beyond third party cover is sold as an optional extra. This is because not everybody wants or needs to purchase the additional insurance—see the next heading below, “Using Your Own Insurance,” for details.
Here is a list of the different types of optional insurance products car rental agencies tend to offer:
CDW – Collision Damage Waiver. This is a product that covers the vehicle in the event of an accident or damage, with a 10 % deductible. The 10% fee is based on the full retail value of the vehicle, as new. For example, if your rental car has a retail value of $10,000, your deductible is $1,000.
LDW – Loss Damage Waiver. This is sometimes referred to as “full cover,” as it covers the vehicle for any accident or damage, as well as theft, and with a zero deductible. However much damage is caused, or whatever the value of the vehicle, this insurance either prevents you from paying any out-of-pocket expenses in the event of a mishap or limits that liability to set amount, agreed in advance.
PAI – Personal Accident Insurance. This is an insurance product that will cover medical expenses for occupants in the vehicle in the event of an accident. If you have a travel or other medical insurance policy, you will most likely be covered already and there will be no need to purchase this.
ALI –Additional Liability Insurance. This insurance product extends the cover for damages to third parties, usually up to MX$5,000,000 Mexican pesos.
TP – Theft Protection. This insurance product protects you in the event that the vehicle is stolen; it’s automatically included with LDW (see above). Some credit card companies will also cover theft of the vehicle in the insurance policies they offer with use of the card—but check the small print.
Using your own insurance
Car rental agencies offer insurance as an optional extra because many people who rent cars could be covered by other insurance policies they have.
These can include your own car rental policy (check that it’s valid in Mexico), a travel insurance policy, a credit or debit card, a charge card (like AMEX) or some other insurance plan, for example, an insurance cover policy provided by your company.
Although you may have an insurance policy that covers car rental services, perhaps via your existing car insurance, or a credit or charge card, you should check that it is valid in Mexico.
When you rent a car without insurance coverage offered by the rental agency, you can sign the agreement to say that you are covered by a third party, but in the event of an accident or mishap, you will be held liable if it transpires that you subsequently are not covered for some reason. You will be asked to sign the agreement specifically stating that you are responsible for insuring the vehicle whilst it is in your care.
Using your own insurance when renting a car in Mexico
Additional insurance is a profitable business for car rental agencies, and when you use your own insurance, they are deprived of a lucrative income stream. If you plan to use your own insurance, contact the agency to ask if they will accept the insurance you intend to use, what evidence of the insurance they need when you arrive at the counter, and whether they will add any additional fees or charges for doing this.
Credit and charge card insurance
Car rental cover provided by credit and charge cards can save you a considerable sum of money in optional insurance fees, so it’s worth checking with your card issuer to see if you have this coverage included. Many people who are covered by their credit card use it to save money on car rental insurance fees in Mexico.
If you are covered by other insurance products you have—e.g. travel insurance or credit card or company insurance perks, you don’t need to concern yourself with these extra insurance products. But do check the small print in all policies to ensure that they cover rental cars in countries other than your own, and that Mexico is not on any exclusion list.
Ensure you’re insured!
Any quote you get from a car rental agency (online or in person) usually does not include “full cover” insurance. Most car rental quotes that include an insurance product in the quote, is the type that covers third party risks, i.e. covers the costs of any third party damages including other vehicles, road damage, and/or in the event that other people are hurt.
In Mexico, third party insurance cover is compulsory so if it’s not included in the quote, you will need to purchase it. See “Additional Insurance Products”, above, for details of optional coverage products.
Accident damage premiums and excess fees
The amount you pay for any damage, regardless of your insurance cover or whether or not it was your fault, varies greatly from agency to agency.
If your vehicle is damaged, lost (e.g. by engine fire) or stolen, you will need to cover the vehicle’s repair or replacement as set out in the agency’s agreement. Usually, the excess damage fee (deductible) is calculated as a percentage of the vehicle’s commercial value “as new,” and the deductible is often 10%.
For example, if the vehicle’s “as new” value is US$25,000 and your deductible is 10% of the vehicle’s value, then you will be billed US$2,500 in the event of any damage or loss of the vehicle. This fee can be waived by purchase of a top-up insurance giving the vehicle “full cover.”
If you are not absolutely sure that you are covered by a separate insurance policy you may carry (e.g. through a credit or charge card policy or by means of a company insurance policy), we recommend you ask for “full cover” insurance for the car rental when you get to the rental counter. It’s relatively expensive and will add a significant cost to your rental. The choice is a personal one and you need to weigh up the additional cost against the charge you would be billed in the event of the car becoming damaged or written-off whilst in your care.
See these related articles for additional information about Transportation in Mexico
Rental cars are inspected diligently in Mexico when you return them to the agency—so you should make a thorough inspection before you leave, especially if you have not taken out “full cover” of the vehicle through the agency’s own insurance policy.
Check your rental car before leaving the agency
Inspect your rental car very carefully before you sign the exit form at the agency. Ensure that the exit form documentation lists all existing damage, and add any other damage you see not mentioned on that piece of paper—no matter how small or ‘insignificant’ you think it may be.
Also, check underneath the car before you drive it away; this is because Mexico’s speed bumps and road surface holes can do major damage to a car’s underside and rental companies here are diligent in checking under the vehicle upon its return.
Rental car return inspections
Your car will be thoroughly inspected when you return it, and checks will also be made underneath the car to check for any damage caused by Mexico’s notorious speed bumps and road holes.
If you did not purchase the “full cover” insurance option from the agency and the inspector finds any damage, your credit card will be charged the excess (damage) amount, or a fixed damage fee, as specified on the rental agreement.
If you used a third-party policy to protect the vehicle while it was in your care (e.g. a personal or credit card insurance policy), and there is some damage to the vehicle upon its return, you may need to pay for the damage and then get reimbursed by your insurance or credit card company afterwards. Check with your insurance provider for details about how damage payments are dealt with.
For the best deals, book online, in advance. If you show-up at the rental counter on the day you need the car without a reservation, you will not get the best deal.