Renting a car in Mexico – What about the rules and cops

Renting a car in Mexico is a great way to get around to see the Mayan ruins and of course to organize and enjoy your own cave diving within the Riviera Maya. Get a car, get some buddies, get some tanks and of you go into the inky darkness, cruising the beautiful caves, driving down the jungle roads.

When renting a car in Mexico you may want to keep a couple of things in mind. There are a lot of car rental car companies within Mexico and the Riviera Maya which can be divided into international, regional and local operators. I won’t use any names, just use your preferred internet search engine and type rental car Cancun, rental car Playa del Carmen or something similar.

International companies are providers can be found on any airport in any country. The big ones. The advantage is they have lots of cars with quite a choice, if you have a problem they come get you and get you a new car but they can be a bit expensive, however, they have cars at the airport, you fly in, get your car, do your beautiful cave diving thing and drive back to the airport when done.

Regional companies are small rental car operators who have a office or station outside the airport but provide pickup from the terminal to the off site car location and another office or station in Playa del Carmen. If you have trouble with your car you don’t have to get back all the way to the Cancun airport but can change the car in Playa. They will however not come into the middle of nowhere and get you a new one. They can be cheaper than the big ones as they have less overhead. Car choice might be limited. You still pick your car up at the Cancun airport and drop it there when done with your trip.

Local operators area a one stop location with only one office or station in Playa del Carmen that can have the best deals as they are small with no overhead. You have to get to Playa somehow either by bus or airport transfer and then get the car locally. They will not come into the bush to bail you out and car choice might be limited. Once you are done with your thing you need to drop it in Playa and get somehow back to the airport via bus or transfer.

When renting a car make sure you are insured propperly to get you out of a bad accident. Your home car insurance may cover you, your credit card may cover you but quite often the rental car companies won’t rent you a vehicle unless you buy full insurance from them. Don’t forget your valid driver’s license if you like to rent a car.

Be aware that “don’t be gentle it’s a rental” might get you into a pinch when returning the car if it is all beat up from a week of cave diving and jungle road. Be reasonable with it to avoid any trouble upon return. If you spend a week or longer of cave diving you may want to consider have the car washed for 50 pesos or so in order to make a good impression and avoid a closer inspection.

When on the highway, or any road for that matter, if you want to turn left you must stop on the right side shoulder and wait till all traffic has cleared coming and going and you can now turn left. If you slowing down in the middle of the road and set your left turn signal you actually tell everyone behind you that they can pass you. And if they do and you turn left at the same time you have caused an accident and you are responsible for it.

Eventually you need to get gasoline. Make sure you are getting out of the vehicle, you are making sure the pump is set to 00.00 when the pump guy starts pumping and make sure you are now only watching the pump guy and the numbers. Do not get distracted by your passengers or the pump guy. When the tank is full and you see the amount take your money in your hand, look at it, count it, let the pump guy know that you are doing it and give it to him. Pay attention. Some of them are great scam artists. Be aware.

You might run into a road block. There might be military or an array of federal and local agencies sharing the road block. They are looking for weapons and drugs but not friendly cave divers. Relax. Take your sunglasses off. Mostly they wave you through but if they stop you say “hola” (hello) and smile. Get out. Let them do their thing and off you go.

You might get stopped when driving down the highway either by local or transito police in white marked cars (little English) or Federales in blue marked cars (mostly good English). They tend to target tourists as they can see on the license plate if it is a rental car and then the occupants may be either white or red depending on sun uptake. The old private license plates used to be green and rental car plates orange. In April 2011 the license plates changed and are now all orange. Difference is in private cars the numbers are printed in black and on rental cars they are printed in red.

Mostly they stop you because you have been speeding or having made a mistake. All traffic signs are more guidelines than actual rules. They become rules when an accident happens or the cops are watching you. Take them as rules like at home. Be aware that other participants may take them as guidelines but as cops watch rental cars if you beak a rule they might stop you and try to get a bribe.
Best thing to do is not to speed. Look at the side of the road if it says 60, 80 or 100 in a red circle. Inside any town it is 40. When they stop you they are going most likely for a bribe to let you go and tell you they need to impound the vehicle if you don’t pay the bribe. They might try to scare and squeeze you a little maybe.

I can tell you only what I do and that is I refuse to bribe. I hate corruption. They give me my ticket and take either my drivers license, license plate or registration to make sure I pay. When I pay at the police station I get it back. In about 90 % of these cases when I insist that I want the ticket, that I don’t want to pay on the spot and insist to pay at the police station they send me off to move on so they can prey on other victims. I do not bribe. I understand that you may want to move on. Don’t speed and give them a reason to stop you. If they insist that you made wrong and you are sure you where ok insist on the receipt and insist on paying at the station. That is the only advise I have.

Don’t drink and drive. The race management in uniform lost their humor about it. If you get into an accident wait for the Federales if you are on open highway or the transito police if within a Municipio. If you are with a large car rental company a representative will show up dealing with it. A insurance guy might be there as well to take photos. If you are within a Municipio the press may show up. If you are in an accident with a Taxi driver wait for your insurance guy and deal only with him. If you have an accident it will take time to deal with it.

A word about Mexican law. You are guilty unless proven not guilty. This is done out of jail, you have to prove your innocence while being in jail. All involved parties are going to jail till the issue is settled. All involved vehicles are impounded till the issue is settled. If you have proper insurance this will avoid and take care of it as the insurance lawyer will settle the issue. If you are part of a crime scene you are part of the being guilty part and the jail and impound rule applies. If you are taking a hitch hiker with you and they have drugs or guns on them and you go through a road block and they find it with him then you are becoming part of the crime scene and the jail and impound rule applies to you.

The Mexican road side assistance, the “Green Angels”, similar to AAA are driving up and down the highway to help stranded drivers. Their service is free of charge. Very nice guys.

When parking your car make sure you leave nothing in plain sight inside the car, same for the dive sites. Do not take your passport and $ 500 usd with you. There is no law in Mexico that you need to carry identification. As you drive a car you have your drivers license with you and that’s enough. Bring a couple of hundred pesos to have some tasty chicken in Tulum or the best burger on the coast in Akumal after diving. For the trunk, if someone is watching you the only thing you want to do with your trunk is take something out of the trunk, but never put something inside and then walk away. If you been broken into your car and you car has been damaged you need to go to the police station to make a statement and get a copy for the rental car company insurance.

So this may sound a little whowww … what am I getting myself into. Just imagine me getting to a major U.S. airport, trying to find my way to the pickup place, deal with them strange people and then off onto the great American Highway system. Ever drove through Texas or met State Troopers if you never have seen those or them ?. What about them people who drive on the wrong side of the road on some large Island’s ?.

Its all perspective. With a little awareness and following the rules you are just fine to enjoy the local scenery, get to do some cool Mayan ruins and then not to forget do your own cave diving at your own speed and leisure. And that you should have, leisure. Relax and enjoy.

Matt

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