Safe Car Rental in Mexico? What You Need to Know in Advance + 9 Tips

Imagine starting the engine, rolling down the window, and being greeted by lovely tranquillo music playing in the background. Everywhere you look, there are towering palm trees lining the road, the sun is shining, and the refreshing scent of sea air fills your lungs. If this sounds like a dream come true, then a road trip through southern Mexico is the perfect adventure for you. Southern Mexico is a paradise on earth, with beautiful white-sand beaches, hidden cenotes, and ancient Maya temples. While public transportation in Mexico is well-organized, renting a car is still an excellent option as it offers the ultimate freedom to explore. With a rental car, you can go wherever your heart desires, truly immersing yourself in the beauty of this region. There are a few things to keep in mind when renting a car in Mexico, and we’re happy to share our tips with you.

Safety and driving in Mexico

Driving a car in Southern Mexico is actually quite easy and safe, which is a relief. The highways that connect the different towns and villages are straight as an arrow, super wide, and always well-maintained. It’s usually pretty quiet on these roads too, which makes for a smooth ride. However, since the highway passes through the jungle, you might want to keep an eye out for any animals crossing the road, like iguanas or snakes. If you’re taking a road to a cenote or some other scenic spot, be aware that these roads can be unpaved and have a lot of potholes. But if you take your time and drive carefully, you’ll be fine.

 One thing we noticed is that driving in Mexico requires a bit of boldness, especially when it comes to traffic. Mexican drivers tend to be assertive, so you’ll need to be confident and not hesitate when you’re driving. It’s not necessarily chaotic, but you can’t always expect other drivers to give you the right of way. That being said, we’ve found that Mexican drivers are generally respectful and considerate, so you shouldn’t have any problems.

One thing to keep in mind is to avoid driving on the highway after dark. The roads aren’t well-lit, which can make it harder to see any animals, potholes, or even people on the road. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so if possible, try to plan your trips during the day.

Traffic regulations in Mexico

You drive on the right and pass on the left. In urban areas, the speed limit is 50 km/h, while outside the city it’s either 80 or 110 km/h, depending on the signs. If you’re near a school or hospital, slow it down to 20 mph. Keep your eyes peeled for speed bumps, or “thresholds,” as they call them in Mexico. So be prepared to slow down and go over them carefully. Warning signs are usually posted, but not always easy to spot.

How to deal with corrupt cops in Mexico?

Unfortunately, it happens sometimes that tourists get scammed by shady people in Mexico. You could be driving down a deserted road when suddenly a cop stops you and claims you broke a law. Then, they’ll demand a hefty fine. That’s when you know you’re dealing with a corrupt cop, which is super frustrating because you don’t know the local laws and you’re not used to this kind of thing. But don’t let it get you down because most travelers won’t have to deal with this. However, it’s always a good idea to be prepared so you can minimize the damage if it happens to you. Here are some key tips for handling corrupt police in Mexico:

  • Don’t speak Spanish! Even if you’re fluent in Spanish, it’s best to act like a clueless tourist and keep your Spanish to a minimum of five words. Don’t reveal where you’re coming from or where you’re headed. Pretend that you don’t understand any of the officer’s questions. Most of the time, these agents don’t speak English, so they won’t be able to use English to pressure you. This is always the first tactic, and with any luck, the conversation will become so awkward that the officer will give up eventually. Also, if the officer happens to speak English, it’s best to claim that you don’t speak it well.
  • Empty your wallet before driving.Before hitting the road in Mexico, make sure to empty your wallet. Take out all your cash, debit cards, and driver’s license and hide them in a place where the officer won’t find them. Also, hide your passport so that the officer can’t use it as leverage. Only show these documents at official state border controls, not if you’re stopped along the road. Beforehand, fill your wallet with some worthless items like a sports pass or an insurance card. If the officer demands payment, show your wallet and explain that you don’t have anything else on you. Use gestures to communicate this if you don’t speak Spanish. If the officer is corrupt, they’ll eventually realize that they won’t get anything from you.
  • Indicate that you want to go to the police station. If all else fails and the officer keeps insisting, make it clear that you want to resolve the matter at the police station. Keep in mind that this should be a last resort, so be patient and keep investing time in the earlier tactics. The officer will most likely not want to go to the police station since it won’t be beneficial for them. Sometimes they may even threaten to take you to the police station, knowing that it’s far away and that you don’t want to make a detour for hours. However, the reality is that they don’t want to take you there themselves because they won’t be able to scam you at the police station.
  • Always remain calm, polite and show respect. It’s important to never get angry or impatient, as it can make the situation worse. Always remain calm and polite, even if the officer is not. Cooperate and use the tactics mentioned above.

What kind of rental car is fine in Mexico?

If you are following The Ultimate Beach Destinations Itinerary or The Alternative Itinerary then a regular passenger car is fine. In these regions, a 4×4 vehicle is not necessary. When renting a car abroad, we always choose an automatic, even though we can drive manual. Driving in a foreign country, especially at the beginning, can be uncomfortable, so an automatic is more comfortable and allows you to focus on the road. When booking a rental car, make sure to check that there is enough space in the trunk for your luggage.

Tip: While picking up the rental car, make sure there is a safe place to hide your stuff. It is also recommended that you put your stuff in the trunk when you visit a site or grab a bite to eat on the road. That way your belongings are out of sight and you have less chance of car break-in.

Pay extra attention to scams at fueling sites

At gas stations (especially around Tulum), all sorts of scams are pulled to get you to overpay. In Mexico, the pump attendant refuels your vehicle instead of you doing it yourself. These attendants often distract you with small talk while someone else changes the amount displayed on the counter or performs a bill exchange trick. For instance, if you give 500 pesos, someone could divert your attention while the other exchanges your bill with a 50 pesos one. Then, the attendant might claim that you only gave 50 pesos. To avoid these scams, it’s best to check the reviews of gas stations on Google and choose the most reliable one, particularly around Tulum. Additionally, it’s wise to pay with cash and avoid getting distracted while filling up. Keep an eye on the pump counter when they fill up and count out loud the bills you give to the pump attendant. Wait for your change and don’t get distracted.

Important: Don’t forget your credit card

One crucial thing to remember when renting a car is to bring a credit card in the main driver’s name. This is mandatory for the rental car deposit, and if you present a credit card in another name, you won’t be able to rent the car. Also, make sure that your credit card has adequate funds to cover the rental car deposit. The amount of the deposit is usually mentioned in the ‘specific conditions’ section during booking and on your booking voucher. If you don’t have a credit card yet, it’s essential to get one before your rental car reservation to avoid any inconveniences.

Additional car rental tips and info

Some more useful things to consider when renting a car in Mexico.

Fueling in Mexico

In Mexico, they’ll take care of filling up your tank for you at the gas station, and it’s typical to give a little tip if they also clean your windows while they’re at it. Keep in mind that you won’t find many gas stations along the toll roads, so it’s important to make sure your tank is completely full if you’re planning on driving a long distance.

Navigating in Mexico

If you’re renting a car, you have the option to add a navigation system to your rental, but we suggest skipping it. Not only does it cost an arm and a leg, but it’s also unnecessary since you can easily navigate with your phone for free. We recommend using Google Maps for directions. Just make sure to download the map of the area you’ll be driving in ahead of time so you can use it offline. It’s also helpful to save the location of any pre-booked hotels or places of interest on Google Maps. And if you need to stop for gas along the way, just pull up Google Maps and search for the nearest gas station.

International driving license

When driving in Mexico, you’re not required to have an international driver’s license, but it’s a good idea to bring one just in case you run into any language barriers.

The minimum age to rent a car

The minimum age for renting a car in Mexico depends on the rental company. Generally, most companies require you to be at least 21 years old, but some may allow drivers as young as 18. Keep in mind that if you’re under 25 years old, you may have to pay an extra fee.

Note: If you drop off your rental car at a location different from where you picked it up, you’ll likely have to pay a one-way fee. After submitting your rental car application, you’ll receive an email within 24 hours with the amount of this fee. You can choose to accept the fee or cancel your booking free of charge. If you’re driving from Oaxaca to Cancun, expect to pay a one-way fee.

What does it cost to rent a car in Mexico?

When renting a car in Mexico, prices can vary depending on the season and how early you book.  Booking a rental car through is highly recommended for Mexico. With a rental car, you always have a chance of damage and problems along the way, which is why it’s smart to book with a reliable party. At Rentalcars, you can always take out a Full Protection Insurance, you can change your booking for free and all conditions are clearly indicated. So you don’t have to worry about snags and if something goes wrong on your trip, everything is always reimbursed and taken care of. This is totally worth it as far as we are concerned, especially on holiday.

Note: Sometimes the local rental company will try to sell you extra insurances. These are absolutely unnecessary as everything is covered with Rentalcars’ Full Protection Insurance. So don’t be fooled because you are 100% covered, even your excess will be refunded in case of damage.

Price hikes due to shortage of cars: There is currently a huge shortage of rental cars worldwide. To survive the corona crisis, car rental companies have had to sell a large portion of their cars. Since demand is rising fast, there are not enough chips for new cars and prices are skyrocketing due to the shortage. As a result, many rental cars are double the price or even fully booked. It’s best to book as early as possible to be sure of a rental car that is still somewhat affordable. At, you can currently cancel or change your booking free of charge up to 48 hours in advance, so you are not stuck with anything but still be sure of a rental car.