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A guide to renting a car in Cancun

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A guide to renting a car in Cancun

Over the course of a few group trips to the Yucatan, our members have rented half a dozen vehicles, logged hundreds of miles on the road, paid bribes to local policemen, had to ask for roadside assistance, and experienced a few instances of theft. But, driving remains the preferred transportation due to the flexibility it offers, and we'll continue to rent cars on future trips. Knowing what to expect should make the experience much more pleasant.

Rental Costs:

When renting in the US, I typically shop around through online aggregators (Orbitz, Expedia) and directly with rental agency websites, trying different promotions to find the best price. Because in Mexico a large portion of your total cost lies in hidden fees, online quotes are nearly useless. The main undisclosed fee is the cost of mandatory liability insurance, which I've seen in the range of $10-$25/day. I found that the lower the quote you saw online, the more they will charge you for liability to get you to the price they'd really like to charge you. Unfortunately, liability coverage for rental vehicles is not provided as a credit card perk, isn't provided by your own auto policy, and there doesn't seem to be a good way to purchase it from a 3rd party.

If you're traveling during a busy season, it might make sense to make reservations at a number of different agencies so you have them available to you, but wait until you get to the CUN airport to make a decision (as there's no penalty for cancellation). Once at the airport, the booths are manned with salespersons from the agencies that will be able to give you the 'real' price. Then make a choice based on these quotes, not what you saw online.

You might save some money by declining collision (CDW) insurance and buying only liability, but some agencies combine the two, and charge the same fee whether you have liability only, or liability + CDW. If you have collision coverage through your credit card, it's usually in your interest to decline. Credit card insurance usually has no deductible, while I've been quoted $1500 deductibles for the rental agency CDWs. They'll usually try to discourage you from declining by forcing a larger authorization hold on your credit card, but I just accept this.

To be safe, document everything. Take pictures of the inside and outside of the car, spare tire, and all documents you sign. Perhaps also the engine compartment if you are paranoid. Try all the vehicle functions before you leave. Tip well, the guy who does the initial walkaround of the vehicle, and get him to liberally document any existing damage.

Driving:

When in the US, it's a bad idea to talk, text, or otherwise use a phone while driving. It's an even worse idea in Mexico, as the roads are less well engineered for safety. Roads there leave a smaller margin of error, and hazards have little, poor, or no notice. Remember to keep an eye out for the speed bumps ('topes') that are throughout, including the highways. Driving at night is naturally more dangerous for all of these reasons combined with poor markings and lighting, but not an untenable risk as long as caution is exercised.

The Police:

Even as a safe driver, it's not difficult to misinterpret signals and signs in a foreign country, accidentally break a traffic law, and possibly initiate an encounter with the police. This has happened several times to our group, and the pattern in each case was identical. Your license is requested, you are told of the infraction, and then a cash payment is demanded on the spot. The key is that the bribe is negotiable. The officer might name a fine in the neighborhood of $100-$300, but a reasonable amount for most infractions is in the range of $40-$80. One driver got away with paying $20 for a traffic light violation. What might help is to keep a very small amount of money in your wallet, and then another wallet in the trunk with the "rest of your money", which contains the remainder of what you hope to pay. Then offer it as all you have. Like a good salesman, the cop will look at your appearance to get an idea of what you're able to cough up, so don't dress too fancy out there. Bribes are an accepted custom, and there's no use in getting indignant about it, as this will only make the situation worse. Be contrite and make it appear you're willing to pay for your alleged misdeeds.

Note - the rental agency bumper stickers seemed like giant advertisements for "please pull me over and ask for a bribe". Not sure what to do about that, though. Maybe get some generic magnetic decals to put over them, next time.

The emergency number for the police is "066". The State Department website cautions that the police don't always answer, but it's good to know anyways.

Parking Tickets:

"E" is the symbol for parking, so look out for the "No E" symbol to avoid parking tickets. Don't park where the curb is yellow, don't block driveways or hydrants, and in general follow the same rules as you would in the US. If you should get a ticket, you'll receive a slip on your windshield, and the police will take one of the car's license plates. To satisfy the ticket and retrieve the plate, visit the station in person. The penalties are way cheaper than in American cities - it was 300 pesos in one case, but the cost can easily double if the rental agency is forced to pay it and retrieve the plates on your behalf.

Theft:

Like anywhere else, don't let belongings in plain sight. But in particular, *hubcaps* seem to be strangely popular targets. Although they should be covered by credit card damage policies, it might make sense to store them in the trunk while using the car. Who needs em, anyway?

----

Hope this helps those thinking of renting in Mexico. Public transportation is great as well (ADO, collectivo, cab), but there's nothing that beats the spontaneity of having a car available at moment's notice.

Edited: 17 January 2014, 16:39
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1. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

Welcome to the forum.

<…our members have rented half a dozen vehicles, logged hundreds of miles on the road, paid bribes to local policemen>

That’s truly unfortunate. Your group needs to pay closer attention to the law, and not break it. I’ve been renting in this region for over 20 years, have logged thousands of miles, and have never been pulled over yet. Luck? I don’t think so. The fact that your “group” chose to perpetuate the ongoing problem of la mordida was misguided, and very unfortunate.

<…If you have collision coverage through your credit card, it's usually in your interest to decline.>

Disagree. Big mistake. If you have a collision, you will need CASH *on the spot*, not when you return to your home town to collect after the fact from your insurance company. Reimbursement at a later date doesn’t help you one bit when you need to pony up cash NOW. You could find yourself sitting in a cozy Mexican jail if you didn’t purchase the insurance. Your credit card insurance or personal insurance isn’t worth anything when you are being held until you pay up.

<Remember to keep an eye out for the speed bumps ('topes') that are throughout, including the highways.> True, however, you neglected to mention the more ominous risk, and that is the ever-changing speed limit signs. I’ve seen two different speed limit signs within <50 meters of each other. Miss one of these and you may find yourself pulled over by policia, as your group has already.

<…it's not difficult to misinterpret signals and signs in a foreign country, accidentally break a traffic law, and possibly initiate an encounter with the police. This has happened several times to our group,. The key is that the bribe is negotiable.. Be contrite and make it appear you're willing to pay for your alleged misdeeds. > I have traveled in many countries, and I have never misinterpreted a sign. Road signs are universal throughout the world. If your group has difficulty understanding the meaning of road signs here, you’ve got some drivers education to pick up on.

<bribe is negotiable> Here is where you’re dead wrong. Paying la mordida is not only illegal, but perpetuates the problem. If you were indeed breaking the law, you ask for the ticket, and pay it at the police station. If you are convinced you were not breaking the law, you wouldn’t have been pulled over in the first place, but had you had your printed copy of Articulo 152, you would hand it over to the officer and politely explain your side. In any case, you NEVER pay the police officer directly.

<Note - the rental agency bumper stickers seemed like giant advertisements for "please pull me over and ask for a bribe". Not sure what to do about that, though.>

I’ve been renting and traveling this area for over 20 years, and I have never had a rental vehicle that had an agency bumper sticker. Never. There is an obvious indicator, or ‘mark’ on all rental vehicles, but it isn’t a bumper sticker. Do you know what it is??

Dallas, Texas
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2. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

Thanks for your tips, helsingw. You may save someone from having their blood pressure go up from car rental anxieties.

SK
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3. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

This was posted last year and I believe bella responded in kind.

Serial spammer.

Edited: 17 January 2014, 17:48
New York City, New...
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4. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

<That’s truly unfortunate. Your group needs to pay closer attention to the law, and not break it. I’ve been renting in this region for over 20 years, have logged thousands of miles, and have never been pulled over yet. Luck? I don’t think so. The fact that your “group” chose to perpetuate the ongoing problem of la mordida was misguided, and very unfortunate.

Paying la mordida is not only illegal, but perpetuates the problem. If you were indeed breaking the law, you ask for the ticket, and pay it at the police station. If you are convinced you were not breaking the law, you wouldn’t have been pulled over in the first place, but had you had your printed copy of Articulo 152, you would hand it over to the officer and politely explain your side. In any case, you NEVER pay the police officer directly.>

Yes, rental car drivers should strive to abide by local rules. But I was aiming not to chastise others here for failing to do so, but to give guidance as to what to expect in the event of a traffic stop.

Bribes remain a popular custom whether you agree with them or not. One may choose not to participate, but it may not result in the quickest or most desirable resolution of the encounter. It's up to the driver how they want to handle the situation, but the aim was that presenting one of the actual outcomes would help future drivers make an informed decision.

You've stated already that you've never been pulled over before. We have, and this was our experience. Readers may this may take it for what they will.

<I’ve been renting and traveling this area for over 20 years, and I have never had a rental vehicle that had an agency bumper sticker. Never. There is an obvious indicator, or ‘mark’ on all rental vehicles, but it isn’t a bumper sticker. Do you know what it is??>

There were two bumper stickers with the name of the rental agency on our vehicles. Not sure what you're trying to say.

New York City, New...
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5. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

<This was posted last year and I believe bella responded in kind.

Serial spammer.>

Are you referring to my post? This was the first time I've written anything on this forum under any name.

If someone else posted the same thing year ago, I guess that would lend credibility to what I wrote. Do you have a link to the post?

Vancouver
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for Akumal, Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Puerto Morelos
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6. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

There have been quite a few links

Here is one including Bella and my hints - I put mine in the forum's Top Question section but now everyone reads that and cannot access it with mobile devices

tripadvisor.ca/…48832482

But always good to get the topic bumped again

As for your ?

There were two bumper stickers with the name of the rental agency on our vehicles. Not sure what you're trying to say.

Rental cars have a unique licence plate - best not to cover that up

Cozumel, Mexico
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7. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

I choose bellas post as the best ¨ A guide to renting a car in Cancun¨.

I have driven in the area for over 30 years without a problem and without paying a bribe.

Indianapolis...
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8. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

The only thing that really scares me about renting a car is that left turn rule. Is it true that you have to pull over to the right, let the cars in the left lane all pass, and then turn left (from the right lane)??? I'm so afraid by second nature I'm going to just veer to the left to make a left turn. I did rent a Jeep in Cozumel last year, but I didn't have to make any left turns (when other vehicles were around) luckily! :-)

Cancun, Mexico
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9. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

I may not always agree with 'bella' on other topics but he is spot on with his rental car information.

We've been going to Cancun since 1985 and have lived there part time since 2007 and there is no left hand run that I'm aware of...

Edited: 22 January 2014, 00:26
Cancun, Mexico
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10. Re: A guide to renting a car in Cancun

run =rule