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Step 8 - Driving in Mexico

Driving in Mexico

If you are planning to bring your own vehicle from the U.S. or Canada, there are some facts you should know:

  1. You must obtain a temporary import permit. To acquire this, you must submit evidence of citizenship, title, registration and driver’s license, and pay a fee. The permit may be obtained at any Mexican customs office at the port of entry or at a Mexican consulate in Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernadino, or San Francisco.
  2. You must also leave a bond (US$200–$400) at the Banjercito bank at the point of entry to guarantee that the car will be returned to the U.S. in the allotted time period. Any foreign-owned car found in Mexico without a proper permit may be impounded and not returned. The bond will be returned to you when you report to the Banjercito branch just prior to your crossing the U.S. border.
  3. Mexican law states that the owner of any foreign vehicle must be present whenever the vehicle is in operation. If your vehicle is driven and stopped by the local authorities, and you are not in the vehicle, it may be confiscated and not returned.
  4. All foreign vehicles driven in Mexico must carry Mexican auto insurance. Your domestic policy will not cover you abroad, so you must purchase a policy at a retailer on the U.S. side of the border. Insurance may also be purchased on the Internet from a number of carriers. For an instant quote on affordable Mexican insurance, visit Mexico Auto Insurance.
  5. If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident in Mexico you will be imprisoned until liability, legal and financial matters are determined. Legal and roadside assistance insurance may be purchased through Safemex. Safemex customers are provided with a lawyer, legal services, and/or roadside service if they run into trouble. 

Special Cautions for Drivers In Mexico

Free vs. Toll Roads:
Any North American who has driven the roads of Mexico will tell you that the experience is quite different from what they are used to back home. While the toll roads (cuotas) are generally very safe, the libre or free-road system is poorly maintained. Up until about ten years ago, Mexico’s government-maintained freeways were in shambles. They are now privatized, and today several corporations own long-term leases on the country’s numerous toll roads. Engineers from the U.S. helped with the planning and construction, resulting in an excellent and much safer roadway network.

However, these improvements come at a substantial cost to the driver. For example, if you take the toll roads from Guadalajara to Mexico City (about a five hour drive), it will cost you about US$50 each way. Thus, most of the toll roads are fairly uncluttered and easy to drive. In contrast, a neighboring two-lane libre or free highway typically contains much slower-moving traffic. If you get behind a semi or an old, beaten-up, 20 mph, gas-guzzler you may be in for a long night if oncoming traffic is heavy. We always recommend that you travel the cuota roads, but sometimes the libre roads are unavoidable. We suggest that you drive defensively on all roads in Mexico, but especially on the libre roads.

Speed Limits and Driving Safety:
Speed limits are generally much lower than in the U.S., but rarely are they enforced. It is quite uncommon to see a patrol car on the highway. The military police are much more common. Numerous potholes or the fear of hitting a stray animal is often all that is needed to regulate speed. Fences around roadside farms are uncommon, so animals can and do stray onto the highway. In more rural destinations, you might even run into a farmer or rancher herding his cattle or sheep across the highway.

In general, drive more slowly than you normally would and definitely try to drive in daylight. Streetlights are rare, especially on the libre roads, and there are so many cars on the road with malfunctioning headlights that it can be downright dangerous. Mexican drivers seem a little more risk-prone than those in the U.S., and they often follow their own set of rules. Many drivers will pass on the solid yellow line.

Be extra careful on curvy or mountainous roads. Slow-moving drivers will often pass without a good view of oncoming traffic. Because of the rough roadway conditions, drivers tend to communicate with each other a bit more. It is more common for passing drivers to warn each other of upcoming danger by flashing their lights. If you are approaching a narrow bridge where only one car at a time can pass, it is customary for the driver who flashed his lights first to have the right of way.

A blinking left-turn signal on the vehicle in front of you could mean that it is clear ahead and safe to pass. This could also mean that the driver is about to take a left turn, so be careful.

Road Conditions:
Roadside shoulders may have dangerous drop-offs, so use caution when pulling over. If you are planning a lengthy drive throughout Mexico, be prepared for tire damage. Potholes are numerous, especially in rural areas and on the libre roads. Make sure you have a good spare and jack before you go anywhere. Never pull over to sleep in your vehicle along the roadside. Do not under any circumstances pick up hitchhikers, as they might pose a threat to you, and be aware that if your passenger has narcotics or other paraphernalia you can be arrested for transporting narcotics or traffickers in your vehicle.

There are fewer markings or lights along Mexican highways, especially on the libre roads, so again, try to drive during daylight hours. Under rainy conditions travel with extra caution as there may be more oil and dust or sand on many stretches of highway. At the entrance of most small towns there are topes, or large speed bumps, in the road to slow down traffic. Do not take these lightly, as you can damage your tires or your front end if you hit them too fast.

Roadside Assistance and the Angeles Verdes:
If you do have mechanical problems and you can find a good mechanic, don’t always expect anyone to have the part you need. So make sure you take your car in for a good check up before you head out. Fortunately, the Green Angeles, or Angeles Verdes, patrol the highways and offer assistance to stranded motorists. This fleet of trucks is driven by mostly bilingual mechanics. The Green Angels can be reached by dialing 01-555-8211/8555 anywhere in Mexico. If you do have to use them, be prepared to direct them to your approximate location, e.g., 20 kilometers south of Puerto Vallarta on highway 200 on the way to Manzanillo. The Green Angels charge for parts, oil, and gas but not for service.

Mexico Maps:
Map out your trip before you go, www.mexicomaps.com, and give someone back home your travel itinerary. For your safety pack an extra belt, fuses, and an auto first-aid kit. Bring a flexible funnel, as some gas stations have nozzles too large to fit unleaded tanks.

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