Beware the risks of renting a car in Mexico

  • Article by: KERRI WESTENBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2012 - 2:01 PM

Renting a car in Mexico can be costly and, in the case of an accident, it could land you in jail.

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Tourists enjoy the beach near the Mayan ruins of El Castillo, or The Castle, the main temple in the ancient Maya city of Tulum in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, Dec. 30, 2004.

Photo: Israel Leal, Associated Press

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Can I rent a car in Mexico, asked one reader who is heading to Akumal in March and wants to avoid an expensive resort transfer. You can and your U.S. driver's license is valid there, but you should do so with eyes wide open. It can be costly and, in the case of an accident, it could land you in jail.

I have had friends who tooled around the Yucatan in a rental car with no problem. In fact, the ability to stop at cultural sites at whim greatly enhanced their experience.

On the other hand, Travel Troubleshooter Christopher Elliott said, "I would not drive if I went to Mexico."

One reason: "I've dealt with several readers who have been forced to buy an expensive [insurance] policy that effectively doubled the rate they paid for the car," he said.

You will be required to purchase Mexican auto insurance. In most cases, your U.S.-based auto insurance won't do.

If you should be in an accident, according to the U.S. State Department, "you may be taken into police custody until it can be determined who is liable and whether you have the ability to pay any penalty. If you do not have Mexican liability insurance, you may be prevented from departing the country even if you require life-saving medical care, and you are almost certain to spend some time in jail until all parties are satisfied that responsibility has been assigned and adequate financial satisfaction received."

The State Department also suggests that U.S. citizens drive only during daylight, avoid isolated roads and use toll roads.

All this makes a hotel shuttle, even if it's pricey, look pretty good.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.

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