Driving in Mexico can be a convenient way for U.S. residents to see the country, and many visitors to Mexico cross the border in their own vehicles. Here are a few tips to help you ease on down the road!
Unleaded Gas in Mexico
Contrary to popular belief, there are now lots of gas stations (gasolineras) in Mexico – PEMEX is owned by the government. However, each station is a franchise owned by an individual or company. The grades of PEMEX gasoline are 'Magna' (Regular Unleaded 87 octane - green pump handle) and 'Premium' (92 octane - red pump handle).
A good rule to follow while traveling is to never pass one up if you can’t make it to the next town. Few Pemex stations stay open all night. Generally their washrooms are reasonably clean and well equipped, but it is a good idea to carry an extra roll of toilet paper and a handful of one-peso coins. Occasionally there is an attendant on duty and it is courteous to give them a small tip, and in some cases this is how you get your toilet paper.
All stations are FULL SERVICE. You can ask the attendant to fill the tank, (lleno -"YAY-noh") or to a specified monetary amount, Dos Cien Pesos, por favor ($200 pesos, please). Additionally, if you ask, the attendant will also clean the windscreen, check/fill your oil if required, check your tire pressure and adjust as necessary, and any other minor job that may need doing that won't take more than a few minutes at most. Attendants usually are not tipped unless they perform additional work for you. It is common to give 5-10% of the cost of your fuel for these additional services
Some Pemex stations accept U.S. Dollars and they are beginning to accept major credit cards. However, don't count on it...better safe than sorry...bring some peos!
Mordida (the bite or a bribe)
For many years, Mordida has been an accepted practice in Mexico. Mordida (often referred to as The Bite) is when you are driving and get stopped by the Police. For many many years, it has been an accepted practice in Mexico to ask the cop if you can pay an 'instant fine' (otherwise known as a 'bribe'). This gets you off without a ticket. For many years when we first came here, we embraced this 'tradition' and merrily paid our 'instant fines'. Then one day we decided to ask our Mexican friends what they did and what they thought about this practice. They told us that we as expats say we don't like the corruption, but that we are encouraging it by paying this 'instant fines' instead of taking the ticket. They take the ticket. So now, we have changed our way of thinking and also ask for the ticket and encourage our clients to do the same. Also, the Mexican government is working hard to stop this kind of 'corruption' so poco a poco (bit by bit) we change.
Driving Habits in Mexico
A little tip! Expect to encounter different driving habits, highway markings and ‘rules of the road.’ Mexicans are fairly easy going people… that is until they get behind the wheel of a car… The first few times you drive, especially in Guadalajara (a city of 7 million people), you’ll likely feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of traffic, crazy drivers and the glorietas (traffic circles).
If you drive defensively in Mexico, chances are you'll have no problems at all. Driving in Mexico is safe - it is. You'll just need to exercise extra care, and be prepared for things to be a little different to what you are used to.
Learn local driving signals
Two great rules to remember:
- He who is in front of you, or has already entered the traffic circle, has the right away…
- He who hits – pays.
Once registered on our program, you will receive a print out of Highway Signs and Symbols with their English translations. Keep in your glove box for reference.
You should also be aware of a few driving signals in Mexico that have more than one meaning. For instance:
If the car in front of you puts on the left-hand signal, it could mean...
- he is turning left
- he is telling you it is okay to pass him
- he is going into the right lateral road to turn left
- he simply forgot to turn it off
- When in doubt, DO NOT PASS!
An oncoming vehicle flashing its headlights is a warning for you to slow down. This could be because you are both approaching a narrow bridge or place in the road. The custom is that the first vehicle to flash has the right of way and the other must yield. Or he's telling you there's something going on up ahead that you need to be aware of. On the cuotas, if you are approaching a slow-moving vehicle, it is also customary for the slower vehicle to drive on the shoulder to let you pass. In a village with a narrow street, if two cars are approaching each other, sometimes one car will pull over and douse its lights so you know you have the right to pass. That's a very nice custom!
Needless to say, defensive driving is the order of the day. However, I must add, in spite of the seemingly reckless attitude of Mexican drivers, it is amazing how few serious accidents you see.
Driving at Night? Not a Good idea...
Unfortunately, one of the “Mexico Myths” is that you shouldn’t drive at night because of the “Banditos” Is this really true? NO. This is absolutely false!
The real reason is that Mexico is a free-range country and animals tend to roam freely in the Mexican countryside and at night they are extremely hard to see. Imagine driving around a corner at night in the Mexican countryside and come face to hood with a herd of cattle or horses.
This is another reason we recommend using the Toll Roads (especially the first time you drive to Mexico) as they are protected by fences and barriers. Also, normally in Mexico the roads are not well lit and can tend to have pot holes which, in the night, are hard to see and can cause damage.
Beware of the topes
When you approach cities and especially small villages, beware of the topes (speed bumps to we English speakers!). We call them 24-hour silent policemen, and they are extremely effective. Just outside of town (both coming in and leaving), plus several more within, you will find large speed bumps (topes). You will need to immediately slow down when you see a sign with a bump on it. Sometimes the signs are hard to see and sometimes they aren’t there at all. Many times the ‘bumps’ are painted to give you a clue. Just remember when approaching cities and villages to pay attention and look for the topes and save your suspension.
So, if you must drive at night, then we definitely recommend the Toll Roads. Another good idea when driving at night is to try to follow behind a bus or truck or other vehicles. If there is a hazard ahead, you will at least get some warning.