There are many rumors about driving in Mexico that can give expat drivers sweaty palms. Potholes, crime, reckless driving style – many an expat-to-be is nervous about actively participating in traffic and driving in Mexico. Our expat guide gives you the most important facts to keep in mind.
Due to the cheap price, many locals oftentimes prefer public transportation to driving in Mexico. If you plan on getting from A to B by bus, it is a very good idea to brush up your Spanish skills.
However, travelling by car is probably still the best and fastest way to get around the country. It allows you to travel at your own pace without having to rely on bus timetables. Not only is this more convenient, but buying and owning a car is relatively inexpensive compared to many other countries.
Stay alert when driving in Mexico’s ‘outback’ as many criminals still take advantage of naïve non-Mexicans. Avoid picking up hitchhikers or accepting rides from strangers. Neither is it a good idea to stop for an apparently broken-down vehicle, as this may be a trap.
Mexican Road Infrastructure
Conditions on Mexico’s roads vary greatly, although the nation has invested heavily in its road infrastructure in order to facilitate better connections between large cities. In this way, the government also hopes to entice visitors to go cross-country as well.
There are two types of main roads motorists will come across: toll roads (autopistas de cuota, short cuotas) and regular highways (carreteras libres). The regular roads zigzag across the country and are often of rather questionable quality. Beware when having to use libres for driving in Mexico: Potholes, livestock, and rock debris alongside or in the middle of the road are not uncommon. Conditions on the libres can be so bad they may even break your axles and blow out your tires.
Cuotas are comparatively expensive, yet they are in much better condition than the libres; they are definitely the preferable option for everyone driving in Mexico. Cuotas usually run straight distances, are better maintained and less travelled, resulting in less congestion. Authorities recommend using the toll roads first if you are unfamiliar with the conditions of driving in Mexico. While some toll booths have started to accept debit and credit cards, the majority still does not. So be sure that you have enough pesos handy when using toll roads. The Secretary of Infrastructure also offers detailed information on individual routes and their toll costs online.
Roadside Assistance: The Green Angels
Due to the abovementioned disruptions on some roads, which can occasionally make driving in Mexico rather venturesome, the country has implemented a governmentally run organization of auto mechanics. These mechanics called Angeles Verdes (green angels) drive along the highways in green trucks and provide roadside service to cars that could not cope with the realities of Mexican roads. If you find yourself in need of assistance, dial 078. The service is free of charge; however, you must pay for any spare parts the “angels” supply, and it is common courtesy to tip them or buy them lunch.
Air Pollution and Driving Bans in Mexican Cities
Many of the larger cities suffer from severe air pollution, a very unfortunate side effect of driving in Mexico caused by unfiltered car exhausts and the high rate of congestion. The Mexican government has become aware of this and has implemented a type of Low Emission Zone in larger cities. The Hoy no circula project (literally meaning “don’t drive today”) began in Mexico City and was introduced to improve air conditions in the bustling capital.
The way it works is simple: There is a ban on driving in Mexico City for cars with a specific last number in their license plate. This ban is in effect from 5am to 10pm on a certain day of the week. For example, if there was a ban for the number 8 on Tuesday and your license plate ended in an 8, you would be unable to drive on any Tuesday between 5 in the morning and 10 at night.
Motorcycles, low emission cars that have been classified as 0 or 00 during their verification and vehicles that have a sightseeing pass (Pase Turístico) are exempt from this ban. You can get such a visitor pass for 7 or 14 consecutive days online, but only if your car is not registered in Mexico City or State.