Mexican insurance a good idea when renting a car in Mexico


Question: I’m going to Mexico, and I think if I rent a car in Mexico and use my MasterCard, I get some insurance automatically. But I don’t understand which of the types of insurance I can pass up at the rental agency in Mexico. What do I need?

Tom Boesiger

Loveland, Colo.

Answer: A limo with a chauffeur.

Automobile insurance, never simple, becomes more complex when a rental is involved. And when it’s a rental in Mexico, it’s at least triple the tribulation.

Boesiger is right to rent his car in Mexico rather than driving across the border. Some U.S. companies will not rent to travelers who want to cross into Mexico. Others that will do not allow drivers to go south of the 28th parallel. So a trip from, say, Tucson to Mexico City in a car rented in the U.S. generally is a nonstarter.

Experienced travelers know they often get pressured to buy insurance when they rent from a U.S. rental car agency.

That insurance is “a huge profit center” for rental car companies, said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for, a site designed to allow consumers to search for and compare credit card offers. The rental companies charge travelers “for something they don’t need,” he said.

That’s because most of us who drive already carry automobile insurance, which often covers you in a rental car. Furthermore, if you rent a car using a credit card, the card often provides secondary insurance. So it’s a good idea to find out what your auto coverage is and what your credit card can do for you before going anywhere.

Renting abroad is another story, and in Mexico, it’s not always a happy one. Remember that your U.S. insurance means nothing in Mexico. Further, driving south of the border seems to me about as palatable as chewing ground glass.

If you’re determined, know that some credit card companies will provide some auto coverage in Mexico, but the terms are strict. Make sure you read and understand their requirements. If you decline Mexican auto insurance and are going only with what your card provides, the car rental company may charge you 10% of the commercial value of the car. If nothing happens, that money will be refunded. Also, if you take Mexican auto insurance, your credit card coverage may be voided.

I’d take the Mexican insurance rather than chance it. It will cost you -- $30 a day and up is not unusual -- but it should protect you.

The State Department website notes, “If you are involved in an automobile accident, you will 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 lifesaving 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. Drivers may face criminal charges if injuries or damages are serious.”

Call me cowardly, call me craven, but above all, please call me a car service.

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