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Cancun Car Rental Advice

We learned a lot renting a car in Cancun for our 28 day visit to the Yucatan Peninsula. Overall, renting a car in the Yucatan Peninsula added a lot to our Mexican vacation, but there were a few negative experiences along the way which could have been avoided had we been more educated.

Here are two things you should know before you rent a car in Cancun:

1. Don’t believe the Cancun car rental price

As a seasoned traveler, I’m so annoyed at myself for falling for this car rental scam… When I started looking for Cancun car rentals, I was very excited to see that I could get one for ~$5 USD per day!!

I should’ve known this was too cheap for a car rental in Mexico, but I talked myself into believing it…  “things are much cheaper in Mexico” and “I’m renting a car for a month, so I must be getting a good deal”.

Wrong.

When picking up our Cancun rental car at the airport, I was informed the quoted cost of the car rental did not include (realistic) 3rd party liability insurance, airport fee or taxes.

The quoted cost of our Cancun car rental included 750,000 pesos (~ $37,000USD ) of 3rd party liability insurance, which is way too low in case of an accident including people or property. Our Cancun car rental company wouldn’t give us the keys without buying additional car rental insurance.

We were effectively forced to increase the extra car rental insurance to 3,000,000 pesos (~$162,000), which in hindsight was still probably too low, but this was the only coverage level offered. With the Basic Protection Package in hand (we opted out of theft and medical coverage), we ended up paying $34 per day for our Cancun car rental – over 6x the originally quoted price!

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What’s a shame about this car rental pricing practice is that $34 a day isn’t that outrageous for a midsize car rental.

It was such an aggravating way to start our trip – I had just landed in Mexico very excited to start our trip and now I was angry at my car rental company and even more, I was angry at myself for falling for this car rental scam.

Had our Cancun car rental company just priced it fairly including mandatory insurance (as is the practice most places in the world), I’d have been perfectly ok with the cost of my Cancun car rent. 

Note, that you should check your credit card car rental coverage and home auto policy before you go. Neither of my credit cards covered 3rd party liability in Mexico and I understand it isn’t common for any personal car insurance policy to cover Mexican rental cars.

Lastly, be aware your Cancun rental company will also put a large hold on your credit card. Mine put a hold of 80,000 pesos (~$4,000USD) on my credit card. 

Now that time has passed, I’m not mad at the price of my Cancun car rental anymore. I am still mad at my own gullibility and the misleading car rental pricing practice. I’m still very glad we had a Cancun rental car and it improved our family trip to Playa del Carmen enormously.

I love renting a car when traveling, but to be honest I hate the moments when I have to pick up the car. There’s almost always an unpleanant surprise the car rental company throws at you.

While no car rental company is perfect, I’ve come to appreciate Rentalcars.com. Of all of the online car rental agencies, I find they make the best effort to be open and honest about their car rental terms and conditions. They are typically well written and easy to find.

I hope that you can now rent a car in Cancun armed with the information you need. Just have a good laugh at the super-cheap advertised prices for your Cancun car rental and be prepared for the real price when you go to pick it up. 

Once you order your Yucatan rental car, don’t forget to get some advice on driving in the Yucatan Peninsula.

2. Beware Mexico gas station scams

Prior to filling up our Cancun rental car for the first time, I read that Mexican gas station attendants are quite skilled at ripping off tourists. Armed with this knowledge, I pulled into my first Playa del Carmen gs station determined not to get ripped off… but I still did…  

I pulled into a Pemex station just outside Xpu-Ha beach (our favorite public beach in Playa del Carmen). As I pulled into the gas station in my rental car, all of the full-serve gas attendants were so friendly – they were all smiling and waving me towards their pump.

Their eagerness to serve me should have been my first warning, but I fell for it and let my guard down a bit. Yeesh… I should know better than this!

Being a little wary of tourist scams, I asked for only 400 pesos (~$20USD) of gas. When the Pemex attendant finished, I started the car and the gas gauge needle barely moved 1/8 of a tank.

I backed the car up a little to look at the pump and the Pemex employee was standing there pointing at the number 400 on the pump display, thus “proving” to me that I got what I paid for.

It looked like he was trying to hide something with his hands, but being a polite Canadian, I simply drove away, but I committed to myself not to get ripped off in Mexico again.

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Sadly, there is a long list of gas station scams in Mexico. I focused on two main strategies to avoid getting ripped off again:

1) Avoid tourist gas stations

The Pemex gas station where I got ripped off is here. Check out its location – on the highway halfway between Xcaret and Xel-ha – both major tourist attractions.

Look at the Google Reviews for this Pemex gas station… a long list of tourists who also got ripped off. (I’m sad to report that as I’m updating this post a few years later, this practice of ripping off tourists at this Pemex gas station continues!)

I started filling up at this Playa del Carmen gas station instead. Note its strategic location away from the tourist highway and just far enough away from the tourist areas of town. Look at the Google Reviews for this station – the odd complaint about tourists getting ripped off, but nowhere near the amount for the highway station near Xpu-Ha.

2) Get out of the rental car and watch the whole process 

Back home in Canada, we are polite and like to avoid confrontation, so getting out of my rental car and staring at the gas station attendant filling up my car felt so wrong. But I reminded myself of the first time I got ripped off buying gas in Playa del Carmen, so I forced myself to do it.

These 6 steps will help you avoid getting ripped off buying gas in Mexico:

  1. Get out of your rental car and greet the gas station attendant with a smile and eye contact. This is a super important step. It shows the gas station attendant you will be watching every step.

  2. Ask for 400 pesos of gasoline for your rental car. This limits your downside to ~$20 per rental car fill up and allows you to pay in 200 peso notes.

    Never pay for gas with 500 peso notes! One of the biggest tourist scams in Mexico is when the gas station attendant switches the 500 peso note you gave him for a 50 peso note. They look very similar – eliminate this gas station scam by paying exclusively with 200 peso notes.

  3. Watch to make sure the gas station attendant zeros out the pump – effectively ending the previous pumping and resetting the pump to zero. Otherwise, if the previous driver bought 250 pesos of gas, they could simply continue pumping into your rental car, making it look like you got 250 pesos more gasoline than you really got.

  4. Next, watch your gas station attendant input the requested amount of pesos into the pump. This should be shown in the top display on the gas pump.

  5. The bottom number on the gas pump shows how much gas has actually been delivered into your rental car. The gas pump will automatically slow down and stop when it reaches the amount the gas station attendant entered into the top display.

    I believe the Pemex gas station attendant who ripped me off was covering the bottom number with his hand and he was pointing to the top number (which he input himself). He was covering the bottom number which showed how much he actually pumped into my rental car.

  6. Complete the strategy and pay in cash with 200 peso notes. Show the attendant your two 200 peso notes and ask, “Ok?”. This forces them to count the pesos in front of you before you hand them over. Once they confirm it is ok, pay for your rental car gas, get in your car drive away happy.
Beware the Mexico tourist scam where they switch your 500 peso note for a 50 peso note

See how the 50 Mexican peso note and the 500 Mexican peso note look just close enough to each other to allow the peso swap tourist scam to work? While the green 200 Mexican peso note cannot be confused with any other peso denomination.

Important Final Note

As a final note, we need to say that these two issues were our only negative experiences our whole month in Mexico. The vast majority of local people and businesses are decent, honest and friendly people.

Our goal for this post is to make people aware of these common Cancun scams in hopes that no one else will get ripped off.

DON’T MISS: If you are currently in the Mayan Riviera or are planning a trip there, don’t miss our blog post, Plan the Best Family Trip to the Mayan Riviera. It’s packed full of planning tips, exciting family activities and links to all of our Mayan Riviera blog posts. It’s sure to help make your family trip a memorable one!

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