Photo: Abasto(s) 2011
Author’s note: Updating one of Planeta.com’s oldest features, presented without necessary edits and updates. Suggestions are welcome.
Good news – major roads have good signage – displaying the highway number, kilometer marker, and mileage for upcoming cities.
An added plus are solar-powered emergency telephones on the toll (cuota) highways. Most toll roads are four-lane and resemble U.S. interstate highways. Tolls are calculated by the number of axles on the vehicle. Toll roads can be expensive but time-saving. Since the roads are privately financed, fees can vary from region to region. Many of these toll roads are free of trucks and buses, which opt for the free highways that are generally two-lane instead of four-lane.
Tips for Foreign Drivers
Driving in Mexico is much the same as in the United States or Canada with the exception that you won’t find many easily accessible visitor information centers. The tourism offices or kiosks that do exist are in town centers far from the highway. It is difficult to get a regional map. Old school Guia Roji atlas is still helpful. Plan ahead and either make reservations or know where you might want to stop to eat or spend the night.
Watch the level of gas in your tank, and be sure to keep it at least half full. While there are plenty of Pemex gas stations along the major highways, in rural areas stations are less common. Gasoline is sold by the liter – just a little less than a quarter of a gallon.
At the gas stations, the service attendant should “zero” the pump — meaning starting from scratch. Remember, it is customary to tip the attendant a small tip.
The best precaution is to avoid driving at night, since most highways are not illuminated and you stand a good chance of driving into a pothole or a black cow that has strayed from the field. Hitting either can cause terrible accidents!
One terrific service needs to mentioned here. Mexico’s “Green Angels” (Angeles Verdes) are trained mechanics who traverse the nation’s highways in their forest green trucks with one mission: to assist travelers whose vehicles have broken down. The mechanics charge for parts or gasoline, but the service is free, courtesy of SECTUR, Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat. It doesn’t hurt to leave a tip, but that’s completely voluntary.
Understanding Mexican Driving
Just as Mexicans speak a foreign language, driving is also different. Highways are marked in kilometers, not miles. The notion of personal space is also different. It’s not unusual for the driver ahead of you to attempt a left turn from the right lane, or vice-versa. Be prepared to be surprised.
Also, highways and large roads often do not have lane markers. Many times it makes more sense to pay more attention to cars to the left and right of you than those in front and behind you. Also, don’t expect the car ahead of you to have automatically have working brake lights. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.
Also, keep an eye out for debris on the road. This may be road kill or tire shreds. Highways quickly become obstacle courses, and this is another good reason why it’s best not to drive at night.
Finally, remember that distances are measured in kilometers, not miles. On the plus side, you seem to be moving a lot faster since kilometers are is just 6/10ths of a mile. On highways, estimate that for every 100 kilometers, it takes an hour of driving.
Registering your car
You can fill out the application ahead of time online the Banjercito website.
Drivers must have proper paperwork, including a drivers license and automobile registration, as well as photocopies of these documents. Once in Mexico, drivers deliver their paperwork to a border official at Banjercito, the government’s customs bank run by the treasury office (Hacienda), pay a fee by credit card and get a windshield sticker for a six-month multiple entry permit. Authorized credit cards include Visa, Mastercard or American Express and must in the same name as the holder of the car registration papers. You must return the car to the border at the end of the six months, but it does not have to be the same crossing.
If you do not possess a credit card, a bond must be paid to ensure the car’s return to the Banjercito office, usually in the customs complex, where the permit will be canceled. You do not have to go to the same border station where you entered.
Drivers with national and international plates need to pay attention to Hoy No Circula.