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Cars along Malecon in Puerto Vallarta, MexicoRenting a car in Mexico is rarely as simple as signing on the dotted line and roaring off into the sunset. It can go off without a hitch or it can be an adventure. Understanding the process helps.

You'll probably rent your car from an international car rental firm, either directly or through your travel agent as part of a package. Or you may rent on-site, thinking you'll get a better deal. No matter what your choice is, renting a car in Mexico can be expensive if you don't shop around.

Rates vary greatly from city to city and even from location to location within the same city. For example, a Volkswagen Beetle, two-doors with no air conditioning, can rent in Cancun from a high of $81 per day with

Hertz, to a low of $29 a day with Budget. The same model in Mexico City rents for $81 with Hertz and half that with Budget.

Lower prices are generally found with smaller local companies, but the ability to speak Spanish is a definite asset. Discounts are available for smaller cars rented for longer periods and sometimes if they are reserved a certain number of days before your arrival--usually seven to 14 days, but often less. You also will get a break by paying at the time of booking, renting by the week, and returning the car to the same location.

If you only plan to rent for a day or two, the best deal may be a flat per-day/per-kilometer rate. An increasingly common alternative is to get a certain number of free kilometers each day and then be charged for those over that number. The best deal for Mexican touring, however, is a flat, per-day rate with unlimited mileage (this can refer to miles or kilometers), especially if you're planning on driving more than 100 miles. But make sure that the low, The old, reliable, virtually indestructible Volkswagen Beetle is the most common rental car in Mexico.

The daily rate is indeed a per-day rate in Mexico. Often the lowest price advertised is for a minimum three-day rental. The type of car also influences cost. The number one economy car is the Volkswagen Beetle. Other makes include Japanese models not available in the United States. The same makes and models available in the United States usually are not offered in Mexico.

While charges may increase only a few dollars a day for the different categories of subcompact and compact cars, rates increase considerably as you move into full-size, luxury models. Automatic shifts are almost always more expensive. Also, don't forget drop-off charges and one-way rental fees.

Rental Procedures
The actual rental procedure is the same as anywhere else in the world. However, the implied meaning may be slightly different. You must have a valid driver's license and be able to convince the rental agency of two things: that you are personally creditworthy (a valid credit card in your name usually will do), and that you will return the car on time.

Of the five major international companies-Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar and National-none will let you rent a car without a credit card. National requires that it be in your name. And even if you prefer to pay in cash, leave your credit card imprint as a deposit and settle your bill upon returning the car.

In addition, the minimum renter age, ranging from 21 to 25 years, differs from one company to another, even though the minimum driving age in Mexico is 18. There may also be an upper age limit of 69 to 75 years. Budget's maximum age is 70, the other international companies have no upper limit.

The CDW or collision damage waiver insurance will add to your bill-running from $9 to $13 per day. You may be responsible for the full value of the car being rented. Before making your rental car reservation, check with your auto insurance company to see if rental cars are covered on your policy. Also check with your credit card company to see if it's covered on your card. Specific terms differ sharply from company to company.

Unfortunately, many international companies are now including the cost of the CDW in their quoted prices. The disadvantage is that you'll probably not have the option of refusing coverage, even if it's included in your own car insurance policy or credit card.

Don't be surprised if your advance, confirmed reservation with an international company isn't waiting for you. Or if the class and make of car you reserved isn't available. This just adds to your adventure and with patience you'll be on your way.

Once you have your car, be sure that the gas gauge is full before starting out. Also, check for a spare tire and jack, ask for phone contacts should you have trouble on the road, and get a good map of the area. As at home, obey all traffic laws and don't drink and drive. 

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