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Renting a Car in Playa Del Carmen – Avoid the Scams!

Renting a Car in Playa Del Carmen – Avoid the Scams!

We have spent over a year in Playa and always take a rental car in Playa del Carmen. We have rented in Playa del Carmen at least 20 times, and if you are considering it for the first time, It’s totally worth it – and not that hard.

Let us walk you through how to rent a car in Playa del Carmen. It really is the best way to explore all of the amazing things to do in Playa del Carmen and nearby attractions.

Should I rent a car in Playa del Carmen?

Playa del Carmen itself is a fairly walkable city with nice walking streets like 5th avenue, but it definitely helps to have a car.

Whether you are visiting all of the best restaurants in Playa del Carmen, taking day trips near Playa, or just getting groceries – a rental car makes visiting Playa del Carmen a lot more enjoyable.

Here’s everything you need to know about renting a car in Playa del Carmen, Mexico!

a couple sitting on the roof of a rental jeep in Aruba during a honeymoon
Explore on your own
#1 Tip – Rent a car in Mexico
Have ultimate freedom and save tons of money on tours with your own rental car! Don’t worry – It’s safe (we’ve rented 20+ times), the roads are good, and it’s easier than you think! We always rent from Discover Cars, it’s easy & they have the best prices.

Is it safe to rent a car in Playa del Carmen?

Yes, it is totally safe to rent a car in Playa del Carmen if you are a good and confident driver. All the crazy thoughts you might have from watching too many movies – none of that is going to happen to you here. I drive in this part of Mexico with my two very young kids without worry.

The bad things that could happen are largely avoidable and just normal driving accidents. Take your time driving and read all of the tips I have below to drive safely with the minor things that are different here than at home.

Take a few minutes and read all the way to the bottom of this post.

White building with some of the best car rental agencies in Playa del Carmen Mexico

Where to rent a car in Playa del Carmen?

Just about every major car rental company has an office in Playa del Carmen. We like to rent with some of the smaller local Mexican companies. They tend to have better prices and fewer company policies to deal with.

We’ve had good success renting from Mex, Ace, Fox, and ADO. We like to book online. Booking in person on the day of or in advance seems to be significantly more expensive.

You can search prices online here and book online in advance.

Rental Car Size in Playa del Carmen and Mexico

In Mexico, you’ll notice cars are smaller than they are in the US, and finding larger cars for rent in Playa del Carmen can be hard. You should not expect to be able to rent anything larger than what we would consider a mid-size to a compact car in the US. Even the cars they have listed as full size aren’t really all that ‘full.’

We used to rent a car at the Cancun Airport for our trips, but since we now have two little kids and too many bags, we have started to take this private van shuttle from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen and then rent a car once we get there. This is mostly because of car size and large car availability. Here is our step-by-step guide to get from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen.

If you rent a full-size SUV or minivan, be prepared for the car rental company not to have one available. You then will have to take whatever car they do have. We often rent the cheaper economy car because we know the larger cars are hard to come by and they cost more.

Speaking of kids, if you are traveling with a baby, we HIGHLY recommend the Doona car seat stroller, which is both a stroller and a car seat. It makes traveling so much easier. Here is our detailed Doona review. 

Tips for renting a car in Playa del Carmen

Rental Car Avaliblitiy

Just like the rest of the world right now, the rental agencies in Playa del Carmen are having a car shortage. Additionally, tourism is hot due to relaxed COVID regulations in Mexico.

There seems to be more demand than supply. Be sure to book in advance, and be prepared to have to switch to a different car type or model. You may have a better chance of getting a car if you can drive a manual car.

Take a video while you inspect your rental car

The easiest way to document the damages to your rental car is to take a video as you walk around with the representative. In all the cars I have rented in Mexico, I have never been charged for any damages.

I haven’t created any damage, and they never tried to say old damage was mine. The cars are usually dinged up, so it’s best to document everything.

a car rental gas gauge and dashboard in Playa del Carmen

Note the gas level and return it at the same

Rental cars in Playa aren’t usually full at pick-up. Which is really annoying… So note the gas level and try to return it with an equal amount. This can be tricky, but just leave yourself a few minutes at the gas station, and you can get it just right.

I find the easiest way to remember is to just take a picture of the instrument panel for reference.

What insurance do I need for a rental car in Playa del Carmen?

Insurance is the trickiest part of renting a car in Mexico. Every car you rent will include the legally required $750,000 MXP minimum amount of liability insurance. Even the super cheap cars you can find online – here is our favorite site to book will have the minimum.

However, this isn’t really enough to cover you properly if something bad were to happen. So, you should have or buy an insurance policy to cover you, your car, and others.

Will my home car insurance cover me while driving a rental car in Mexico?

No, most car insurance policies will only work in your home country. You can ask your insurance agent to be sure, but generally, they will not cover you in Mexico.

How to decline the additional insurance at the rental counter in Mexico

In theory, your rental car has all of the legally required insurance you need to drive it off the lot, but it’s just not that simple anymore. The money for the rental agency is in the insurance policy, so if you want to decline their insurance, you’ll have to jump through some hoops.

It is possible to decline additional coverage on your rental car if you can show proof of coverage through another source. The most common type of coverage would be through a credit card or an additional rental policy purchased at the time of booking.

With a credit card

If your credit card offers rental car insurance, you will have to show that in writing. In order to have the rental company accept your credit card policy, you will need a letter from your credit card company. The letter will need to state your benefits. Print the letter and present it to the agent.

You will also need to book the rental car with this credit card. Lastly, you will need to put a substantial hold on your credit card. Some companies require a +$10,000 USD hold.

You will need to ensure you have a high enough limit to cover this. Additionally, you will need to contact your credit card company to allow this transaction to come through. Most larger transactions coming from Mexico will be automatically blocked on a first attempt.

With a third-party insurance

You will need to bring a printed copy of your policy. You may still be subject to a large hold on your credit card. This is because the policy is not with the agency, and they need to protect themselves. It’s also another way to try and make you take their insurance.

Monthly and Long-Term Car Rentals in Playa del Carmen

We stay in Playa del Carmen for at least one month every year, and many times we rent a car for a month at a time. We find the best way to rent a car for a month is to still use traditional car rental agencies just as you would for a few days.

When you rent a car long-term in Playa del Carmen, it becomes much cheaper per day. For the past few years, we have rented a car with basic insurance for $525-$650 USD for the month. For a monthly car rental, expect to pay between $20-30 per day.

With long-term rentals, it is much harder to decline the rental company insurance. The real money seems to be in the insurance, so to take one of their cars out of their fleet for a month isn’t as profitable without the insurance.

View from a rental car in Playa del Carmen at an intersection with stop and go lights

Driving a Rental Car in Playa del Carmen

Driving in Playa del Carmen comes with a few extra things to watch out for on the roads than normal. Nothing too crazy, just a few things to be aware of. I will walk you through all of them.

One Way Streets

Just about all of the streets in Playa del Carmen are one-way streets with the exception of a few main streets. The city is still pretty easy to navigate, but you need to pay close attention to the signs. The signs will have an arrow that is putting the direction that the street runs. Don’t just look at the way cars are parked. Very often, cars are parked facing the wrong way on a one-way.

The roads are well-marked, just take it slow, and you’ll be fine.

Speed Bumps (Tope)

Speed bumps, or “Topes” in Spanish, are everywhere. In town, they are not very well marked and can sneak up on you, especially at night.

Outside of Playa del Carmen on the highway, they are generally marked fairly well, but always be on the lookout as you approach a town.

Freeway Entrances

The on-ramps onto the freeway in Playa del Carmen have a stop sign without a merging lane. You must fully stop and wait for a gap in the traffic to enter the highway.

It doesn’t take too long, but this is not normal for visitors and could cause a big accident if you aren’t prepared for it.

black car rental parked with a parking boot on in the streets of Playa del Carmen

Parking Rules in Playa del Carmen

In the past few years in Playa del Carmen, they have adopted a pay-to-park system in most places throughout the city. There are pay stations on all blocks where you need to pay to park. Bring Mexican peso coins to pay. There is an app, but non-local phone numbers will not be able to activate an account – so bring peso coins.

Also, you must enter a license plate while paying, so take a picture to help you remember your numbers. The machines will print a ticket, and this must be displayed on the dashboard.

Failure to pay and display could get you a ticket if caught. In Playa del Carmen, they will either place a boot on your car or, in some cases, take your front license plate to ensure you pay your fine at the local police station.

Related Article: Best Restaurants in Playa del Carmen

Yellow Curbs

In areas where parking is not permitted, the curbs are painted yellow. Also, look at street signs for additional parking restrictions. Places to park may be painted in white or have no paint.

Police Check Points

Outside the city along the highway, several police check stations are on the main 307 highway. There will be a few speed bumps in front of them, and occasionally police will be looking as you drive by slowly. This is nothing to worry about. Be sure you are following the rules, driving slowly, and not talking on the phone.

Using a cell phone while driving is illegal

Talking with the phone up to your head while driving is not permitted. You can get stopped at a police checkpoint. It happened to me – that’s how I know it’s illegal. They were nice to me about it, and I didn’t get a ticket or have to pay a fine.

Stop and Go Lights

Another thing to note is that the stop-and-go light system is different in Mexico. Only one direction of traffic at a time can go on a green light. This makes left turns easy, but lights can take a while.

Turning right on red seems to be generally allowed. I have done it in front of the police, but I am not for sure if it is technically allowed or not.

Uncontrolled Intersections

Most intersections have stop signs for at least one direction of traffic. There are just a few that do not, and those are usually controlled by a larger yellow-painted speed bump as you enter the intersection. The first car entering the raised section of the intersection should go first.

2 days in LA on a budget Gas in Rental Car

Gas Stations & scams in Playa del Carmen

Gas stations in this part of Mexico are notorious for scams on both visitors and locals. All gas stations are full service and an attendant will fill your fuel. The attendants have been known to try scams. Here are a few of the most common ones to help you avoid them.

All of these scams are easily avoided if you just watch the meter as they fill your car. It’s annoying, but don’t take your eyes off of it, and you won’t have problems.

Not resetting the meter from the last purchase

Always ensure the meter resets to $0.00 before the attendant starts filling your tank. How this scam works is if the previous car filled up with, say, 300 pesos ($15 USD). The attendant will just start filling your car with this amount already on the meter and charge you for both sales and pocket the difference.

The distraction

Anytime more than one attendant is around your car, be very cautious of scams. One person will usually tell you something is wrong with your car, like a tire or something minor, while the other is manipulating the meter somehow.

Manually entering the sale price after pumping

It is common to request that they fill your car with a set amount of pesos, and then the meter will shut off at that number. However, in this scam, they will fill it less than that, and if you aren’t watching, they will enter the numbers you asked for on the screen. This makes it look as if they filled it that much and pocket the difference.

Wrong change scam

This scam usually plays on visitors who are confident in the currency. Say you pay your gas with a 500 peso bill. The attendant will quickly switch it out with a 50. They will then turn back to you telling you made a simple mistake and gave them the wrong bill.

The best way to avoid this is to hand your money to the attendant one bill at a time and announce each bill. This has been tried on me a few times, and I have called them on it, and they quickly drop their scam.

Tip the gas attendant

If you had a good experience at the gas station and they didn’t play any games with the meter, give them a tip. We usually give them 10-20 pesos, depending on whether they wash the windshield, etc. Make sure to read our tipping in Mexico guide for more random places tipping in Mexico and suggested tip amounts.

Related Article: Renting a car in Cancun Airport Guide

Over the years of renting cars in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, we have taken some amazing day trips and spent more time exploring the area. Make sure to read some of our other travel articles to find places you can explore with your rental car.