Wednesday, November 26, 2014

More driving in Mexico.

Well, I've almost got one year of driving in Mexico under my belt, and I can't believe all that I've learned.  Here are a few helpful tips for anyone crazy enough to attempt driving down here.

1. You can only rent vehicles in Mexico with your current drivers licence.   To own and drive an authentic Mexican vehicle, you need to become a resident and obtain a Mexican Drivers Licence.

2. Mexicans do not look after their vehicles like, say Canadians do.  They basically drive them until they quit, doing very little or no maintenance, and then sell them.

3. Car dealers service departments are one of the biggest ripoffs in Mexico.  If you are crazy enough to buy a new car, don't take it to the dealer for warranty servicing. You will likely get the vehicle back with unchanged oil and filters, parts not replaced but charged for, etc.  In other words, they charge you for servicing they didn't do and parts they didn't provide, and sell the parts to someone else.  Any work you have them perform is usually about 10 times the price of local mechanics.  We use mechanics that we have found to be honest and cheap, and pray that they stay healthy for many years.

4. Many street lines have completely faded, so driving in your lane can be difficult, if not impossible at times. I was told to look ahead, find the place you think your lane should be, and drive in a straight line - or just follow directly behind the person in front of you.  People behind you will try not to run into you.

5. Parking.  It is best to always park in lots.  Even though you will probably have to pay a nominal fee, they have security and your vehicle will likely be safe.  Many lots give you a discount if you get your slip stamped by a local store (oh, and don't forget to get a parking slip when you park).  If parking on the street, be sure to park only in designated areas.  Yellow curbs mean it is safe to park, and red means no parking.  Put your club on your steering wheel, and if there happens to be a Mexican assisting with parking on the street, give him a few pesos, and they will usually watch your vehicle for you, just like in a parking lot.

6. Topes.  These are found everywhere in Mexico except on the paid toll highways (generally).  We call them speed bumps, and they can be found on all neighborhood streets and free highways.  These will wreck you car in a hurry if you are not vigilant.  Some are small, some are huge, and some are downright dangerous even at slow speeds.  You are extremely lucky if you happen to find one that is painted yellow.

7. Other obstacles.  Holes that appear out of nowhere in the middle of the road, people walking out in front of you, no one stopping at STOP signs, changing lanes without signalling, crazy bus and taxi drivers, fallen trees and rocks on the highway, and instead of wild animals on the highway you will find dogs, burros, cows and horses.  Constantly scanning the road in front of you is critical, not just a suggestion.  Speaking of suggestion, that is what most of the signage is, a suggestion.

8. If buying a car in Mexico, stick with the old standbys, Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Seat (a Spanish vehicle), and to my surprise, Volkswagen.  The old style Beetles were made in Mexico up until a few years ago, but there are still large VW plants located here.  I purchased a 1999 Pontiac Sunfire, and with our trusty mechanic(s), it is now in almost perfect condition.  There are hundreds of tiny parts stores in the city (many of them started by employees ripping off the dealers parts), and they are cheap too.  Do not buy a new Toyota, BMW, Nissan, Mercedes or Audi.  They are not only expensive to buy, they are expensive to repair.

9. There are two major types of highways in Mexico.  Libre (free) highways will get you from town to town with no tolls, but you will take the longer scenic route.  Only take these highways during daylight, and in some cases, not at all because they are through dangerous areas.  Cuota (toll) are the faster, straighter, and generally well kept freeways that have tolls (usually near any city or town).  Tolls range from a few pesos to over 100 in some areas.  These highways, however, are far less dangerous then the Libre's.  Also there is almost no chance of hitting animals on these highways.

10. Making left turns.  Generally in Mexico, there is no such thing as a left turn lane.  You may find a few of them in the larger cities, but most turns to the left will involve taking a Returno.  The sign for these areas is similar to a 'U-Turn' sign back home, and that describes the process rather well.  If you have to turn left on a certain street, you must pass that street and then look for the next returno.  Oh and if there happens to be a traffic light at the returno, the left turn arrow happens after the green light, not before.  You then whip a Uee, and head back in the other direction and take your turn on the right.

I'll try to provide more helpful driving tips as I progress in my skill improvement here.  And don't forget, the secret to driving successfully in Mexico is:  Don't hit anyone, and don't get hit by anyone.  If you follow these two simple rules, you'll be fine.