If you've ever heard about Mexican corruption, this is one area where it really rears its ugly head. Anytime a tourist rents a vehicle they put themselves in a position where they have to watch out for scams. It begins when you rent the car, continues as you drive (the police), follows you to the gas station, and doesn't end until you've returned the vehicle and the rental agent has inspected everything.
Scams related to the rental agency
The tourist returns a car and the rental agent notices damage to the vehicle. Guess what, you get to pay for it even if it previously existed. There are two things you should do:
• Before you accept the rental car, thoroughly inspect it, writing down the location and description of EVERY flaw. Some people even photograph the existing damage. Some hidden damage like broken spoilers (hidden under the bumper) can be charged to an endless parade of renters.
• Purchase full-coverage insurance with no deductible so any damage will not result in charges.
You return the car and get charged for a chipped windshield.
Carefully check all glass when you rent the car. Full-coverage insurance does not always include glass (or tire damage).
Spare tire swap
You inspect the car and see that the spare tire is there, but when you go back inside to finalize the paperwork, an employee removes the tire or replaces it with a damaged one. On return, you are charged for a tire. Double-check the trunk before you drive off. Also, make note of other times in the trunk when you leave: Jack, lug wrench, flare, etc.
Missing license plate
In Mexico, if you park illegally, the police will take your front license plate. Local residents visit the police department and pay a fine; most tourists won't notice it until they return the car and are charged a fee. Make sure both plates are on the car when you leave the agency.
If you do rent online, we recommend that you only rent through the company website rather than through a third party. See this link at Travel Advisor to read complaints from someone who used Orbitz.
Gas station scams
Stations in Cancun are full-service, and some of these attendants have become masters of scams.
• Trick #1: Attendant doesn't set the pump back to zero. Older pumps have to be manually reset to zero. Make sure to check this, or you could pay for the previous tank of gas, as well as yours.
• Trick #2: Newer pumps can be programed for the amount of gas you want to put in the car. Attendants can pump some gas, then punch in a number like 500 pesos so it looks like the total. However, if you look at the amount of gas it will read as 0.00 liters.
• Trick #3: Switching bills. A 500 peso bill is similar in color to a 50 peso bill. Some attendants have become experts of quickly switching the two and claiming you only gave him/her a 50. Make sure to point out the numbers on the bill as you hand it over.
It's common in Mexico to pay a bribe to a police officer if you are pulled over for a traffic violation. For a local resident, it's a few pesos and they are on their way, for tourists the police can ask for anywhere from $20us and up. Scary when you are dealing with an official in a foreign country.
To offset this, government officials in the Cancun area passed Article 152 that essentially gives tourists a "get out of jail free" card (or at least out of a ticket).
Even if an accident is the other parties fault, the tourist will ofen be held liable for damages. Local residents pay a bribe to the officer and the corruption continues.