Car Accident in Mexico? What Your Need to Know.

No one likes to think about getting in a car accident. And while the majority of expats driving in Mexico do so without incident, there are plenty of horror stories from those who weren’t so lucky.

If you do drive in Mexico, it’s essential to understand how things differ here after an auto accident when compared to your native country. Let’s take a look at these now.


How Car Accidents in Mexico are Different from the U.S.

Following a minor fender bender or similar auto accident where there are no injuries, foreigners may be accustomed to exchanging information with the other party and self-reporting the incident to their insurer at a later time.

This is not how it works in Mexico.

Cars do not get moved from the scene of the collision. They stay in place so that insurance adjusters can attend to the problem on the spot.

Assuming that you want to get your insurer involved, no one involved in an accident is allowed to leave the scene until the adjuster has evaluated the damage and prepared paperwork for all parties involved to sign.

Once that work has been completed, the adjuster files an insurance claim on your behalf.

It’s common for this process to stretch out for hours, and why car accidents in Mexico can disrupt traffic for an exceptionally long time.

Finding fault for the accident and determining compensation may occur on the spot, take a couple of days, or be decided before a judge at a later date. It all depends on the severity of the incident.

Plenty of people drive in Mexico without insurance. If you are hit by a driver who lacks insurance, you can expect them to attempt to flee the scene since staying would obligate them to compensate you out of their own pocket.

The police are not always helpful in the aftermath of an accident. Some may use the opportunity for personal gain.

Stories abound of expats involved in accidents where the police demanded money from the foreign driver to “settle” the matter. This is why it’s essential to get your insurance adjuster on the scene as soon as possible.

In addition, witnesses to an accident may be reluctant to cooperate due to the inconvenience and Mexicans’ general distrust of the police.

When an accident is serious and there are injuries it’s typical for the police to arrest all parties involved, confiscate the vehicles, and jail the uninjured driver(s) until fault can be assigned.

This process often takes days. And once you land in jail, access to a phone is not guaranteed. Access to toilet paper or food is not common either.

For this reason, if you have a Mexican lawyer, call him or her right after you call your insurer’s accident line. They may be your best bet for avoiding jail, or helping you post bail if you do get arrested.


What You MUST Do Following a Car Accident in Mexico

I’m not trying to scare you, but car accidents in Mexico can land you in a fine mess if not handled properly. Let’s review the main actions you need to take to protect yourself after an accident.

    1. Call your auto insurance company’s accident line right away to request an adjuster come to the scene. This step is critical to getting emergency services sent and ensuring that your interests are protected.
    2. Take photos of your car and the other vehicle(s) involved to document the damage if the incident progresses to a legal proceeding.
    3. Review dashcam footage if it’s available to you. This can be extremely useful in determining fault.
    4. Do NOT pay money to the police (should they ask for it) to “settle” the matter. If the police cite you for a traffic violation it should be written up as a ticket, not simply conveyed to you verbally. If it’s the latter then they are merely trying to collect a bribe.
    5. Do NOT admit fault or agree to monetary damages without speaking to your insurance adjuster first. 
    6. Call your Mexican lawyer if the police arrest you. Having a lawyer negotiate on your behalf (if you are not fluent in Spanish) and arrange bail for you is valuable if you find yourself headed to jail.
how to stay safe while driving in Mexico

If you cannot take the steps above, a fallback option would be to contact the nearest U.S. Consulate to see if they can assist. But this will almost certainly be less effective than the options described above.

Even if the car you are driving in Mexico is here on a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) and is totaled, you are still responsible for getting it out of Mexico.

Because Mexican insurers cannot legally keep the salvage of U.S. plated vehicles, they can’t sell it to recoup costs. In this case, you will only receive a percentage of your car’s total value once your claim is processed.

If this is your situation, your best bet is to drive your U.S.-plated car out of Mexico, cancel your TIP, and then have the car repaired or sold for salvage in the U.S.


Important Documents to Have in Your Glove Box

    1. A copy of your valid auto insurance policy. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you let it lapse!
    2. Insurance phone numbers to call in an emergency and for towing service.
    3. A copy of your TIP if you have a U.S.-plated car in mainland Mexico.

In addition, you will also need to show a valid driver’s license and your residency visa to the police, if applicable, following an accident.


Insurance Reimbursement Following a Car Accident

Because insurance premiums in Mexico are based on your car’s stated value (not on your age, driving record, or city, like in the U.S.) it’s important not to lowball the number when you apply for Mexican auto insurance.

What you are reimbursed following an accident claim depends on your policy.

The maximum reimbursement you can receive if your car is totaled in an accident is the stated value you provided to the insurer, minus the deductible. (even if the Kelley Blue Book value is higher)

With Chubb (my insurer), they declare the car a total loss if the cost of repairs exceeds 60% of the stated value. Another popular insurer Qualitas declares the vehicle a total loss if repairs exceed 75% of the car’s stated value.

For more details on Mexican insurance policies’ total loss coverage, check out this website.


Tips for Staying Safe While Driving in Mexico

I cannot emphasize this enough — the number one thing you must do if you drive in Mexico is to maintain a valid Mexican auto insurance policy at all times.

Coverage limits should be sufficient to protect you and your property, with third-party liability covering losses you cause to others (either to people or property) in an accident.

This last part is key! Most insurers recommend that you carry a minimum of $300,000 USD in liability insurance. A good policy will also cover emergency services and legal representation should you need it.

Once you have a good insurance policy in place, I recommend calling your insurer and asking them to explain the process to follow if you are involved in an accident. This is key so that you are not guessing how to proceed during a crisis.

Have all essential phone numbers in your mobile phone and with you at all times while driving. This includes your insurance company’s number to report an accident and request an adjuster and a Mexican lawyer.

Install a dashboard camera. This can be useful for providing evidence following a crash, and may also deter petty criminals from targeting your vehicle in “crash for cash” scams that are increasingly common in the border zones.

This scam involves an uninsured driver intentionally crashing into your vehicle and then blaming you for the accident. These folks will attempt to extort you for cash to repair damage to their car (present before the incident), all while avoiding involvement by the police or insurance adjusters.

If this happens to you, do not leave your car for any reason, and do not hand over any dinero. Insist on calling your insurer and driving to a safe location.

If you can, take photos of your car and the other car, along with their license plate. In most cases, they will flee once they realize you aren’t an easy target.

Be super vigilant at all times while driving. Road rules don’t matter… being prepared does!

Without being melodramatic, assume something bad will happen and drive defensively. In Guadalajara, I often find myself sharing the road with flashy, high-performance cars driving way too fast, AND beaten-up, poorly maintained vehicles on the verge of a breakdown.

Both types frequently do things I don’t expect.

And don’t even get me started on distracted driving, i.e. driving while texting. Paranoia is honestly an asset while driving in Mexico.

Mexican roads are less forgiving than roads in the U.S. or Canada. There are numerous potholes, uneven roads, unfinished construction projects, and marked or unmarked topes (speed bumps) to contend with.

Plus, there are boatloads of drivers with minimal skills and even less common sense. Just last week I saw a moto driver with a pug on his handlebars zoom across Av. de las Americas.

There’s never a dull moment, so be alert.

Watch out for motorcycles and bicyclists. Here in Guadalajara, there are a million motos out there delivering food, packages, and so forth who frequently split lanes and appear out of nowhere.

I’ve seen plenty of motos involved in crashes in Mexico, and have had a few close calls myself. Everyone, please be careful out there.

About Live Well Mexico

My name is Dawn Stoner. In 2022, my family sold our house and half of our possessions, then relocated to Guadalajara, Mexico. We now live here full-time.

Since then, we’ve learned how to navigate the real estate market, deal with the Mexican bureaucracy, and manage our finances as expats… all while having a pretty fine time!

I created this blog to help newcomers solve the everyday challenges of living in Mexico, because it isn’t easy figuring all this out for yourself.

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