It sound appealing to drive a car in Mexico, especially when the places you go to are not convenient by public transportation.
However, my initial online research didn't give me an encouraging feeling. Among the many concerns, there are two major things.
First, there is a mandatary third party liability TPL insurance, and it has to be obtained through a Mexican compamy. Many online rental agents claim that they provide certain kind of insurance, but it cannot meet the Mexican requirements. The wording could be very tricky, you have to read the fine print very carefully.
Second, many brand name car rental companies are not really related to their American entities, they are just authorized to use the brand names, and those companies are very tricky and strict with any minor scratches or dents when you return the car.
Eventually, I decided to rent a car directly from the website of America Rental Car. The quote already includes TPL. For a intermedium size car, the cost is CAD $150 for 3 days.
The services are pretty standard. The guy speaks very good English. Among the few things he told me is that, only federal police can stop me on the highway, and never pay the police privately.
On the Internet there are numerous articles about bad experience with car rental companies. A rule of thumb is to check and mark down every damage, scratch, and dent. It's even better if you take photos, just in case. I did so.
Very soon I realize the unpleasant part of roads in Mexico: speed bumps.
There are countless speed bumps on the streets, roads, and highways. For most of them, you have to drop the speed to nearly zero to avoid a hard hit. There are a few better ones, which allow you to slow down to something like 10km/h. But the annoying part is, there are simply too many. If you approach one, there must be another one or two within 50 meters. Most of the speed bumps come without any signs or warning. You have to watch out carefully, otherwise if you hit the bump at 50km/h you probably will damage the car.
On toll expressway, there is basically no "ridge type" speed bumps. However, there is another thing: a section consists of dozens row of steel bulges. No matter what your speed is, you'll feel the rocking effect to the maximum. It's like an unpleasant warning. Can you imaging that you see a speed sign of 80km/h then immediately you hit such a bumping section?
The road condition on toll expressway is generally good, excepts the sections just after the toll stations. But for other types of highway and road, it's not consistant. Some can be very bumpy.
Talking about the drivers, I would claim that Mexicans are among the best in the world. Most highways in the countryside don't have two lanes each way. Instead, it's a lane wider that a normal one. Mexican drivers, if their vehicles are not fast enough, always stay to the very right, leaving room on the left for faster cars to pass by. There is no honking. I drive 3 days and never notice a single one. Of course, there are still instances that impatient drivers run a red light if there is no traffic on the crossing directions.
Gas stations are very much like those in Canada, excepts that it's full service. The worker would place the nozzle in your tank, then wipe your windshield. You can pay by credit card.
The management of speed limit is something requiring an improvement. The allowed speed is usually too low. For example, a long section of a country road is limited at 40km/h, but it's straight and wide enough to drive at 80. Actually every car travels at 80km/h in that section. The speed limit on toll expressway changes, between 70 and 110. However, signages are not properly placed. Many times I don't have a clue what limit the current section is.
The most memorable part of my three-day driving experience probably is my encountering of a corrupt policeman. On my way back to the MEX airport, I was waved by a young (and handsome) policeman right after I paid at a toll booth. (Like the one shown in the picture below). He directed me to park on the side, then started to say a lot of words. I asked if he spoke English. Then he quickly used his phone to make the translation. Basically he made up an excuse. At first I was not 100% sure about the rule he mentioned. But when he wanted me to pay him directly "a small portion of the set fine", I knew that I was not wrong. Still I maintain a very polite manner, and told him that I'd like to call the car rental company. After I started talking in the phone, the policeman made a gesture to let me go.
The rule the corrupt policeman mentioned is something about restricting the use of cars. Depending on the last digit of your plate number, your car cannot get on the road on a certain day of the week. Rental cars usually are exempted with a sticker on the windshield. If you enter Mexico with your own American (or Canadian) car, you need to apply for an excemption.
Returning the car to the rental company is easier than I expected. The staffer didn't examine the car in a picky way. So that's a good thing.