<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RVers Guide to Driving in Mexico
Little Log

Driving In Mexico

by David Eidell (Revised 10/09)

People who have obviously never driven one foot on a Méxican road or street wrote most of the negative articles that I've read about driving in México. Many other stories about driving in Mexico are just plain obsolete. There are twice the number of cars and trucks as there were just ten years ago.

México's traffic signals and laws are almost identical to our own laws and signals. Traffic Lights use the standard Green/Amber/Red configuration, cautionary signs are yellow and diamond shaped, and stop signs are (supposed to be) octagon with white lettering on a bright red background. Throughout the country it is legal to make a right turn after a stop (unless prohibited with a sign). In fact México has adopted most of the sign and signal formats that we are familiar with. Conformists by nature but individualists by heart, Mexicans aren't content enduring boring uniformity in their lives. As you read through this article it is hoped that you will get a sense of the exotic flavor of the country.

Thank our lucky stars that driving in Mexico hasn't changed drastically in the last ten years. Alto signs are still hexagonal and red; las rayas de carratera (highway paint striping) is just like in the USA and Canada. If anything highway signs and instructions continue to improve by leaps and bounds. In the years 2008 and 2009 alone it seems like the signage process is accelerating at a furious pace.

As you will probably experience at the border, drivers crowd, and jostle for position when queuing in front of traffic signals, toll booths, and lane merging zones. They aren't raging maniacs but opportunists who will instantly wedge into an opening barely bigger than their car if they feel that doing so will give them an advantage (which of course remains unseen to us).

On The Mainland - Toll Roads Further Than 100 Miles From The Border May Refuse Dollars

Do yourself a favor and get pesos soon after crossing the border. It can be frustrating to be refused passage past a toll gate because you neglected to purchase pesos. Almost every bank has an ATM machine nowadays.

A Primary Rule: Never Do Anything Unexpected But Always Expect The Unexpected.

The way I see it too many accidents occur between RVs and residents because the RV driver swerved, changed lanes, pulled out, backed up, or turned a corner without looking first. Méxican drivers seldom use turn signals themselves but they certainly understand their function.
In México especially you must drive your RV in such a fashion that other drivers can predict your next move with some degree of certainty.

Most city drivers are used to RVs. They expect RVs to lumber their way through town. Don't worry when impatient motorists roar around you either, because on the open highway the same drivers do the same thing when passing a bus doing eighty miles per hour. If you're swinging wide at a corner in order to make a right turn and a tiny sedan squeezes its way up the curb alongside, have your co-pilot hang out the window and point which direction you intend to go. Make them back up before you turn. Mexicans love to crowd two cars abreast per lane. Again: Drive in a predictable (to them) fashion. Use turn signals. If you wish to change lanes or turn across traffic in bumper-to-bumper traffic cut you wheels over hard when stopped and make little surging motions with accelerator and brake. Méxican drivers are about as courteous as California drivers (not necessarily a compliment).

STAY IN THE RIGHT LANE when traveling a multi-lane highway or boulevard in Mexico, unless of course you are passing (when legal) or preparing to make a left turn. This regulation is RIGIDLY ENFORCED THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY and has caused irate-policeman-headaches for some RVers who ignored it.

Purchase Several Extra Windshield Wiper Refills And Lots Of Fluid

Mexico is the land of dust, dirt, bugs, bird droppings and salt air mist. You will need all the visual aid you can get so maintaining windows and mirrors in a crystal clear state is vital. Buy a top quality squeegee with extendable handle and a bundle of windshield scrubbers. I’ve found that a handful of those new micro fiber towels to be worth a ton of paper towels.

Revamp Your Tires' Air Filling Stems

Do whatever is necessary before you depart on your trip to allow a tire shop to quickly access valve stems especially the rear ones. Use valve stem sealing caps religiously and make sure they are replaced after checking air pressure or adding air. A good quality DIGITAL tire air pressure gauge is a godsend – just make sure yours is new or has a new battery. A Consumer Reports magazine performed tests on various brands of DIGITAL READOUT tire pressure gauges and found almost all to be incredibly accurate – many had an accuracy of within one-tenth of a pound. Mexican tire shops still use those old fashioned long stem mechanical air pressure checkers and many of them have an error factor of up to thirty pounds or even more. Use your digital gauge religiously.

Fit A Removable Bug Screen In Front Of Your Radiator

You can wash such a screen with a stiff brush and hose when necessary. Mexico seems to have trillions of flying insects also plying its highways and the large wing ones like butterflies can really stop up the fins of a radiator. Be aware however that any screen will slightly reduce airflow to the radiator no matter how clean the screen – you’ll need to be vigilant about keeping it clean.

Méxican Roads

México is criss-crossed by an extensive network of paved primary highways and secondary arterial roads. The country embarked on a dizzying toll road building campaign in the early and mid nineteen nineties. The result of that effort was the construction of some ten thousand miles of toll roads. Few maps accurately depict all of the newer highways, but in one instance (with the exception of the immediate area surrounding México City) it is now possible to remain on multi-lane expressways from the Texas border all the way to Acapúlco. On the Pacific coast, multi-lane expressways now whisk the traveler from the international border at Nogáles, to Cancun! To Top It Off, an only dreamed of bypass around Mexico City is now a reality!

The average non-toll two-lane road in México is clogged with diesel trucks, buses, and passenger cars. Most Méxican roads lack adequate shoulders and many miles of them have steep drop-offs where pavement meets dirt. Depending on the state in which you live you can count on two-lane roads being narrower than what you are used to. Older roads are the narrowest, with the transpeninsular Bája highway being the queen of the slim roadways. Lane widths throughout the country vary from about ten feet to sixteen feet.

Many existing four-lane highways were converted to tollways in the early and mid-nineties. The older four lane roads have narrower lanes than our interstates. Highways built in the eighties and nineties have wider lanes and at least some amount of shoulder. Even drivers new to México find driving on the toll roads a piece of cake.

Road surfaces (as compared to equivalent highways in the US).

México does not employ the same construction techniques when building or maintaining their highways. Surfaces are usually rougher than roads north of the border. The really big issue of proper rainfall drainage is still insufficiently dealt with even on toll roads, so beware in wet weather. You can encounter a foot-deep moonlike crater on the most expensive of toll roads so never let your guard down no matter how modern-looking the highway...

Rocks are frequently used on roadways to block the tires of vehicles being jacked up for repair. Drivers frequently drive off and leave basketball size tire and wheel killers on the shoulder. Toll road operators are supposed to patrol their section of highway but large rocks are frequently seen – when using the shoulder to allow passing on 2-lane toll roads keep an eagle eye out for shoulder debris.

Cuts through hills and mountains are made using a much steeper angle. Supposedly deep concrete gutters are supposed to contain rock fall especially during heavy rainfall but don’t count on it. Mud flows across pavement are common and a real hazard.

Most all bridges and tunnels no matter how attractive looking may have broken pavement or sections under repair: Expansion joints on bridge spans can rattle the dishes.

Toll Roads

The "proper" title for pay expressway is "Autopista" but Mexicans just call them "Cuotas koo-OH-tahs tolls)”. Most of the newer toll roads are patterned after freeways in the United States. Cuts were made through mountains, huge bridges were built to span arroyos, and grades were moderated by routing the road around severe mountains. Access is quite limited primarily because the toll road operators don't want drivers to use part of the system without paying. Road surfaces have remained in good shape because a great majority of México's motoring public cannot afford the high fees to use them (Luxury buses are an exception). Toll roads usually have fencing to prevent livestock from straying into the roadway, but there are no guarantees.

Government owned toll roads are priced more reasonably than private toll roads. RVs frequently pay the same rate, axle-for-axle as diesel semi-trucks. Pickups with duals pay more than pickups with single rear wheels. A three-axle motorhome towing a dinghy will pay two fees: The first toll, for a two-axle motorhome, will be nearly double that of an automobile. The second will be full-fare for the dinghy. Camper pickups pay the auto rate; pickups with more than two axles (towing) may pay the equivalent diesel truck rate. The difference can be appreciable; a section that costs the driver of an automobile ten dollars can cost the RVer (towing a dinghy) twenty-five.

To temper indignation over the high fees, you may wish to consider the following: In exchange for paying an eighty-dollar surcharge (towing a dinghy) from the border to Mazatlán, the tollways save two days of travel time, and may save you from a blown tire costing lots of aggravation and perhaps one hundred fifty dollars. Besides saving time, two night's RV park fees are eliminated, along with thirty to forty percent of the cost for gasoline. The regular highway passes through every city and town, winds up and down every small hill, and is choked with derelict trucks and buses. Toll roads on the other hand are virtually empty of traffic. Recently during long summertime daylight hours I managed a one-day killer drive (in a small car) from Guaymas, Sonora to Tepic, Nayarit – almost six hundred miles. The entire distance is toll road and such a feat would have been unthinkable using non toll roads.

Two Lane Toll Roads

Many of central and southern Mexican toll roads are 2-lane. Sounds bad, but they have very wide shoulders and proper 2-lane toll road etiquette demands that slower traffic merge over onto the shoulder for overtaking traffic and again over onto the shoulder for oncoming traffic that is passing. Highway striping is SUPPOSED TO control passing on grades and curves but don’t bet your life on it. All-in-all traffic speed on a 2-laner is little different than on a toll road with multi-lanes. Again, RVs must yield to overtaking traffic by merging onto the wide shoulder. Beware of bridges, over and under passes that squeeze the width of the shoulder.


The passage of a single overloaded cargo truck is equal to several hundred automobiles as far as highway wear and tear is concerned. I have followed incredibly overloaded flatbed diesels that were carrying more than one hundred tons of steel reinforcing rod. Toll roads don't have truck scales, so the price the cost of tolls for trucks (and RVs) can be set as high as high as seventy dollars per toll section.

If Mexico were to create legislation deeming extraneous vehicles as "exempt" from multi-axle tariff premiums, how could it be done; allow a 45 foot motorhome through at a car tariff, yet penalize poor Pedro the farmer in his 1959 Ford flatbed hauling a load of corn stalks for his starving cow? Rural Mexicans are extremely sensitive about not being exactly wealthy. The thought of allowing well-off neighbors to skate by for far less would bring about crowds of protestors blocking toll booths.

Highway Signs

Caution signs (sharp curve, steep hill, and town near) are conventional diamond-shaped yellow signs. Stops signs are supposed to be shaped and colored like US signs (bright red, white letters on an octagon plate) but on back roads in rural areas, you may find faded and peeling " ALTO" hand painted on an almost-red lid of a fifty-five gallon drum, tacked to a tree (up in the branches). Gasoline station "Distance To" advisories are sometimes posted on the outskirts of town advising motorists of the number of kilometers until the next station (but no guarantee that it has gas). White on blue (international symbol) signs announces services such as restaurants, mechanics, and hospitals. Legends explaining international symbol signs are found in most travel publications and highway maps of México. Most are self-explanatory but text-only signs should be studied and memorized before you depart on your trip. “Ceda El Paso" may make no sense in Denver, but in México, recognition of "Yield Right Of Way" is of the utmost importance. Multi-lane roadway signs are frequently placed just after a crucial exit. Speed bump signs are international pictorial showing an auto climbing a ramp.

No Rebase: No passing. When paint stripes (rayas) are evident a dotted centerline indicates that the paint crew believes that it would be O.K. to pass on this stretch of highway. A solid line (raya continuoso) indicates no passing allowed in one or both directions. Liberal interpretation is needed here; if you have crested a hill for instance and ahead of you is straight and clear then the solid no-passing centerline is for the benefit of traffic going the other way. Be wary about passing over a solid line in the presence of a Federal Highway Patrolman even if you can see clear road for a mile ahead.

Curva Peligrosa: "Dangerous Curve". You may see other worse curves before and after this, but someone got hurt or killed to "warrant" the dangerous curve sign. Most signed curvas peligrosas are indeed severe enough to warrant extra caution. Many big rigs cut really sharp corners right across the arc, so be prepared to let them have their way.

Pendiente Peligroso: This warning sign is usually accompanied by an international symbol depicting a car going down a steep grade. Should be treated similar to “Cuesta Peligrosa” below.

Poblano Proximo: Town Near. You can bet your last enchilada that you are going to have to reduce your speed when you see one of these signs. I purposely mis-define the sign to read "Tope Near". This slows me way down and I start scouring the road ahead for a telltale perpendicular mark of a huge speed bump. Look for a speed limit or school zone sign.

Ceda El Paso: Yield right-of-way. The signs are of triangular shape, red, and black on white. Occasionally you will encounter obstacles on city boulevards known as gloriettas. A glorietta can range from fifty feet in diameter to a piece of land with a hundred-foot statue set on it. In all cases traffic flow revolves Counter-Clockwise around the glorietta, UNLESS a tattle-tale arrow is placed on your side of the center statue (The same rule holds true for plazas and village squares). Most gloriettas these days have modern traffic lights, but others are freewheeling bumper tag arenas. If you get flustered as to which street you need to take (they radiate away from the monument like spokes on a wheel) proceed slowly. Even if you make a PREDICTABLE faux pas offended drivers will swirl around you horns blaring but without incident. Note: I always assume that the other driver has the right of way (especially in a Glorietta). Official law states that traffic revolving within a glorietta has the right of way over traffic entering from side streets.

Encruzamiento de Ferrocarrilles: Most railroad crossings today are marked with a familiar "wig wag" or X shaped sign. Traffic is supposed to come to a full stop at railroad crossings. After a marked decline in the fate of the Méxican railroad system in the last few years more and more drivers are ignoring this law (a cop can still write a fat ticket for doing so). I always stop just to play it safe. Stop signs at railroad crossings have become fewer and fewer but if you see someone on foot standing on the tracks – beware! A hundred-ton locomotive could be approaching! Very few railroad crossings are less than bone-jarring – put on your hazard flashers and creep across them.


Vados are dry washes that cross the road. The usual indicator is an International Pictorial Sign (yellow diamond) with a bunch of squiggly lines crossing a highway. Vados can fill with flash flood water from a distant storm in a matter of minutes. Unless you are dead sure (a perfect choice of words) that you can make it across a flooded vado, wait until an impatient diesel semi truck blazes a trail. Keep in mind that that a torrent of muddy water could have undercut the asphalt and dug a ten foot deep channel across your intended route. Even dry vados can present a hazard – the washed out sections are frequently repaired with hoped-for longer lasting concrete. It’ll probably be hand troweled and passage over it will toss your coffee cups high into the air.

Cuesta Peligrosa: Interpret this as "Dangerous Grade". Steep grades are sometimes pictorially signed with a diamond yellow sign showing a car going up (or down) hill. Dangerous grades have claimed multiple lives over the years (one is aptly named "Lucifer's Grade"). I always test my trailer's brakes before going over the crest. Going uphill, anticipate running up on a truck doing three miles per hour (usually well hidden around the next blind curve). Be cognizant of the fact that you can encounter a semi with burned-out brakes clearly on its and the driver’s way to meet Saint Peter. Some toll road grades now have clearly marked (with a red centerline stripe) truck safety exit areas complete with heavy gravel. When going downhill keep an eye open for the rapidly overtaking semi from Hell.

Un Sentido: One Way Street (Always accompanied by an arrow, sometimes marked as Solo Sentido). Doble Sentido means "Two Way Street" and is a sure indication that a one way street is nearby (like the next block). Downtown you’ll see arrows painted near the corner on buildings – generally if the arrow is red it should be treated the same as a stop sign. Mexican drivers love to roar up and down these arrow one way streets. You’ll also find that looking up and down the street for a hint to see which way parked cars are facing is near useless – they’ll park every which way and those facing the wrong direction will eventually take off making a U-turn.

Desviacion: Detour. Some of these lead to memorable adventures.

Alto: When driving through an unfamiliar town I always anticipate that the upcoming unmarked intersection will be missing its stop sign. Sometimes vandals steal them, hurricanes bend them edgewise, or perhaps the road crew borrowed it for a couple of weeks. Sure clues of an intersection to stop at are: a stop sign for oncoming traffic or pronounced skid marks (or shards of broken glass) on the pavement. Regardless if there is a sign or not, I treat all intersections with extra caution. Trucks and buses love to park where they block a stop sign from view. Méxican drivers are notorious Stop Sign runners. Some of them engage in a low-speed, rolling "Hollywood Stop" while others charge through at high speed. Note: An Alto sign with a small added sign underneath that says Alto Total tells drivers that if they don't stop they risk even a larger fine if caught (there is usually a cop lurking nearby). Alto Total usually signs a frantic intersection. Stop signs in small towns can be the color of the arrow (one way cross street) Black for caution and red for Stop.

Salida: Exit. Sometimes with no nearby onramp.

Ganado: Ganado in Spanish means cattle. Méxican cattle roam freely over the range and onto the road. Observing the frequency of skid marks found on an otherwise open and lightly-traveled highway will provide a sobering realization of the frequency of hits and near misses. Many diesel big-rigs have heavy anti-collision pipe fixtures (cattle catchers) welded onto the front bumper. Roadside diamond shaped yellow signs depicting the black silhouette of a horned steer are to be taken seriously. I'll drive an otherwise empty stretch of highway at no more than twenty-five miles per hour if cattle are frequently seen on the shoulder or cow patties are seen on pavement. I realize that standing cattle can't accelerate fast enough to jump right in my path. However I'm concerned with the steer that's on a dead run that's about to emerge from behind a mesquite tree a few car lengths ahead. Cowboys still herd cattle down the middle of major highways – if you see an unexplained dust cloud ahead, slow way down.

Traffic Signal Lights

Compared to signals north of the border most Méxican traffic lights are quite dim. Some lights have missing reflectors and tubes, too many suffer burned-out bulbs, or a recent windstorm may have twisted the fixture so that the lights shine in the window of a corner grocery. Very few intersections have multiple fixtures that act as a backup in case one bulb fails.

A red light will come on suddenly after a too-brief amber signal. Some towns have signals that flash the green light several times before switching to a brief amber signal (this is a cue for Méxican drivers to floorboard the gas pedal). Espere para flecha verde means "wait for the green arrow" in urban left turn lanes. HINT: In my book, a yellow light means stop and I hope that I remembered to strap down the T.V.

Because LED lights consume ninety-percent less electricity and last a hundred times as long as a light bulb, these wonderful improvements are slowly but surely making an appearance in most larger towns and cities. Mexican drivers love ‘em. You’ll thank your lucky stars that the bright signals are making inroads into much of Mexico.

Bear in mind that towns and cities frequently place traffic signals on your side of the intersection way over your head so you can’t see squat. Most likely you’ll have to observe neighboring vehicles and when they start roaring across the intersection or laying on their horn it most likely means that you have a green light.


When approaching a city always keep an eye out for a mandatory bypass used by heavy-trucks to avoid downtown. All vehicles that are towing and others that have duals on the rear are considered to be “heavy traffic” and must not ignore the truck bypass. The signs are marked TRAFICO PESADO. Cops are vigilant about enforcing this rule. Another sign to watch for is PERIFERICO which means bypass and whether required or not you should use it because it may mean evading an adventure in squeeze-play on the regular through town route.

Some cities have frontage roads astride the main boulevard that require TRAFICO PESADO to use them or risk a fat ticket. There will be signs. The frontage roads are known as PARALELOS and are bumpier, slower and more traffic clogged than the main artery but rigs with duals or those towing MUST USE PARALELOS. Use deep breathing exercises or whatever treatment you prefer for stress management – remember the nutty regulation ends at the town or city limits.

Please read the following as many times as necessary in order to understand it clearly:

Many cities and towns PROHIBIT LEFT AND PERHAPS RIGHT TURNS from the main boulevard and limit any and all deviation from driving a straight line to MAKING A RIGHT HAND JOG ONTO A PARALELO (Got it?). Proceed to the next intersection and then make a right or left. This means knowing where to turn in advance which means making mistakes and forcing you to backtrack – sometimes repeatedly. Keep Calm!

When you reach whatever intersection you wish to make a left at, wait for the green light and then you will drive all the way across the main boulevard and continue onward.

To make a U-turn, jog onto a paralelo go to the next traffic signal, wait for the green light and when OK go all the way across the boulevard and make a left onto the opposite paralelo – don’t turn early onto the main boulevard!

Some paralelos are bi-directional so have a care to not blunder down the oncoming traffic left side of the paralelo.

When on the road and trading stories in your RV Park make sure to ask for advice about the next upcoming large town or city especially if your next night’s stop is located within the city limits. For example knowing to turn “One street after the gas station and just before the hardware store” can save you a dose of antacid tablets.

Ka-Bam! Speed Bumps: Speed Bumps Everywhere “Topes” cause more rig damage than any other reason

Speed bumps are found everywhere in México. They can range from rippled concrete, to veritable asphalt or concrete barrows. Really big bumps must be approached by first coming to a complete stop, then easing the rig (and towed vehicle over them one axle at a time). Known as “Topes" (TOW-pays) Méxican speed bumps are placed to slow-down speeding trucks and busses in congested urban and suburban areas. Few solitary topes are encountered, so beware of more speed bumps ahead. I consider them a hazard like low flying buzzards, or straying burros. For most drivers it takes a scare encounter with an unexpected tope to leave a lasting impression. Look for signs depicting a car mounting a speed bump and or the word TOPE. Most rural highways will have a tope appear if you see a house or two alongside the road.

TIP: Many highways have a white shoulder stripe and they will arc into a visual “V” when crossing a tope. Remember, a great percentage of the speed bumps are not marked or signed and NONE conform to some generally agreed-upon design criteria. Speed bumps are frequently placed in the shadow of a roadside tree because the construction crew thought its shade to be a delightful aid against a burning sun. Side-street speed bumps may at first look to be rather puny but then turn out to be viciously aggressive little battlements. But always be on the lookout for monster speed bumps that could high-center a camel.

Few Pullouts: No the highway department isn't being inconsiderate. Decades ago, the government learned that if it bulldozed a clearing alongside the highway it wouldn't be long before a tire shop or basic shanty restaurant popped up soon afterward. Shady wide spots do exist and most are safe to take lunch at. Use discretion on really busy highways however. Toll roads always provide convenient areas to park immediately after the tollbooth. Most have reasonably clean restrooms (take toilet paper). This is an excellent and very safe and quiet area to rest and even catch forty winks (relatively few Méxican trucks use toll roads). If you do decide to pull off onto an unpaved pullout keep a sharp eye out for broken glass.

Those Wacky Rural Signs: It is not unusual in the countryside to be driving along a lonely road only to suddenly encounter a pair of alternating flashing red and amber lights stacked on a pole alongside the road. Jamming on the brake pedal you look for a road junction, schoolyard, or crosswalk. Nothing greets the eye or ear except miles of empty highway and the whistling wind. My best guess is that the yellow signals Caution and its brother red light means “Stop If Necessary” but who knows?

On the shoulder of a ruler-straight section of roadway, you spot a regulation stop sign. You hit the brakes and peer through the windshield. Nada. Two hundred yards further down the road is another and two hundred yards further, yet another. Finally you come to a T-intersection and the last of four regulation stop signs.

On a truck clogged two-lane road your partner suddenly yells, "There's the sign for the turnoff!" You brake madly while nervously glancing in the rear view mirror. Deep ditches line both sides of the road. A quarter-mile later, an identical sign complete with arrow -- but there isn't even a burro track to be seen. A third sign leaves you muttering under your breath. You're starting to steam by the time you cruise by the fourth sign but suddenly you spot the side road. You're so relieved to be rid of a tailgating bus after your turn that you almost forget about being so aggravated about the three duplicate (advisory) signs. Thankfully this practice is becoming less and less common.

“Tope!” your co-pilot announces as you drive by a classic sign; you slow way down, cars pass you like you’re standing still and where the hell is the tope? Life is never dull on Mexican roadways.

Many speed bumps consist of a series of small ones becoming more and more frequent as you approach something resembling a foothill of the Himalayas. Sequentially spaced bumps are especially popular in the southern areas of the country and can drive RVers towing trailers or dinghies to start grinding their teeth.

Road Striping: Uniform standards are being applied but the process is slow. Some areas have amber centerline striping with white shoulder stripes while others use white for the centerline and yellow for the shoulders (but this deviation is rapidly dying out). Lane delineation stripes will sometimes lead the unwary into an oncoming lane, off into the weeds or onto someone's front lawn. I'll never forget the time when I encountered an otherwise perfect centerline stripe that suddenly drizzled onto the shoulder. There the paint crew sat eating lunch. They had forgotten to shut off the machine. Just after dawn in the state of Veracrúz, I rounded a curve to find a dazzling string of blue reflectors marking the centerline before me. The rising sun had lit the epoxied cubes like an eye-popping sapphire necklace.

Urban Signs: Routing signs are much more common today than they were ten years ago. It is not unusual to encounter a trail of signs that lead you effortlessly through an urban area to rejoin the highway on the other side of the city. Then again many cities and town mark cross streets with a tiny bronze plaque set onto a wall on a building located on the far corner of an intersection (A co-pilot with binoculars would be an asset). Overhead signs on freeways may be inconveniently placed slightly after the designated turnoff. It's necessary to remain vigilant. Speed limit signs are in Kilometers per hour, but from the way the locals are driving you'd swear that they interpret the signs to read Kilometers Per Minute. Parking signs and traffic flow direction signs can be baffling to the uninitiated. It pays to study "Méxican Signology" before leaving home. Of the minority of RVers who encounter a glaring traffic cop, most are for driving the wrong-way on a (clearly marked) one-way street.

Mexico: Yes, you’re right you’re already in Mexico so what’s the deal with the signs that say Mexico? A Latin quirk allows the title by itself to be used to announce the capitol, Mexico City, DF or Distrito Federal as just plain Mexico – you’ll get used to it.

Estacionamiento: This is a great word to practice the pronunciation of español vowels. Es-stah-see-yawn-ah-me-en-toh. Try saying it a few times. When you see it or a large "E" near a parking lot, or space, you'll remember what it stands for (parking). A sign with a large E surrounded by a red circle with a diagonal slash means No Parking. Look closely at parking signs and you might see small numbers indicting total parking hours permitted or the time of day that parking is permitted. Mexican cops are militant about enforcing no parking rules – some will remove your license plate, others call for a tow truck, some fasten a professional boot around a road wheel, most just lurk nearby hoping for a chance to earn a few pesos.

Pay lots are common in cities and towns but their Lilliputian dimensions prohibit RVs from using them. If you park overnight make sure that there is a velador or watchman. Most private estacionamientos charge about half rate during off hours overnight parking.

Shopping Parking In México: Méxican stores allot much less space for parking than do similar size US stores. Only an optimist would drive a motorhome or pickup with 5th wheel to go "grocery shopping". Parking spaces and lot entrances are for compact cars and are tight as crew bunking on a submarine. Aisles leave scant room for turning and maneuvering of tiny cars let alone an RV. I've learned to use México's wonderful public transit system, hauling my groceries home in two sewn canvas shopping bags.

School Zones: Penalties for school-zone speeding are dramatic in the US, and our neighbor generally agrees with the strict policy. Neighborhood pressure can increase to the point where a cop has to cite a speeding RVer regardless if the driver spotted (or intended to obey) a nearby speed limit sign. For whatever reason the American (or Canadian) may come away with the impression that they have been "ripped-off". My sympathies lie with the school children. Schools look like schools in México and to recklessly speed by one borders on arrogance as far as a cop is concerned. More and more aggressive topes are appearing alongside schools these days. I’ve found that by turning on my hazard flashers when passing by a school that has lots of students on the shoulder of the road, it seems to calm drivers going both directions.

Disabled Parking: Modern supermarkets and newer stores are starting to provide familiar signed disabled parking spots but don’t be surprised if you see some goon pull into one and then sprint into the store. Your Temporary Vehicle Permit is supposed to allow you to use your “foreign” disabled placard. To perhaps clarify this further Mexico uses the same pictorial white wheelchair design painted over a bright blue background square. If you find a cop waiting when you finish shopping, point at your parking placard and then at the Temporary Import Permit on your windshield – any thoughts of obtaining a little extra graft will vanish in a puff of smoke.

Méxican Drivers

Many drivers are polite and they drive in a cautious manner. But a large percentage drive like adolescents – far too fast for conditions, aggressive as a Brahma bull and frequently they act just plain incredibly stupid. According to recently released statistics México's accident rate is six times higher per hundred thousand miles than it is in the US. Most accidents happen after dark, and many involve drinking drivers. In fact a large majority of accidents happen between two drivers that are both driving unsafely. The ONLY effective defense against stupidity is clear signaling both physical and apparent and no sudden changes in direction. This sounds ominous but in reality it works like a charm and VERY few accidents actually occur between RVers and Mexicans. A taxi driver is considered by me to be just a step or two away from being suicidal, homicidal or both. BEWARE OF THEM! Mexican taxis will pull the most outrageous stunts that you’ll ever see: Like driving down a sidewalk to a red light and then pulling out into the intersection and making a sweeping U-Turn onto the opposite sidewalk sweeping pedestrians out of his path. They’ll cut you off, and slam on the brakes for a fare. I treat them like I do yellow jackets around raw hamburger – for a pulse quickening thrill try using a taxi coming or going from your RV Park: I usually just buckle up tightly, close my eyes and pray.

Méxican truck drivers love the pulsing throb of an unmuffled four hundred horsepower diesel engine. Many trucks and buses have gigantic straight exhaust pipes, inflectionally known in the states as “Sewer Pipes”. The racket that some of them produce will make your hair stand on end you’ll wish that your overnight campground was miles further from the highway. The shattering roar from a bus as it flashes past your open side window can instantly make you more awake than you've been in years. Trucks with engine exhaust brakes allow the driver to emit various chords of racket -- occasionally you'll hear "Shave And A Haircut, Go Team Go" and other melodious emissions. Mexicans use their horns as a form of sonic telegraph -- a pretty señorita walking by a street packed with macho truck drivers for instance; will encourage various salutations of wolf-whistles, roars and screeches. Many towns have erected highway signage warning against the use of diesel bug-rig exhaust (Jake) brakes. No Utilice Freno de Motor does not mean RVers cannot brake with their motor but warns against sewer pipe equipped big rigs from making hospital patients located blocks distant stand upright in their bed.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE BEHIND A BIG RIG THAT HAS NO MUD FLAPS! I back off to the point where impatient drivers pass me and I use them to absorb the entire lot of windshield cracking rocks and debris cast up from the truck’s exposed tires.

Rather than waste their turn signals on frivolous issues (like signaling for a turn) Méxican drivers advise following traffic when they think it's safe for you to pass them. The signal is a left turn signal that blinks four or five times. When offered this courtesy I proceed to inspect the oncoming lane thoroughly despite what the other driver thinks is "adequate passing room". This occurs on the open highway. In developed areas and or if brake lights are seen as well, prepare to brake because the left turn signal is being used for its original intended purpose. No matter if you have nine lamps flashing, ALWAYS look before merging or turning left. The vehicle ahead of you may constantly signal for a turn but in truth it is a driver pumping the brakes on a car with one working brake light.

NEVER EVER EVER challenge a Mexican driver, bus, truck, car, taxi, moped, etc. You would certainly be aghast knowing the number of highway shrines adorned with plastic garlands of flowers memorializing drivers whose last words were “Over My Dead Body!”

Try giving a wave of appreciation to someone who shows the least bit of consideration to you – my hope is that drop-in-the-bucket politeness could eventually catch on. When it’s safe to do so, I will yield for pedestrians and flash my headlights for them to cross. Beware however of sucking them across the highway into the path of a speeding big-rig.

Méxican Buses: Automobiles are an expensive luxury for most Mexicans. The county's bus system is gargantuan and well developed. On the open highway buses tend to run flat-out, flash by you, cut you off, and then slam on the brakes for a fare waiting on the side of the road. If you're unlucky enough to be caught in this situation, you'll end up playing tag over and over. This would be a good time to take a rest break. Bus drivers love to tailgate, and then pass at the first skimpy opportunity. On the open highway I always keep a watch on my rear view mirror to prevent being startled by the sudden appearance of a bus passing by, a foot from my side window. Note: Méxican intra-city buses frequently have restrooms aboard which need to be emptied. I have followed numerous buses to their city terminals in order to empty my holding tanks (for a modest fee of course). Once on a deserted highway in the middle of the summer in the middle of Baja California I was passed going down a modest grade while my speedometer was registering near ninety miles per hour.

Emergency Signals: Approaching cars that flash their headlights are warning of imminent danger ahead. The danger night be a collapsed bridge, a romantic bull dallying on the centerline or a stalled (or overturned) big-rig. I consider it an obligation to pass the message along in turn. The impromptu early warning system has saved countless lives and spared thousand of injuries. Lately Mexican drivers have been using their hazard flashers lavishly when encountering a road hazard. Believe any perceived road signal as being a real threat!

Traffic Warning Methods: On rural roads a person waving an article of clothing at you is a sure sign that a stalled car or truck lies around the next blind curve. I've seen a row of beer bottles, several bucket sized rocks, and a derelict armchair used to warn oncoming traffic. Any foreign object in the road (even an exploded muffler) must be treated as a warning of a dangerous obstacle ahead. At night buckets of diesel are set alight are used to mark military checkpoints or hazards like sections of missing bridge or felled trees. The uniquely brilliant flashing lights of the Federal Highway Patrol really stand out as does the strange green flashing lights of the Green Angels.

Flagmen: A man holding a still flag indicates that you should stop. If he waves you on keep in mind that the other flag man may be doing the same thing to oncoming traffic. Approach military and police roadside checkpoints at no more than ten miles per hour. After dozens of attacks personnel are very sensitive to being rushed and can become quite cranky.

Reconnoiter: México is an old country. Many towns were founded and expanded when horse drawn buggies and wagons ruled the streets. A wide avenue can become incredibly narrow and crooked in a matter of a few blocks. Bypass ring roads (called Perifericos) encourage drivers to avoid city center areas (signed Centro). Before you try to jam your thirty-foot motorhome through a fifteen-foot intersection, explore the town or village Centro on foot. Of course if you follow a bus or large truck you shouldn't have any problem.

Driving At Night: Let me start with a sobering statistic: Studies have shown that ninety percent of the fatal accidents in México occur between dusk and dawn. Drinking drivers are found on the road. All of the obstacles and hazards that challenge your daytime driving skills will be there but you won't see them as well. Méxican road striping paint does not reflect in your headlights very well and the paint is used sparingly. Streetlights are sparse or non-existent. Pedestrians love to walk on the pavement. Méxican jalopies are infamous for having no lights or blazing high beams that do not dim for oncoming traffic. Fences are uncommon on free roads and cattle love to congregate on warm asphalt. Caution signs are difficult to read. Driving at night in México is best left to those drivers who have an unshakable belief in their immortality. Note: With reasonable care and modest speeds driving on toll roads can be quite enjoyable at night. Remember though, eventually you're going to have to negotiate your way through a "mine field" to get to your destination. A better alternative would be to hole-up at one of the toll booth rest areas until daylight. Don't wait until you are forced to drive at night to learn that you don't have good enough eye sight or response time to survive. Try a bit of evening driving in your dinghy close to your campsite. Myself I have chosen to not risk my life.

Highway Bandits: Many years ago I decided to inquire about "highway bandits" at a convenient roadblock checkpoint. After the police and army gave my automobile a brief search, I asked the police commander about banditos. He grunted. "Some delinquentes (petty criminals) think that they can stop people in the middle of the night on a lonely stretch of road and take their money. This is unusual now because we and the army like to find these criminals and (he made a slashing motion across his throat with his finger)". Bandits are an endangered species these days. In the last two years government patrols has swarmed major roads DURING DAYLIGHT HOURS. Daylight driving therefore completely eliminates the bandit's favored environment. Unless you travel extensively at night on backcountry roads the chances of meeting a bandito are almost nil. In almost two hundred thousand miles I have never encountered a single bandit (I must be unlucky). In non-tourist areas in rural southern Mexico, Indian bus passengers started attacking roadblock bus hijackers, and when four hijackers armed with fully automatic weapons were overwhelmed by a score of really outraged peasants wielding sharp machetes bus robberies virtually vanished.

A Tow Truck With Red Lights: To highly organized color-code-conscious American eyes the Méxican visual driving scene is something akin to a Christmas tree. Diesel trucks flash by with strings of multi-colored marker lights. Tow trucks amble down the road flashing blue and red overhead lights. Interpret these warning lights with a grain of salt. Cop cars, fire engines and ambulances are unmistakable in appearance. The rules governing their right-of-way is exactly the same as in the US. NOTE: The latest rage in the trucking industry is to fit several red, round LED brake lights that don’t merely light up when the brakes are applied – no, a ring of individual LED lights start circling the bulb causing an uncanny visual effect. You’ll see blue lights, green lights and even neon bulbs. Two little lights chasing each other around a license plate frame used to be the rage.

Short Driving Days: Plan on driving no more than five or six hours a day. I allow an hour for lunch, and three twenty-minute rest stops. Sometimes I wait until I'm caught in a long queue of traffic behind a slow truck. I'll pull over at the next opportunity and maybe when I resume driving the road will be empty (what a dreamer). Big-rig drivers will pull over for a two to three hour siesta. The hour varies with the region, but I always try to time it so mountain passes, steep grades and other critical stretches are dealt with "minus the diesel semis".

Military And Police Check Points: México uses its Army and Navy as "National Police". Occasional checkpoints (called retenés) are encountered. They are looking for narcotics, criminals and illegal firearms. Some brand-new tourists fret when they encounter "Teenage kids carrying machine guns". Relax -- those kids are the same ages as our uniformed teenagers who are carrying rocket launchers in Kabul and they too are professional soldiers. México isn't Afghanistan however nor is it a banana republic. The kids have to maintain an image of “Macho" by wearing stern expressions. In truth they are young men separated from their families by thousands of miles (they are never stationed close to home). In the "unseen" war on drugs in México, these young men are risking their lives in remote areas when you are safely tucked in your bed at night. After a brief look around inside my RV, they wave me to proceed. I always have a fresh roll of toilet paper, some canned sodas, and perhaps an old flashlight or two to give away at these retenés. If I camp in an area that requires me to pass repeatedly through a particular reten I make it a point to introduce myself to the various crew shifts.

Don’t Even Consider Running A Military Checkpoint: That would be extremely stupid, and lead to arrest and a trip down Mexico’s legal boulevards that few would like to experience. Just for a matter of record a few unbelievably dumb American college students have roared through a military checkpoint and the soldiers opened fire on them. No matter how disorganized appearing the checkpoint a soldier will always give you a sign to either halt or keep going.

An aside: Several years ago I met the teniente (Lieutenant in-charge of a battalion) through a mutual friend. After learning that I was an RV electrical mechanic he all but begged me to fix some inoperative power windows in an old but treasured personal sedan. The fix was simple and easy and in the process of coming and going onto the tiny "base" I managed to meet and befriend many of the soldiers stationed there. Later, I moved several miles away to a popular camping beach. It was not long after that than my new neighbor invited me to chauffeur him and his wife to a distant village in his new Dodge Diesel pickup truck. Soon we were sailing down the highway until we came upon a reten staffed by some of the now-familiar soldiers. The main traffic director (A corporal by the name of Manuél) came to a vertebrae-clicking state of attention, saluted me with board straight fingers, and waved for me to proceed without being inspected. I chuckled with amusement and drove on. I lost myself again in the delight of driving the powerful truck. A few minutes later I sensed a palpable silence inside the cab. I looked over at Mike. His glare could have melted an iceberg. "Would you mind telling me what that was all about" His suspicion bordered on that given to a suspected Russian spy. "I, er, that is to say, I sort of know those guys". It took several weeks before he and his wife came to trust me again. Manuel on the other hand rolled on the ground in a fit of laughter when told the story a few weeks later.

Policia Federal: The federal police highway patrol have black cars with a wide white stripe running up and over. They have distinctive, startling bright red and blue light bars. Once considered a minor nuisance that were usually parked near a taco wagon the new breed of Policia Federal is savvy, aggressive and intelligent. I have found their tactics and behavior to almost mirror that of the California Highway Patrol (Hiding behind overpass supports, way up on onramps, driving 20 mph faster than traffic, etc.). These guys have radar and know how to use it. The federal police are STRICT when it comes to examining passing traffic for seat belt use. I have encountered many of them parked just beyond a toll road toll booth hoping to catch drivers who opened their wallet to pay the toll then forgot to re-buckle their seat belt – just as obnoxious entrapment as exercised by any of our state bulls.

Remember Those Cars With The Purple Window Tinting?: The Mexican justice system determined that purpled-out windows didn’t allow law enforcement adequate and safe visibility into the vehicle. So a new law was created. No more add-on window tinting (factory tinting is OK). Cars passing through police checkpoints and military checkpoints were pulled over and the tinting was removed with a razor blade. Tinted windows are now as rare as wooly mammoths.

Gasoline Stations Signs: There is only one brand to choose from (Pemex) and prices are uniform throughout the country (except for a narrow border zone with the USA and all of the Baja peninsula). Stations are not referred to as "Estaciones de Pemex" by the way. The are called Gasolineras (gah-so-lean-AHR-ee-ahs). Overhead signs are white on Green. Underneath the logo are additional color-coded signs depending on of the stations sells other fuel besides regular unleaded Magna Sin. A Black sign announces the presence of Diesel fuel, while a red sign indicates that Premium unleaded is available. Don't bother looking for the price, which is available only on the pump. Pemex is a government monopoly -- they don't need to entice customers. For the moment (October 2009) gasoline costs 7.72 pesos per liter.

The Green Angels: "Los Angeles Verdes"

The federal government maintains a fleet of hundreds of service trucks with mechanics aboard to assist motorists who encounter mechanical difficulty on the road. The trucks have a full width light bar with GREEN lights atop the cab. The trucks used to be solid bright green but these days they are mostly white with just a green stripe. Each truck is assigned a route which is supposed to be covered twice a day. In tourist areas and along tourist corridors one or both of the mechanics frequently speak English. Their services are free of charge but motorists are required to pay for oil, gasoline, and parts. Their services are limited to minor repairs, changing of flat tires, or jury-rigging a repair in order to render a vehicle capable of making it to a shop under it's own power. Because mechanical repair is their forte, Green Angels are a gold mine of information about surrounding repair facilities and the abilities (or limitations) of their mechanics. Each truck has a communications radio that can summon a tow truck or alert the local hospital of an emergency. Green Angels will stop for vehicles that are parked on the shoulder with their hood raised. Green Angels crews are well aware of (and thankful for) the generous gratitude shown by grateful RV drivers over the years. A tip to a Green Angel isn't a bribe. After they soil their clothes and strain their back muscles changing a heavy flat tire for me, I always insist that they accept a modest banknote. In addition I'll supply them with ice-cold soft drinks and sandwiches while they work (Several years ago a mechanic remarked that “Angeles Verdes in the United States must be treated very well -- it shows"). I didn't have the heart to tell him the truth. Indeed, let me share a long-held opinion:

"Far and away, I would rather suffer a mechanical breakdown in México rather than one far from home in the United States. People are friendlier; repair shops will let me "camp out" while repairs are done. México is jammed-packed with interesting stuff to do (virtually on every city block and in every small village). I find that soon afterward, the "stress" of the problem has dissipated while fond memories of side-events and people retain a warm glow". Try as I might I have never stumbled across the mythical RV graveyard in México where disabled rigs were eventually towed to because of a lack of repair parts.

Green Angels carry federal complaint forms that can be filled out in case you are rubbed the wrong way by a cop or gas station. The forms are treated seriously and are followed up on sometimes to the point of criminal arrest of the accused.

Apples And Naranjas (oranges): Dash any thoughts of avoiding México because the preceding driving scenarios bother you. Driving in rush hour traffic on any US highway is more stressful than on the average road in México. The seven-hundred mile distance for instance between Nogáles and Mazatlán is just about like driving from Red Bluff, California to San Diego (avoiding Los Angeles). Wide open toll roads lead from a half-dozen ports of entry deep into México's interior. They aren't cheap to use, but you can make up for it by nesting at a free campsite beneath swaying coconut palms next to the ocean. Remember that if you stay home, I'll take your spot!

Why Not Print Out This Article, Staple The Pages And Review It Once In Awhile?

To be frank there is a lot of crucial information here and trying to commit it to memory would be a daunting task. The same goes for attempting to look it over periodically on a laptop – there’s just too much to absorb without study. When I revised the article I printed it out and took it to bed with me – I had to study it as well to make sure info is correct and up-to-date.
© 2009 David Eidell Reprint Rights Assigned To RVers Online.org SOLELY

[Editor's Note: Our thanks to David Eidell for this outstanding and updated contribution to RVers everywhere who look forward to RVing in Mexico. David's insights are derived from years of extended RV travels in Mexico and we appreciate his sharing his expertise with us.]