A Look at One American’s First Fender Bender in Mexico

One of our friends and fellow expats from the United States, Gary, was recently involved in a minor vehicle accident in Playa del Carmen. His experience provides real insight into what people can expect if they’re ever involved in a car accident south of the border and he was gracious enough to allow me to share his story on the blog.

By the way, this is not the first story about Gary. Over a year ago, I wrote an article about the foot surgery he had shortly after moving to Mexico. Just in case you missed it the first time around, here’s the link: The Cost of Getting Surgery South of the Border.

And now, back to today’s story…

The Tale of Gary’s Bent Bumper

The accident itself wasn’t much to talk about, so I’ll keep it brief: Gary was driving through a retorno and had to stop because of heavy traffic. The armored truck behind him didn’t stop in time and crushed Gary’s back bumper. No one was injured. Needless to say, the armored truck was just fine.

After taking photos of the scene and the position of the vehicles, Gary notified Zurich, his insurance company. The representative on the phone spoke English and told Gary that an insurance adjuster would respond to the scene.

This is one way that Mexico differs from the United States. In Mexico, the insurance company always sends an adjuster to the scene of the crash to represent the client, determine fault and work out compensation agreements. By the time you leave the scene, you already know what the insurance companies will be paying for and what they won’t. There aren’t any surprises down the road.

While everyone was waiting for the insurance adjusters to arrive, a police officer showed up. He took pictures of the vehicles, collected drivers licenses and attempted to explain Gary’s options to him. I say attempted because the officer didn’t speak any English and Gary’s Spanish is limited.

This is where yours truly enters the story. Gary called me on Whatsapp and asked me to translate for him. Here’s a summary of what the officer told me:

The driver of the armored car has already admitted fault. When the insurance adjusters arrive, they will present Gary with an agreement related to compensation. If Gary agrees to the terms and signs the agreement, that will end the police’s involvement in the incident. However, if Gary does not agree, both vehicles will be towed and impounded until the matter can be resolved before a judicial body (Ministerio Público).

The purpose of towing both vehicles is to ensure that compensation is eventually made to the affected party or parties. The legal process can take days or even weeks. In the meantime, the vehicles are accruing storage fees. 

Well, that procedure is certainly different from what I was used to back in the States.

Fortunately in this case, the insurance company agreed to pay to repair Gary’s car and even waived his deductible because he wasn’t at fault for the accident. After signing a few documents, he left the scene.

Gary said that from the time of the crash to the time he drove away was a little more than an hour and a half.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Part of the process of moving to a foreign country is learning not only their language and customs, but also their laws and procedures.

Doing a little research beforehand, such as reading blogs like this one, can help you get up to speed more quickly and hopefully avoid problems down the road.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

36 Comments on "A Look at One American’s First Fender Bender in Mexico"

  1. Donna Norstadt | January 15, 2019 at 10:34 am |

    excellent article. Hope I never need this advice

  2. Camille Madryga | January 15, 2019 at 10:42 am |

    That was an informative article…and given the number of us retired folk in the Yucatan, one that will be of interest to many. Of all the topics you touch on, I think more specifically dealing with laws and police matters will be appreciated. Those are the topics we feel most vulnerable about.

  3. I have heard that at least SOMTIMES, in Mexico, in rear end collisions, the person who hit you is at fault. Do you know if there Is there any truth to that? I agree that sometimes it ought to be..

    • If you’re hit from behind, the driver who hit you is normally found at fault. That’s what happened in Gary’s scenario too.

  4. Jennifer Jozwiak | January 15, 2019 at 10:48 am |

    What a timely article – I was just looking up information for our impending trip to Puerto Aventuras as to whether I wanted to pay for a round trip airport transfer or rent a car and drive myself. BTW – heading to one of your recommended spots – El Dorado Seaside Suites – maybe you and Linda can join us for a day! We’d love to meet you.

  5. We were at the other end of this story. Attempting to cross a side street blocked half by a garbage truck and a town truck attempted to cross and a speeding taxi hit us. The trucks concealed a stop sign! We were at fault! Police came with great amount of force, we paid the damage to the taxi, paid the police the fine (bribe) and the whole thing cost us $400.00. I know … I know, …..don’t pay the fine… however it was the quickest and least amount of hassle to get it settled. The deductible wasn’t worth calling the insurance company for. If we had told the cab right away that we would pay, we could have avoided the police involvement.

  6. Gary was very fortunate the truck that hit him admitted fault. It is extremely common for those responsible for any type of accident in Mexico to flee the seen. Some even call it “Standard Mexican Operating Procedures”. The outcome could have been very different if it was another car instead of an armored truck involved. Glad everything worked out.

    • That’s why the first thing (after making sure my wife was OK) I did was get pictures of the vehicle, company name, truck #, etc.!

  7. I had someone hit me last spring. The driver had insurance (which can be a rarity where I live) and admitted fault. Fortunately, because we both live in a small town, we had the same insurance agent. He did not speak much English, but my Spanish is fairly decent. Our agent speaks both languages. The agent said that we did not need to wait for the police because we both had insurance and he was already admitting fault. We had to wait an hour and a half in the middle of the desert for the adjuster to drive the 60 miles to us. The gentleman who hit me was very kind and while we waited I learned all about how he came to live in San Felipe and about his family and his business. We sat in his vehicle to wait because mine was in a much hotter location and he gave me water. It could have been a much worse experience. Just make sure that when the repairs are done, you verify that everything is fixed before you leave the repair shop. I had 2 damaged almost new tires and they gave me tires that should not have even been driven on instead of new tires. Also, 2 of my windows would go down, but would no longer go up. The repair shop was 2 hours from my home, so I just sucked it up and paid for the fixes myself in the end. The rest of the damage was just bodywork, so I am lucky the engine and other important parts were not hit. People stopped to make sure we were okay while we were waiting. The accident could have been much worse because he own a Segunda in town and was hauling a bunch of items in a trailer pulled behind his truck to sell at his business.

  8. Janelle DeStasio | January 15, 2019 at 11:17 am |

    Thank you for this much needed information. I think I’ll let Frank do the driving and hope we don’t find ourselves in this situation.

  9. We were involved in a rear end collision near the Puerto Vallarta airport two years ago, at a section of highway that has two traffic lights a block and a half apart. Here in Valle de Banderas, the green blinks only two or three times before changing to amber (if you’re lucky – sometimes amber is skipped) and then to red.
    We went through the first signal (green) and saw the second one blinking green, so did the opposite of what the locals do (FLOOR IT!) and were rear ended as we slowed to stop.
    The damage was minor – popped the plastic bumper back out using a rope around a telephone pole – but we realized how lucky we were to escape injury.

    Now we hit the four-way flashers whenever there’s a chance of a rear-end collision. It’s working so far!

    Red-light running is a favorite sport around here, too. Often as many as three or four cars, trucks, or even a bus will barrel through an intersection against the red light!

    Keep your eyes open, huh?!!!

    Always an adventure in Mexico!

  10. Jolinda Marshall | January 15, 2019 at 11:24 am |

    Hi, from San Diego :
    Are there any exceptions to the need to remain at the accident site? What if one is on the way to the airport? the hospital? This must be very inconvenient! And I have lived in Mexico for a few months and adore the country, its peoples, and its Customs. Even the legal requirements are not untenantable. So this isn’t just an impatient American whining because the Mexican way is different but sincerely looking to the possibilities of any Flex with this legal requirement.

    Thanks again for a great column!

    column!

    Jolynda Marshall

  11. Ingrid C Royle | January 15, 2019 at 11:26 am |

    Thank you for the excellent information. Your blog is the only one I’ve found so far that gives useful info. Lots of the others are just useless crap. ( like that older couple in Ajijic) keep up the good work.

  12. It was the exact opposite where I live in Mexico. My friend stopped in the road to make a left turn and was hit by an armored car also. It was my friend’s fault because he was told by the adjuster and the police that he should have pulled over to the right side of the road and waited until there were no cars and then make a left. Perhaps laws are different in every state here. I live in Jalisco. By the way any foreigner who drives without insurance here in my opinion is nuts !!!!!. The laws sometimes are so incomprehensible. In the year that we have been here we have had 3 accidents. Two were with a Canadian and an American both uninsured and live here full time. And even though they admitted clearly that they were at fault, and the adjusters even said they were at fault but as interpreters of the law said that we were at fault. Our 3rd and final accident we weren’t even in the SUV. Driven by someone at the dealership out into the road and he slammed into another car. Our SUV was IN SERIOUS SHAPE. We were at fault because in Mexico the car is insured and not the driver. Real head scratcher to me. I would also suggest to keep a few thousand dollars in a reserve fund for accidents and if you buy cheap insurance you will get what you pay for. On the advice of long timers here we were told to go with the best policy available from one of 2 companies and we did. And we have an excellent insurance broker who has helped out tremendously. One needs to choose the right company and the right broker. Everything so far is going smoothly and we have been told that as per our policy in the first year of owning a new car if it is totaled we will get the full amount back of what we paid for it. That’s how good our policy is but it costs more and it has already paid for itself many many many times over with the last accident. We were notified yesterday that the SUV will be totaled and the other drivers expenses including hospital, law suits, damage will be covered. When the check is in the bank I will have considered this matter closed even though our rental car bill will be a few thousand dollars because the SUV we want is hard to come by. You have to do due diligence with regard to your safety in your car and even someone else’s. How do you know that your friend who you drive with often has car insurance or even an up to date license. What if he/she doesn’t and you get in an accident in their car, and you have to go to the hospital. You will be responsible for the bill if your friend doesn’t have the funds. I know this post is long but horror stories abound. May be all fine and dandy in the Yucatan where everyone obeys the insurance requirements but where I live we expect that everyone around us has no insurance based on what has happened to us and have gone overboard to protect ourselves legally and with the best insurance possible.

    • @Max: Your friend was lucky to only be rear ended. This story may be apocryphal, but circulated about 20 years ago: Someone slowed to make the left turn into Sayulita on Mex 200 north of Puerto Vallarta with their left signal on. A left signal in Mexico is ambiguous — it can mean “I’m turning left” or “It’s safe to pass me.” The vehicle behind understood the latter, zoomed around just as the car turned left, T-boning the driver and killing him. Apocryphal or not, I took the lesson to heart and never rely on my left-turn signal when highway driving and there are cars behind me. I always pull to the right shoulder and wait until the road is clear in both directions.

      @Q-Roo Paul: Six years ago, when an oncoming car turned left immediately in front of us on the highway north of San Miguel de Allende, the resulting crash was unavoidable, injuring my wife. The insurance agent had no interest in ruining his Sunday and driving several hours from Guanajuato or wherever he was with his family. So your friend’s experience of waiting for the adjuster is not universal. The Federales examined my insurance papers closely, which thankfully were in order, and accompanied us to the hospital where my wife was taken by ambulance. The uninsured 16 year old who did the deed was also taken along and held for three hours until we determined my wife’s injuries weren’t ‘grave’. If they were, the kid would have been arrested.

      The insurance company was relatively worthless. At a hearing, their lawyer pressured us to settle with the kid’s father for a low value, rather than pursue it in court. And since it was a Japanese car unable to be imported, the hearing officer picked the lowest possible value from the blue book. So we settled, since we live in an adjacent state and the up and back for court proceedings would be prohibitive. And we relied on our private Mexican health insurance policy for subsequent medical costs of plastic surgery for facial injuries, which itself was a three month saga to get reimbursed.

      In short, it’s necessary to have insurance, but do everything in your power never to need it.

  13. Grant Andrew Allen | January 15, 2019 at 11:33 am |

    Thank you for always providing relevant (and brief) information. Much obliged!

  14. It not always that easy just be very careful the system in Mexico could be very dishonest.

  15. Once again, thank you for a great article. I have often heard times what can happen when you are involved in an accident but hearing personal stories are very helpful. I have been to Cozumel many times in the last 28+ years, 2 or 3 times a year, and I sometimes visit my father in Ajijic /Jalisco and ‘so far’ ( ~knock on wood ~) I haven’t been stopped by the police or been in an accident. I met my (now) husband 14 yrs ago & he refuses to drive when we are in Mexico. I get all ‘the fun.’ I printed off your statement about traffic bribes a few months ago to carry a copy on all our future trips, and I may even include this particular blog post just for reference. Once again, thanks

  16. Paul/Gary – please update the story with how the repairs go. I’m curious if the insurance company gave you a claim number to give to the repair shop or ??? Taking the car to the dealer for repairs or an independent shop?

    • Scott, yes the insurance adjuster prints out a claim right on the spot and gives it to you. You then take that claim, primarily for the number on it, to wherever you are going for the repairs. In my case I went to Nissan Playa del Carmen the next day. The car is only 1.5 years old so it’s best to go directly to Nissan.

      They took the fender off to check for any possible mechanical damage and thankfully there were none. They then ordered the parts which take about two weeks to receive. I should be getting a call soon to take the care in so they can install the parts.

  17. There’s a saying in Mexico that relates to car accidents “El que pega, paga” meaning the one who hits, pays the bill.

    If you are insured and the accident is not your fault, you shouldn’t expect to pay anything. (The other driver or his/her insurance will take care)
    If it’s your fault and you have an insurance, all you have to pay is your deductible and they’ll take care of both cars/compensations.

    Great post!

  18. Thank you for sharing, extremely helpful for those driving in Mexico.

  19. Thanks good info on procedure will file up there for future use

  20. GOOD POST! How did Gary onsite reach an acceptable settlement without first determining damage and cost to repair? Did he rely upon the competence of the Zurich adjuster?

    • Dan, the adjusters put together an estimate no different than when an adjuster does it in the US. They come up with their determination best they can, but there is room to move if additional hidden damage is found. In my case there wasn’t any. Also, there are two adjusters on the scene — one from each party. They do the initial negotiation before presenting it so you’re pretty protected.

  21. Thanks Gary for your response, yet the situation still confuses me as a part-time expat who has driven many miles in Mexico, fortunately without incident. In the US it is not common for the adjuster to both investigate and settle a claim at the site and time of an accident. The damaged vehicle is normally driven or towed to a body shop to determine exact damage and cost to repair.

    I assume the settlement negotiated between both adjusters is not final as you said there is movement if more damage is later appraised. If a vehicle is determined a total loss is the owner expected to agree to a $figure onsite without the occasion to research and assess fair values?

    Thanks for your feedback. I have long wondered how these situations actually play-out.

  22. Can the cars be moved to a safe place after pictures have been take? Sitting in round about for an hour would scare me to death!

    • The recommendation is not to move the vehicles unless it is unsafe to leave them where they are or you are told to move them by either the insurance adjuster or police officer.

  23. George Moffatt | January 16, 2019 at 1:45 pm |

    Hello Paul
    I’d be curious to know, how Garry would have been paid for his claim if the driver that was at fault that ran into him, did not have insurance and did not have any money to pay for Garry’s damages.
    Would it be his own insurance company that would pay for Garry’s damagages?

    Got to get back to my free spanish lessons for beginners now, that you have been so kind to produce on your site.
    Thank you.

    • I’ve been conducting quite a bit of research on this topic — it’s actually very interesting — and in the scenario that you provided, most of the sources say that your insurance adjuster will attempt to come to a financial agreement with the uninsured party. If that cannot be done successfully, the adjuster will normally give you two options: 1) take the case the Ministerio Publico (which means impounding the cars and long delays), or 2) just agree to pay the deductible.

  24. Gracias for the informacion…
    Hope I don’t have to use it.

  25. Hello Paul,

    At what point does the insured “sign off” or release other parties from any further responsibility? I assume the settlement negotiated between both adjusters onsite is not final as Gary said there is movement if more damage is later appraised. If deemed a total loss, does the adjuster determine market value & settle onsite?

    thanks,
    Dan

  26. I have had two accidents since moving here. In the first one it was exactly like you said. Here is what happens if a 16 year old hits you in the side drivers side corner panel while making a left turn and they decide to pass on the left while you are turning. He hit my car he was at fault. My insurance representative came and his parents came, turns out he has no license and no insurance. The police had to be called. Of course she tried to say that the accident was my fault but I had proven to be responsible and they had proven not to be so I did do the responsible thing as I stated, signaled, slowed down and made the turn. What happens next is that they have to come up with the amount of money that the Rep/adjuster says. We then had to go to the Transito and wait for 3 hours so I could get my drivers license back and car identification card from the Police after the people were able to pay the adjuster for my damages. My car is in the shop today as this happened the night before last, we are waiting to see about the repairs or if it is totaled. I think the adjuster asked the max he could for my car at the wreck. We will see what happens next~ So far I am satisfied with the way things are done here.

  27. Is the adjuster waiting upon the status report of vehicle damage – repair cost or total loss – before determining liable 3rd party monetary damages due?

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