Dealing with Vehicle Breakdowns in Mexico

Do you have a game plan for when things go wrong south of the border? Flat tires, mechanical problems and vehicle breakdowns in Mexico can be stressful but being prepared makes a huge difference. Even in the most remote parts of Baja and the Mainland, finding help and getting back on the road is possible.

Here’s how to deal with those oh sh** moments on the road.

Tune Up Before You Leave

Check Your Tires – Assess the tread quality, have them rotated and check your spare for pressure too. Ideally, you will carry a full size spare and not a donut that only gets you a short distance down the road. Traveling in Baja ad areas with remote dirt roads

Check Your Fluids – Do an oil change, leak inspections and transmission fluid check before departing. You can have all of these things done across the border as well but it’s always nice to start fresh. 

Your Own Roadside Kit – Carry tire plugs, a compressor, first aid kit and general emergency items like a flashlight and even a portable reflective cone. The tire plugs and compressor can get you out of trouble with punctures. Drive over a nail? No problem. Plug the hole, fill it up and move on.

Get Unstuck Kit – Carry a heavy duty tow strap at a minimum. If you get stuck in the sand, drop the air pressure on your tires to help with traction. The compressor will come in handy when you’re unstuck. Carry tracks and a hi-lo jack if you plan to really press the limits of off-road driving.

Spare Parts – This is optional but anyone mechanically inclined will carry spare parts. At the very least, store a few extra quarts of oil and coolant in your rig. Extra hose clamps, hose sections and duct tape can help in a pinch. A battery powered jump start pack is also worth the investment.

Tools – A simple set of screwdrivers and wrenches will go far. A socket set with extensions and deep sockets is never bad to have on hand either.

Get to Safety and Call for Help

So things went south and now you’re on the side of the road. The very first priority is safety. If possible, get your vehicle off the main road and find separation from traffic. If anyone is around, they are likely to help push you off the busy road section. 

After reaching safety, take a deep breath and assess the damage. Even write down what happened for later reference. Did you hear any specific noises? Lose power? Does the engine still crank? This will help later.

The next step is finding help and that can require a phone call or asking locals for assistance. If it’s tire related, you will need a llanteria. If it’s mechanical, you will need a taller. In Mexico, the Green Angels are around to help, especially on the Quota roads. They drive white and green trucks and provide roadside assistance, call tow trucks, etc.

I had one help me in a very remote area of Baja. I was able to limp to a little pueblo where we located differential fluid and topped off a leak so I could get to a bigger town and proper mechanic. It was a huge help.

If the Green Angels aren’t around, you will notice a roadside assistance program attached to your Mexican auto insurance policy. It’s labeled as MexVisit and has a phone number to call for assistance. Use this to source a tow truck and help if you are broken down.

Emergency Satellite Signal for Traveling

What if you break down way out in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal? It’s likely that you will find someone eventually and catch a ride to the nearest town. That said, an emergency satellite signal can save your butt too.

I carry a Garmin inReach mini that can send an SOS signal. It also has text message capabilities so I can actually send a text to a family member with my coordinates and a non-emergency message asking for a tow truck. If your emergency contact has the MexVisit info, they can also call and relay those coordinates for help.

Adding a secondary Mexican travel insurance policy also increases protection on the road.

Important Spanish Terminology

A few basic words to understand when you need mechanical help. 

Llanteria = Tire shop

Grua = Tow Truck

Taller = Mechanic

Soldura = Welder

Caja = Transmission

Motor = Engine

Combustible = Means fuel but also to reference fuel in action. For example, “bomba de combustible” means fuel pump.

Aceite = Oil

Sourcing Mexican Mechanics and Repairs

Depending on the severity of the damage, you might be back up and running in a few minutes, a few days or a few weeks. You will find some incredible mechanics at very reasonable prices in Mexico but like anywhere, there are bad operators as well.

I recommend asking for references when possible, discussing prices upfront and using the iOverlander app and Google Maps to check reviews and find options. For a longer repair, finding a hotel near the mechanic is ideal. Also expect to pay cash with many mechanics. You will likely need to hit an ATM once the work commences. It’s not ideal but take advantage of the time and explore the town until everything is sorted and fixed.