We hope you never get into a traffic accident while in Mexico because it is way more complicated than if you carried out this caper in the United States.
For starters there are so many factors that intervene on what you should do, but there is only one main right way to deal with it, with the other person involved, and with the authorities.
Your car should have insurance. That is basic although not everyone has it, (especially locals who are likely the ones who will nail you.) And you should call your insurance company at the first sound of crunching metal, no matter what.
Write down or better yet take a picture of the other person’s license plate. It does not matter whose fault it was, make sure you have that. If it is a normal person, they will get out of their car and talk to you.
If it's a pendejo, they will run away, so a quick first reaction is key.
Next, if he or she did not run away, try to talk to them; ask if they have insurance first and in the politest way get their full name. If you're feeling lucky and brave, ask for their license so you can write down the number for your insurance people. It’s best not to spook them away, though, and it's best not to start arguing as to whose fault it was, since it can lead to them just leaving you standing there or to a fist fight and you don't want to make matters worse in any way. Anyhow, it’s not going to be up to you two to determine who’s fault it is, so why even go there?
Take pictures of the whole accident, be thorough and try to get all angles, from a few feet away and then up close so the insurance people don't miss a thing; your insurance will thank you and you will have a better chance that this mess will work out the best way possible for you.
Mind you, I am sorry to admit this but we Mexicans are very proud and a small number of us will not take our share of blame what with our spicy attitude, let alone the fact that some foreigner made us crash into them.
And that brings us to an unfortunate fact: You being a foreigner makes you a sitting duck. Clobbering a foreigner is almost like not even getting into a wreck because we all know we can probably weasel out of this mess.
The police will be against you, the language will be against you, even the angle of the sun and the color of the traffic light will be against you. Nevertheless, you will need to get through this with as much of your dignity and money intact as you can, so keep reading.
After you've called your insurance company, and talked to the other person involved, do not agree to "talk somewhere else" or “fix this” without insurance or authorities. That is, if you are sober, and have all your auto documents lined up, your insurance is in order, and there is no blood or immediate danger for any of you. That also means do not move your car or let them move theirs, unless authorities prove this is absolutely necessary and you've got enough information and enough pictures, license plates and all documents. Because if either cars move, this could interfere with the insurance process and you don't want that. I don’t even care if it’s rush hour on the fourlane and everyone is held up and glaring the stink eye at you, don’t move your cars.
Now, the authorities. They are well known for trying to make a few bucks any way they can, so if they start hinting that you should help them help you, make sure you are clear on doing things the right way, not the short cut way, because it could very well cost you more in the long run; you pay them and you still pay for the wreck.
If there was any damage to a public fixture, sidewalk or something similar, and it was your fault it is considered as "daños a la nación" which translates to national damage. Now you’ve done it, you’ve gone and damaged the nation of Mexico. This will not work in your favor.
The fines for damaging Mexico are ridiculously high and it depends what was damaged, and the bigger the fixture the bigger the fine. This could send you to jail, however the transit police sometimes take a little tip and let you off easy. Yeah, we know we just told you not to pass out a bribe but that was before we heard you piled your car into a Mexican National Fixture for crying out loud. Better you should hit a granny, almost. If you pay off the police, they will not report the damages to the nation and you will not get a transit slip which insurance companies often uses as evidence, so keep that in mind and weigh your options. And what about the damage to the nation? Look around you, Bunkie, it won’t be the first ding this nation has suffered.
A lot of people will show up at the accident: an ambulance, (or in the case of a rich foreigner, all five of our local ambulances), state or federal police, (sometimes both), and transit police.
Do not let them drag you into an ambulance unless you’ve lost at least five pints of blood. They did not come rushing out to help you, they showed up because hospitals put a bounty on bringing foreigners with credit cards into their facility. And even a short stay in a hospital can cost a foreigner a lot of money. Better to suck it up until a local friend can take you to a local doc.
We know you didn’t read the fine print on your insurance papers because it’s in Spanish, so now will be an interesting time to find out what’s covered and what’s not. And again, since you as a foreigner are at a disadvantage, a kind word to Mr. Policeman and Mr. Insurance Agent can help smooth out an awkward situation.
If you don't have insurance or a license or the proper vehicle documents, then everything changes, and not in a good way. They can throw you in the stony lonesome and that will not be a pleasant experience. So get legal.
If you are a tourist and you’ve stacked up a rental, first call the rental company and their insurance, but every rental company has their own policy, which they should have explained to you before you signed all the papers. And you should have listened to their explanation.
Insurance is a business, and if they determine that the cost for repairing your car exceeds half of its commercial cost, they will declare it a total loss. That is not always fair, since some cars end up totally fine in the engine but are wrinkled up too badly in terms of body. You could reject their decision of total loss and take half of the money the vehicle is worth, and either drive haf a car around or take your banged up car back and get some cheapo shade tree mechanic to patch it up, but that is only recommendable when you know a good mechanic and body fixer. If you don't, it's better to take the money and buy another car, save yourself the trouble of getting a bad job done. Or equally likely, save yourself from bussing out to the barrio every day for three months and arguing with Pedro about when exactly this job is going to be finished.
Bottom line, a cool and fast head is key in the event of an accident, and the process is long. There is much waiting around to be done, and you will be cancelling all your appointments for the rest of the day.
Now, if you would like to know how my Gringa boss fared the two times she plowed her truck into a Mexican owned car, you will have to talk to her to get the story. We’re not allowed to talk about it.