This expat guest blog was contributed by Tom Lang from Lake Chapala based on a recent driving experience he and his wife Cate had while returning home from the beach town of Melaque, just north of Manzanillo.
After five wonderful days in Melaque, Cate and I headed home on the autopista, Mexico’s 54D toll road, an easy drive back to Chapala. But it turned out to be anything but easy. Thankfully, Roadside Assistance in Mexico came to our rescue.
About three hours into our drive, a Mexican couple pulled alongside our car and frantically pointed toward the hood. We could not see any problem until a few seconds later when smoke began to pour out.
We immediately pulled on to the shoulder of the highway, followed by the Mexican couple who asked if we needed any help. I popped the hood and saw that the permanently-sealed cap on our engine coolant reservoir had blown off, spraying engine coolant all over the hot engine, which caused the smoke.
No warning light had appeared on our dashboard, so I assumed no damage had been done.
The kind Mexican couple then asked us if we had kept our ticket from the last toll booth and told us to call Asistencia en Ruta, or Roadside Assistance. A 1-800 number was printed on the toll receipt, which provides motorists with free roadside assistance if you are using a toll road in Mexico.
Unfortunately, we were in a remote farming area with very poor cell phone service. After four call attempts, I finally reached the toll-free Roadside Assistance number to tell them where we were, but there were no road signs to indicate our exact location. The agent said the Roadside Assistance truck would come to us in about 30 minutes.
But after an hour there was still no Roadside Assistance, so I flagged down a motorcycle on an unpaved side road near the highway ridden by two Mexican teenage boys. I asked if they could call Roadside Assistance for us but they had the same connection problem. By then, I saw an SOS Emergency (solar-powered) Red Phone about 100 meters up the highway on the shoulder. It connected to an emergency operator who knew exactly where we were located. He said he would dispatch a tow truck.
About five minutes later, a Policía Federal car pulled over a speeder on the opposite side of the highway. He asked what our problem was and I told him that we had already called Roadside Assistance twice, but it was slow in coming. He said he would immediately call and not five minutes later the Roadside Assistance truck was there. It helps to have the Mexican Federal Police on your side!
Twenty minutes later a shiny, new flat-deck tow truck arrived to transport our car to a repair shop. He and the Roadside Assistance truck driver started to call local area mechanics to find one who could fix our car the same day. After numerous calls, our hope for a quick repair was quickly fading.
The tow truck driver drove us to the city of Ciudad Guzman, about 30 minutes north of our location. While we were driving, he passed his cell phone to me and asked me to explain our problem to the mechanic in Spanish. The mechanic then asked me, in perfect English, “Do you speak English?” I said, “Yes, quite well, thank you.” He had lived in Boston for years.
Very important for all expats to know: Roadside Assistance and towing are free when you pay tolls on Mexico’s toll highways. What a great feature. It saved us what likely would have cost thousands of pesos in fees had we not had this automatic roadside assistance. Make sure you always save your toll receipts!
Our Mexico/Boston diesel mechanic, Roberto, spent 45 minutes beyond his normal closing time calling many mechanics and automobile junk yards trying to find the part we needed for our Chrysler. Since our make and model is not common in Mexico, he understandably had to order the part from a Guadalajara Chrysler dealer, which took several days.
Since we had numerous appointments back home in Chapala the next day, Roberto called Uber so we could get to a restaurant for dinner and then the two-hour drive home.
Two days later I returned to Ciudad Guzman by bus. Roberto picked me up at the bus terminal in our car, which had been expertly repaired, washed and vacuumed, including polishing the dashboard!
Roberto told me that the tow truck driver had risked his job because he was supposed to simply tow our car to the nearest gas station for repairs, but since we were expats who were not fluent in Spanish he wanted to find an English-speaking mechanic for us. Talk about going way above the norm to help out stranded expat motorists!
I was doubly glad that I had given the tow truck driver a generous tip two days earlier for the extraordinary free service he provided to us.
This is just one example of how kind, generous and helpful the Mexican people are. After decades of traveling in Mexico, this is one of the main reasons why we call Mexico home.