Help! I crashed my scooter in Mexico

Lazlo/Shutterstock

Next time you’re in a tourist town and you think about renting a scooter, remember Shasteana Wikenheiser.

She’s the reader who decided to do just that on a recent visit to Playa del Carmen, Mexico — and lived to regret it.

The rental agency, Cuarto Quinto y Poder, issued her family mopeds that barely looked road-worthy.

“They were pretty beat up,” she says. “They had scratches, the odometer always pointed to zero, no headlights, and my scooter’s blinkers didn’t work. They had definitely been well used, but we had already paid.”

Wikenheiser paid extra for insurance and as a precaution she filled out a form that documented all of the pre-existing damage. She also took a “before” picture of the motorbike.

Obviously, she reads my column.

But then, an unfortunate thing happened. I’ll let her pick up the story:

After spending a few hours driving around the island, we started heading back to fill up the gas tank and turn in the scooters.

Long story short, I crashed it.

I was turning in to the gas station parking lot, managed to not press the brake soon enough, and the scooter tipped over.

Surprisingly, the damage was minimal – a large scrape (about the size of a large dinner plate) on the back above the wheel, and another scrape on the front (about the size of an apple.)

My leg and arm were directly underneath when it tipped, and they probably received the most damage.

When Wikenheiser returned the scooters, a representative demanded that she pay $800 in cash to cover the damage immediately.

“My father didn’t have $800 in cash, but he offered to pay with his credit card,” she says. “He told them that $800 was worth more than the scooter, but they had his driver’s license, and he was forced to pay so that he could get it back and we could leave. They kept the form stating that we had insurance. We were all pretty shaken up because of the accident, so we left and my father paid the $800.”

On their way back to Playa del Carmen, Wikenheiser stopped at a Walmart to buy groceries, and, wouldn’t you know it, there was a similar, brand-new scooter on sale for less than $1,000.

“We knew for sure then that we had been ripped off,” she says.

Wikenheiser tried to dispute the claim with her credit card company, but without the form stating that they had received insurance, or the form stating that there were already damages to the scooter, they were denied.

“I feel like $800 is a lot to pay for an already broken scooter that apparently came with insurance,” she says.

It is. In hindsight, Wikenheiser should have kept her rental records. She should have waited for a repair bill for the scuff, rather than fork over the money. But in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget all of these things.

Then again, she acknowledges damaging the scooter and either she, or her insurance company, is responsible for any repairs.

I’m thinking of mediating this case even though the rental agency probably considers it closed. I don’t know if $800 is a reasonable amount of money to charge for a slightly damaged motorcycle — one that will probably be rented the next day without any repairs to it.

Should I mediate Shasteana Wikenheiser's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Bill___A

    Hope you can get it sorted, Chris. Something seems a bit shady about this.

  • sdir

    When she first signed up for the scooter, why didn’t she demand a copy of the paperwork? For that matter, is it common in Mexico for a rental company to take your license when you rent a vehicle? I don’t chalk this up to a mistake made “in the heat of the moment”. They were in a foreign country, being told they had to pay $800 or else they wouldn’t get a driver’s license back. I would’ve given in to the extortion too. Other than demanding paperwork copies upfront (which they should absolutely have done), how else should a traveler protect themselves?

  • LFH0

    I’m not quite sure why one would feel the necessity of paying $800 for the return of a license, instead of simply applying for a replacement of a lost license.

  • Rebecca Pusch

    Maybe because they were in Mexico and needed it to get back on the plane or across the border to get home?

  • backprop

    Both require a passport.

  • John Baker

    I couldn’t vote today but it had little to do with the OP. She was almost assuredly “done wrong” instead it has more to do with mediation and Chris’s time. In order for mediation to work, both parties need to have something at stake… something they might lose. In most of Chris’s cases, he can leverage either a company’s reputation or an unpaid bill but neither exists here. In fact, there’s no reason for Cuarto Quinto y Poder to talk to Chris. They have their money. Based on the condition of the scooters to start, I don’t think we’re talking about a high end business here, probably closer to “Rent-a-wreck” and as such, probably don’t care about their reputation in the US. I don’t see them even responding to Chris’s email. There’s no reason for them to do it.

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe they can make more selling the license to someone who needs to cross the border?

  • Alan Gore

    So much for “Always get the insurance.”

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    While I can commiserate with her problem, you said it in your article.. she should have done this and she should have done that…she did so many things wrong, I have to say; what ever happened to personal accountability? *you* did something incorrectly yet you expect someone else to take the blame. No. I am not an apologist, so I’m voting “no” on this one.

  • http://www.jeffkolkerart.com Jeff Kolker

    Lets see, she paid extra for insurance. What’s the point of insurance then?? Personal responsibility would be to get the insurance, and that was done. So… you seem to think it OK to pay for insurance then also pay for the repair. I voted YES.

  • Chris Johnson

    Visiting Mexico was great for college spring break but as long as crap like this goes on, along with the timeshare sales people who practically assualt you at the airport, I am so done with visiting that country. It’s just one shakedown after another. I’m probably too old for most of the worthy destinations (i.e. Cancun, Conzumel, Cabo) anyway. I hope that the rental agency at least gets a public shaming from this and goes out of business. But they’ll just reopen under a different name with same crooks running it.

    They had the insurance, yet the people still wanted her to pay more money than the damn bike was worth? WTF! It all makes me angry, and I’m not even the victim here.

  • Nathan Witt

    Your take seems to be that if I can find a way to swindle you, and you’re not smart enough to avoid it, then you deserve to be swidled. There’s also personal responsibility on the part of the business owner to honor the insurance product that was purchased, but you don’t seem to feel like that matters here.

  • emanon256

    I voted yes, she took out the insurance, so she shouldn’t have to pay. Especially since the bill was arbitrary and more than the scooter was worth.

    I’m confused as to why the rental place had her fathers drivers license? Shouldn’t he need it on them when operating the scooter? Unless its not required in Mexico. Still, I personally would never turn over a drivers license as collateral. I also would have refused to pay and made sure I had a copy of each document. I feel badly for the OP and I hope Chris can help!

  • Lindabator

    3rd party – NOT from a fly-by-night company that is insuring itself

  • Lindabator

    This is not a major company, but a little fly by night – 3rd party insurance might have covered her, but not the companies’ own — this is why I warn folks NOT to rent scooters – no oversight of that industry whatsoever!

  • Lindabator

    Worhty destinations??? You name the biggest tourist traps there are! Try off the beaten path destinations like Huatulco or Manzanillo – much better choices, and don’t get hassled there like in these tourist traps.

  • Lindabator

    The problem is booking with these flyby night companies to begin with – the insurance is useless, I’m sure, and the fact they required holding his license should have sent up MULTIPLE red flags — would have immediately walked away from this venture before it began. Its a shame that there are still these companies doing business like this.

  • bodega3

    She took out insurance, but what did it cover? Where is her proof that she had actual coverage? When outside the US, NEVER assume things work like they do here at home.

  • Dutchess

    You have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about. Mexico is a heck of a lot more than beaches. Mexico City, is one of the most amazing cities in the world and unless you’re dead, you definitely aren’t too old for it. Also, Colonial cities like Guanajuato, San Miguel De Allende, Morelia, and Puebla are all beautiful and as nice as any in Spain. Don’t get me started on the ancient ruins in Mexico, Teotihuacan is amazing.

  • Ward Chartier

    Mediate with whom? Ms. W. voluntarily rented the scooter, acknowledges responsibility for the crash, keeled under pressure from the vendor, and voluntarily paid up. It unreasonable to ask the credit card company to help. You might try to negotiate with the insurance company, but maybe it only exists as a PO Box or a cash box. You might try to negotiate with the rental agency, but they will regard the event as old news. My feeling is that if you negotiate with anyone, you are negotiating from a position of considerable weakness and you are very likely wasting your time. Still, Ms. W’s unfortunate experience is a valuable lesson for us all, and is worth reading.

  • MarkKelling

    Insurance probably covered the rental company for liability in case of a traffic accident, not the renter in case of damage to the scooter. Unfortunately the exact insurance coverage was not mentioned in the article.

  • emanon256

    I was thinking the same thing as you.

  • omgstfualready

    Well that was random.

  • emanon256

    I’ve always wanted to see Teotihuacan! I did make it to Chechen Itza which was fabulous!!! There are so many wonderful places in Mexico. Even down town Cancun has some great sights, and beautiful architecture and fabulous hotels and restaurants and is nothing like the beach front party environment. Though I would still prefer the non-tourist ridden places.

  • Annie M

    I have found in Mexico that they are famous for trying to rip people off. What did she pay for insurance for if it didn’t cover this? She should have demanded a copy of the rental agreement.

    This is the type of consumer complaint I’d like to see you involved with instead of the “I didn’t read all the terms or didn’t buy insurance and now I need to be treated special” claims.

  • Annie M

    Mexico doesn’t always permit 3rd party insurance. We bought 3rd party insurance but it didn’t cover liability only collision so we had to allow ourselves to be ripped off for that or else have them place a hold for $5000 on our cc. Mexico doesn’t make it east or cheap to rent a car or scooter.

  • Annie M

    There are amazing things to see in Mexico but it is a country that can rip you off in any different ways and car and scooter rentals are one of them.

  • bodega3

    But know what you are getting and what would be covered BEFORE signing. Plus ALWAYS keep the paperwork!

  • Chris Johnson

    Maybe I don’t but does the same sh– go on with regard to timeshare presentation ripoffs and scooter rental scams in those places? If so, I’d rather spend my money somewhere else. There’s a lot of amazing beautiful cities in South America I’ve been to and never ran into the kind of crap I ran into while in Mexico.

  • whatup12

    Sorted with who. Are you kidding me? there will be no resolution here other than the Coronas that were bought with the 800… Just consider it an 800 lesson in life and travel.

  • Travelnut

    I voted “no”. If it had been a simple misunderstanding or billing dispute, or even one of the shady rental car stores for stateside companies, I would say “go get ‘em”. But: this is a simple shakedown of a tourist, because they can. Persuading the tourist to purchase insurance that they knew full well probably wouldn’t cover the renter. Charging $800 on the spot, rather than providing an itemized bill. The $800 is not an appropriate charge to fix a scrape, but rather is the price of a brand-new scooter. Holding the drivers licence for ransom. And, Mexico. I’m not knocking the country as a whole. Heck, they’re my neighbor (I’m in Texas). Many beautiful places to see there, but the tourist traps will get your money any way they can, ethically or not. I had two incidents there. One was a bogus parking ticket, another was the hotel trying to bill our group for breakfasts that were a part of our package, upon checkout when they know people need to get to the airport and can’t waste a lot of time arguing. Plus, what could Chris really do in Mexico with a small-time local business? Not much. This is really a legal matter at this point and the OP may want to get a lawyer, but I don’t hold out much hope in any case. $800 gone.

  • LFH0

    My
    wife any I got married in México a few years ago. We did go through Cozumel,
    Playa del Carmen, and Cancún out of necessity (we arrived in Cozumel on a
    cruise ship, and were connecting onward via ferry to the country’s excellent
    intercity bus service), but none were what I would consider to be “worthy.”
    Most were over-populated with Americans with little regard to anything “Mexican”
    (though we did not see any of those “timeshare sales people”). Things got much
    better after we left Cancún and we visited Veracruz, Oaxaca, Mitla, Teotitlán
    del Valle, San Bartolo Coyotepec, Puebla, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Agua
    Azul, Misol-Ha, Palenque, Bonampak, Frontera Corozal, and Yaxchilán. After
    passing through Guatemala and Belize, we returned to Cozumel (via Chetumal and
    Playa del Carmen) to board another vessel, and on the way back to the United
    States we visited Progreso and Mérida. These had little in common with the
    tourist factories on the Mexican coastline, and I find it a bit arrogant to
    enumerate only those places as being “worthy.”

  • TonyA_says

    This and those jetskis. See what happens when they blame a scratch on the jetski on you. The local police are in on it.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    yes…that’s my point exactly! If you are smart enough to swindle me, then you deserve whatever it is I lose…If I’m *DUMB* enough to *LET* you swindle me, then I deserve to lose whatever it is you’ve swindled me out of…There is no excuse for stupidity! Not in today’s day and age where information is instantly available at the drop of a hat! There have been many instances where I’ve backed away from a “almost too good to be true” deal, only to look it up on my smartphone or tablet to do some research….My general rule is if someone says that this deal is only available now and if I leave to do research, it won’t be available when I get back…well then I just don’t need that deal now do I? Am I saying I’ve never been swindled? Of course not…I’m smart, but there are others smarter than me! Did I complain…yes…but it never did any good, mainly I was angry with myself and chalked it up to a learning experience…Never again is my motto! Now every deal I enter into I enter with a wary eye looking for all loopholes (like that car rental insurance that didn’t cover tire damage…the only part of the vehicle I damaged…) so that I can be as educated a consumer as I possibly can. I grew up with this book as a child: http://clairegebben.com/2012/02/10/german-childrens-tale-der-struwwelpeter-shaggy-headed-peter/ and this character struck home http://germanstories.vcu.edu/struwwel/guck.html
    Unfortunately, these tales for children are far too harsh for today’s delicate flowers…and as such has created apologetic “not my fault” adults. Sorry, it is your fault!

  • m11_9

    far cheaper than getting stuck with a Mexican timeshare.

  • whatup12

    totally! and let’s hope that this prevents exactly that far more expensive type of shakedown. And let’s further hope that the money went to something good as likely they needed that 800 more than the tourist. WEll, let’s hope. but in reality, we also sadly know that the same people don’t tend to learn these lessons well and may be eating a “free lunch” in one of those villas right now.

  • Dutchess

    I’m sure there’s plenty of rip offs there, just like everywhere else. I’m sure you can go to NYC and get ripped off by a cabbie, or got to Paris and get ripped off by a pickpocket or go to Naples and get robbed by thugs. Is that going to stop you from going to all those places too?
    In south american you can be robbed by kids on a moped in Brazil or get taken for a ride by a cabbie in Peru, in marrakesh I had a school kid try an get me lost and extort money from me, but I would never write off a whole country with so much to offer because ONE person tried to take advantage of me.

  • Dutchess

    Thank you, Americans have this view of mexico as a few resorts on the coast and vast wasteland of nothing worth seeing, crime and drugs in between. Disparaging the entire country because one bad vendor rips someone off is like saying visiting the US isn’t “worthy” because a rental car company here tries the post rental damage scam.

  • Dutchess

    I did a couple weeks in Guanajuato during the Cervantino Festival and Dia De Los Muertos. It’s a beautiful colonial city and as a bonus was the birthplace of the revelution and Diego Rivera. SO many great sites near the city. We had thermal baths, a colonial church called the Sistine Chapel of the Americas and wonderful people and food. We’re going back in the fall.

  • Helio

    A supposition: After arriving, during the discussion about the accident and insurance, the father may give the license to the agent in order to check some information, and the agent refused to give it back.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Agreed. I got ripped off by a fake cabbie in NYC. Got my pocket picked in Paris, and overcharged in Rome. I guess NYC and Western Europe are off my travel list :-)

  • Name

    OMG, people just get dumber and dumber when they travel. Renting scooters in Mexico? I won’t even rent a car in Mexico. Ai-yi-yi!

  • bodega3

    I had a client have an accident on one in Playa Del Carmen and she had to pay for a second seat on the plane as she couldn’t bend her leg. She wasn’t legal to drive the thing to begin with, but legal and Mexico don’t always go together :-)
    A friend was on Cozumel when our ship stopped there for the day. She picked us up in a ‘convertible’ to drive us around so we could spend the day together. It was a sawed off top VW Bug and when she stopped, the kids all had to get out and push the car to pop the clutch to get it started again.
    In Mexico, you take your chances on vehicle rentals!

  • AgentCooper

    An enhanced drivers license can be used for land or sea crossings in/out of Mexico… I’m not saying this is the case in this instance but it is definitely plausible she was reliant on the driver’s license to regain entry into the country.

  • Shasteana

    Hi! I’m Shasteana. We were actually given the paperwork. After we crashed it, they took it (to calculate the damages or something), and then the never gave it back. We had papers stating the damages already present on the motor vehicle, which they took before we took the scooters. The paper stating that we had insurance in the cost was taken after I crashed. So all around, just a bad situation