Look out for Topes When Driving in Mexico

If You Go Too Fast, You May Ruin Your Rental Car

Tope Sign: Speed Bump Ahead
Jill Ferry Photography / Getty Images

Topes (pronounced "TOH-peh") are an abundant encounter when driving in Mexico. And these speed bumps won't differentiate between your own car and a Mexican rental. In fact, these "sleeping policeman" (as the British affectionately call them) can wreak havoc on the suspension of any traveling vehicle, as they come in varying heights—from minuscule to mountainous—can be unmarked, and are often crafted from a slew of household materials. A low-rider vehicle, such as a compact car or sedan, can be especially susceptible to damage should you barrel over a tope at even a moderate speed.

But if you approach them at an angle, and do so at a snail's pace, you can avoid damaging your mode of transport.

Signed Topes

Head into any Mexican town's center (and be careful, the "towns" may not seem like much at all) and you'll come across painted concrete bumps in the road put there to slow your pace. In larger towns along major routes, you may find several topes (one right after another) separated by short stretches of road. If you're lucky, there will be yellow warning signs that say "tope" or "reductor de velocidad" depicted with a mound on top of a line.

Even signed topes can show up on the road abruptly (as well as burros, chickens, cows, and other farm animals) making day driving the safest option (night driving is not recommended in Mexico). But driving during the day doesn't always solve the visibility problem, as tope signs can be elusive, knocked down, or stolen, and shadows on the road may be deceptive. Keep your eyes open, always be attentive, and lower your speed whenever you come upon an area that looks populated.

Homemade Topes

Topes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and many of these speed bumps are void of signage. This is especially true when you come across an area with just a few houses, but no central town hub. Some homeowners will make their own tope in front of their home in an effort to slow the drivers coming through their neighborhood. These homemade topes can consist of mounds of dirt, ship ropes (more common in coastal areas), bricks, and even tile. Makeshift topes can also be destructive to your car, especially those made of dirt or bricks that erode over time and with use causing potholes or loose material to hit the car's undercarriage.

And even though homemade topes may be smaller in height than their concrete counterparts, it's best to navigate them at an even slower speed, as they can be hard to see and come up fast.

Other Travel Considerations

When driving through small Mexican towns, you may find people standing by the sides of topes (often right outside their houses) asking for donations or offering something to sell. If you're not interested, just say "no gracias," give them a wave, and keep on driving. You should also beware of vados (dips), vibradores (a series of small bumps that shake your car as you drive over them), and of course, baches (potholes). On two-lane highways, also watch out for drivers coming in the opposite direction who may swerve into your lane.

And take caution on weekends—especially Sunday afternoons—when Mexican drivers may be under the influence of alcohol.

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