Having a car in Buenos Aires is really more hassle than it's worth; there are ample taxis and public transportation options. A more convenient option than driving yourself is to have your travel agent or hotel arrange for a remis (car and driver), especially for a day's tour of the suburbs. However, a car can be useful for longer excursions to the Atlantic Coast or interior towns of Buenos Aires Province.
Avenida General Paz is Buenos Aires' ring road. If you're driving into the city, you'll know you're in Buenos Aires proper once you cross it. If you're entering from the north, chances are you'll be on the Ruta Panamericana, which has wide lanes and good lighting, but many accidents. The quickest way from downtown to Ezeiza Airport is Autopista 25 de Mayo to Autopista Ricchieri. Ruta 2 takes you to the Atlantic beach resorts in and around Mar del Plata.
During the week the Microcentro, the bustling commercial district bounded by Carlos Pellegrini, Avenida Córdoba, Avenida Leandro Alem, and Avenida de Mayo, is off-limits to all but public transit vehicles.
Porteño driving styles range from erratic to downright psychotic, and the road mortality rate is shockingly high. Drive defensively.
City streets are notorious for potholes, uneven surfaces, and poorly marked lanes and turnoffs.
Rush-hour traffic affects the roads into Buenos Aires between 8 and 10 am, and roads out between 6 and 9 pm; the General Paz ring road and the Panamericana are particularly problematic.
Be cautious when approaching or exiting overpasses on General Paz, where there have been incidences of ladrillazos (brick throwing): you stop the car to examine your broken windshield, at which point thieves appear.
On-street parking is limited. Some neighborhoods, such as San Telmo and Recoleta, have meters: you pay with coins (1.40 pesos per hour), then display the ticket you receive on your dashboard. In popular meter-free spots there's often a self-appointed caretaker who guides you into your spot and watches your car: you pay anything from 1 to 5 pesos when you leave. Most attendants won't do much more than yell at you if you don't, most locals see not paying as rude.
Car theft is fairly common, so many rental agencies insist you park in a guarded lot—Buenos Aires is full of them. Look for a circular blue sign with a white "E" (for estacionamiento [parking]). Downtown, expect to pay 7–8 pesos per hour, or 28 pesos for 12 hours. Illegally parked cars are towed from the Microcentro and San Telmo. Getting your car back is a bureaucratic nightmare and costs around 200 pesos. Most malls have lots, which sometimes give you a reduced rate with a purchase.
Rules of the Road
Buenos Aires has a one-way system in which parallel streets run in opposite directions: never going the wrong way along a street is one of the few rules that Argentines abide by. Where there are no traffic lights at an intersection, you give way to drivers coming from the right, but have priority over those coming from the left.
Most driving rules in the United States theoretically apply here (although locals flout them shamelessly). However, keep in mind the following: right turns on red are not allowed; never park on the left side of avenues, where there's a yellow line on the curb, or near a bus stop; and turning left on two-way avenues is prohibited unless there's a left-turn signal or light.
The legal blood-alcohol limit is 500 mg of alcohol per liter of blood, and breathalyzing is becoming more common within the city.
In Buenos Aires a 40-kph (25-mph) speed limit applies on streets, and a 60-kph (37-mph) limit is in effect on avenues. However, locals take speed-limit signs, the ban on driving with cell phones, and drinking and driving lightly, so drive very defensively, indeed.
Local police tend to be forgiving of foreigners' driving faults and often waive tickets and fines when they see your passport or driver's license. If you do get a traffic ticket, don't argue. Most aren't payable on the spot, but some police officers offer "reduced" on-the-spot fines in lieu of a ticket: it's out-and-out bribery, and you'd do best to avoid it by insisting on receiving the proper ticket.
Daily rates range from around 180 pesos to 400 pesos, depending on the type of car and the distance you plan to travel. This generally includes tax and 200 free km (125 mi) daily. Note that nearly all rental cars in Argentina have manual transmissions, so if you need an automatic, request it in advance.
Reputable firms don't rent to drivers under 21, and renters under 23 often have to pay a daily surcharge. In general, you cannot cross the border in a rental car. Children's car seats aren't compulsory, but are available for 15 pesos per day. Some agencies charge a 10% surcharge for picking up a car from the airport.
Collision damage waiver (CDW) is mandatory in Argentina and is included in standard rental prices. However, you may still be responsible for a deductible fee—a maximum amount that you'll have to pay if damage occurs. The amount is generally around 3,000 pesos for a car and can be much higher for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. You can reduce the figure substantially by paying an insurance premium (usually 60 pesos per day).
Some companies include loss damage waiver (LDW) in the CDW fee, others charge a premium for it (usually 20-50 pesos per day). Car theft is common enough in Argentina for it to make sense to pay.
Many rental companies don't insure you for driving on unpaved roads. Discuss your itinerary carefully with the agent to be certain you're always covered.
Major car-rental agencies with branches in Buenos Aires include Avis, Budget, Hertz, Alamo, and Dollar, and Latin American agency Localiza. You can rent cars at both airports and through many hotels. If the agency has a branch in another town, arrangements can usually be made for a one-way drop-off, for a hefty surcharge.
Automóvil Club Argentina (11/4808–4000. www.aca.org.ar.)
Alamo (11/4322–3320 in Buenos Aires. www.alamoargentina.com.ar.)
Avis (810/9991–2847; 11/4326–5542 in Buenos Aires. www.avis.com.ar.)
Budget (810/999–2834; 11/4326–3825 in Buenos Aires. www.budget.com.ar.)
Dollar (800/555–3655; 11/4315–1670 in Buenos Aires. www.dollar.com.ar.)
Hertz (810/222–43789; 11/4816–8001 in Buenos Aires. www.milletrentacar.com.ar.)
Localiza. 800/999-2999; 11/4121-5610 in Buenos Aires. www.localiza.com.ar.