Having a car in Buenos Aires is really more trouble than it's worth. After all, there are ample taxis and public transportation options within the city; and if you’re eager to take a day's tour of the suburbs, hiring a car and driver through your hotel or travel agent is more convenient than driving yourself. 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. Microcentro—the bustling commercial district bounded by Carlos Pellegrini, Avenida Córdoba, Avenida Leandro Alem, and Avenida de Mayo—is off-limits to all but specially authorized vehicles on weekdays.
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.
On-street parking is limited. Some neighborhoods, such as San Telmo and Recoleta, have meters: you pay with coins, then display the ticket you receive on your dashboard (at this writing, the rate is 1.50 pesos per hour for up to four hours, although there are plans to double it). In meter-free areas, parking is usually only allowed on the right side of the street. Never park where there's a yellow line on the curb, alongside a bus stop, or on the left side of the street unless signs specifically say you can.
In popular areas there's often a self-appointed caretaker who guides you into your spot and watches your car: you pay anything from 2 to 5 pesos when you leave. 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 25–30 pesos per hour, or 70–120 pesos for 12 hours. Illegally parked cars are towed from Microcentro and San Telmo. Getting your car back is a bureaucratic nightmare and costs around 450 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, and 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 that right turns on red are not allowed, 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. Porteños take speed-limit signs, the ban on driving with cell phones, and drinking and driving lightly, so drive very defensively.
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 rental rates range from 430 to 550 pesos, depending on the type of car you choose and the distance you intend to travel. This typically includes tax and 200 free km (125 miles) daily. If you plan to do a lot of driving, consider renting with Hertz, the only local agency that offers unlimited mileage. Note that nearly all rental cars in Argentina have manual transmissions; 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 35 to 50 pesos per day. Some agencies charge a 10% surcharge for picking up a car from the airport.
Rental deals usually include roadside assistance. Argentina’s automobile association, the Automóvil Club Argentina, also offers free roadside service to members of North American automobile associations. If you call for assistance, though, bear in mind that most operators will speak only Spanish.
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 (known locally as a franquicia or deducible)—a maximum amount that you'll have to pay if damage occurs. The amount ranges from 3,000 to 6,000 pesos for a car and can be much higher for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. You can reduce the figure substantially or altogether by paying an insurance premium (anywhere from 40 to 1,000 pesos per day, depending on the company and type of vehicle).
Some companies include loss damage waiver (LDW) in the CDW fee, others charge a premium for it (usually 30–50 pesos per day).
Many rental companies don't insure you for driving on unpaved roads, so discuss your itinerary carefully with the agent to be certain you're always covered.
Major international agencies with branches in Buenos Aires include Avis, Budget, Hertz, Alamo, and Dollar. You can rent cars at both airports and through many hotels. If the agency has a branch in another town—and you’re prepared to pay a hefty fee—arrangements can usually be made for a one-way drop-off.
Automóvil Club Argentina (11/4808–4000. www.aca.org.ar.)
Car With Driver Rentals
An alternative to renting a car is to hire a remis, a car with a driver, especially for day outings. Hotels and travel agents can make arrangements for you. You'll have to pay cash, but you'll often spend less than you would on a rental car or cab for a whole day. Remis service costs about 150–300 pesos per hour, depending on the type of car. There is usually a three-hour minimum and an additional charge per km (½ miles) if you drive over a certain distance or go outside the city limits. If your driver is helpful and friendly, a 10% tip is appropriate.
Abbey Rent-A-Car (11/4924–1984. www.abbeyrentacar.com.ar.)
Annie Millet Transfers (11/6777–7777. www.amillet.com.ar.)
Remises Universal (11/4105–5555. www.remisesuniversal.com.)
Vía Remis (11/4777–8888.)