Baby you can drive my car / I promise I'm not a druglord using you as a patsy
January 4, 2010 11:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering driving a car cross-country for a stranger in exchange for money. What do I need to know and do to protect myself? Alternately, is there a succinct and easily Google-able phrase that describes transporting a car for someone by driving it?

I've responded to this craigslist posting asking for someone to drive a car from Wisconsin to Arizona, in exchange for a flat cash reimbursement. The poster seems legit enough (well-written and sensible e-mails, actual local person) but I'm a little worried that this is some kind of elaborate scam. How can I get cheated here? What do I need to know, and what questions do I need to ask to avoid being taken advantage of?

I feel like this is common enough that there's probably a "dumb kid's guide to not getting duped" out there, but I can't figure out how to find it. This seems like a really cool opportunity, and I'd really like to help these people out and get a free trip to a place I've always wanted to visit. Help me feel good about it!
posted by yomimono to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Alternately, is there a succinct and easily Google-able phrase that describes transporting a car for someone by driving it?

A "drive-away service" is a company that does this commercially, handling the insurance, expenses and other logistics and finding drivers (usually twentysomethings wanting to get across a vast expanse of country on the cheap).
posted by killdevil at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

What you're looking for is "Drive away cars" and it sounds as though this car owner is trying to get around the fee charged by companies that transport cars as a business.
Check out this Travel Lady Magazine article for an overview on the subject.
At a minimum, your at risk for delivering the car in less-than-expected condition, and loosing your cash payment. You *could* also be unwittingly transferring a stolen vehicle. How do you plan to verify ownership of said vehicle?
Side note: I did this once back in the late 70's - Denver to Buffalo, NY. It was a blast, we drove a Cadillac Sedan De Ville, and were able to fit our bicycles (we were going on a bike tour) in the trunk without even taking the wheels off!
Good luck.
posted by dbmcd at 11:33 AM on January 4, 2010

I note that the asker is also likely asking about this in the context of a bike tour. This is really common as a way to get yourself and your bike back home after a long tour... you may be able to get some good info at crazyguyonabike..
posted by killdevil at 11:41 AM on January 4, 2010

Looks legit to me, and people do this all the time. Doesn't look like you'll make a profit -- they're just looking for someone who wants a free trip to AZ and a plane ticket home. Great for college students looking to get home for the holidays.

The googleable search term for this endeavor would be "driveaway."
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:48 AM on January 4, 2010

$500 is a little thin if that includes lodging, food, fuel, and your return flight. Don't forget this is winter driving, which can be nasty. What if you hit a snowstorm and have to hole up for a while and it ends up taking you two or three nights, or more? The distance is 1800 miles; say the car gets 30 miles to the gallon (generous) and gas is $2.50 a gallon, that's $150 in fuel. Hotel for one night is probably at least $50. Food for you for two days is another $50. Return flight is at least $100. Already you're at $350 minimum. A couple of extra nights and this will put you over.

A flat rate encourages you to drive long hours to minimize hotel stays and if the weather is iffy that might endanger you and the car. I would bargain for flexible compensation in the event of nasty weather so you don't have to trade off unexpected expenses against safety.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:07 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're worried about being used as a patsy by a drug lord, or being caught transporting a stolen car, I would suggest that when you take delivery of the car, you ask to see some state-issued photo ID, and take a digital camera photo of it. The person giving you the keys to his car would probably also want to see some ID from you, so you can swap details.

Then in the immensely unlikely event there's a legal problem with the car or its contents, you can point the police straight to the person who gave it to you, photo ID and all.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2010

I've done the driveaway twice, both were horror shows. Both Philly to California, once southern and once northern. One was a Mitsubishi that lost reverse and later first gear, one was a Chevy Impala with carb problems. Both were in winter, and Arizon in a freezing rain storm was not petty. $500 is not enough.
posted by fixedgear at 1:16 PM on January 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your stories. I'm not worried about the money not being sufficient; I'm set for places to stay along the way and have about a week to get the drive done in, so I should be able to avoid driving in the worst weather. I'm a camp food veteran and I know how to eat cheaply on the road. Unless the car owners send up big bright red flags when I meet them, I'll probably go through with this, following Mike1024's advice.
posted by yomimono at 3:25 PM on January 4, 2010

Best answer: I have done this once, myself.

A couple random tips:

1. Everything, everything you agree upon, do it in writing.

1b. Don't assume anything, even if you're trying to be I-trust-you-you-trust-me about the whole thing. Discuss every last thing directly.

2. Make sure you look at the title and that this person actually owns this car.

3. Ask for a letter explaining who you are and that you have permission to transport the car, so that you can show it to a police officer if you get pulled over.

I did this the last time, but didn't take it seriously. Learn from my mistake or you too may break down in the middle of an unknown state in the middle of the night: ask how long the person has owned the car (so you know how well they know it), how old it is/how many miles are on it, and ask to see repair/mechanic's records.

I also wondered what I would do if the car were found to be transporting drugs. I don't have a good solution for that. That's something you might want to figure out beforehand; I certainly will if I do it again.

That's what comes to me off the top of my head.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:54 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, also: take photos of the interior and exterior of the car before and after you drive it, for a record of its condition.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:55 PM on January 4, 2010

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