Adam Wuisman wanted to take a road trip as soon as his university studies were over. However, upon graduation from the University of Toronto, he was pretty much broke.
Solution: Sign up with Canada DriveAway and hit the road with a stranger's car.
"I love travelling," he says, "but I had no money. This let me drive a nice car and stop along the way if I see something interesting. If I was working, I'd probably be saving up just so I could travel anyway."
Since October of last year, Wuisman has used DriveAway's service eight times. "I've been to West Palm Beach, Texas and California. … among others." He just arrived back in Toronto, driving a Dodge Sprinter from Vancouver. "Plenty of room for my stuff in that one," he laughs.
The concept is straightforward. Canada DriveAway has a list of privately owned cars that need to be taken from point A to point B, and once you pass muster, you're given the keys, pickup and drop-off points, a little expense money, and are expected to deliver the car in one piece and in a timely manner. All paperwork – including a border-crossing manifest – is handled by DriveAway.
"We get cars from a variety of sources," says company owner/founder David Smaller. "For example, northbound snowbirds who need their car relocated from, oh, West Palm Beach to Toronto, people who are relocating for work or school, or people who can't afford a truck hauler … just average folks who don't have a lot of money and need to get their vehicle transported."
Smaller says car owners use companies such as his because it is convenient and fast. "We can have a car in B.C. before a train has even left Ontario," he says.
Smaller almost always has a small stable of cars on the go. For example, he just had a 2012 Nissan Sentra delivered from Nepean, Ont., to Langley, B.C., and the driver's budget was $600. Out of that, the driver was expected to pay for food and accommodation, and had to make their own way back home. The driver's fuel costs were reimbursed once the car was delivered.
Canada DriveAway charges $1,050-$1,250 to transport a car across the country, says Smaller. The same trip by rail would cost $1,500-$1,600 and $1,100-$1,200 by transport truck. However, both rail and transport truck go from terminal to terminal. If the Langley car owner has used one of the latter two options, the vehicle would have had to be picked up in Vancouver.
However, with drive-away services, car owners risk getting an improperly screened driver who may steal or destroy the car, while drivers who sign on to deliver a vehicle sometimes have to contend with owners who try to claim damages where there are none.
Smaller, a former social worker, got into the drive-away game after he was laid off in 2008 and tried his hand at the "eco-ethical clothing" business. He needed an inexpensive way to hawk his wares. "Money was tight and I had to figure out a way to drive across Canada." By his own admission, Smaller borrowed the concept for Canada DriveAway from another company and started up a sister company, HitTheRoad.ca, which still exists. "I just kind of put it out there," he says.
People eager to use this service come from everywhere, says Smaller, "but we seem to get a lot of Europeans who are over here on work visas and want to see the country. For them, this kind of setup is perfect."
Most deliveries have a set time frame, but there is occasionally some wiggle room for those who want to do side trips. "We had a guy who managed to stretch a 10-day trip into two weeks, but that was unusual," says Smaller. Drivers are allowed one passenger, and owner ride-alongs are discouraged.
Smaller says the cars are mostly run-of-the-mill vehicles: Corollas, Kias and Buicks. Occasionally, the odd Jag or BMW becomes available.
"We're not just relocating a vehicle," he says. "This is collaborative consumption."
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