Like university students everywhere, Adam Wuisman wanted to take a road trip as soon as his studies were over. Problem was, once he graduated from the University of Toronto, he was pretty much broke.
Solution: sign up with Canada DriveAway and frappe’ la route with someone else’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 availed himself of DriveAway’s services eight times. “I’ve been to West Palm Beach, Texas, and California….among others.” He just got back to Toronto, in fact, driving a Dodge Sprinter from Vancouver. “Plenty of room for my stuff in that one,” he laughs.
The concept is pretty 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 and off you go. You’re given pick-up 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,” explains 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.”
Ex-social worker Smaller got into the drive-away business 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 his concept for Canada DriveAway from another company and started up sister company, HitTheRoad.ca, which still exists. “I just kind of put it out there,” he says.
It hasn’t been an overnight success, and nobody’s getting rich here, but he almost always has a small stable of cars on the go and on most trips, if you play your cards right, there may be a bit of money left over. For example, Smaller just had a 2012 Nissan Sentra delivered from Nepean, Ontario to Langley, BC, and the 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.
People who want to see the world this way come from everywhere, according to 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 set-up is perfect.” Although most deliveries have a set time frame, there can occasionally be some wiggle room for those who want to do side trips. “We had a guy who managed to stretch a ten-day trip into two weeks, but that was unusual.” Drivers are allowed one passenger, and owner ride-alongs are discouraged.
As for the cars, they too run the gamut, but much of the time, they’re pretty run-of-the-mill conveyances….Corollas, Kias, and Buicks, according to Smaller, but occasionally, the odd Jag or BMW becomes available.
“We’re not just relocating a vehicle,” he adds. “This is collaborative consumption.”
ON THE OTHER HAND
- These are not rental cars. They’re privately owned and the owners can be sensitive about any damage.
- References and a damage deposit are necessary. DriveAway requires $500.
- Smallers’ company is not the only game in town; there are others: TorontoDriveAway, CarsToFlorida, and ProfessionalDrivers offer similar services, but in all cases, a security deposit will be required.
- The car may be filled to capacity with the owners’ possessions, not leaving much leftover cargo space.
- You need to provide a clean drivers license and abstract.
- You need to be at least 25 years old.
- You don’t have to drive hell-bent for leather, but there won’t be time for extended side-trips.