How to Drive Across the Country for Free

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Renting a car for a road trip is expensive, especially with hefty one-way fees. There's a much cheaper alternative, if you're flexible and a little adventurous.

You can drive across the country in someone else’s car for free. It’s called a driveaway, or auto delivery service. And yes, it’s totally legit.

While you do have to pay for gas, car delivery services offer a much less expensive alternative to renting. The cheapest one-week, Miami-to-LA, one-way rental car price quote I could recently find from Enterprise, for example, was $1,789. That includes a “drop charge” of $500, a “concession recoup fee” of $146, $117 in sales tax, and a note that “additional surcharges, local taxes, etc. may apply.” (Last year Enterprise accounted for about half of the $20.5 billion car rental industry, according to Auto Rental News.)

So what car delivery services like Auto Driveaway offer is priceless – literally. They’re a delivery company that matches drivers with cars that need shipping, and all you pay is a refundable deposit and the cost of gas. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, who recently wrote about rental rates and rip-offs, talks with the company and one happy driver in the video below. Check it out, and then read on for more details about how it works.

Auto Driveaway isn’t the only company that does this, but it’s one of the oldest (since 1952) and one of the biggest, with locations in 28 states.

Toronto Driveaway has fewer destinations available but offers trips to and from Canada. For other options, you can try calling companies in MoveCars.com’s listings or look in the phone book under something like “automobiles – transporters and driveaways.” Note, however, that most car delivery companies use trucks or professional drivers to transport cars.

Before they turn over the keys, Auto Driveaway has a few requirements. But all things considered, they’re not asking much to let you drive off in somebody else’s car. Here’s how it works:

  1. Requirements. You must be at least 23, have a license and a valid passport if you’re a foreign citizen, and have a copy of your clean driving record, which is available from your state DMV for $5-10 or can be printed at the Auto Driveaway office.
  2. Deposit. A security deposit of $350-400 is required, and refunded after you arrive safely at the destination.
  3. Restrictions. These are common sense – no eating, smoking, or alcohol, and no all-night driving. You may not be able to use the trunk space, because the owners are allowed to fill it with their stuff. Friends can come along (and that can help you cut costs more) but if they’re driving, they have to give details up front just like you.
  4. Gas. The first tank’s free, but you can’t return the car on empty. Otherwise, you’re on your own. For a Miami-to-LA trip, you’re probably looking at over $500: 2,800 miles, assuming 20 mpg and $3.75/gallon.
  5. Distance. The trip could be coast-to-coast or as little as 200 miles. While there is a deadline and mileage limit, they leave wiggle room for drivers wanting to take a leisurely pace and detours. You should be fine doing 400 miles a day.
  6. One-way. There’s no guarantee that once you reach your destination there’s going to be another car headed back where you came from. You may have to wait a while, and the site only updates the car and destination list once a week, so you have to call for more accurate listings.

Obviously, driveaways aren’t for everybody. You have to be flexible, adventurous, and trustworthy. If you’re going to stick with renting, here’s 5 Tips for a Better Deal on Rental Cars. But with some clever houseswapping or couchsurfing, driveaways can make for an almost-free road trip.

Stacy Johnson

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