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How to drive across the country for free

Renting a car for a road trip is expensive, especially with hefty one-way fees. There's a much cheaper alternative.

By Stacy Johnson Aug 1, 2011 10:20AM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.

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. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, who has done this himself, talks with one company and one happy driver in the video below. Check it out, then read on for more details about how it works.

Renting a car for a one-way trip can be expensive. The cheapest one-week, Miami-to-Los Angeles 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, sales tax of $117, 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. 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'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:

  • Requirements. You must be at least 23, have a driver's license, have 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 to $10 or can be printed at the Auto Driveaway office.
  • Deposit. A security deposit of $350 to $400 is required, and refunded after you arrive safely at the destination.
  • 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.
  • Gas. The first tank is free, and 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 more than $500: 2,800 miles, assuming 20 mpg and $3.75 a gallon.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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, and you should be aware that coming up with a car can take time. But if you're flexible, adventurous, and have a clean driving record, it's something to consider.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Aug 17, 2011 9:32PM
Haven't done it yet, but.. best if can plan out the return trip in advance.  Greyhound to cheap plane ticket.  Even better if relocating to go to college, etc.

From earlier research, the driveaway company can't guarantee the car will not break down, but they are supposed to include road service in the insurance.  A thorough checkout would save disputes over damages.
Finally, to see the ultimate driveaway story on film, check out "Moving' with Dana Carvey as the role model delivering to Richard Pryor.

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