|legeros.com > Writing > How to Drive-Away|
Goin' somewhere? Need a car? How 'bout a *free* car? If it's a one-way ride, consider using something called a "drive-away," a "loaner" that's *already* going from Point A to Point B. And all it needs is a driver... Interested? Well, first you need to find a drive-away firm. Check the yellow pages under "auto transporters." Or try searching an Internet "phonebook site," such as www.switchboard.com, for business names containing "au- to," "transport," "drive," "away," etc. And, if you're not sure what a particular company offers, just ask outright. "Do y'all do drive-aways?" That'll cut to the chase and you'll get an im- mediate answer of either "no" or "yes, where are going?" See, once you find a *company*, you still have to find a *car*-- a car that's going where you want to go. Or, at the very least, in the same direction. Such as what happened this summer, when Yours Truly drove from Seattle to Raleigh using a drive-away de- livered to ... Alexandria, Virginia. Yeah, I had to alter my route-- my ostensibly extensively *plotted* route-- as well as rent a car for the remainder. But I did save several hundred smackers on *other* rental fees, as the original plan involved an eleven-day rental! So what's the catch, then, provided you find both a drive-away company and a "free car" that's going where you are? FIRST, there's a time limit. X days to get there, averaging Y hundred miles per. It'll be padded, though, so won't have to break your neck. Heck, you may even be prohibited from driving at night! SECOND, there's a mileage limit. The direct dis- tance, plus X hundred extra. They know you'll wanna sightsee, or visit people, or just explore some long, winding, wandering road to nowhere. Not to mention any "alternate routes," be they intentional or otherwise. (During the aforementioned August ad- venture, a Certain Someone confused east and west and spent a scenic solid hour driving in circles in southeastern PA.) Obvi- ously, there's a per-mile charge should you exceed your limit. Like I did. THIRD, you're not allowed to pick up hitchhikers. Damn. The company may also have restrictions on *other* passengers. Same for other *drivers*. Not surprisingly. For *your* approval, though, you'll need a valid driver's license. Duh. Plus a per- sonal reference or two, and the name of whoever's awaiting your arrival. (Legal trivia: if you're never heard from again *and* you cross at least one state line, then the FBI can be called!) And, last but never least-- especially when involving one's wal- let-- you'll have to provide a deposit. Presumably cash, which you'll get back at the time of delivery. (And if said dead presidents *don't* make an appearance, you'll probably be told not turn over the keys!) FOURTH, and most potentially prickly, you'll have to keep the car clean. Or at least "as is." Meaning, no eating or drink- ing. You'll be expected to check the oil as needed. Same for other "levels," such as tire pressure or radiator fluid. In the event of breakdown or other required repairs, you'll probably call the company if the dollar amount is greater than X. And you'll keep your receipts, as any repairs-- major *or* minor-- will likely be the owner's problem. (Needless to say, lower- mileage vehicles are favored for such programs over higher-.) What *I* did at the start of my 4030-mile schlep was... drive to Wal-Mart, where I purchased cheapo floor mats, cheapo bed sheets (white), and one, big, ol' plastic box in which was placed motor oil, Fix-A-Flat, and other sundry supplies. The new mats were placed over the existing mats; the sheets were draped over the seats, and I was free to track mud in from puddles or ride sans shirt while simultaneously both shedding and sweating profusely. (More on the post-delivery forensics report at a later date...) Ergo, the four "catches" of a drive-away. One free car for the proverbial taking, but with limits on how long and how far you can drive. And rules about eating, drinking, or shedding. And no hitchhikers, so you'll have to *wave* at those leg-showing, heel-wearing, busty blondes-by-the-roadside. (As they *are* such a common sight, at least if MTV has taught us anything...) As for the *author's* experience-- admittedly both his one and *on- ly* drive-away to date-- 'twas an unbridled success. And I was- n't even riding a horse! Ha! Just a plain, plum-silver, stick- drive Saturn station wagon. With dual baby seats, for maximum un-coolness. (The pink, fuzzy dice I'd packed, however, helped to offset the Square Factor [SF].) And I'd do again. And hope- fully *will* do it again, in 2002, for a *second* cross-country tour. Next time, though, I'll be better planned. Erred and learned, but with that precious by-product called "experience." Here, then, is some of what I figgered out. Maybe they'll be of benefit. See you on the highway... Mike's Tips For Drive-Away Drivers ================================== o Contact the company soon as you have an inkling of your route. Ask a million questions. o Be flexible, both with dates and routes. o Make contingency plans, such as rental-car reservations. You can always cancel. o Become a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA). Free maps and tour book are nice, but the custom Trip-Tiks are the piece-de-resistance. Especially when can walk into any office, in any city, and request added pages as needed. You know, for late changes. o Bring pens, magic markers, and highlighters for use with said Trip-Tik. The former, for jotting notes as you go; the latter, for marking roads and drive-this-way direction- al arrows in big, fat, easy-to-read colored ink. o E-mail everyone you know, asking what *they* know about the road soon-to-be-traveled. Who knows what sights, shortcuts, or speed traps that might otherwise go unno ticed? o Inquire about road construction, either through AAA or a particular state's Department of Transportation. (Check the Web for the latter. Most, if not all state DOTs have an Internet presence.) If construction delays are encoun tered en route, check a map for roads or highways parallel to yours. o Find a copy of National Geographic's "Driving Across America." Either the countrywide or regional volumes. o For other tour guides, check either AAA or your local pub lic library. o Buy a pre-paid long-distance calling card. The fees are murder any other way. o Carry a deactivated cell phone. Per Federal law, it can still dial "911." o Buy and bring a stack of postcard stamps. If you're the type to go postal... o And don't forget to bring your address book. o Buy or bring a compass. Duh. o Bring music and/or books-on-tape. Depending where you're driving, radio offerings may pale far beyond any imagined, worst-case-oh-I'm-sure-I'll-find-something-to-listen-to scenario. Such as a spot in Utah where only *two* radio stations can be received. On both dials combined. o Before driving away the drive-away, examine the exterior from top to bottom. Interior, too. Don't be afraid to amend anything they've already found. o Take some pictures of the car before heading out to the highway. Just in case any post-delivery dents or dings get blamed back on you. o Have an extra key made. Store extra key in wallet, purse, or underwear. o Overestimate your travel time. Especially if you're prone to frequent stopping. You'll be surprised at just how long it *does* take to drive, say, 300 miles a day. o Visitors centers have coupons for hotels. o Hotels have brochures in the lobby. o Brochures make fine, free souvenirs. o Emergency provisions that make a minimal mess: PayDay candy bars and bottled water. o For socks, soap, and other sundries, buy as you go. You won't have to pack as much. Or, alternately, *ship* as you go. You won't have to tote as much. o Ask for a discount at every hotel. Eh, you have nothing to lose... o Live dangerously and don't call a single soul for the dura- tion. Or, if you're paranoid, call someone at the end of each day. That'll give a *general* area of the ditch that you'll be lying dead in. o For recommendations on anything, anywhere, find a local fire station. They'll know the area up, down, and three ways from Sunday *and* be happy to have visitors! o Take lots of pictures. Film is cheap. So is developing, if you shop around. (Sam's Club, $2 for 24 exposure, 4 inch prints.) Repeat trips are much, much, *much* more expensive. o And, of course, consult http://www.legeros.com/essays/bt/, the au thor's own, exhaustive account. A mere 30,000+ words. Plus pics. Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros
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