How to Drive-Away

By Michael J. Legeros

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, 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

   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,
     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

   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

   o And, of course, consult, the au
     thor's own, exhaustive account.  A mere 30,000+ words.
     Plus pics.

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros


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