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How to live the American roadtrip dream on a budget

Updated on January 27, 2010

Driveaways - the smart traveller's rental car.

Cruising the highways and byways on a  roadtrip is, for sure, the iconic way to travel around America.. With both ample time and money available there is surely no better way to take in the scale and diversity the US offers the traveler.

Unfortunately travel opportunities for most of us with wanderlust are often hampered by the rarity of having both time and money available at the same time! Well, here it is amigos, I’m about to share a gem of travel knowledge with you. Ready? OK; you can drive around the States for free! Nada? Well, maybe not literally for nothing but you can get a ride for next to nothing and that is going to save you some big bugs on your road trip.

Driveaways are the awesome system that will get you on the road. This is a system that has been common in America for decades where companies relocate their customers’ cars all over the country. To do this they often use casual drivers, which is where the smart traveller can help with a win/win deal that gets them a vehicle to travel in without the costs of renting or buying.

Grab a driveaway car to visit Vegas

Vegas is a fascinating place to visit on your driveaway road trip.
Vegas is a fascinating place to visit on your driveaway road trip.

How a driveaway works.

Typically a driveaway will involve the following procedure. You register with the driveaway company and will have to leave a refundable deposit of around $US300-500. They'll also have a set of your fingerprints of you; you know, just in case you like the car too much! Vehicles are supplied with a full tank of fuel after which the driver is usually responsible for fill-ups although urgent deliveries may come with extra fuel to get them on the way. The car will be covered by insurance but if you prang it expect to loose your deposit. Any minor repairs required on-route you're expected to organise and pay for; which will then be refunded by the owner upon delivery. Anything major you refer back to the driveaway company.

I know, I know, this sounds too good to be true! I can tell what you're thinking now. There you are in that classic Chevy, cruising Route 66, baby beside you at the wheel. Easy tiger. There are, of course, some drawbacks. It is unlikely you'll find your dream wheels waiting to be delivered to your ideal destination. A large slice of flexibility is required to make the most of driveaway opportunities. You might fancy a Corvette to Los Angeles but end up in a Toyota going to Atlanta!

The reality with driveaways is that most of the traffic is between major cities and will be late model popular vehicles. There is also a seasonal element with many vehicles heading South in the fall, you can live with that, right?

If you are heading for a specific destination you may not have much choice of vehicle. If you’re flexible as to destination, and hope to drive on further, consider the onward possibilities of each destination to try and avoid getting stuck in a dead end with little option other than retracing your route in.

Once you’ve agreed to deliver a vehicle the driveaway company will issue you with a route and timescale. Just like with a hire car you should give the vehicle a thorough inspection for any existing damage. Generally drivers are expected to spend up to eight hours behind the wheel and cover up to 400 miles a day cruising on freeways. A fairly generous amount of time and mileage is built in, so it is possible to make small diversions to see things on route, though not to stray completely off the route. On a trip from Dallas to San Diego we realized we’d forgotten our tent and had to backtrack over a hundred miles but still managed to stay within our allowed mileage and see a bit on the way.

During your trip you’ll obviously have some food and accommodation expenses, though the States are wonderfully cheap compared to Europe. There are always budget hotels and camping in State and National parks, which are worthwhile diversions in any case. You should also have the funds for any minor vehicle expenses that will be refunded on delivery.

When you arrive at the car’s destination you phone the owner and arrange a time to deliver the car. In our experience people are usually very happy to see their wagon again and will invariably offer to drive you back to your lodgings after you’ve done the inevitable paperwork.

Driveaways are a fantastic way of living out the American road trip dream on a shoestring budget. You’ll need to be flexible and approach it with a sense of adventure. The delivery process also means you meet people and see inside their homes, which is a lot more interesting than dropping off a rental car.

Visit Auto Driveaway for an idea of some of the cars currently awaiting drivers.


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