When I drove from Florida to Toronto last year, I got money for it and someone else even covered the gas. Even better, I was in a 2007 Lexus RX 350, a big comfortable SUV. How was it possible?
I applied to one of two snowbird services in the GTA that reward drivers for ferrying late-model BMWs, Mercedes, Audis and Lexuses to and from Florida. They also provide all the documentation required to cross the border.
If your timing is right, you might luck into a 2009 BMW X3, 2008 Cadillac or 2008 Lincoln, the cars Toronto Driveaway had on its books last week for dates this month. But you might end up with the choice of a late-model Malibu, Camry or Accord, still not bad if your own ride is a 10-year-old sedan.
The best range of vehicles is between now and Christmas, also the period you might get the maximum $400 from Toronto Driveaway or Cars to Florida.
Those companies arrange drivers for folks who want their cars in Florida for the winter but don't like making the long drive south themselves.
"We have a lot of customers in that period and we've got to make it happen for them," says Toronto Driveaway owner Ron Coady, who has connected snowbirds with drivers for 50 years. "Then we need plenty of drivers in the spring to bring them back."
I brought the Lexus back from Key Biscayne, just south of Miami, in March. It was a nice feeling, humming along and getting paid.
The sign-up process is pretty simple. Call Coady's North York number, ask about available cars in your time frame and select one, assuming he needs drivers at the time. Toronto Driveaway offers an online application and if you're accepted after a background check, the company sends out a contract plus information on how to get in touch with the owner of the vehicle you'll be delivering.
You need to put down a minimum deposit of $300 as part of the contract and agree to deliver the car within three days and in the condition you received it. You deliver it to the owner's Florida address and have the owner sign a document showing you've met all the conditions of the contract.
That includes a limit on how many kilometres you put on the vehicle. So no extensive side trips or you pay a penalty.
You mail that form with all gas receipts to the company and a few weeks later you get a cheque covering your fee, the gas and your deposit.
Cars to Florida, which Darren Francisco started in 2007 after driving several cars for Coady's company, may stipulate the car be delivered to connect with the snowbird's flight south. He already has a partial roster of drivers, many of them retired or active commercial airline pilots.
Crossing the U.S. border could be the toughest part of the trip. Even with all the proper documentation, a customs official may look long and hard at you, perhaps even search the vehicle.
"You know you are responsible for all contents of the vehicle?" I was warned when I crossed at Buffalo on a separate trip south.
Then he looked at a copy of the owner's passport and said, "Gee, this guy is 91," as if he'd be an unlikely source of contraband.
On this occasion, an elderly friend considered the snowbird services but they limit contents to the trunk and the floor of the back seat and he and his wife needed to fill the car, a 2007 Buick Lucerne CR/CXL.
It was a cushy ride and he offered more flexibility in time and would pay all my expenses, including return airfare, gas, meals and accommodation for two nights. That worked out to almost $700, better for me and better for him than the $850 Toronto Driveaway charges and the $800 Cars to Florida bills.
When returning the Lexus to Toronto, I had to stretch my $300, the amount I received from Toronto Driveaway.
But a cheap flight south to pick up the car and some economy motels made it possible to handle all travelling expenses.
In each of three trips delivering cars I added a few days of pure holiday, taking in spring training baseball, checking out Miami's South Beach, and exploring Fort Myers and St. Augustine.
As for misadventures, Toronto Driveaway's Coady doesn't like to dwell on them, but he does recall a comical episode when he was moving newer, used vehicles to British Columbia.
"The driver was taking a Cadillac convertible to Vancouver. He stopped at an orchard and as he was helping himself to some apples a horse came out of a field and began to eat the convertible top."
The owner's insurance took care of the damage.
Toronto Driveaway has a limited number of cars available for Arizona, California and western Canada too, but Florida destinations are the prime business.
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