After looking over my car history it would be fair to say that I like cars. The way I look at cars definitely changed over the last decade progressing from valuing silly things like ability to go off-roading (twice a year) in my Wrangler and speed/power of my departed BMWs to the “smiles per gallon” in my fuel-efficient and surprisingly practical MINI Cooper. Yet, I’m still infatuated with everything car-related, following the latest news whenever I can – mostly on my Flipboard app lately. It’s a free hobby nowadays and my bank account is thankful.
A while ago I stumbled upon a neat way to combine cars with making money. It’s an unusual combination because cars are infamous for being a money sucking vacuum hose attached directly to your wallet. Payments, gas, maintenance, insurance and the big D (depreciation) are all working to subtract dollar bills from your budget 24/7. I did find a couple of ways to reverse debits into credits on several occasions: getting paid to fix a couple of issues is one; flipping cars for profit is another; re-selling a few parts on Craigslist and Ebay worked out well too. All of these require its own set of skills and time to execute. So when I learned about test-driving cars to make a few extra bucks I thought – why not?
I received my first invite in the mail years ago. It came from Mazda and they were offering $50 for test-driving any of their new models. Fifty bucks for 30 minutes of my time sounded pretty good plus I’d get to drive a new car. I called a dealer and made an appointment. After the test drive I told the salesperson that I was not interested in buying a car just yet but he insisted we sit down and “run the numbers”. After about 10 minutes of going back and forth, he realized that there will be no sale and signed the paperwork needed to get the $50 Visa card. I sent it all out and a month or so later I got my prepaid Visa card in the mail. I was hooked!
Not long after that I came across this thread on Fatwallet.com. It turns out you don’t have to wait for an invitation in the mail but can pro-actively sign up for a paid test-drive promotion. Fatwallet’s thread is continuously updated with new deals so I started to check it regularly.
I ended up “test-driving” a few cars since then. In quotes because a lot of car dealers don’t even make you do it. Being upfront with the salesperson I tell them that I have an invitation but I’m not in the market for a car at the moment. Dealers don’t want to waste their time and put miles on a car so they usually just sign the form and send me on my way. While I actually don’t mind test-driving a car, I’m not going to argue with their logic.
My most recent experience was just yesterday. I found a deal where Kia Motors America is offering a $25 prepaid card to test-drive one of their vehicles before March 31, 2014. After filling out a short web page form I received an email with a link to download a Test Drive Certificate. I printed out a one page form that had my name, address and a personal priority code along with the address where this form had to be sent after a test drive. It just so happens that there is a Kia dealership right next door to my barbershop. On my way back from work I figured I’d get a haircut and swing by the dealership to get them to fill out the certificate.
Arriving at the dealership I was greeted by an overly friendly salesperson and the conversation went something like this:
SP: Hi, welcome to Kia. What brings you here today.
Me: Hi, I have an invitation to test-drive one of your cars.
SP: Great! Let me take a look…Oh, yes I’ve seen a couple of these before. Can I ask you if you are really interested in buying a car today?
Me: No, not today. I’m happy with my current car at the moment.
SP: OK then. Would you like me to just fill out this form for you?
Me: Sure, that would be great. I don’t want to waste your time.
After this brief interchange the salesperson disappeared with the form for a few minutes and I had a chance to check out their inventory. I gotta say – it’s not your 1990’s Kia any more! All of their cars looked great and the interiors were top-notch. I’d be happy driving any one of them. And after seeing a 2014 Kia Soul in person I think it would make a nice family car to replace my wife’s aging sedan. Decent amount of space in a compact wagon form with great fuel efficiency at a sub-20K price new (or around 10K in a few short years).
Back at home, I took a picture of the completed certificate for my records and mailed out the original. Now all’s left is to wait for the $25 prepaid card.
Naturally, there are some questions.
Is it really worth the trouble?
To me – yes, but only if a dealer is close by. I wouldn’t bother if I had to drive out-of-the-way to get there. I consider it fun too because I get to hang around new cars. I’ll admit it’s a little weird to walk into a dealership to get a form filled out, especially with them being so excited about a potential prey …errr customer, but I got over that long time ago after receiving my first $50.
But what about the dealer? Is it moral to do this?
I don’t see a problem for the individual dealership. I’m being upfront with them so as to not waste their time. When I walk into a dealership a salesperson is always just standing around so I don’t see how 5 minutes of his time changes anything. Furthermore, this promotion is not done by a dealership, but by the brand’s headquarters. They allocate advertising dollars every year and these test drives are just a small slice of that budget. Otherwise they would just spend it on more annoying TV ads. There is no obligation to buy anything. The idea is to get more people into their showrooms in hopes that some end up purchasing a new car. It’s a numbers game, pure and simple. While I won’t be buying a new car anytime soon, I can honestly say that I’d probably consider a Kia whenever we decide to upgrade. Is this distant chance worth $25 to Kia Motors? Only they know that. I would say yes, especially considering that I’m writing about Kia in this blog, in a positive light, which would never happen otherwise.
Fun fact: “The Official Free Money for Test-Driving cars” thread on Fatwallet.com was originally posted in 2005 and has close to 500,000 views. It’s obvious that there are lots of people going to dealerships mostly to get in on the free cash handed out by auto companies.
As for me, I’ll continue watching internet forums for new test-drive offers. Gotta pay for those haircuts somehow!
Update: I received my $25 prepaid VISA card exactly 1 month after mailing in the claim form. Five minutes later money was transferred to my bank account via Amazon Payments as I described in this post. Easy money!
Readers, what do you think about test-driving cars for money with no immediate intention to buy one? Awesome or shady? Would you do it? Why or why not?