2009 Fall Auto Guide
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Make money by simply driving your car

You probably have heard stories about businesses that will pay you just to drive around with an advertisement on your car, but do these opportunities really exist? And, if so, how do you find them?

They're called "free car" programs or "get paid to drive" promotions. These programs do exist, although they aren't as plentiful as they once were. The key is knowing where to look and having what it takes to make you an ideal advertising driver.

How it works

Here's the basic premise of the "paid to drive" concept: A company seeks people -- regular citizens, not professional drivers -- to go about their normal routine as they usually do, only with a big ad plastered on their car. The ads are typically vinyl decals, also known as "auto wraps," that almost seem to be painted on the vehicle, and which often cover a large portion of the car's exterior surface.

The car owner is then compensated, usually a few hundred dollars per month, which is essentially a "rental" payment for letting the company use that space. In the past, there's also been a "free car" version of this concept. The company provided the driver with a new, prewrapped car. In this situation, the drivers usually didn't get any cash; their payment amounted to the free use of a new car. However, companies quickly discovered that giving away a bunch of free cars didn't make economic sense, so few still take this approach, says Drew Livingston, president of Free Car Media in Los Angeles.

What does the company get out of this type of ad strategy? Lots of exposure. The auto wraps tend to be colorful and eye-catching and attract lots of attention. Plus, it's a form of advertising with a captive audience, meaning people who are stuck in traffic and can't avoid seeing the wrapped car alongside them, Livingston says.

The companies usually select drivers who live in desirable locations such as high-traffic, urban areas. A company's ideal driver can vary depending upon the target demographic they want to reach, according to Brandon Clarke of DrivenMedia, a Phoenix-based advertising company that specializes in creating branded vehicle campaigns for clients. For example, a tech or electronics company may seek drivers who live on or near college campuses, so as to gain exposure with the college crowd.

The vehicles in these programs are often equipped with GPS tracking devices, so the companies can make sure the drivers spend sufficient time in the desired areas.

'Paid to drive' primetime

Paid-to-drive programs were very popular five to 10 years ago. Gas was cheaper, and people were spending more time on the road. There were plenty of Web sites devoted to these programs, including many fee-charging sites that acted as a middleman and promised to connect willing drivers with companies seeking vehicles for their ads.

Then, fuel prices spiked and people weren't spending as much time in their cars, Clarke says. At the same time, online advertising became the rage.

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These days, many of the "paid to drive" sites have since disappeared or have been abandoned without any updates in years. That doesn't surprise Clarke.

"We found early in our planning and research that this has been a tactic often explored by startups in the past that fizzled quickly. My thoughts are that they saw the opportunity as an easy way to sell ads, overlooking the critical importance of matching the right brand and the right design with the right driver. I'd imagine ... they fell victim to the warm body syndrome, where any driver they could find willing to wrap their car would do," Clarke says.

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