Fly to Florida, let these guys drive your car down from Toronto
Several services will drive your vehicle to Florida and back to make your winter getaway more enjoyable.
For years, Marvin drove his car down to Florida every November, ready for six months in the sun at his second home in Boca Raton. Not this year, though — not as he’s soon to turn 79. His wife Sandy put her foot down.
“I used to enjoy it immensely, but Mother Superior put a stop to it,” he said wistfully on a recent weekend. “I’ve had some minor surgeries and we agreed to it. It’s a wonderful trip. I used to do it alone, overnight, but she doesn’t want me to do it and it’s not worth an argument.”
We’re only using Marvin’s first name to preserve his privacy while he’s away from home for an extended period of time.
He was especially wistful because his immaculate 2012 Jaguar XF was parked outside a pre-arranged meeting place, its trunk and back seat loaded with a winter’s worth of luggage, and he was handing the keys to a stranger.
“I was nervous until I met (the driver) — nobody drives my car but me — but we talked for half an hour and I trust him. I think I’m a pretty good judge of people,” said Marvin.
This is the first time he has entrusted his Jag to anyone, let alone a Florida driveaway delivery service. The stranger across the table was vetted and screened, and the 63-year-old has a long record of incident-free deliveries for his employer, Cars To Florida.
“To me, it’s an adventure to be out on the road — I’m entertained by the adventure,” said Kim Martin, a retired manager with NCR Corp. who likes to deliver a car every month in wintertime.
“I’ve been doing this since 2013. My mother died in late 2012. I’m single, never been married, and now I’m going to travel. I spent several years with mom as she decayed through Parkinson’s and now is the time — there’s nothing in front of me, let’s do this.”
There are three driveaway services in Canada and they’re all based in Toronto. The original is Toronto Drive-Away, founded in 1959. It offers space on a weekly truck for $1,400, or door-to-door service for $875 plus the cost of fuel. Drivers are checked and approved, with clean licences and no criminal record, and they must be at least 30 years old.
Jean Scott has been with the company since 1974 and said things are very different now. “You didn’t need the paperwork you need now,” she said. “This is not an easy business — it’s become a very complicated business — and you have to have your hands on, otherwise you’re going to make a mess.”
The cars and their owner’s luggage are considered commercial goods, so the drivers must cross the border with the transport trucks. They’re expected to drive directly to wherever the owner requests for delivery at a specific time and date. Often, the owner wants to be met at the airport on arrival in the south — as Marvin asked for with his Jaguar. A little extra distance is permitted for detours.
Drivers are paid an allowance of around $500 to cover expenses and a flight home — this isn’t a job, but an opportunity to make a long drive interesting in somebody else’s car. Most are ordinary vehicles, like Toyota Camrys and Dodge minivans, but there are some expensive exceptions. Drivers must also pay a deposit up front, to be held against any damage.
“This isn’t employment for a driver,” said David Smaller of Canada DriveAway. “This is not about earning money. This is about a budget travel opportunity. You have to want a road trip.”
Like the others, Smaller’s company specializes in delivering snowbirds’ cars to Florida and Arizona, but also delivers cars year-round across Canada and the U.S. This summer, he personally delivered a client’s Dodge Challenger from Winnipeg to Boston.
It doesn’t necessarily make sense if you lease your car and don’t want to pay for 3,000 extra kilometres every winter, but otherwise, Smaller said the cost can be as much as half the price of a truck or train if a driver delivers it personally.
It’s also much more convenient, and reliable. Many approved drivers are firefighters or police officers, or recent retirees with time on their hands.
Darren Francisco is an Air Canada pilot who drove a few years ago for Toronto Drive-Away, but he has since founded Cars To Florida. His business model is similar except there’s no charge for gas: it costs a flat $950 to deliver a car from Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal to anywhere in Florida, or $1,000 for an SUV.
“I wanted to keep the whole thing painless and simple,” he said. “It’s working, too. Last year, our business grew 43 per cent. The previous year, it was up 40 per cent.
“I would say 80 per cent of our clients are Toronto to Florida, but we are growing very rapidly in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Those cities are mushrooming for us. We’re starting to pick up in Calgary as well. ”
Two of Marvin’s friends recommended Francisco’s company to him and, after his wife’s ultimatum, he handed the keys to Martin. A week later, he sent an email to update us on the vehicle’s arrival.
“His delivery was perfect,” he wrote. “On time, car was clean and full of gas. What more could one ask for?”
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