I type this sitting at gate C29, Toronto airport. What happened to driving across Canada? Well, you know when your ‘too good to be true’ alarm goes off? I had that exactly a week ago when I received a telephone call from the man at hittheroad.ca to ask me if I’d like to drive a convertible from Toronto to Vancouver.
Here’s the deal… you get to drive the 2700 mile journey across the second largest country in the world for free! Yes, for free! All you have to do I suppose is contribute a little towards the petrol costs, in this case around $150 (??100).
The story began a few weeks prior when I first discovered the companies who operate ‘drive-away’ schemes. I contacted torontodriveaway.ca who told me that they had a vehicle to deliver to British Columbia but it needed to leave immediately. Unfortunately, we were embarking on our trip around the Eastern provinces (see below for detail) so were unable to take the opportunity. The company had been recommended not only by the Lonely Planet guide, but also by a friend who had done a similar journey a couple of decades ago. They were obviously a professional outfit, they had an office, photos of their staff online and when I called them they were pragmatic about the chances of delivering a vehicle.
I then found canadadriveaway.com, also based out of Toronto. The business had an informative website, oddly linked to hittheroad.ca, and a twitter stream advertising a plethora of vehicles which needed transporting in our direction. Perfect. I filled out the details and emailed them over.
Immediately I received a response asking if we could take a car. A convertible Chrysler Seabring no less. Amazing, but it needed delivering before we had finished our trip out East. I negotiated a little but every reply to my email was a one line answer. I may be alone, but when you type and email with, say 3 or 4 questions on it, and you get a one line response which answers one of the queries, it is a tad frustrating.
Many emails followed about prospective cars, the website brandished numerous vehicles going to BC, the twitter stream constantly advertised numerous opportunities to take a car, it all seemed like it was going to be no problem.
As our trip East drew to a close, it came time to finalise details and actually make it happen. I emailed… no response. After a while it became apparent that we were out of luck and had missed the boat. But there were still a bunch of cars, on the website and twitter stream, which needed to go. Eventually we booked flights, not only because they were cheap but because we needed to get back to Vancouver for potential job interviews. I emailed Canadadriveaway and got an immediate response to tell me that it was our lucky day. There was a vehicle to go. I telephoned the airline and they told me we had 24 hours to cancel our flight without penalty… perfect!
There’s always a ‘but’…
I was told the final details needed to be sorted and that I would be called back in 5 minutes. Anyway, six hours and two voicemails later I did get a return call to say it was all happening, I just needed to lay down a $500 deposit from my credit card. I asked for some details about the car. Namely, where it was located and where it was required to be delivered. ‘I can’t tell you that’ was the response. Now, I don’t think I would be the only person in the world to get alarm bells at this point. I just didn’t feel comfortable paying for something which may not have existed, despite the seemingly genuine nature of the business. My other feeling is that you can always tell a scam when the perpetrator gets agitated when confronted. Sure enough, I got a bit of an earful when I tried to express my unease with laying down a hefty deposit when he couldn’t even tell me where I would be picking up and delivering the car. When pressed about a rough location, I got an ‘Umm’ an ‘Err’ and then two rather odd locations, one being Port Dover, a small fishing village about an hour out of Toronto, and Cowichan, which was described as a ‘suburb of Vancouver’. It’s actually a small town on Vancouver Island.
So I bailed out and now am about to fly instead. Perhaps we’ll try again in the Autumn.