What is your favorite type of rental car on a holiday? A classic sedan, a fully-stocked RV or a cheerfully-painted hippie camper? What if I told you you can rent any of these vehicles for $1 a day? That’s right, it’s not an urban myth! It’s called car relocation and in this guide I will let you in on this inexpensive way to travel from city to city. Sometimes you can even make money by using this little-known travel hack! Car relocations can be found all over the world, and several of the big car rental companies have them hidden on their websites. First, let’s take a step back and tell you a bit more about how it works.
How do car relocations work?
Imagine owning a car rental company. A lot of customers hire a car to go from one city to another, but as some routes are more popular than others you may end up having too many cars in one depot and too little in the other. What will you do? Hire people to drive the car back? Yes, that’s one option, but quite an expensive one. This is where car relocations comes in. The car rental company lets you drive the car to the branch that needs it most. The catch? You have a limited timeframe to take the car from point A to B. The perks? There are many, so read on and find out.
Popular car relocation routes
At the moment of writing (2016), you can find car relocation deals in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, United Kingdom and several other countries in Europe. In each country there are a few popular routes where you will have the most chance of finding a relocation deal.
Australia has many car relocation routes between its major cities and points of interest, such as: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart (Tasmania, and it includes a ferry trip), Brisbane, Alice Springs, Cairns, Airlie Beach and Townsville.
Many people who rent a car in New Zealand drive from the north island to the south island, or the other way around. The route from Christchurch to Auckland is a very popular one, and you will surely be able to find a nice deal. These are the cities that regularly have car relocation deals: Christchurch, Blennheim, Nelson, Picton, Greymouth, Wellington (+ airport), Auckland, Queenstown and Invercargill.
In America the car relocations you can find will be mostly on the west coast, or on the west side of the country. Popular car relocation destinations: Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando, San Diego, Forest City (Iowa), Seattle and Denver.
The car relocation system isn’t very developed yet in Canada, and at this point can mostly be found on the east side of the country, for instance in Halifax and Toronto.
Finding car relocations through Imoova
I looked on Imoova (formally known as Standbyrelocs) every morning. They have a good overview of the relocation deals of several car rental companies, and they update every morning at 10:00am. You can see where and when the car needs to be picked up and dropped off; which vehicle you’ll get; how many days and kilometers are allowed and if there’s extra compensation.
You can call them, and they’ll tell you if a deal is still available. You will pay a AUD $25 holding fee, which is refunded when you drop off the car. Also, the rental company will charge your credit card a liability bond of AUD $500-2500. In my experience, the bond was generally around AUD $1000.
They put an authorization hold on your credit card for the bond amount, so no actual money is charged to your credit card. If you return the car and they’ve checked the car, the hold falls off the account. Have a good look at their terms and conditions section, especially the part on cancellation fees.
You pay them anywhere between $1-25 Australian dollars per day for the car. Sometimes you get fuel compensation, which could be worth AUD$100-500. Ferry expenses may also be covered (e.g., crossings at Adelaide, Melbourne and Tasmania) or, if they really need to have a car over fast, you could receive AUD$100 extra!
My experience with car relocation and campervan relocation in Australia
I drove roughly 13,000 kilometers around the country by myself and nothing bad happened. Sure I killed some lizards and parrots and had encounters with kangaroos, but that’s all part of the adventure. Even when a door handle of the 4×4 motor home I was driving broke off, they told me to use a screwdriver and they refunded the repair costs (Apollo Rentals refunds all repairs under AUD $50).
I did run into a little problem with a fairly unknown rental company I used for the drive from Cairns back to Sydney airport (ironically, the last drive I made in Australia). I rented the car for AUD $10/day with some fuel compensation. Before taking off, the rental company rep checked the car and filled out the intake form. The rep noted some small damage on the car but didn’t note the huge scratch and dent on the back which I didn’t see until I made a stop for groceries. I immediately called the rental company to tell them they forgot to put this on the form.
“No worries, we’ll fix it,” I was told. When I got to Sydney, the girl at the counter checked the car and noted the dent and scratch, but told me my call wasn’t put in the system. I had to hurry because my plane would leave not long after I returned the car, so once again I got a “no worries.” A month or two later, I checked my credit card statements and found that the rental company charged me AUD $500 for the damage. I tried calling and emailing but to no avail. It was my word against theirs. This still hasn’t been resolved, and I got tired of trying to deal with it remotely. Even with the unexpected charge, it’s, of course, still cheaper than traveling by bus, car or plane.
The craziest drive by far was the one from Perth to Sydney. Four thousand kilometers in five days–now that’s a challenge. Imagine sleeping in the car, waking up at 5:00am and driving until 9:00pm and only stopping at McDonalds for cappuccino and WiFi. Fatigue is definitely your worst enemy on the road. The last day, I was so determined to end up at my couchsurfer’s place that I drove for 21 hours straight. Don’t try this though as I can tell you first-hand: it is dangerous as hell.
I’m sure you appreciate these little tidbits of street-smartness. Car relocation is a fun way to get around, and an interesting one for budget travelers. There are some risks that you have to take into account, but isn’t that all part of the trip?
A brief tour of one of my RV’s
I took a little video when I was camping next to the road in between Adelaide and Perth. You’ll see a bit of the outside kitchen and a quick look inside the sleeping/living area. Being out there in no-man’s land cooking your canned food while listening to raging electronic music give you an amazing feeling, which I hope you get a glimpse of from my video