Tinker, Beater, Uber, Spy

Uber driver
Tinker, Beater, Uber, Spy: Would you use your personal car as a livery?

Crowdsourcing is a fickle thing. As more companies arise to fill in gaps by providing job sourcing opportunities, many people are finding ways to make a few extra dollars by using the things they already have — cars, apartments, technical skills, and so on. However, for some users, the crowdsourcing economy simply asks for too much.

AirBnB asks you to open your home to strangers. Likewise, ridesharing companies (Uber, Lyft, etc) ask you to open your car to strangers. This raises a lot more questions than answers: is it a good idea to use your everyday car as a livery? What does that mean for your insurance? And if you’re not willing to use your car as a livery, would you pick up a car specifically to use for ridesharing? Is it even possible to find a cheap car that will fit their standards?

In order to find the answers to some of these questions, we asked around. First, we went around our office and asked everyone if they would drive for a crowdsourcing app. The results were as varied, diverse, and colorful as the personalities that make up our dysfunctional little family. Unsurprisingly, almost no one was game to do it with their daily drivers — James being the most vehement detractor, going on a 15 minute long diatribe about why he wouldn’t let drunk people into his completely immaculate 3 Series BMW. However, the people of Surfwrench think outside the box, and almost all of them said they would try it — if it wasn’t their daily driver.

Secondly, we asked people on various points of the internet such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. This yielded more diverse answers. Mostly, people thought that it would be impossible to find a vehicle that would fit the parameters and be clean enough to pass a ridesharing company’s inspection. That sounded a lot like a challenge, so we put a few interns on looking at cars that could be picked up on the cheap — repaired, cleaned, put on the road, and pass an inspection for less than $2000. That was a rough shake, but they actually pulled it off!

More on that later.

Insurance: Coverage Can Be Confusing

This is where things get REALLY complicated. We asked a bunch of people who work in insurance at various underwriting companies and in various positions within their organizations what driving for ridesharing companies would mean for people’s car insurance. The responses that we got we’re so all over the board that it is going to be quite some time before the market and individuals figure out what is best.

The underlying factor is that right now it is not an issue for people, as it is not yet operational in this area (at least at the time of this writing). However, many companies are offering additional coverage for people who plan on using their vehicles for ride sharing. Some insurance providers have gone on record saying they would not cover damages to vehicles being used without livery licenses. This presents a massive problem for people who plan on using their personal cars for liveries.

Currently, Uber and Lyft both have insurance policies that cover their drivers when they are using the app. However, this is less than transparent when it comes to issues such as collision.

This brings us to an interesting question. If you are always using the app when you are driving the car, does this count for your insurance as required by the state? If that is the case, you could easily pick up a car for cheap, get it on the road, and have the insurance covered by your ride sharing company. Just keep the app running!

The insurance end of this is always going to leave us with more questions than answers, but we’re pretty sure that’s what insurance is supposed to do.

Beaters vs. Ridesharing Company Parameters:

So when we sent our interns out to find cars for sale that could be used as ride sharing liveries, here are some of the parameters they we’re working with:

  • Uber: 4 doors, 2006 and newer (in some markets, 2004 or newer). If you have a vehicle that can handle 6 passengers (7 including the driver), you can sign up for UberXL and make ~1.75x what a normal UberX driver makes. Only make more if you get an UberXL request.
  • Lyft: 4 doors, 2000 and newer. No feature to distinguish a regular sedan or larger vehicle that can seat 6.

Additionally, Uber has some vehicle specific rules. For example, you can’t drive a Ford Crown Victoria, nor a Ford Transit, Econoline, or GMC Sierra Van. This blew our initial idea of picking up and old cop car from a surplus auction for $800 right out of the water. Crown Vic’s are the hallmark of taxi companies all over the US, mainly because they’re cheap, reliable, and easy to fix. However, this is exactly why ridesharing companies don’t want you using one. Not because they are solid cars, but because every other taxi company around uses them. For them it’s not an issue of having good cars, for them this is all about branding. We can’t really blame them. With that being said, enough local police forces use Impalas and Chargers that this plan isn’t totally knee-caped.

screenshot of reddit conversation
Screenshot Courtesy of Reddit

The Cars We Found

2008 Volkswagen Passat: Car $700, Repairs $812.39 (Front Bumper, Repair and paint on Front Quarter, driver side headlight, brakes)

08 Volkswagen Passat
Image via Craigslist

This Passat is a little rough around the edges, however it would be an easy car to get put together. The problems with it are primarily cosmetic and this is why the cost of the repairs are relatively high. The non-cosmetic repairs are simple and would be fairly inexpensive. Overall, the 2 liter, inline 4 passat isn’t going to win any drag races, but it is an efficient, low maintenance engine in a solid car that is fairly large and comfortable. The ride isn’t as supple as something like a 3-series, but it works. You would be able to drive for all of the ridesharing companies that will be operating in WNY with this car.

2005 Buick Rendezvous: Car $750, Repairs $551.14, (Fuel Lines, brakes)

05 Buick Rendezvous
Image via Craigslist

What can we say, this thing is basically a minivan in drag. The GM 4.3 liter V6 is an incredibly reliable platform, albeit not as fuel efficient as many smaller options out there. This example is insanely clean, although the gas leak is quite concerning. We found a guy on Surfwrench who would tow it to his shop and swap out the fuel lines for $250 — so you don’t have to worry about end up looking like Nikki Lauda. There are so many of these cars still out there that it is very possible to find similar ones to this, in similar conditions, for similar prices.

2003 Acura TL Type-S: Car $1250, Repairs $422.77 (Tires, Ball Joints, dent repair)

03 Acura TL
Image via Craigslist

We actually went out and test drove this one and discovered an incredibly good car. The work that it needed was fairly simple and the most expensive part were the front tires, which were completely shot. The brakes and rotors were ok for another few thousand miles and would pass inspection. The Type-S is Acura’s answer to //M and it is an incredibly good powertrain on an incredibly solid platform. The only problem with this one is the milage- 230,312 to be exact. That is very high and some problems could be lurking on the horizon, but this is still a very very good car.

Why Would You Do This?

In all honesty, some people consider it excessive to have more than one car if you are only one person. However, anyone with a trade will tell you, having the right equipment is an important part of the job. This is important because if you take the wrong equipment, it can put you in danger or it could result in a loss of property. That is what we are arguing for here. The car that you use every day doesn’t necessarily have to be put at the mercy of drunk people on Monroe Ave. It does take a bit of time and money, but it is entirely possible to get a car, get it to pass an inspection, and use it to make money. Also, if your insurance gets cancelled because you got into an accident while driving for a ride sharing company, you are in a world of s**t.

It’s also not all about just people throwing up in your car. The process of driving and using it as a livery will cause a lot of wear and tear on your ride as well. Rochester is a high wear and tear city when it comes to vehicle maintenance between the weather shifts, the massive amounts of salt that we use, and the potholes that you could loose your dog in. We are just arguing, keep your nice car nice for you, and use something disposable or that would have gone to the junkyard as a means of production. This is good for the environment and for your wallet.

There is also a small matter of personal space. Our intern Malcolm said, “my car is really important to me, it’s like my bedroom in my house. Not just anyone should be allowed in.” However, if you picked up a car just to shuttle people around, it wouldn’t have that sort of emotional attachment. It would be another tool for you to make money and would lack that sort of personal affect. Also, if your car breaks, you have a perfectly good other car sitting there to use. So you could wait for the really smokin’ deals on Surfwrench.

Some people have voiced their concerns about the amount of work that goes into finding a car, getting it running right enough to pass the inspection, and getting it insured. Here is a short word of warning from someone who has been there: if this seems like a lot of work to you, you should never go into business. A few interns came up with this list, put the jobs on Surfwrench and got quotes for the parts in an afternoon.

Here are some of the thoughts that our technicians have come up with that they would do, if they were to drive for Uber:

  • Get a beater, so you don’t destroy your daily
  • Get something cheap, I don’t care what happens to it
  • It does not depreciate as fast, doesn’t have far to go
  • Can Modify to make a better livery
  • Tax write off
  • Wear and tear goes onto something that is already worthless
  • When people throw up in it, you’re not pissed off, you just hose it out
  • Can get proper insurance if you got one car to rideshare with
  • If you get a separate car, your car isn’t at risk
  • Insurance reasons- there’s no point in getting a commercial or livery insurance on your daily when you only use it on the weekend
  • Scotch guard the seats.
  • Rhino Line the floor.
  • Put a hole and drain plug in the back seat so I could hose the puke out.

No Matter What You Drive, Surfwrench Has Got Your Back

However, if you have your mind set on driving for a ridesharing service and want to use your daily driver, we still have your back. We want to keep you on the road and making money through our Surfwrench App. If you have a problem with your means of production (car) we will get you back on the road. You tell us what you drive and what’s wrong with it, and our independent shops and technicians will bid on your jobs.

This process has already saved people thousands of dollars this summer on their seasonal repairs. Also, If you’re looking for an Uber-beater, our technicians can provide used car checks with the problems that the car has so you get the best prices and get your car ready to roll and start making you money ASAP.

We want to keep moving the ball forward, and part of that is helping people who are doing the ridesharing. We feel that when the people who are doing the work are keeping more of the money that that is what keeps the world turning. They are the ones spending the money in the local economies that are keeping people employed. Also, they are the ones making sure that people are getting home safely after a long night out, and that is something that we can all get behind.

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