Currently reading: Life at the wheel with a car delivery driver
Some dealers use professional drivers to move cars around the UK. One gives us a taste of working life on the road

As we know, car dealers are falling over themselves for stock at the moment, buying from auctions, from private sellers and even from fellow dealers. But how do you think they get – I mean physically get – the cars that they buy? Some, especially those purchased by big dealer groups or car supermarkets from auctions, are moved by transporters but, remarkably, others are moved individually by people dispatched to drive them from A to B. 

In a moment of between-jobs desperation, a neighbour of mine applied for a job with one of the companies moving cars this way. On his first day, he was instructed to get himself to the first pick-up point 20 miles away at his own expense, drive the car 40 miles to the drop-off point and then cross London, again at his own expense, to collect another car. He was to drive this to another place some 40 miles from his home before returning there, once again at his own expense. 

“The company said they had no reason to pay expenses because I could set all my travel against tax,” he told me. “They also said that in any case, I could hitch-hike, because drivers always stop for someone carrying trade plates.” 

For his day’s work, he would be paid £50 (being £25 per vehicle), with the fuel for each transfer covered by a fuel card. 

Unsurprisingly, my neighbour didn’t take the job. Others do, however, driving huge distances so that dealers can have the used cars we’re clamouring for. Drivers such as Paul Jones. To protect his identity, we’ve changed his name and avoided revealing the precise locations of his collections and deliveries. Here’s his story…

How I got the job

“I started driving cars for work a year ago. I had been unemployed for 18 months and then got a job with a company delivering new 70-plate cars. Then, when they had been delivered for 1 September 2020, they made us all redundant. It was tough. I went with another company, but they were rubbish, underpaying and charging me. I was making about £200 a week after charges, so I left. It’s hard to find a good company, but I did eventually.”

What I earn

“I work around 80 hours a week for £750. One six-day week, I worked 106 hours. Part of my job involves inspecting the cars I collect, for which I’m paid £40 per vehicle. When the purchase is agreed, I have to wait for the money to come through to the seller’s account. If the wait goes over one hour, I’m paid an additional £10 for every hour. I’ve earned £65 just waiting for payment to be confirmed. On top of that, I’m paid 20p per mile to drive the car to the customer. I’m allowed to expense my travel between jobs.” 

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What the work is like

“I love driving and I love cars. This would be my dream job but for the hours I spend behind the wheel. For example, recently, I left my home in the West Midlands at 7.30am to drive a Ford Transit to Warwickshire, from where I took a train to Oxfordshire to collect a Mercedes-AMG A45. I drove that to Wiltshire, where I collected a Mini Cooper, which I drove home, arriving at 7pm. Then at 11pm (I hadn’t slept), I left home to drive the Mini to somewhere near Edinburgh, arriving the following morning. From there, I took a couple of buses to a place about 30 miles north to collect an Audi Q5. I then had a long wait with no car and nowhere to sleep until, at 4pm, the Q5 was ready and I could head for home, where I arrived at 10pm. I had been up for almost 40 hours and was so tired that I couldn’t sleep. These days, when I close my eyes, I just see the white lines of the motorway…

“Once I was driving a Ford Focus when it overheated (a radiator hose had ruptured) and caught fire. I ended up causing two lanes of the M6 near Carlisle to be closed and I didn’t get back home until three in the morning.” 

You think that’s bad…

“Once, I collected a van and drove it to a major auction site at the other end of the country, arriving at one minute past six in the evening. I was late only because it had broken down, but the staff refused to accept it until the morning or give me the car that I had come to collect. I had only 10 miles of travel allowance left (I’m given a mileage allowance based on the distance between jobs), so I had to stay in a hotel. The thing was, all that I had with me was what I was wearing. It felt rubbish. I had thought I would be going home to have dinner and relax, but here I was in my shorts and T-shirt in the world’s cheapest hotel.”

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Tiredness is the deadliest enemy

“There are times when you’re constantly fighting against sleep. There are only so many cans of Red Bull you can drink. Sometimes, though, you can’t fight it and have to pull over. I was sleeping in a lay-by recently and woke up to find a truck had parked with its trailer almost touching the front of my car. For a moment, I thought I had drifted off and woken up still driving and was about to ram the back of it. Instinctively, I slammed on the brakes. I was wide awake after that.” 

Don’t talk to me about truckers

“Police target drivers like me with trade plates, because they know we have deadlines to meet and therefore assume we’re speeding. They should pay equal attention to truckers, because I see them on their breaks drinking beers and playing the slot machines at the service stations. Police should be pulling them over to breathalyse them as well as make a judgement about whether they’re too tired to drive.”

The pros and cons

“I’m tired, I don’t eat well, I rarely exercise and I have to fund all my expenses up front and claim them back, which can be tough. But I do get to drive nice cars…

Paul’s tips for working as a driver

Expenses: “You’re only doing the job for the money, so it’s important that it’s not at your expense. Choose a company with a proper expenses policy that includes travel expenses and essential accommodation and which provides you with a fuel card to avoid you having to pay up front for fuel.”

Schedules: “A well-planned collections and deliveries schedule is key. How many miles does the firm expect you to travel in a day? What mileage allowances does it calculate for jobs? And does it consider travel time between places when no car is available?”

Management: “Avoid managers to whom you’re just a number. You want someone who remembers your name and who treats you with respect.”

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Support: “Choose a company that considers your wellbeing, has a proper safety policy and doesn’t pressure you to accept jobs when it knows that to do so is unreasonable.”

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Cornelius 20 January 2022
This chap mentions choosing a company that considers your wellbeing and has a proper safety policy, but has earlier told us doing this job means he sometimes goes 40 hours without sleep? Which surely can't be safe.
Symanski 16 January 2022

Awake for 40 hours and still driving?

 

Beyond doubt dangerous.   And we've already seen drivers falling asleep and killing innocent people.