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Can you get paid to test-drive cars?

        Money | Careers

For job seekers who believe that driving new cars is a calling, there are a few avenues that might be worth your consideration.
For job seekers who believe that driving new cars is a calling, there are a few avenues that might be worth your consideration.
(Hans-Peter Merten/Photodisc/Getty Images)

"If only I could get money for this," you might sigh as you cruise around happily on a gorgeous day. Well, you could. But there's a lot more to becoming a paid test-driver than just picking out any car you want and grabbing the keys. The easiest way to become a test driver is to join up with a mystery shopping company. These companies pay people to visit stores and other services, while pretending to be a regular customer, and report back on their experiences. Some mystery shopping companies even specialize in visiting car dealerships, so prospective mystery shoppers who really want those test drives can sign up with certain companies and can be selective about the kinds of assignments they take.

Mystery shoppers and the companies that organize mystery shops sign contracts saying that they can't disclose details, so specific information (like which car dealerships get visited and which cars get driven the most) is hard to find ahead of time. Driving an actual car is rarely the objective of an auto dealer mystery shopping assignment. It's more important to gather information about the dealership and its employees than about the actual cars for sale. Was the sales floor clean, organized and welcoming? Did a sales associate approach the customer right away? This is the kind of feedback they really want. A mystery shopper is instructed to pretend he or she is making a decision about buying a new car, so it's easy to finagle a test drive. But the mystery shopper probably isn't being paid specifically to drive the car, and to a serious mystery shopper (who treats it like a full time job), that kind of frivolity can take valuable time away from other paying assignments.

In other words, the companies that run mystery shop programs are usually more interested in the customer's experience than the actual products the stores are offering. So even though a mystery shopper might have the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a new car, that's probably not the point. Mystery shoppers are usually instructed to pretend to be interested in a specific type or model of vehicle, so if driving sedans and minivans is a total buzzkill, mystery shopping could be more frustration than fun. At times, a mystery shopper might feel like James Bond — incognito behind the wheel — but it's really unlikely that these secret agents will ever get to drive an Aston Martin as part of an assignment.