Can you get paid to test-drive cars?

Behind the Scenes of Mystery Shopping

The companies that run mystery shop programs are usually more interested in the customer's experience than the actual products the stores (or dealerships) are offering.
The companies that run mystery shop programs are usually more interested in the customer's experience than the actual products the stores (or dealerships) are offering.
(Adam Gault/OJO Images/Getty Images)

Mystery shopping organizations don't disclose an assignment's pay to the general public, and there's a lot of variation based on experience. That said, there are some general guidelines. According to Mystery Shopper Magazine, car dealership assignments usually pay around $15, but bonuses often push the payout to $50 or more. That might sound like decent money for a fun little job, but veteran mystery shoppers say that car dealerships are one of the most time-consuming assignments to accept.

According to BestMark, a company that helps improve customer service, summer is typically the busiest time for mystery car shoppers. That's because it's the hottest and most competitive season in the car industry, and that's when customer service issues are most important. Prospective mystery shoppers should never pay a fee to join or register with an organization, and should always make sure the company is part of a respected professional group like the Mystery Shopping Providers Organization.

The process of going to a car dealership for a mystery shop assignment is a lot like going to shop for a car on your own — after all, that's what the shopper is pretending to do. And that process usually involves a test drive. However, it also involves all the drama that comes before a test drive and most (but not all) of the negotiating that comes after it — those are the details that really interest the mystery shopping organization. Expect to arrive at the dealership, wait to be approached, banter with the sales associate for a bit, look at a few cars, perhaps take that test drive and then enter negotiations. While the sales associate leaves to check on paperwork or talk to the manager, you'll likely be expected to keep track of how long he's gone — that's just one of the many important details the companies usually want to know. And after a couple rounds of back-and-forth, it's time to tell the sales associate it requires a little more thought, and then leave. The post-assignment work usually takes a couple more hours. Organizations ask their mystery shoppers to keep track of specifics such as the name and description of each dealership employee they talk to, how long they're left alone in the sales office and if the sales associates are knowledgeable about the cars. All of that needs to be described in detail, even though mystery shoppers are not permitted to record anything or be seen taking notes. Yup ... all that for a test drive and a few extra bucks.

Author's Note: Can you get paid to test-drive cars?

We focused on mystery shopping for this article, because, not to be trite, mystery shopping is something of a mystery to a lot of us. As we explained, though, the thrill of test-driving a car as part of a mystery shopping assignment is often a bit overstated. For job seekers who believe that driving new cars is a calling, there are a few other avenues that might be worth considering. Writing for a car magazine or an automotive blog seems like an obvious choice, but the reality is a lot different than the daydream. For every luxury, exotic or sports car that's offered up, there are plenty of plain Jane sedans, budget compacts, and other even less enticing prospects. But, they've all got to be tested fairly, and each model has to be considered from the perspective of someone who might actually consider buying it. Keep in mind that the best and most experienced writers get offered the best press trips and most exciting test cars, and the pickings for a rookie get even slimmer. Another route to test-driving cars for a living is to get a job at a manufacturer or OEM, driving new and prototype cars long before they're ready for the public. These tests occur on privately owned test tracks, and only sometimes out in public, but usually in secluded areas with extreme conditions, like the desert. See those camouflaged spy shots on blogs and in the magazines? Someone's behind the wheel, right? Get a solid education in engineering or automotive design, as well as some professional driver training, and that could be you!

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  • BestMark. "Take a test drive as a mystery car shopper this summer." June 10, 2014. (Dec. 23, 2014)
  • Evarts, Eric. "Secret shopper buys a luxurious, three-row Infiniti JX35 SUV for the test fleet." Consumer Reports. June 14, 2012. (Dec. 22, 2014)
  • Forbes. "How I Made $14,000 A Year Mystery Shopping." March 1, 2013. (Dec. 22, 2014)
  • J.D. Power. "Automotive Mystery Shopping." 2014. (Dec. 22, 2014)
  • J.D. Power. "Mystery Shopping the Customer Experience." 2014. (Dec. 22, 2014)
  • Mystery Shopper Magazine. "Car Dealership Assignments." (Dec. 22, 2014)
  • Person to Person Quality. "Test Drive Mystery Shops." (Dec. 23, 2014)
  • Read, Richard. "Secret Shoppers Give Mercedes-Benz Top Marks For Customer Experience." The Car Connection. July 13, 2010. (Dec. 22, 2014)