How To Pick the Right Car for Rideshare Driving
If you have to buy a car for ridesharing, choose one that’s cheap and reliable.
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In a world of increasing inflation, our dollars don't buy nearly as much as they did in the past. As costs rise, so too does the number of people searching for new ways to make money. Some people are adding a secondary income stream for supplementary means, while others are getting back into the workforce after maybe taking Beyonce’s and Big Freedia’s “release your job” lyric too seriously and forgetting that everybody still has bills to pay. No matter the situation, driving for a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft could be the thing that tides a person over.
Although both companies have been rightly criticized by many, including me, it can be a viable method of bringing in money, at least if you’re smart about it. A key aspect of that approach is choosing the right vehicle to drive. As somebody with experience as a rideshare driver, I'm here to help you find a car that can help you make money safely, reliably, and without costing you a lot of money. Here are some tips for finding a good rideshare vehicle.
What Makes a Good Rideshare Vehicle?
The best rideshare vehicle, above all, is one that is cheap to operate. A rideshare vehicle should take as little out of the operation’s gross income as possible. Why? Because most gig economy rideshare jobs are independent contractor jobs. The driver is fully responsible for insurance, taxes, and vehicle maintenance. In my opinion, keeping those costs in check is key to making any money.
Generally, I don't recommend purchasing a new car specifically for rideshare work, especially in this era of an out-of-control used- and new-car market rife with dealer markups. But I also understand that new-car deals can present themselves, so it’s a case-by-case decision, but that’s for another article.
Purchasing a car, using it for business, then selling it before the vehicle depreciates too much isn’t uncommon, and maybe even easy in our current era of crazy used-car prices. Beware, though, as toying around with a historically depreciating asset worth thousands of dollars can be dangerous. The pay scale of gig work is volatile, with different compensation for Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Amazon Flex, Doordash, and others. I know from experience that rates change all the time, and often without warning. I would hate for a reader to purchase a new vehicle for rideshare, only to struggle to make the vehicle payments, and not be able to trade or sell the vehicle without incurring a huge financial loss.
For many, the best rideshare vehicle will likely be the one they currently own, so long as it’s not too expensive to run and maintain. If you’re whippin’ a big Ford Super Duty, maybe gig economy work wouldn’t be the best course of action in the era of $6 per gallon gas. If you’re dailying an Alfa Romeo Giulia that has a frequent visitor punch chard for its shop visits, maybe rideshare driving isn’t so wise. But if you’re driving a Honda Civic, then it might make sense.
At the very least, most rideshare vehicles have to be less than 15 years old, have a clean title, and might have to pass a basic safety inspection by whatever company you'll choose to drive for. Make sure you find out what the exact car requirements are for your municipality, too, as they vary from place to place and company to company.
If You Are Buying for Rideshare Work, Buy Cheap
New cars depreciate like heck, and depreciation only accelerates the more a car is driven. Yes, even in this crazy used-car market, miles and condition still have a tangible effect on a car’s value. Rideshare drivers do a lot of miles. In my prime, I drove at least 35,000 per year, or around three times the Federal Highway Administration’s national average of 13,476 miles. Driving well above average is certain to destroy the value of your vehicle.
Ideally, try for a car that's already done a lot of depreciating. On average, a vehicle loses about 15% of its value per year in normal conditions. Loads of drivers are ridesharing in perfectly reliable vehicles in the $5,000 to $12,000 range. A $12,000 vehicle losing 15 percent of its value is much easier to swallow, compared to a $35,000 vehicle losing 15 percent at the same time under the same conditions. Fuel economy, purchase price, and ease of maintenance are paramount here. A reliable, economical vehicle that was cheap to buy will likely fare better than a fancier new vehicle that has pretty far to fall.
Here’s a quick list of cars that are pretty good for gig economy work, namely rideshare:
Toyota Prius V (2012-2017)
The Prius V is a dull, ugly vehicle that’s slow and middling to drive. Yet, it has a commodious interior. The Prius V’s extra length gave it a bigger back seat and larger cargo space compared to the standard Prius hatchback. There is a performance and fuel economy penalty due to the extra size, but the passengers will appreciate the extra space. The Prius V’s 39 mpg combined fuel economy is pretty great for such a roomy vehicle.
Toyota Prius C (2012-2019)
Like the Prius V, the Prius C is a sad, dull car to drive, but it is mechanically very robust. Underneath, it uses a slightly reworked version of the hybrid system in the second-generation Prius with the tried-and-true Toyota 1.5-liter four-cylinder(1NZFXE). It’s a completely bombproof engine compared to the sometimes problematic 1.8-liter four-cylinder(2ZRFXE) found in third-generation Prius Vs. Its small size and low sales made it cheaper to buy on the used market than a regular Prius hatchback, too.
True, the interior isn’t the roomiest, but I’d argue most passengers don’t care, and the rear seat is serviceable enough. I took nearly 10,000 passengers in the similarly sized Chevrolet Sonic. The Prius C is the fuel economy leader on this list, at 46 mpg combined. Be mindful that certain municipalities have banned this car due to size, so check your local rideshare requirements before you run out and buy one.
Toyota Camry Hybrid (2006-Present)
Similar to the Prius, the Camry hybrid is generally reliable, but older models are getting up there in age and mileage. The Camry hybrid is quicker and nicer to drive, albeit don’t expect BMW M levels of engagement. The 2012-plus vehicles equipped with the 2.5-liter hybrid setup are solid, and there’s a reason why they’re the choice dejure for taxi companies in many American cities. Also, the car’s generous interior and quiet ride mean it qualifies for upgraded service like Uber Comfort. Those service upgrades pay a bit more than a regular ride. Camry Hybrids regularly average more than 40 mpg combined, depending on year and equipment.
Kia Soul (2011-Present)
The Soul is a deceptively roomy vehicle that offers a hell of a lot of space in its small boxy footprint. It has a big back seat, decent fuel economy, and a spacious trunk for how short the car is. The 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines are mostly reliable, but be sure to do some GDI carbon descaling every once in a while. The Kia Soul’s 27 mpg combined (2.0 automatic) fuel economy is kind of middling, but the Kia Soul is arguably the best-driving car on this list.
Honda Insight (2010-2014)
The second-generation Honda Insight was panned by critics for many good reasons that don’t have much to do with ridesharing. It is not good-looking and it’s nowhere near as efficient as the car it replaced or its direct competitor, the Prius. Still, it’s way cheaper to buy than the Prius and still pretty thrifty on fuel. A combined fuel economy rating of 42 mpg is nothing to sneeze at, but like the Prius C, interior accommodations aren’t quite as generous as some more expensive hybrid cars.
Nissan Versa (2012-2019)
I almost feel bad for not recommending a single driver's car on this list, and the Versa is no exception. It’s a clumsy, awful-driving car, but it has an interior so big that it rivals some full-size sedans. Most problems with the Versa are related to the CVT automatic. Stick to the more basic trims with the four-speed automatic or five-speed manual and things should be fine. Expect about 31-32 mpg combined, which is bettered by a lot of subcompact competitors but isn’t too shabby for a cheap car with a humongous interior.
That’s just a preliminary list based on my opinions as a former driver who did all his own maintenance. Any small- to medium-sized car that doesn’t cost too much to keep rolling and qualifies for the apps should be fine. The best rideshare vehicle is the one you already have and/or one that allows you to make money without losing your rump.