What’s It Like Driving For Uber? Mixed Emotions Of Hope And Sadness

Joining Uber As A Driver With $50 Gas Promo

Rhino getting lured in to join Uber

I never planned to drive for Uber. It just happened. When I pulled up to a gas station to fill up Rhino, my 2015 Honda Fit, there was a fella setting up a tent that promoted a free $50 gas card if I signed up to become a driver.

No obligation to drive!” he tempted me, so I figured why not. With gas prices rebounding from their lows, what used to cost me only about $26 to fill up now cost $35. Moose, my old 2000 Land Rover Discover II sucked down $80 – $100 a tank, so in comparison $35 isn’t so bad.

After uploading my driver’s license, registration, and inspection form, I waited to get a confirmation via text or e-mail. Twenty-four hours later and nothing. I went back to the nearby gas station the next day and asked what was up? He said he didn’t know, and that I should e-mail support. So I did. He gave me another $50 gas card for my troubles. And then another $50 gas card for referring my friend in my passenger seat. YES! Who doesn’t love free money baby?!

Several days later, I finally heard back from Uber via e-mail, and they said they had wrongly entered my information. But if I simply logged in and re-uploaded everything again, all would be fine. When I logged into my account via my laptop it said, “Get a $100 bonus if you go down to the driver center at 130 Vermont Street to get everything set up.” So instead of re-uploading everything myself with no guarantees, I just went down to the driving center given I planned to be close by anyway.

After about 10 minutes of paperwork, the inspector said I was good to go. “All you’ve got to do is download the Uber partner app, take a selfie, and Go Online! After your 10th ride, you’ll get a $100 bonus for coming down to the driving center, and another $300 bonus after your 20th ride for signing up via our gas station promotion.

Wow! $400 worth of bonuses plus another $150 in gas cards. So that’s where Uber is spending all their billions raised. The offer was too tempting to not try things out. Now let me share with you my first Uber passenger experience, some earnings figures, and the emotions I experienced over the next couple of weeks driving. 

How To Not Get Pulled Over For A Traffic Ticket: Race And Sex Matter!

Never get a traffic ticket, rolls royceWhen I got my speeding ticket for going 35 mph in a 25 mph zone, all my friends laughed and jibed.

Are you sure Moose can even go 35 mph in two blocks?” (Moose was a slow, 14 year old Land Rover Discovery)

How the hell can you speed during rush hour traffic at 6:45pm? It’s bumper to bumper then!” (SF traffic is horrendous thanks to robust employment compared to five years ago)

Dude, you’re a victim of racial profiling. Out of all the cars out there, they chose your piece of shit? Don’t they have something better to do?

I laughed at all three responses, but then I was asked again, “What color were the police officers?

They were both White,” I responded.

Ah hah! Proof right there. You were targeted!” responded my Hispanic friend.

Come on, that’s just a coincidence,” I replied, even though I was miffed at getting pulled over when everybody was going the same speed during rush hour.

Never forget Rodney King, Don Sterling, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and the town of Ferguson!” shouted my friend with one fist raised up high!

Why Would An Aerospace Engineer Want To Be An Uber Driver?

Uber Driver

Harry Ubering

Previously, I had written about my struggling friend Jabir who was unemployed for a couple years before he discovered Uber. He drove for Uber for a year before switching over to be a dedicated hotel driver. In this post, my other friend Harry shares why he drives for Uber even though he’s financially thriving. Enjoy!    

Normally when I’m out putting around in my SUV driving people around for Uber (or Lyft – I do both), the first question they ask is: “So do you do this full time?”  Reluctantly, I usually tell them, “No, I also work for an engineering company as an aerospace engineer.” (odds are, if you’ve ever flown, you’ve been on one of our planes). It’s not that I’m embarrassed to be a full time engineer/part time Uber driver, but it always elicits a very strange reaction from my passengers.

Why would anyone who has a perfectly good job want to drive around a bunch of jokers during his free time? They don’t outright say it, but I’m sure that’s what they’re thinking. But there are actually a lot of reasons why I enjoy it and as you may have guessed, it’s not just about the money. Well a big part of it is about the money, so let’s explore that a little more first:

Consumers Stand Up For Your Rights: Honda MPG And Recall Issues

Honda MPG Advertised

Misleading Advertisement

One of the main reasons why I bought a 2015 Honda Fit was due to the advertised fuel economy of 32 MPG City, 38 MPG Highway, and 35 MPG overall. My old vehicle was getting 12-16 MPG as a 2000 SUV, and I wanted something more economical to drive around town and to Lake Tahoe.

After going through 8 gallons of a 10.9 gallon tank (fuel light went on), I discovered that Rhino wasn’t getting anything close to the advertised 32 City MPG. Rhino clocked in a paltry 21.6 MPG, or a whopping 32.5% lower than advertised. I’ve since refueled the tank and driven another 200 miles and am now getting closer to 20 MPG in the city. I don’t know about you, but I find this difference egregious.

Here are some examples of getting 32.5% less than you paid for:

* Imagine paying $80 for a 60 minute massage and only getting 40.5 minutes worth.

* Imagine paying $100 for an NBA basketball ticket, and being kicked out 10 minutes into the 3rd quarter.

* Imagine paying $70 for a MLB ticket, and not being able to participate in the 7th inning stretch.

* Imagine paying $170,000 for a private university and only getting to attend for three years.

* Imagine paying $299 for the latest iPhone and only getting 43 GB of storage instead of 64 GB.

* Imagine selling an ounce of cocaine for $1,200 to your neighborhood gangsta who discovers that 1/3rd of the weight is actually powdered sugar. You’d probably get shot.

We buy things based on the advertised features. If the company lies about the feature, then obviously the consumer is being misled and should either get his or her money back, or get a discount based on the shortcomings of the advertised feature. I’m not going to buy the latest Macbook Pro 13″ if it performs like a Macbook from 2007.

Besides the MPG, I also bought the Honda Fit due to its short length of 160″ so I can find more parking spots. The final reason why I bought the Fit was due to Honda’s history of producing reliable cars that are hassle free.

I then got a letter in the mail from Honda.

How Much Is Optionality Worth To You?

D Sharon Pruitt

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

When we first graduate, we have little-to-no options since we know nothing. We’re a cost center that does what we are told and likes it. We develop skills that provide us more options over time. We look for better opportunities or ask for raises with more skills. Sometimes we get complacent and just stick with a company for way too long like a bad boyfriend or girlfriend.

Eventually we stop being so parsimonious with our money because our financial nut grows to the point where we can afford luxuries otherwise foreign to us in the past. The luxuries I’m willing to pay up for now are convenience, time, and less stress. I used to be OK waiting at the DMV for 3-4 hours to register a used car. No more. I used to be fine waiting 45 minutes for a bus instead of taking a cab. But no more. Waiting in line for hours to get cheaper event tickets was no big thang. Now I am more than happy to pay a premium to get access to nice seats.

I think most of us who really care about our finances have a strong frugal side. Savings is in our DNA. We know that so long as we always spend less than we earn, we’ll eventually reach an amazing financial place. But due to the confluence of old age, awareness, and more money, we eventually change our spending habits.

Deciding On Leasing Or Purchasing A New Car: Saying Good-bye To Moose!

Ferrari Enzo

My new Ferrari Enzo

After 10 years, I’m sad to say that Moose is gone! He just had too many problems that cost too much to fix as a 14 year old Land Rover Discovery II. I hated to let him go because he was like my big boy. I still remember finding him with 87,000 miles at the orphanage (Craigslist) for $10,000 in early 2005. The owner got a sweet consulting gig in Amsterdam from Pricewaterhouse Coopers and she had to sell quickly. We agreed on the steal price of $8,000 and the fun journeys to Tahoe, Napa, and Carmel began.

I actually hate driving today. There are just too many cars in San Francisco and the Bay Area now that the economy has roared back. Traffic was very manageable just three years ago, but condos are sprouting up everywhere downtown next to main arteries, making driving very stressful. The worst is when delivery or garbage trucks double park during rush hour and traffic backs way up. Dear local politicians, please outlaw such activity.

There was a point where I almost thought about not buying a car at all, and just using UberX as it is so cheap and signing up for a ride-sharing program since prices have come down so much. But in the end, I still valued my freedom of being able to get in a car and drive anywhere whenever I wanted. 

Free Uber Rides! Changing Lives By Disrupting The Rules

Uber App Dashboard

Uber App Dashboard

For the past several years, I’ve seen Uber grow from a scrappy startup to an enormous success based right here in San Francisco. In the Fall of 2013, the company was “only” valued at $3.5 billion. As of July 2015, Uber is now valued at roughly $50 billion! Instead of driving for them, the best way to get rich would have been to work for Uber when it first started in March 2009.

Jabir, the “richest poorest person I know” actually became an Uber driver a couple years ago. He was unemployed for almost three years with a wife and daughter to support. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, he was always available to play tennis. We’d also drive all around the Bay Area to watch struggling professional players battle up the ATP points ladder for eight hours a day sometimes. As tennis junkies, we were in heaven!

Then one day Jabir stopped being available. No longer could he play pick-up tennis at Golden Gate Park at 2pm. No longer could he be my pal when everybody else had to work, so I had to find a new friend to pass the time after my morning writing was done. When I asked him what was up, he responded that he decided to drive for Uber.

For the next 12 months, I didn’t see Jabir at all. He drove ~10 hours a day for six days a week like a mad man. It was as if he was making up for lost time. When I asked him how much he was pulling in, he said well over $7,000 a month. Not bad coming from $0.

Uber allowed my friend and many other unemployed or underemployed people to find a way to earn some money and improve the inefficient taxi system in San Francisco. The disruption has been huge. I was even considering driving for them during my spare time, but Moose was too old as a 2000 Land Rover Discovery.

Starting in early 2014, Jabir began to come out and play again. When I asked him how were things going, he said that he was no longer driving for Uber, but driving a black SUV for a specific hotel instead. “Sam, I was getting too tired driving all those hours. Hotel driving is so much easier. Also, Uber kept cutting its prices so I was only making like $3,500 a month. It wasn’t worth it to me anymore.”

Jabir actually started outsourcing his car to his brother to drive for Uber so he could start collecting a percentage of his earnings and free up time for him to drive for the hotel. Smart man. There’s passive income opportunities everywhere!

How Much Does My Car Insurance Go Up If I Get A Traffic Ticket?

Car Accident insurance going upThe first thing I did when I got home after receiving a speeding ticket was call my car insurance company to find out how much my car insurance premiums would go up. Interestingly, they couldn’t give me a straight answer.

If I get convicted and don’t go to traffic school, I will receive one point on my driving record for the 10 mph over the speed limit violation. When I asked the car insurance agent for specifics, she kept on ducking the answer. For all of you who have received a traffic ticket or will get one, this post should help give you a good idea of what’s at stake when it comes to insurance premiums going up.

Should I Go To Court And Fight My Speeding Ticket?

Speeding Ticket

Back at the scene of the crime

Speed racer is in the house! I got a speeding ticket for going 35 mph in a 25 mph zone the other day and I’m pretty ticked.

The cop pulled me over after I sped up in the middle of a yellow light and asked me whether I knew why he pulled me over. I innocently responded, “Because I went through a yellow light?

He looked at me a little funny and said, “No. Do you know what the speed limit is here on Masonic Avenue?”

I’m not sure officer. 35 mph?” I responded.

No, it’s 25 mph and I got you on the gun going 45 mph,” said the officer.

First I was shocked that a five lane artery (2 lanes going south, 3 lanes going north) would have a speed limit of only 25 mph. I wasn’t blowing by anybody at all. Second, I was super surprised the officer said he clocked me at 45 mph!

Moose is slow as molasses as a 14 year old Land Rover Discovery II. There is NO WAY Moose could reach 45mph in two blocks. His 0 – 60 mph time is 11.4 seconds new and surely he’s lost a step over the years. 45 mph = 66 feet / second. Average city block is around 400 feet. I would have to be putting my pedal to the metal to get to 45 mph, which I wasn’t because that action guzzles more gas.

I looked at the officer when he told me I was going 45 mph and said, “You mean this car? I don’t think so. I haven’t had a speeding ticket in 8 years since my car is so slow and old.

He kinda laughed and asked me for my license and registration.

When he came back three minutes later, he handed me a ticket and said, “I’m not going to write you up for 20 mph over the speed limit because that’s not good for your insurance and I don’t want to hammer you. I’ll just do 35 mph in a 25 mph instead.

Gee thanks. What a nice guy! I was actually hoping he’d let me off with a warning as two other cops did in the past six years when I was driving Moose. Who gives a speeding ticket for 35 mph in a 25 mph zone when everybody is driving 35 mph?

What Kind Of Car Should The Mass Affluent Buy?

Moose - A Land Rover Discover II Getting Fixed

Moose On The Operating Table

We previously described the mass affluent class by income, wealth, and investable assets. Mass affluent is essentially a subset of the middle class that’s well educated and upwardly mobile due to their education and optimism. Given you’re reading a personal finance site for fun and education and I’m writing personal finance articles, let’s all consider ourselves mass affluent with upside potential! Hooray!

After 10 years of owning the same car, I’ve decided to finally buy something new within the next six months. There are a number of problems with Moose, a 2000 Land Rover Discover II, including:

• Warning lights on for the traction control, hill decent, and ABS.
• Check engine light is permanently on.
• Sunroof doesn’t open or close.
• Heated seats don’t work.
• No Bluetooth.
• CD changer doesn’t work.
• Front passenger seat no longer adjusts due to broken motor.
• Cigarette charger doesn’t work, which means I can’t charge my mobile devices on long road trips.
• Brakes are mushy even after changing them two years ago.
• Not sure if the airbags work since they haven’t had their 10 year service.
• Gears don’t connect once every 50 starts for some reason. Have to turn him off, wait for 10 seconds, and turn back on to reengage the gears.
• Two balding tires that cost $200 to replace each.

Other than these 12 problems I can think of, Moose runs like a champ!

Over the past three years I’ve spent about $1,100 buying him a new alternator, a new serpentine belt, a tune up, and fixing a massively leaking fuel pump. If there is one more problem that costs over $500, I’m sad to say that I’ve got to let him go. It’s hard to do because he’s been so good to me. Moose has never broken down, not even in the worst Tahoe snow storm. If I’m ever in an accident, I feel safe that Moose will hold up better as well.

I’m starting to fear that I’ll one day get stranded somewhere when Moose experiences some transmission glitch. I know all I have to do is call roadside assistance and wait 45 minutes for a boost or a tow, but that’s not ideal if I’m rushing somewhere. If you have an older car, getting roadside assistance for several bucks a month is the best thing ever. I did leave my lights on several times before and roadside assistance came quickly to give me a jump.

I’d love to finally find a new vehicle that has all the creature comforts that many people for the past five years have taken for granted. You know, like being able to plug in your mobile phone to listen to some tunes. I’ve come up with a list of vehicles I’m considering for myself and for the mass affluent. Let me know which particular car or category you’d choose and why.