By Josh March 9, 2018
[This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on my first side hustle. If you missed Part 1 about why I loved Uber when I got started, go back and read it here. Part 3 will be linked at the bottom.]
Throughout the first couple years (out of the 3 years that I drove Uber), I felt like I was making a steady little sum of money in my free time. It definitely wasn’t enough to get rich off of, but there were times when I would make enough to live off of the Uber money (and tips) that I could save my entire day-job paycheck. There were even a few times that I brought in enough in 1 week to pay my monthly mortgage payment!!
But all good things come to an end, and sometimes abruptly! In a side hustle like Uber, you have to have a reliable set of wheels. BMWs are known for durability, but they are probably even better known for how FREAKING EXPENSIVE they are to maintain. A set of new tires would cost $900+, same for brakes & calipers, and I don’t even want to think about the cost of the electronic water pump and those $110 oil changes. Several times, I had belts or hoses that would get all wonky, and those fixes were never cheap and rarely fast.
Besides all of the cash flowing into the pockets of mechanics and the BMW dealership, cash seemed to be flowing out into thin air. By this I mean my poor depreciating car value. When’s the last time you ever drove 1400 miles in a week and NEVER LEFT YOUR COUNTY?? While 1400 was on the high end, I was averaging 1000+ miles a week and not leaving a 2-county area. All of those miles piled up quickly on the BMW, quickly racing from around 94,000 when I started driving Uber, all the way to 156,270 when I traded it in. Despite paying $20,000 for the car (used, I was the third owner at 55,000 miles), it dropped in trade-in value down to $500. The main reason for the low-ball trade-in value was that the air conditioner (compressor AND coils) needed a complete replacement, since I live in Southwest Florida and this was AUGUST when the whole thing went kaput! Unless you enjoy a sauna on wheels, you cannot drive a car with no A/C in the summer in South Florida, and don’t even think about putting it into service with a rideshare app like Uber. Effectively, my car was totaled when the A/C went out, because the repair was going to be nearly $3,800 while the KBB.com value was $3,400. The dealership was nice to me and bumped up their $500 offer to $1,000, which saved me a bit on sales tax.
So I bought a new-to-me car in August of 2017, a 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE that I financed for 4 years at 5.2%. They could have told me 20% but it wouldn’t have mattered much, because I was determined to pay it off ASAP. I put this car into service with Uber immediately, and watched my odometer race up from 41,547 to 53,064 in 4 short months. This was even shorter than you might think, because Hurricane Irma impacted this area on September 10, 2017, and I did not drive for about 10 days. One major benefit of this car was the hybrid motor, which allowed me to average 41.5 miles per gallon. Fuel costs are of utmost importance to Uber drivers, especially those like me who put 11.5k miles on their car in under 4 months 😉 Another benefit was that it was new enough and at a high-enough trim level to qualify for Uber Select. I averaged a couple Select rides per week, which pay approximately double the amount of UberX (low-cost option) rides, and the Select passengers were much more likely to tip, as well. UberX is basically the taxi equivalent at 40% of the local taxi company price. Uber Select fares are comparable to taxi rates, but you get the benefit of a newer, nicer ride and a driver that’s a regular person instead of [insert stereotypical image in your mind of a taxi driver].
I pushed very hard those first 3 months after buying my car, because I really wanted to pay off that car loan. Between August 14 and December 12, I completed $5026.29 (after Uber’s cut) on the Uber platform, and $1990.29 in cash rides and tips (after Square card reader fees). Coupled with some money I had saved while driving my previous car, I paid off the $15,000 car in just 86 days! A huge weight was off of my shoulders, but I lost the drive to keep driving.