In the fall of 2019, Ciprian “Chip” Adams, pulled his 2015 Toyota RAV4 over to the side of the road. Blue and red lights flashed behind.
It was nighttime. His headlight was out.
Instead of approaching the driver’s side window, an officer circled Adams’ silver SUV and inspected the decals along all four doors. An ad featuring a stern but approachable local lawyer smiled back.
“How about I give you a warning this time,” the officer told Adams.
“I’ve never [gotten] pulled over without getting a ticket,” Adams said with a laugh. “I’m assuming the cop thought I was either involved [with] or working for the lawyer.”
But he wasn’t. Adams, a 42-year-old Florida resident, works for himself. And that car wrap ad is one of his many moneymakers.
A Gaggle of Gigs
Emigrating from Romania in the ‘90s, the classically trained violinist had trouble finding work. The job market is tough for immigrants and musicians – and especially so for immigrant-musicians.
“Of course, I couldn’t find any work in that area,” he quipped, so he got into DJing.
Adams dotted the country, first in the Pacific Northwest and then in south and southwest Florida.
“I’m also a realtor here in Fort Myers. I’ve been doing that for about five years,” he said. “I couldn’t support myself just doing one thing, you know?”
For realty work, Adams drives all around the area to meet clients and show residential properties. Same story for his DJing gigs. After shows, he’d be far from home. That extra traveling would eat into his earnings.
So he started driving for Uber to fill in his downtime and to take fares going back toward Fort Myers. He joined Lyft for the same reason.
“I have some time in between, where I’d really hate to just be sitting on the couch,” he said.
Over the years, Adams has become a master at blending all of his gigs together. He incorporates them into his day-to-day schedule: Wake up. Fill out some realty paperwork. Call some clients. Show a property or two. Pick up a passenger. Trace his way back home. Repeat.
I couldn’t support myself doing just one thing, you know?
When the timing is right during a fare, Adams pitches his realtor and/or DJing services. And on the weekends, when he’s far from home after DJing a set, he’ll chat up people from the crowd and offer them an Uber ride.
“Usually it works out. I’ve picked up exactly who I wanted to,” he said. “I knew they were going in my direction. I didn’t have to go out of the way.”
Even though he effectively monetized his commute and downtime, he was still hemorrhaging gas money. But he found a way to cover that, too.
A Legit Car Wrap Was a ‘No-Brainer’
Adams drives a lot.
He bought his Toyota brand new in 2015 and has racked up more than 160,000 miles. That’s 32,000-plus miles per year. For reference, the average American drives about 13,400 miles a year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Early on as a rideshare driver, Adams says car wrap companies caught his eye as a way to subsidize his gas costs. But the more he looked into them, the sketchier they seemed.
“When I reached out to them… it was really fishy,” he said. “You had to pay for the sign. It wasn’t really specific on how you were going to get paid.”
And when he researched online, “bad reviews were all over the place,” he said. “Too many unanswered questions, really.”
Beware of Car Wrap Scams
According to the Federal Trade Commission, car wrap scams are a prevalent problem. The companies Adams described may have been running a scheme where drivers purchase and install the ads themselves and then the company ghosts them. Basically, they get free advertising and a few bucks from the decal purchase — without ever paying the driver.
Another common and more malicious scheme the FTC describes is a “fake check” car wrap scam, where a company tells you to front a costly ad installation, then they send you a fake check as reimbursement, and – oops – they overpay you and ask you to send them back the difference. Then, days later, the original check bounces and you’re out the money from the installation and the money you sent them for overpayment.
The FTC warns: “Never send money back to someone who sent you a check.”
Making $250 a Month for ‘No Extra Work’
What renewed Adams interest in car wraps was a company he was already familiar with from his time in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Nickelytics, which partners with Codetic for advertising, used to be a free transportation service in downtown areas of southwest Florida. Under its old business model, rides were free for passengers. The ads on the vehicles subsidized the cost. In July 2019, the company pivoted to a business model that wraps rideshare drivers’ vehicles instead of their own, so long as drivers log about 30 miles per day.
For Adams, that number was not going to be a problem, and he was relieved to not be asked to foot any of the car wrap costs. Another good sign was that the company was responsive and explained everything up front.
“Anytime you, as a driver, need to pay out of pocket, it is a scam,” said Nickelytics co-founder and CEO Judah Longgrear. “Nickelytics has zero out-of-pocket cost to the driver.”
Adams says that, after he reached out and expressed interest in Nickelytics’ new business direction, the setup process was straightforward. Nickelytics confirmed how many miles he typically drives through Uber and Lyft logs, and paired him with a local advertiser, which ended up being an attorney’s office. Then he was invited to their shop for the installation.
“In less than 30 minutes or so, the car was done,” Adams said. “They told me not to wash it for a week, and I was on my way.”
A month later, his first $250 direct deposit came in, and ever since, those funds have more than covered his gas expenses – “even a couple of Starbucks coffees,” he said.
For now, Nickelytics operates in only a few cities, and mainly in Florida:
- Tampa, Florida
- St. Petersburg, Florida
- Fort Myers, Florida
- Cape Coral, Florida
- Naples, Florida
- Denver, Colorado
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Portland, Maine
But Longgrear says he plans to expand to over 20 major cities by the end of 2020.
Live outside those areas? There are similar services available in other regions. Just make sure the car wrap company is legit. Be wary of any upfront costs and check schemes.
Adams understands how much of a pain gas costs can be for rideshare drivers. When he uses Uber and Lyft as a passenger, he likes to tell drivers about his set-up and recommend they get a car wrap, too.
“Uber and Lyft are already operating on razor-thin margins for the drivers. They’re using somebody else’s time and car,” he said. “Anything you can do to make a little bit more money… It’s a no brainer.”
For full-time drivers, he says a car wrap can offset gas expenses entirely, and “if you’re a part-time driver, it’s probably going to cover your gas twice over.”
Not all wraps are for lawyer’s offices. What he can’t guarantee, unfortunately, is that one will get you out of a ticket.
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at Codetic. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.