Imagine getting paid to drive some of the world’s greatest cars -- Mercedes, Corvette, Porsche, Viper, and others. Sounds great? Now picture doing that on luxurious all-expense-paid trips to exotic locations, where you hang out with some of the biggest names in the auto industry.
That’s everyday life for car-magazine test drivers.
Hard to believe? You're not the only person who thinks so. I've worked as a car-magazine test driver since 1999 and I still get looks of astonishment when I tell people what I do for a living. Getting a job like this seems like it would be as hard as winning the lottery. But the truth is, you don't have to be working for big, glossy sports-car magazines to enjoy a great job as a test driver. There are countless other publications that use test drivers. And you don't need extraordinary luck or rare talent to get into this profession.
Granted, it's not as easy as applying to get a part-time job at the mall, or even like going after a typical office job. But it's also not a frustrating, one-in-a-million chance like trying to become a rock star or a Hollywood actor either. Far from it.
There isn't a pre-specified way to become a car-magazine test driver as there is for, say, becoming a doctor or lawyer. So you have to pretty much find your own path into the field. That may sound intimidating, but it's actually another one of the profession's upsides -- people can work their way into test-driver jobs from widely varying experience and education. For example, one of my colleagues was working in a retail bookstore before becoming a test driver. He got into an automotive publication by taking a relatively easy job in a publisher's photo library. The photo library worked with the company's automotive division a lot, so he was in a prime position when a job opened up there.
Now he hangs out at racetracks, drives Jaguars and Corvettes, and goes on press trips to Hawaii and Palm Springs.
His story is fairly typical. Plenty of people -- men and women alike -- get into the profession in similar sorts of ways. And you might be surprised at how quickly things can move along toward getting such a job if you put your mind to it. Although every person's career progresses at a different pace, three to five years is a pretty normal time for breaking into becoming a test driver. Not bad for a job that routinely puts you behind the wheel of $60,000 cars for a week at a time.
Regardless of your experience or education, you'll have to learn how to write fairly well. Once test drivers drive a car, they're usually required to write an article based on their findings. And when they're not behind the wheel, test drivers are usually sitting at their desk writing other things such as news pieces, interview stories, or retrospective articles.
That said, you don't have to be an award-winning writer with decades of journalism experience to become a test driver. A lot of people working in this field are self-taught. With some study and diligent practice, most car enthusiasts could learn how to write well enough to do the job.
For anyone who loves cars, being a test driver is like a fairy tale mixed with a weekend in Vegas -- you can’t help but be amazed by some of the things you get to do. It takes more effort to get these jobs than it does to break into other, more mundane fields. But it's well worth it.