Southern California Toyota Makes a Habit of Giving Away Used Cars

Just the Facts:
  • Valley Hi Toyota has given away four used cars since May 2014, with a fifth giveaway scheduled for this month.
  • The contest vehicles are trade-ins that the dealership reconditions, just as though they were being prepared for sale.
  • "Winning the car came at the right time and it was a major blessing," September giveaway winner Carol Payseaur says.

VICTORVILLE, California — In April 2014, Valley Hi Toyota in Victorville, California, got a 1999 Toyota Corolla as a trade-in. The car was in great condition and had obviously been well cared for.

Despite that, the dealership didn't sell the Corolla. General Manager Todd Stokes had other plans for it.

The dealership held a drawing on Facebook, open to adults with valid driver licenses. Stokes estimates that close to 1,000 people entered the April giveaway, and in early May, the dealership picked a winner at random, giving her the keys to the clean-as-a-whistle Corolla.  

The contest was a hit in Victorville and the High Desert communities around it, and what was supposed to be a one-time giveaway has turned into regular event at the dealership.

Since the first event May, Valley Hi Toyota has given away four vehicles, with a fifth contest planned for this month. Contest winners pay nothing for the vehicle, but are responsible for paying state taxes and registration fees, which are based on a vehicle's estimated value after reconditioning.

Stokes, who has been in the car business for nearly 25 years, says that there is no sales agenda behind the car giveaways. Although the rules of the contest do allow the dealership to contact the entrants for marketing purposes, the dealership has no intentions of doing so, he says.

"Facebook is supposed to be social; that's how we like to use our page," he says. "We have our regular dealership Web site for advertising." The contests, he says, are simply a way to spread some cheer in Victorville, a city of 120,000 residents that lies about 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles. 

Getting a free car is even better when it's a good free car, so the dealership makes sure that's the case.

"We've replaced tires, brakes, windshields, we've even repainted the roof of one car that was faded," Stokes says. "We want to give people something nice, not give them a headache car, so we pick out nice trade-ins and spend some money on the cars to make sure everything is right." Valley Hi does safety checks and reconditions the cars just as it would if it were going to sell them.  

The current contests are a reboot of five giveaways that Valley Hi Toyota did in 2009, during the Great Recession. The contests went on hold when Stokes left Valley Hi Toyota to help manage sister store Valley Hi Honda.

Now that he's back, so are the contests. "If feels good to give to the city." Stokes tells Edmunds. "People here need good solid transportation, and to be able to give that to somebody who may not have had it is actually a pretty cool feeling."

The winner of September's contest, Carol Payseaur, agrees. "Winning the car came at the right time and it was a major blessing," she says.

Edmunds says: This enterprising dealership has found a great way to engage its local community. And it's safe to say the dealership also has won some fans along the way.

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