Wednesday (March 11) is the lowest admission price during the entire Twin Cities Auto Show. All tickets are half-price at $6. But there's also a way you can walk away with $25 to $225 with a little effort on your part.

At last year's Twin Cities Auto Show I accidently discovered a way to make a few bucks. After asking a lot of questions about the Fusion at the Ford booth, the sales rep asked if I might be interested in the "It pays to test drive a Ford" program. The car maker will pay a potential customer $50 to test drive one of their new vehicles.

At this year's show I found five auto makers offering between $25 and $50 for a test drive: Lincoln ($50 MasterCard stored value gift card), Kia ($25 giftcard by registering at, Ford ($50 gift card, possibly Amazon), Cadillac ($50 Visa card), and Buick ($50 gift card to Target or Second Swing). I didn't talk to every manufacturer at the show, but some offer a credit on a vehicle instead--Subaru was $250 and Lexus $500. The credits have a time limit, so check that, but a smart consumer should negotiate the best deal before even mentioning the credit. (Check the card for any restrictions first such as an expiration date.)

How does it work? You ask one of the car manufacturer's employees holding a tablet/iPad if you can sign up for the test drive incentive. (They're usually standing near the auto maker's info desk.) I had no trouble doing that on Sunday, but one woman who was heavily tattooed and casually dressed said she experienced some initial resistance at a luxury car booth. The employee types your name, address, phone and email information into the computer/tablet and then provides a card with instructions on what to do next.

Some manufacturers will email you a code number; others give it to you immediately. Input the code number online to print out a pass to be taken to a dealer near you for the test drive. After you take the test drive and the dealer completes the paperwork, the gift card is mailed within about 4 weeks.

It may be more trouble than it's worth for many people. Without a $50 giftcard, I'd be less likely to drive a Buick Regal, Cadillac ATS, Kia Optima or Lincoln MKZ. Now that my car has 100,000 miles on it, I'm open to suggestion.

I haven't heard if the incentives dry up as the show goes on, but it's common courtesy to show genuine interest in a vehicle before asking for a freebie. If you're a jerk about it, they may choose not to offer you one.

Last year I received $50 each from Toyota and Ford. I don't recall getting lots of annoying promotional emails, if you're concerned about that. Once you get a gift card, you can always look for the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of the email.

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