The Definitive Guide To Carsharing
You probably remember dreaming about your first car. The independence, the fun, the freedom! Then you got older, and you realized that car ownership is really about car payments, insurance premiums and mechanics’ bills.
Enter the car sharing service: a novel way to enjoy the privilege of driving without all the headaches of owning a car. But how does it work, and which car sharing service is right for you?
What is a car sharing service?
Car sharing is like a simplified, short-term car rental service. You reserve a vehicle for the times you need it, unlock it with a membership card and drive off.
Most companies allow you to pay by the hour or the day, or pre-pay for a certain number of driving hours each month. Gas and insurance costs are typically included, but the insurance may not offer as much coverage as a personal policy. Unlike traditional car rental services, users don’t have to be 25 years old; some companies even rent cars to 18-year-olds. You do, however, have to have a decent driving record.
It’s hard to compare car sharing services by cost, because many companies offer different plans, rates and services in different cities. Here’s a basic guide to four popular car share services. To determine which is best for you, compare the rates in your area.
Founded in 2000, Zipcar is the world’s largest car sharing service and the company that popularized the concept in the United States.
How Zipcar works: Members get a Zipcard to unlock their reserved vehicle, which is waiting for them on a lot. The keys are inside. Once you’ve finished using the car, just return it to the parking space. The Zipcar mobile app allows members to find nearby cars, make reservations and extend their driving time.
Plan options and pricing: Pay a $25 joining fee and a monthly membership fee and choose one of three types of plans: the occasional driving plan (which charges by the hour or day); the monthly plan or the pre-paid plan, which gives you a certain number of hours per month. Gas, mileage and insurance are all included. The price varies by city; in Washington, D.C., hourly rates for occasional drivers start at $8.25. Compare Zipcar plans here.
Zipcar is best if you:
- Travel frequently and want to use shared cars in multiple cities
- Want the ability to choose different vehicles, such as Mini Coopers or Ford Escapes
- Can predict your monthly driving needs
Car2go, owned by Daimler, is a car-sharing service that rents tiny two-seater Smartcars and charges users by the minute.
How car2go works: Car2go is an especially flexible car-sharing service. Users can drive for as long as they want, because they’ll be billed by the hour. You can take any car2go you see, or use your phone to reserve one 30 minutes ahead of time. Unlike Zipcar, you can leave your car2go vehicle in an approved parking spot at your destination. However, as of early 2014 car2go is only available in six North American cities.
Plan options and pricing: Car2go doesn’t charge recurring membership fees, nor does it charge for gas. After paying a $35 joining fee, members rent cars for a fixed fee of 41 cents per minute, or $14.99 per hour. The company also pays for users to park free in certain metered and garage spaces.
Car2go is best if you:
- Want the flexibility to drive where and when you want
- Want a shared car for personal transportation, instead of carrying cargo
- Live in a city where parking is expensive
- Are 18-21 years old
Enterprise, a leader in traditional car rental, started its own car sharing program in 2005. It then acquired several smaller carshare companies and in 2013, launched the expanded Enterprise CarShare brand.
How Enterprise CarShare works:
Enterprise CarShare works much like other programs: You go to the company’s nearest parking area and use your membership card to unlock the car you’ve reserved. Enterprise boasts a larger and more diverse fleet of vehicles than other car sharing services, including pickup trucks and electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. See the cars available in your area.
Plan options and pricing:
Enterprise CarShare offers different plans and rates in different locations. In Washington, D.C., for example, car sharing rates begin at $5 per hour and $76 per day, depending on the car model, day of the week and time of day. There’s a $25 application fee and $40 annual membership fee, which may be waived for the first year. The Chicago car-sharing program features three different plans, starting at $6.75 per hour plus 40 cents per mile.
Enterprise CarShare is best if you:
- Want to try driving an electric, hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicle
- Want the 24/7 customer service Enterprise is known for
Other car share programs operated by a traditional car rental company: Hertz 24/7, Uhaul Car Share, Avis On Location
Relayrides brings new meaning to the term “car sharing”: You’re literally sharing someone else’s car. Unlike companies which own and maintain their own fleet of rental cars, Relayrides is a site that arranges for people to rent others’ personal vehicles. A similar company is Getaround.
How RelayRides works:
You sign up with your mobile number, driver’s license and credit card. RelayRides checks your driving record. Once you’re approved, you browse cars in your area, then send a request to the owner to use it at a particular time. Arrange to meet the owner, get the keys and hit the road. RelayRides reassures owners that they’ll protect their cars with insurance and support. You can even park free at the San Francisco airport by renting out your car while you’re off on a trip.
Plan options and pricing:
While there are no signup or membership fees, carsharing costs vary wildly with RelayRides because the rates are set by individual renters. A recent search for Los Angeles carshares turned up everything from a 2002 Saturn for $23 per day to a 2006 Corvette for $250 per day. Unlike with other car sharing services, the renter is responsible for paying for gas and short-term insurance.
RelayRides is best if you:
- Want to rent a car cheaply
- Want to rent an unusual or luxury car
- Want to make money from renting your car