Car sharing can be a good alternative to traditional car rental, particularly if you are staying in a large city and want to go somewhere for just a few hours. We've put together answers to some common questions about car sharing to help you decide whether car sharing is right for you.
What Is Car Sharing?
Instead of renting a car for a day or week, you can rent one by the hour or day from a car sharing company (called a car club in the UK).
How Does Car Sharing Work?
First, you go to the car sharing company's website and sign up. You will probably need to pay a membership or processing fee, upload some personal information and choose a car sharing plan. If you live in one country and want to use a car sharing company in another country, you can do that, provided you plan ahead and are willing to send the company a copy of your driving record.
Next, the car sharing company processes your application and sends you a car sharing card. You will use the card or, in some cases, your smartphone, to unlock and return the cars you rent.
Once you have your card, you can reserve a car online or with your smartphone. At the appointed time, go to your car's location, which could be in a parking lot or on-street parking space, unlock the car and drive away.
What Are the Benefits of Car Sharing?
For people who need a car for a few hours several times a year, car sharing can be more convenient and economical than renting.
Once you have paid the membership and application fees, you pay only for the time you use the car.
You don't have to worry about parking the car overnight, especially in high-cost cities. Instead, you rent the car for a short time and return it to where you picked it up. This can save you a great deal of money in places such as New York City, where overnight parking (when you can find it) costs $40 per day or more.
Car sharing companies pay for the gasoline you use. If you have to put gas in the car, the company will reimburse you.
You can reserve cars quickly even if you are not at home or near a computer.
You can pick up and drop off the car at any time, without worrying about rental car office hours.
You can use your car sharing membership in many places, perhaps even in your own hometown, depending on which company you decide to use.
Does Car Sharing Have Any Drawbacks?
You need to sign up and pay for a car sharing membership before you can use the service.
If you don't have a smartphone, using a car sharing service can be more expensive. Most car sharing companies charge a fee for making a reservation by telephone.
Pickup spots are normally in big cities, at airports or near universities. If you can't get to a pickup spot easily and inexpensively, car sharing might not be your best option.
Only car share members can drive the car, so you will have to do all the driving if you are the only member in your group.
In some countries, car sharing vehicles have manual transmissions, which could be a drawback if you don't know how to drive a standard transmission car.
Car sharing companies ensure you and the car, but their insurance policies often have large deductibles, especially for collision damage.
You'll need to buy collision damage waiver insurance or carry your own insurance to reduce or eliminate the deductible.
If you violate the car sharing user agreement, you will be charged a fee.
How Much Does Car Sharing Cost?
Car sharing rates vary by city and country. Application or membership fees tend to be in the $25 to $35 range. Hourly rental rates can be as low as $7 per hour or higher than $15 per hour. You can get a discount on the hourly rental rate if you go on a monthly prepayment plan. This option works best for renters who know they will need to use a car sharing service for several hours each month.
Can I Do a One Way Car Share?
Usually not, although Zipcar is testing one-way rental in some US cities.
How Many Miles Can I Drive?
All car sharing companies limit the number of miles you can drive per day.
This limitation varies from city to city and can range from 25 miles to 200 miles. If you exceed the mileage allowance, you will be charged a per-mile rate of 20 to 50 cents.
Are Car Sharing Vehicles Accessible?
With advance notice, you can rent a car with hand controls. Car sharing services typically do not offer wheelchair-accessible vans. One notable exception is City CarShare in California's San Francisco Bay Area, which offers two types of accessible vans.
What About Service Animals?
Service animals are permitted in car share vehicles in the US. Rules in other countries may vary.
Can I Bring my Pet?
Each car sharing company sets its own policy on pets in car share vehicles. Most do not allow pets. Zipcar allows pets in pet carriers.
Car Sharing Fees
Car sharing companies will charge you a fee if you violate even the smallest contract clause. For example, you could be charged if you leave a window open, forget to put the seats up, leave the car unlocked, park it in the wrong place, leave the lights on, smoke in the car, leave the car dirty or turn it in late. You will be charged a fee if you return the car with less than a quarter tank of gas, lose the car key or your membership card, and you will pay a processing fee if you get a ticket.
Fees can be hefty, too. Typical fees range from $25 to $50, but some are higher.
Damage Waiver Insurance Deductibles
As mentioned above, car sharing companies have high deductibles on the collision damage insurance included in your rental rate. You may be able to purchase additional collision damage waiver coverage from your car share company. When offered, it costs one or two dollars an hour or $12 to $15 per day. Your credit card company or automobile insurance policy may include collision damage waiver coverage, too. (Tip: Call your credit card company or insurance agent to find out whether collision damage is covered when you are driving a car share vehicle.)
While liability insurance is included in your hourly rental rate, car sharing companies sometimes purchase only the minimum amount of coverage required. If you feel more comfortable with additional liability coverage, talk with your insurance agent about adding personal liability coverage to your automobile insurance policy.
If you don't own a car, you can still buy automobile liability coverage in the form of a non-owner liability policy.