The Essential Guide to Car Sharing Programs

Car-sharing networks are springing up everywhere. In 2013, more than one million people used 46 distinct car-sharing programs across North America, a 24 percent increase over the previous year, according to the University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center. Learn how car sharing works and see if participating in a program could save—or make—you money.

Why Choose Car Sharing

Car sharing offers most of the conveniences of owning a car but at a lower price. When you factor in the full cost of car ownership—including financing, insurance, license and registration fees, gas, maintenance, repairs and parking—you may find you can save money by renting a car only when you need one.

Car sharing works best for people who have other ways of getting around and who don’t rely on a car for a daily commute. For those who do drive daily, or for those who don’t live near a hub of shared cars, car sharing can wind up being more expensive and inconvenient than car ownership.

How Car Sharing Programs Work

Each car-sharing program has a website where users can browse for available cars and reserve one (you can usually extend your reservation online, too). Shared cars are usually located in a neighborhood parking lot. You’ll have a key card that opens the car doors; a key mechanism is inside the car.

You can rent a car for as little as one hour, which is ideal for running errands or picking up a friend at the airport. Rates average $7 to $9 per hour, or $69 to $85 per day at the popular car-sharing network Zipcar. The fee covers the cost of gas, car insurance and other incidentals. If your vehicle is low on gas, simply gas up for free using a gas card found inside the vehicle. Typically, if you exceed the daily mileage, you’ll have to pay a surcharge.

Most car-sharing programs have some sort of application fee, annual membership fee or both. Your fee pays for your access; if you choose to rent a car, you will be assessed a fee per day or per hour. If you have any sort of incident with the car, the insurance covers the incident. Some networks charge an incident fee—check your contract for details on this.

Make Money With You Car

If you have a car you don’t use often, you may be able to make a little money by listing it with a peer-to-peer car-sharing program such as RelayRides, GetAround or FlightCar. Before you do so, find out how it will affect your insurance. Car insurance providers are still trying to figure out how to deal with car-sharing programs, so for now, make sure you know what your insurance covers and how a peer-to-peer car share will affect it. Some car insurance policies don’t offer coverage if you rent your vehicle for profit.