Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Consumer Advice: Which car sharing service is right for you?

Can you believe this MB is available through car sharing?
As we discussed in our latest editorial about shifting American attitudes towards driving, car sharing service are becoming increasingly popular among those who live in urban areas, especially those in the younger generations who either do not want the hassle of owning a car in the city or have made the conscious decision to utilize alternative methods of transportation for most of their day-to-day needs. The result has been a renaissance of late with car sharing services popping up all over the country, and even the world, taking on a variety of different implementations of the same concept. Some rely on a fleet of company owned vehicles while others rely on the members to be willing to share their personal vehicles. Some provide a great deal of variety and allow members to find a vehicle to fit their needs while others have no variety whatsoever and give you only a single option to pick from. All have mobile apps to allow you to locate cars in your area and make or change reservations on the go.

With all of these potential choices, let's take a moment to dive in and take a look at the various car sharing options and what the perfect match member would look like to each of these services.


Zipcar


Image courtesy of Wikipedia
First up in the grand-daddy of them all, Zipcar. This is by far the most expansive car sharing program in the US and has vehicles stationed in nearly every metropolitan center across the United States. Members must have an account and a Zipcard, which is used to access the services vehicles. Reservations are required and insurance and gas are provided with the use of the vehicle, but it must be returned to the exact location where it was picked up. Zipcar sets itself apart with its huge selection of vehicles, with everything from small compacts like the Ford Focus to mid-size luxury sport sedans like the Mercedes Benz C250. Also available are hybrids, pick-up trucks, and even cargo vans in some locations. In general, vehicles tend to be relatively clean and well taken care of and if they are not, members can always call in and switch out a reservation if they find the vehicle they are picking up unacceptable.

Estimated cost: $60/year annual fee (or $6/month with no commitment) and rates starting around $8.25/hr or $84/day

Pros
- Huge and up-to-date vehicle selection
- Insurance and gas included in the rates
- Available throughout the US and even overseas

Cons
- All trips must start and end at the same location, no one-way trips are allowed
- Can be expensive, especially for daily use and if distances are longer than 180 per day
- Penalties are stiff for failing to return a vehicle on time

Perfect match for the urban dweller who likes the convenience of access to a car without the hassles of maintenance, garaging, insurance, and paying for gas.

Car-2-Go


Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Built around the Smart Four-Two city car, this service is growing in popularity and attempting to compete with Zipcar in many markets. With only a single choice of car and rates that are as granular as by-the-minute, this service provides greater flexibility as it also allows for one-way trips. Accessing the cars is as simple as swiping your MemberCard in front of the card reader. Want to keep the car while you stop somewhere? Just use the key to lock the car instead of swiping out.

Estimated cost: $35 sign-up fee and rates of $0.41/min up to $84.99/day up to 150 miles per trip

Pros
- Park it just about anywhere
- No reservation required and one-way trips are allowed
- Insurance and gas included in the rates

Cons
- No choice of cars, only the Smart Four-Two is available at this time
- Currently only available in 6 cities in the US at the moment

Perfect match for those who value convenience above all else and need the ability to take one-way trips.

Enterprise CarShare and Hertz 24/7


Image courtesy of Igocar.com
Image courtesy of Hertz247.com
These are recent efforts by the car rental companies to start their own car sharing programs. Both offer services similar to any other car sharing program and offer a selection of cars from their respective rental car fleets. Hertz does offer the ability to do one-way trips while Enterprise does not. Reservations are required for both services and you can book the exact car you are picking up. Neither service appears to have any fee to join, though that may change as time goes on.

Estimated cost: No fee to join and rates from as low as $5/hr

Pros
- A variety of vehicles to suit your needs
- Insurance and gas included in the rates
- One-way trips are allowed with prior notice (Hertz 24/7 only)

Cons
- Vehicles tend to be older and have more miles on them
- Limited availability at the moment in the US

Perfect match for those who like the trust of a known company or have the ability to earn points with either rental company's loyalty program.

FlightCar


Image courtesy of TechCrunch.com
This one is an interesting twist on the car sharing concept. Focused on travelers, FlightCar allows members to list their own cars for rent at two major airports in the US. Members set the price and tell FlightCar when they will be dropping the vehicle off. During that period, the car is made available for rent to other members who make a reservation. If no one reserves the car, then the member who owns the car got free parking for the duration of their trip. This opens the door to a huge variety of possible vehicles, but also poses a lot of potential risks to vehicle owners. Luckily, FlightCar seems to have good insurance coverage provided in case of any incidents and does do renter eligibility screening to prevent people with bad driving records from becoming renters.

Estimated cost: No fee to join and rates are competitive with standard rental cars

Pros
- A nearly endless selection of possible vehicles
- The opportunity to have your vehicle make money while you are out on a trip and free airport parking
- Alternative to regular boring rental cars

Cons
- No way to be sure what car you will get
- Limited to 90 miles per day
- Insurance and gas not included just as with traditional rental cars

Perfect match for the business traveler who does not mind lending their car out while they are out of town.

RelayRides


Image courtesy of Wikipedia
This one takes the car sharing concept and opens it to the community at large. RelayRides opens up your personal vehicle to its community of renters. Owners who list a vehicle can select their renters and get paid a portion of the rental fee. This is a good way for a second car that normally sits around to make some extra money for the owner and help offset the payment. Renters have the opportunity to provide feedback and rate the vehicles and their owners. RelayRides provides insurance coverage for the vehicle owner while it is being used by a renter, but renters must provide their own insurance.

Estimated cost: No fee to join and rates vary greatly depending upon individual owners

Pros
- Nearly endless variety of cars to choose from
- Available in a number of cities throughout the US
- Vehicles with manual transmissions are available

Cons
- Insurance and gas not included
- Mileage limits vary depending upon vehicle owner
- Must arrange pick-up and drop-off and not as convenient as traditional car sharing services

Perfect match for those with a second vehicle that they do not mind sharing with others and for drivers who want something other than your typical rental.

Know of other car sharing services that we did not cover here? Tell us about them in the comments and take a moment to share with us your experiences using the various car sharing services.

Tags: automotive, car rental, car sharing, mobile app, transportationtravel