Let’s clear something up straight away: Car sharing does NOT mean borrowing a stranger’s car or lending your car to a stranger… though in some cases, that can be true.
Car share programs are just like renting a car the ‘old fashioned way’, except way easier. With a car share membership, you don’t have to stand in line and wait for an agent to check you in or hand you the keys. You do all that yourself via a phone app, including unlocking the car.
Also, car shares tend to have convenient pickup/drop-off locations throughout the city, whereas car rentals are typically in areas that are more convenient to tourists than to city residents.
Why join a car share?
Car share memberships offer a low-cost alternative to owning a car. The key benefit is that members can rent for short periods of time (even by the hour) with just a few clicks from their phone.
Generally speaking, car share memberships tend to attract people who only need a vehicle on occasion, and don’t have the necessity and/or resources to own one.
Consider a membership if…
- You live in a city with great public transportation, so you don’t need a car every day.
- You mostly walk or bike everywhere, but need a car every so often for grocery shopping, meetings or out-of-town trips.
- Your family needs a second car once in a while, but not all the time.
- Your business occasionally needs to make big pickups or deliveries, but not often enough to justify buying a van or truck.
- You travel often and prefer to handle reservations, pickups and drop-offs on your own.
How Car Share Programs Work
- Join a car share program
- Each membership has its own rules and technologies, but here’s how most work.
- Find a car share online by searching “car share” plus your city or postal code. Or just find one from this convenient list.
- Make sure the vehicle pickup locations are convenient for you before joining. They are usually located near public transportation for easy access.
- Choose a rate plan.
- Sign up with your driver’s license, credit card and sometimes proof of insurance.
- The approval process may take a day or two (some take up to a week), so don’t wait until the day you need the car to join.
- Expect to pay a small monthly or annual membership fee, plus the hourly or daily rate for the car.
- Make use of your membership
- Rent a car, van or truck via the program’s smartphone app or website. You may also be able to call or text for a reservation.
- Unlock the car door with your phone or membership card.
- Drive away.
- Return the car to the dedicated parking spot where you found it, so it’s ready for the next member.
- You usually don’t have to fill the tank before you drop it off. But if you need to fill the tank while you’re out driving, just swipe the car’s prepaid gas card. Don’t use your personal credit card — the cost of gas is usually included in your rental price.
- So long as the car isn’t already booked, you can usually extend your reservation as needed.