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We need your help: Send us your questions about Car Sharing

Hello Car Talk Community!

We’re working on a feature for the website about car sharing services. We want to explain what they are, how they work, and why people use them (or don’t).

But we need your help. What questions do you have about car sharing?

Have you ever used a car sharing service? What did you love or hate about it?
Are you thinking about joining one, but still have questions? Post 'em!
Never heard of these programs before? What questions leap to mind?

Thanks for your input!

Jr. Web Lackey

Please define “Car Sharing”…Sounds like car renting in a slightly different format…Zip-Car comes to mind…Works pretty good in cities like Boston…

I don’t have any questions, just a comment. I don’t think I would ever use one of these services, mainly because I recognize just how important proper maintenance is for safety, and I prefer not to trust someone else to properly maintain the car as I would.

If I didn’t need or want to own a car full time, I would rely on public transportation. If there is no public transportation available, I would prefer to own my own car. These services seem to be for people who fall in between.

Some car sharing services involve people with cars picking up people without cars. The carless people get a ride home, and the driver gets to use the carpool lane. Google “slugging.”

I thought this was something I once heard about on Car Talk, where someone pays a fee to a company and gets to use a car shared with others for set periods of time, like a timeshare car.

What’s the deal, Connie? What are the details of the car sharing service? How does it work?

Without Receiving Any Details From You, I Will Imagine That Car Sharing Could Never Work In The Sparsely Populated Rural Area In Which I Live. Everything Requires Distance Traveling.

I’m curious about INSURANCE and car / driver liabilities. Please talk about that. How does it work ? What if somebody prangs somebody else’s car, gets in a collision while drunk, receives citations (parking, speeding), etcetera ? It sounds like a real source of problems.


Like others here, I have no idea what you’re calling “car sharing”.
Could you elaborate?

Yes, please define “car sharing service”.
never heard of if.
Can’t imagine it except for a daily rental company like ZipCar my son uses in San Francisco. They don’t own a car and generally don’t need one.

With light planes there’s multiple ownership or rental.

Like this?

Like Caddy, zip-car is the one I thought of first, too.

Seems feasible, if you live in a large city, where it’s easier not to own a car, but city transportation doesn’t always quite cut it. Check the link. I was on a plane and the sales girl for them was sitting next to me. If I lived in the right situation, I would definitely consider it.

Most of us own and enjoy owning our cars. I own 4 of them. Since I am a suburbanite and work, car sharing is not for me. I need a car to commute. So does my wife and one of our kids. The last car goes to school over 500 miles away with another child. Car sharing is for folks that live in a large city with good public transportation. Most people won’t have any interest in it. I suppose universities might work, but everyone will want it on a date night; maybe an occasional ride home for the weekend. But given the fee structure for zipcar, I would be more inclined to take a taxi.

I recall a story about this in the Pittsburgh papers: tax structures were set up especially to tax those who couldn’t vote people out of office, so hotels/airfare/rental cars were highly taxed.

Well, that (unintentionally) hit Zip-Car, et. al. hard. At the time, I thought a reasonable work-around was “fractional ownership/timeshare,” to avoid outright “renting.” I never heard what happened there.

Now, my biggest concern would be credit-worthiness: you’re giving Joe Blow a 5-figure automobile, with the expectation he returns it whole, or makes good on fixing/replacing it. Seems to exclude a whole lot of folks w/ “less than perfect” credit.

I’ll admit to doing some research after reading the post, but my immediate thought was “how does this work? Is it like Couch Surfing, ( where I’m offering to let someone use my car? The immediate questions were; how does the (liability) insurance work, how does it get arranged what are the chances of something going wrong and how does that get resolved? Or does this work like Bike Share? In addition to my first questions, who purchases the cars and who is responsible for maintaining them? How is theft and vandalism handled? What are the chances of finding a car when and where I need one? How does it get paid for? Or does this work like the luggage cart rentals at an airport? In addition to the previous questions; is a deposit required and how does that work? Am I limited to using the car in a relatively small geographical area? Do I have to return it to where I picked it up or can I leave anywhere when I’m done with it, if so who makes sure they get returned? And, some general questions; if I pick up a car that is damaged, unsafe or dirty, will I be held responsible? Who pays if I’m in an accident, my fault or not? Who do I call if the car breaks down?
After looking at the Zip Car web site I came to the conclusion that car sharing is simply a car rental company that has dispensed with most of its customer service in the same way that online banks have dispensed with brick and mortar branches.

I think they were trying something like that in Minneapolis a year or so ago along with the yellow bike program. Seemed like a looney idea for me and strickly for graying types that live in the central city and just once in a while venture outside the city. I had a neighbor that tried to share my lawnmower and newspaper and that was enough sharing for me. Everyone should buy their own paper and own their own lawnmower.

Thanks everyone!

These are great questions. I wanted to get a sense of what people are wondering before I dig into any research and this is a big help!

Ultimately we want to develop a web feature that will address these questions and deal with the ins-and-outs of how it works. But that might be a while, so let me quickly answer the few that I know already:

A definition of formally organized car sharing is kind of hard to pin down, as some of you noticed. I was originally thinking of membership-based services (like ZipCar and others). In these cases, the company owns, maintains and services all the cars and members rent them by the hour (as opposed to standard rental companies with daily fees.) This is cost-effective for occasional errands, but for full-day or weekend trips, you’re better off with a typical rental.

But, there are also companies that let you essentially rent out your own car to other people (which raise a different set of questions.) From your comments, it seems like people are a bit curious (but more cautious) about these services too. So I’ll look into that as well. These services are not as popular as the membership-style ones (at least not in the Boston-area).

The insurance and liability questions are much trickier so I’m going to not touch those until I’ve done a lot more research… but we will definitely be looking into that because it’s a big one.

Thanks again for your input and if you think of anything else, post it! I’ll check back periodically.

Yours in brainstorming,


Oh yes! I used to be a member of iGo, here in Chicago. A non-profit I believe. Loved it because a car was parked right behind my building so it was super convenient, cheap (just under $10/hr including gas and insurance) and the car was a perfect city car - the Honda Fit. As little as that car is, it comfortably fit all 6’ 1.5" of me and was well-designed to I could haul all sorts of groceries, my dog and Costco purchases. I primarily used the car to run errands locally. Initially iGo was offered in 30 minutes segment but more recently one had to rent for a full hour. I ended up buying my ‘dream car for my current financial situation’ (a 2002 Subaru Forrester) because I was doing more weekend trips out of the city and car sharing isn’t economical for the long hauls. But, I highly recommend iGo.

I belong to CityCar Share in San Francisco and have not owned a car for years. CCS is a non-profit that advocates carsharing as a way to reduce pollution, congestion and the dependence on cars in general. Rates are reasonable and always include gas, maintenance and insurance up to $1 million per incident. I am very happy with my car sharing experience.

Daughter uses ZipCar at university. Great because she does not have her own car on campus. Perfect for short-duration errands at 8 dollars / hr includes gas and insurance. Significantly beats the cost of university parking (720/yr) for a car she would probably use only once a week. Love it!

I use ZipCar here in Portland. When we moved to the city, one of the goals was to get down to one car (especially since we only have one parking spot). Our condo has two cars on site and as condo members, Roomie and I get a reduced annual fee. We rarely need it as we also have several mass transit options, but when we do, it’s great to have as a backup. The first time I drove a ZipCar was to rescue Roomie when he got into a minor accident late at night - his car wasn’t driveable, he was in a remote location and the late hour made calling a friend impractical. It’s incredibly easy, the cars are very nice and ZipCar is very responsive when there’s an issue.

For about a year and a half, I belonged to a car share organization in Philadelphia called Philly Carshare, a nonprofit like others that have been mentioned. I had been driving my own car but found it was more of a headache, financially and logistically, than I wanted while living in the city. I lived within a couple blocks of multiple pods (designated Carshare car parking spots), and reservations were easy to make on short notice either online or on the phone. It was a great way to have a car when I needed to run errands that required more cargo space than a bus or wanted to go somewhere outside the scope or timetable of public transit. Depending on the membership plan, you pay a low annual fee, an hourly or daily rate on the car, and/or a mileage fee. Gas and complete insurance are covered by those fees. The cars are well-maintained, and if a member notices a car not in tip-top shape, they are required to report it immediately for repairs.

One fun bonus to the membership is that you get to drive a lot of different types of car. For example, I took a Mini Cooper to an out of town wedding one weekend, drove a Honda Element to the grocery store, and took a Fit hatchback to IKEA.

My reason for leaving was a move to Baltimore, where my job in the suburbs requires car ownership.