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The Lowdown on Car Sharing

May - 13 - 2017

Car sharing is a term that has sprung up a lot over recent years, particularly in cities where parking costs can be exorbitant and people are always looking for alternative options to having their own vehicle. The industry is now a billion dollar one, and set to continue growing.

If you haven’t used a car share option at any stage though, it can be a little confusing to understand. You might want to determine exactly what it is, how it works, and what the benefits are. Read on for all the vital details you need to know today.

What Is Car Sharing and What Are the Benefits?

Car sharing is a specific type of car rental system. It differs from traditional car rentals in a few ways. For starters, it is perfect for people who just need to use a car for a short period of time, such as a couple of hours. As well, you pay only for your usage of the vehicle, based on how long you have it and how far you travel. This can save you considerable money, since you don’t have to worry about buying, maintaining, and parking your own vehicle.

In addition, car sharing is suitable for people who need to access a vehicle at any hour of the day or not, not just within business hours; and who need to get access to a car nearby their home, office, hotel, or other locations. With car sharing, vehicles are spread around diverse areas of towns and cities, as opposed to typical car rental companies, where you can only go to select locations, such as airports and a single inner-city location, to pick up your wheels.

Car sharing is beneficial for the environment, since it means fewer cars are on the road using up gas and emitting pollution; plus drivers can have some fun trying out different makes and models of cars, rather than being tied to just the one they own.

How Car Sharing Works

The logistics of car sharing services are pretty straight forward. First, decide which operator you want to use (note that your choices may be limited, depending on your location). Next, examine the conditions of a membership. This can vary from company to company, but tends to include things such as the driver needing to have a valid license, a clean record, and being at least 21 years old.

You will usually have to fill out an online registration form and pick a plan. You can then use the car sharing website to check out a map of your area and find where available cars are currently parked, or the service may simply tell you where the closest vehicle is to your current location. You can reserve this vehicle for your preferred times, either online, via your smartphone (text or website) or, in some cases, over the phone.

If the car sharing system you are using has multiple models available in your area, you might be able to choose a vehicle that best suits your needs. For example, you could pick from an eco-friendly Prius for around-town driving, a luxury model sedan for a weekend away, or a pickup to haul a bunch of your possessions.

When you arrive at your chosen car, you will usually use a membership card (with an electronic chip) that the service has sent you to unlock your vehicle; or you might use a specially designed app on your smartphone. Once you’re inside the vehicle, the key will then be hidden in a specified location. Alternatively, some services may require keys to be picked up from car owners or other spots. Usually you will also need to return to the vehicle to the same parking space where you picked it up, but this can vary too.

The gas costs and insurance should be covered in the plan that you choose, although you may need to top up the fuel if it falls below a particular level (often a fuel card will be kept inside the vehicle). You could be invoiced per trip, or receive a monthly bill (with a deposit having to be paid initially) if you will be using a vehicle more often.

You will often have to pay a membership fee to join the car-sharing service, plus an additional cost based on the number of hours you have the vehicle, and/or the number of miles you drive. Some services will charge a monthly administration fee too.

Types of Services Currently Available

There are multiple types of car-sharing services on the market these days to choose from. There are numerous specific car-sharing businesses servicing the consumer market (like one of the first players in the industry, Zipcar), as well as a variety of car brands which have branched out into car sharing, such as BMW.

In addition, thanks to the introduction of various apps and platforms, lots of individuals are also now starting to share their own cars. Businesses, too, are getting in on the act, with car sharing fleet management programs; plus there has been a growth in universities establishing car sharing programs for students, and tourism operators bringing on car services for vacationers.

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