I am now a member of the car sharing community.
Back in mid-July my car was stolen right out of my secure monthly parking garage, a block and half from my apartment. Living in the heart of San Francisco I thought that maybe it was time to ditch the idea of having a car altogether. After all, living in a very urban area meant that I could walk to get most of what I needed, I work from home so I have no commute, and I’d be saving a ton of money on monthly parking, maintenance, car insurance, gas, parking meters, tickets, etc. I also liked the idea that I would be reducing my carbon footprint by not owning a car.
I started looking into the idea of car sharing, which would provide me wheels only when I wanted them. I really only needed the car for the occasional trips to Target or Costco or maybe the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment. All of these destinations are within 6 miles of me, but I often have bulk items that would be hard to transport on a bus or subway. And I thought car sharing might be a cheaper alternative to taking costly cabs or using car services such as Uber and Lyft.
Then I started to do some math.
My monthly costs as a car owner:
- Insurance: $129 a month
- Gas: $50 a month (I work from home)
- Maintenance: an average of about $1000 a year – I had an older vehicle that started to need some repairs (so let’s average that out to about $90 per month)
- Parking garage: $250 per month
- Miscellaneous parking: $40 a month
- Car payments: $0
Wow. I hadn’t realized I was spending that much and not really driving that frequently – just groceries, short weekend drives up or down the coast every now and again, trips to the beach/dog park a couple of times a week.
This car sharing thing was looking better and better.
Although Many people tend to initially think of these programs as short term car rentals, they are not. They work differently from how you rent a car for a day or a week at a national car rental chain. Although Enterprise and Hertz recently started offering car sharing programs.
They are also different from car sharing programs where you use another person’s car *called peer-to-peer car sharing” – such as GetAround or RelayRides. That wasn’t for me, but they may meet your needs.
The services I am looking at today are services own and maintain their own fleets of vehicles.
Here are the basics:
- You pay a nominal annual fee (anywhere from $25 to $150) to be a member of the service depending on the plan you pick and the service’s offerings.
- The plans vary in price and allow you to choose from paying a little more with unlimited mileage to paying less, but paying per mile driven or paying a flat fee.
- There is an hourly fee for the car, which depends on time of day and type of vehicle. That hourly rate can also increase or decrease depending on your plan type.
- After you apply online by providing pertinent information such as name, address, SS#, driver licence number, billing info, etc., you get a key fob in the mail that allows you access to any of service’s cars at any of their many locations.
- Then you download the service’s app to your phone or mobile device for free.There is also a website where you can login.
- Through the app you can reserve a car for pick up and drop off at the location of your choice and for the amount of time you need it. Cars billed are by the hour, but can be reserved in 15 minute increments.
- You can opt to receive either a text or an email with your reservation number, times for pickup and drop off and other information.
- You proceed to the location of the assigned vehicle at the assigned time, swipe your key fob over a device on the windshield that communicates with the service. Once it recognizes your specific ID and info, the doors will unlock and you are set to drive off.
- Once you complete your trip, you must return the vehicle to same location, swipe out with your personal fob and you are done. Some services allow you to drop off in the same “designated home area” but it doesn’t have to be the exact same parking spot.
- You don’t pay for gas and each car has a gas card that can be used and verified at the pump with a personal ID number assigned to you.The service I use only requires you to fill up the tank if it goes below 1/2 full.
- You do not pay for insurance. They they’ve got you covered, but you’ll need to read the fine print to see if you are liable for a deductible in the case where an accident is your fault.
- No parking monthly fees.
- No maintenance costs. They clean and service the cars on a regular basis.
- No car payments.
- There is a 24 hour emergency hotline to speak with the service about any problems including roadside assistance.
- If you feel like you are running late – you can go to the app on your mobile device and add time in 15 minute increments.
- I like that nearly all the cars in my neighborhood (which can be found at 5 different spots are located within 2 blocks from me) are the same make – Toyota Prius. It’s much easier to drive and feel safe if you are familiar with a car and not fumbling to adjust the set, mirrors, or figure out how turn on the wipers every time you get in a different car.
- The flip side to that is that sometimes you might need a truck or vehicle capable of transporting a large item. You can choose the type of car you need. Most fleets include trucks, hybrids, Fiats, Mini Coopers or even electric vehicles.
- If you live in a city or large town, you will likely find many locations that are convenient to you.These cars are often parked in public parking garages, gas stations or even designated street parking spots. I have at least two dozen locations within a 1.5 miles of me. My prefered pick up spot is less than a block away.
- I have been able to reserve a car with as little as 15 minutes notice. But it’s all dependent on availability of the vehicles.
- Car sharing is a feel good, eco-friendly alternative to car ownership.
- I had trouble clearing the mental hurdle that every time I wanted to go somewhere I was paying to do so. If you’re a car owner you probably don’t think that way. Imagine if you were calculating a trip to run to the pharmacy, grocery store and to drop off clothes at the church fundraiser and thinking this will cost me $29. So, in some cases I have reduced my errands to a single, weekly tactical mission that includes hitting up everything at once and as quickly as possible to avoid incurring extra costs. That also means that one day is far more stressful than others and involves a lot of hauling and lugging items I needed to buy since that is only time I need the car.
- I seem to spend more money at the store. This is also a mental hurdle. I feel like I don’t want to have to reserve the car another time to get more items, so I am buying more. Even as a car owner and with more frequent trips to the store, I was spending less.
- I no longer drive just to drive. Frankly, I miss that. Living on the California coast it was nice to just get in the car and head to the beach for the day or the dog park. That rarely happens now. The spontaneity is diminished.
- The billing for the service I use is a bit erratic. I wrongly assumed that every time I used the car that trip would be immediately deducted from my bank account.
- There seems to be a monthly billing cycle – but even this month I was not charged until October 10th, so my charges included all of September and some usage in October. Other times I have been charge halfway through the month. I like a little more predictability.
- I’ve experienced a few glitches. Once I reserved a car, scheduled my plans around that trip to run errands, got to the car and it wouldn’t start. I called the service’s emergency number, but there were no other vehicles in my area at that time. Mission thwarted. I had to shuffle a bunch of appointments to go the next day.
- Although many of the services allow pets in the vehicles as long as they are in carriers, I violated the rule once and let my dog in the car with just a leash. Apparently, I didn’t clean my darling Benny’s hair from the car thoroughly and the next driver reported me. That cost me a $50 fee, which did not show up until I received my monthly bill. Ouch! No more Benny in the car. Lesson learned – follow the rules.
Obviously, some of these pro and cons are specific to my experience and yours may differ.
Here are some basic things to consider before deciding if car sharing best suits your needs:
- How much am I currently paying to own a car (include parking, insurance, repairs, regular maintenance, gas, etc.)?
- How often do I drive?
- What kind of driving do I engage in? Driving longer distances? Short quick trips?
- How close are the nearest cars located to me?
- How many cars are there and will they be available when I need them?
- Is my schedule flexible enough to go at off-peak times?
- Can I change plans if I find that my driving differs from how I thought it would go when I signed up?
Once you’ve taken into account all of these factors, you can decide if car sharing its right for you.
Just a note about my personal experience: After 3 months of car sharing, I have decided to open a new bank account and put that $560 I would have spent on monthly car ownership in there. I will then link that to my billing profile only for car sharing. I think that will allow me to see exactly how much I am saving per month. Last month my bill was $300. That’s a $260 savings. But the month prior, I had a visitor in town for 10 days and racked up nearly $520 in car sharing costs. Pretty soon, I should see significant dollars adding up – maybe enough for a nice vacation.