Rental or Mental? The Pros and Cons of Letting Strangers Use Your Car


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Would you lend your car to a total stranger for some cash? It's happening in England, and there are a couple of small companies trying it on this side of the Atlantic as well.

The United States imported British government in the 1700s, British pop music in the 1960s, and British reality shows in the 2000s (where do you think “American Idol” came from?). Will WhipCar be the next big idea to cross the pond?

“WhipCar is the first service in the world where a car owner can rent out their vehicle for money, whenever they are not using it,” say its London-based co-founders Vinay Gupta and Tom Wright. “We take care of all the hassle, from screening drivers and taking payments to insurance.”

It’s called peer-to-peer car rental, and it’s been going on in Australia, Germany, Switzerland and England for years.

Here’s how it works at WhipCar…

  1. You register for free on the website, and it checks your driving and vehicle history.
  2. You set your own price to rent out your car, and you accept or decline offers as they come in.
  3. WhipCar sends you a check – after taking its cut.

Of course, when it come to cars, there’s always some fine print…

“Your car must be in good condition, be no more than eight years old and have a valid MOT (editor’s note: this is an inspection certificate issued in Britain), road tax and insurance. Please note: While millions of UK cars qualify for WhipCar, we are currently unable to offer the service to cars in the highest insurance groups.”

WhipCar touts its service as economical (“if you don’t use your car, get your car working for you”) and eco-friendly (“less cars on the road is better for everybody”). While it may work in England, Americans are notoriously possessive about their rides. Could it work here?

It’s already happening. Spride Share operates out of San Francisco, and goes one step further than WhipCar by offering a smartphone app that lets you track where your car is at the moment, as well as a method for renters to use their phones for key-less entry into a car. They’re not on the road yet, but expect to be soon: They’re waiting for a change in California insurance law, expected in March, that would allow private car owners to accept payment for renting their vehicles without violating the terms of their policies.

There are at least two other California peer-to-peer start-ups: Getaround and JustShareIt, also based in San Francisco. JustShareIt brings even more technology to the drivers seat by including a webcam so the owner of the car can see the renter while they’re driving.

Go-op is a Pittsburgh-based start up, and there’s another one in Boston called RelayRides. From this wikipedia post:

RelayRides allows private car-owners to rent out their vehicles on a short-term basis, via an online interface. Lenders and borrowers can set their own prices, and the company takes 15%. The service launched in Boston in summer 2010 and in late 2010 it expanded to San Francisco.

The company estimates that vehicle owners can earn from $2,300 to $7,400 annually, based on hourly rental rates that typically range from $6 to $12. The company provides $1 million worth of insurance for vehicles during the rental period. To address safety concerns, RelayRides also performs basic background checks of vehicle registration and safety, as well as renters’ safety records.

And if you think San Francisco and other major metropolitan areas are the only places feeling the love, you’re wrong. While the well-heeled start-ups above may be getting all the publicity, there are dozens of car-sharing services that operate right now nationwide.

According to carsharing.net, there are community-based car sharing services from Alexandria, Virginia to Wilmington, Delaware. See if your city is represented by checking out their complete list here. These services might hook you up with a less expensive rental, but unlike the start-ups mentioned above, most of these services don’t allow you to rent your car to others, so technically they’re not peer-to-peer car rentals.

And if you’re determined to stick to the old-fashioned way of renting cars, be sure to check out 5 Tips for a Better Deal on a Rental Car.

Stacy Johnson

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