Carsharing services are cropping up everywhere as car manufacturers realize that the monopoly that they’ve held comfortably for close to 100 years is dramatically ending. As this era of car ownership comes to a close, the car companies are not down and out about their chances for survival. Instead, smart brands have shifted their marketing focus from selling cars to sharing them.
Sharing cars? Yes, it’s the latest fad, and it might be the most prevalent form of transportation within a few years. As more people move to cities, the value of owning a vehicle, which sits parked and unused for more than 90% of its lifetime, is decreasing rapidly. Millennials are quickly learning that a sharing economy is the smarter way to go, and that involves shared transportation as well.
Before you settle in behind the wheel of any shared car, though, know that some services are better than others. Features like fees, models, and convenience will factor in heavily to your decision. If you’re ready to jump on the car sharing bandwagon, then be sure to look into these key factors before signing up.
Since the industry is dealing with people who are on-the-go, it only makes sense to have a mobile app. The better the app, the better the car sharing service will rank. Mobile apps should cover a few features including:
Reservations: Making, changing, and canceling reservations from within the app
Directions: Clear instructions on how to get to the pick-up location where your car is waiting for you. Most car sharing apps also have a map view that shows you all the pick-up/drop off locations within a given area around you.
GPS: Because if you aren’t driving all the time, you likely don’t know how to get to where you need to go (or would appreciate the fastest route even if you do know)
Reviews: Customer reviews give you a good idea of what to expect from a service based on real user experiences
In addition to the basic features, some services take their mobile apps a step further offering cool features for the contemporary consumers. JustShareIt has convenient keyless locks so you can lock and unlock your car via the app without having to pick up a key. Maven is the king of mobile convenience, programming its cars so you can start the engine or even turn on the AC or heat from the app, so your car is just the right temperature when you arrive.
Reservations vs. On the Spot
All car sharing services offer either online or mobile app reservations (sometimes both), so you can easily make reservations, changes, and cancellations to your reservations. It’s important to find out how much time in advance you need to reserve a car so you can be assured of a vehicle when you need it.
Obviously, the more cars a service has in its fleet, the more likely you are to get on the spot reservations. If this is more your style than the plan ahead type, you might want to look into a peer-to-peer option like GetAround or RelayRides. These options open their services up to private owners, granting drivers a greater availability at any given time.
Also, find out which companies allow you to use international licenses to make reservations if this is relevant to your travel plans. Finally, look into how far in advance you can book so if you are the type to have everything worked out early, you can cross one more thing off your list.
Memberships & Coverage
Different services provide varying price tiers and membership plans that cover the gamut from no membership whatsoever to annual plans that cover you for an entire year. The most common plan structures include:
Time-based: This can be annual, monthly, daily, or hourly
Mile-based: Many companies offer you a flat rate for the first 100 miles and then charge a set fee per mile for every mile over that
The right plan for you will depend on your particular needs. For instance, if you're just running a quick errand, then Car2Go's per-minute pricing model might work best for you. On the other hand, if you need to travel regularly, an annual plan from Zipcar might work out to be more financially advantageous for you.
You should also find out if memberships cover round-trip or one-way (meaning, you don’t have to drop off the car in the same city/location that you started out in) and airport pickup/drop offs. FlightCar and RelayRides are popular choices for airport car sharing.
It’s also a good idea to find out what benefits are covered within your membership. For example, personal car insurance doesn’t cover car sharing, so you better find a service that provides liability insurance in case of damages, accidents, or if the car is stolen while it’s being rented. Most companies will cover insurance, fuel, and tolls, but not all, so find out. Here’s a quick glance at a few of the industry leaders benefits:
Other companies like Enterprise, Zipcar, and Maven also cover gas.
Getting stuck when you need to be somewhere is one of the worst casualties of modern transportation. That’s why you want a service that won’t leave you high and dry with no one to turn to in your time of need. For actual vehicular issues like flat tires, dashboard lights flashing, or brake failure, roadside assistance is an invaluable tool that you should inquire into before signing up. Other more technical issues like services, plans, fees, and reservations can be handled by competent phone, email, or live chat customer support. You’ll find these services with most car sharing companies, and roadside assistance comes with services like Zipcar, GetAround, and Enterprise too.
Since a compact won’t help you transport that fabulous new dresser you just bought second hand, what type of vehicles the service offers is another important question to ask. Many companies have a wide range of vehicles on offer including trucks, vans, and cars. You can also get a selection of electric and hybrid models from places like Enterprise and ReachNow.
And, not to sound like too much of a snob, but we all care about our appearances, and that includes the car we drive. Nobody wants to be caught dead cruising around in an old jalopy or a junker from the 80’s. Fortunately, many car sharing services are started by the best car companies in the industry so you can find loads of sweet rides, from Mercedes-Benz service Croove to Mini Coopers from ReachNow.
Location, Location, Location
Finally, location might be the most important feature to look into because if the service is not in your neighborhood, all the other benefits won’t do you any good. Car sharing is a relatively new concept, so many services aren’t as nationally-available as they will be in a few more years. Still, there are plenty of options around. Zipcar takes the cake with over 170 cities worldwide, but there are others like GetAround and Car2Go that have lots of locations in their networks including prominent cities like NYC, Seattle, and Austin.
Car sharing is the future of transportation, and within a few years, it may take over the vast majority of transport throughout the country. Make sure you are using a reliable service, and you can really get the most out of this 21st century convenience.