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Car-sharing guide: On-demand, short-term car rentals

Your car spends a lot of time just sitting. Maybe joining a car-sharing service like Turo or Zipcar could be right for you.

There's a good chance a car is your primary mode of transportation. It's usually a necessity to get to work, school, a doctor's appointment or the grocery store. But as much as we rely on our vehicle, for many people, it spends most of its time just sitting, motionless. But just because it isn't moving doesn't mean it's not costing you money. 

Think of the costs associated with owning a car -- your monthly payment, insurance, fuel, maintenance and repairs, and if you live in an urban area, parking. A car is a costly possession, but there are car-sharing services that could help you to make a few dollars renting your vehicle to others. Or you could potentially save money by borrowing one on-demand, especially if you don't own a car. If you do own one, but maybe it's too small for you and your friends to travel to the mountains for a camping trip, or perhaps you need a larger vehicle with more cargo capacity for moving house, car sharing might be a better fit than a traditional rental.

Car-sharing services aren't new, but they are proliferating. They provide a middle ground between ride-sharing services, where someone else drives you to your destination, and car subscriptions, which are services that allow you to keep a specific vehicle for an extended period. Car-sharing services often handle short-term versions of traditional car rentals. Naturally, each service has its pros and cons.

Vehicle-sharing services all work in similar ways: You reserve a car, truck or SUV ahead of time using an app, borrow it for a specific (usually short) trip or journey, and then return it to the same parking spot later. Some services provide insurance and even a gas card to refuel. Each service is different, however, so be sure to read all the terms and conditions before agreeing to your first rental. To help get you started, here are some of the most popular car-sharing apps and services available today. We'll update this list as these services evolve.

Zipcar is North America's largest and best-known car-sharing service.

Zipcar

Zipcar

Likely the best known of all car-sharing services in the US, Zipcar was founded in 2000 and purchased by Avis in 2013. It now offers 12,000 vehicles across 500-plus cities and more than 600 college campuses. The company claims that a Zipcar is reserved somewhere in the world every six seconds. While Zipcar focuses on college campuses, airports and other urban cities across the US, the company also offers cars at locations in parts of Western Europe, Canada and Costa Rica.

To join Zipcar, you have to pay a membership fee that runs $70 a year or $7 a month. Then each car rental costs an hourly or daily rate that varies depending on the vehicle you select. There are also discounted subscription plans for college students. Each rental initially allows for 180 miles of driving -- with a per-mile rate thereafter -- and Zipcar covers insurance and maintenance for each of the cars. Drivers must be 21 years of age, although college students are eligible to join Zipcar from age 18. You can rent a Zipcar for as long as 14 days. While there are certainly instances where a Zipcar rental may be cheaper than a traditional rental car, keep in mind that it takes longer to get approved for your first rental.

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Maven will let owners of GM cars share them with others.

Maven

Maven

Maven is General Motors' car-sharing service, which launched in 2016 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The service, which was initially rather large, has since been cut back significantly. Maven is currently only offered in Detroit and neighboring Ann Arbor, along with San Francisco and Los Angeles. Just like Zipcar, Maven users can reserve and borrow a car with an app -- though, unsurprisingly, all of the vehicles are GM cars. Rentals start at $8 an hour, though larger vehicles like SUVs cost more. There's no subscription fee and the minimum renter age is 18.

Maven has expanded to other sharing-economy ideas, too. Maven Gig allows drivers to borrow a Maven car for working another job, such as a ride-sharing or food-delivery service. Maven Reserve allows for longer-term rentals of cars -- a little more like traditional car rentals. And there's even a program that allows GM car owners to share their own vehicles, peer-to-peer style, through Maven -- a little like Turo.

Toyota Hui car-sharing service

So far, Toyota's car-sharing program Hui is only offered in Hawaii.

Toyota

Hui

Toyota is getting into car-sharing in a limited way in Hawaii with a service called Hui. Drivers can use a smartphone app to reserve a Toyota or Lexus vehicle and borrow it for short periods of time. The program, which was announced in 2018, started with 50 vehicles at 25 locations around Honolulu, and it has since expanded to more locations. Prices range from $10 an hour for a Toyota Prius to $20 an hour for a Lexus RX. As with most car-sharing services, you also need to pay a monthly membership fee to join Hui.

eGo CarShare

Since opening its doors in Colorado in 1997, eGo CarShare has grown only slightly, but remains in the Mile-High State. Its mission is cost-effective, green mobility and, as a nonprofit, looks to have a positive impact on the lives of the customers it serves in the Denver and Boulder areas. There are fewer than 100 vehicles in its fleet, but its cars can be had at lower prices than most car-sharing services due to the company's focus as a nonprofit.

Turo

Where most of the car-sharing apps discussed here involve a company providing the vehicles that you borrow, Turo works a little differently. It's a peer-to-peer sharing system, meaning that anyone can list their own car for rental through the service. Think of it as AirBnb for cars rather than apartments. Owners can set their own rates for vehicle rentals and there are all manner of cars available, especially more interesting vehicles including classics, supercars and popular modern cars like the Tesla Model 3. Turo says it has over 350,000 vehicles listed on its service, comprising more than 850 different makes and models. If you happen to be looking at used cars and want some quality time to live with one before buying, Turo may even be a great way to do test drive something, too.

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The BMW ReachNow app offers both car-sharing and ride-hailing functions -- but only in very few places.

BMW

UHaul CarShare

UHaul CarShare has locations at various colleges and universities in 21 states around the country, and offers cars as diverse as a Toyota Prius to a Ford F-150, depending on where you are. As with rival services, you can use its app to sign up to drive the CarShare vehicles, then reserve one via the app. Prices start at $5 an hour plus a mileage charge, or $62 for a daily rental that includes 180 miles of driving. To limit complexity, fuel and insurance are included in those prices.

Enterprise CarShare

A short-term, on-demand version of the company's well-known rentals, Enterprise CarShare is available in nine US cities, as well as in four Canadian and many UK cities. Rental rates vary by location but, for reference, start as low as $5 an hour or $45 a day in Philadelphia, while New York is $8 an hour and $69 a day. Drivers must pay an annual membership fee to join CarShare.

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Hope you're cool with a Toyota Prius C, because that's pretty much all you get with Gig.

Gig

AAA Gig

Gig is a new venture operated by the AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah regional club. You can choose to pay by the mile (at $2.50 per), by the hour ($15) or $85 for the day, but discounts are offered depending on the car and day of the week. Gig uses Toyota Prius C hybrids and Chevrolet Bolt EVs, each equipped with bike racks for outdoorsy folks to take their two-wheeled toys with them. All Gig cars must be picked up from -- and returned to -- its so-called HomeZone around the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento or its upcoming Seattle location.

Getaround

Like Turo, Getaround is a peer-to-peer car-sharing service, meaning the cars you borrow belong not to Getaround, but to other users. It's currently offered in more than 300 cites around the world. Getaround launched in 2013 and now says it has 5 million members worldwide. Ride-hailing giant Uber has also partnered with Getaround so you can rent the cars through the Uber app. Costs for Getaround vary widely, because cars rent at different rates and in some cases a required deposit. If you happen to be under 25 there's a sliding scale of fees to cover insurance costs, but all fee descriptions are available at the Getaround website.

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