Car sharing may be the next big thing in car rentals

The owner of this 2011 Toyota Camry near Ashburn, Va. is renting this car for $10 an hour. (Courtesy RelayRides.com)

John Aaron, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Do you need a set of wheels, but you’re nowhere near a Zipcar or a rental agency? Do you have a car that sits unused for hours and hours each day, and could you use some extra cash for gas?

Peer-to-peer car sharing may be the solution. Many are touting it as the next big thing in car rentals.

The fledgling industry took a big step forward this week with the nationwide launch of the car-sharing service RelayRides. The company started off in Boston in 2010 and also began serving San Francisco later that year.

The concept is simple: Why hunt for a rental when there are dozens, if not hundreds, of parked cars close by?

Anyone can list a car with RelayRides, and anyone over 21 can apply to rent. The company provides the insurance.

While numerous other similar ventures have failed, RelayRides thinks going keyless will help car-sharing break through. Under an agreement with GM, OnStar-equipped vehicles could be unlocked remotely, eliminating a potential hassle for both renters and owners. A lockbox can also be placed on the car, or an in-person key exchange can be set up.

Cars are listed for anywhere from $5 to $20 an hour and up on the company’s website. RelayRides charges a 40 percent cut of the owner’s proceeds.

The service is still clearly in its infancy. Just two vehicles were available within 40 miles of Washington, D.C., a 2011 Toyota Camry near Ashburn, and a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen in Baltimore. Both were offered for $10 an hour or $50 a day.

RelayRides tells Slate.com that they expect more people to participate as they get accustomed to the idea of loaning their car out. They also said that car owners make an average of $250 a month, and that some make as much as $1,000.

The ride-sharing idea was appealing to many area drivers, who weren’t too concerned about issues like wear-and-tear and having a stranger in their car.

“I’ll beat it up anyway. That wouldn’t be the issue,” said the owner of a Honda Civic Si.

Others, like the owner of a stunning 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, were understandably resistant. “No, no, no way,” he said. When pressed to name a price that would pry him away from his classic, he came up with the nice round figure of $2,000 an hour.

The Civic’s owner, though, warmed up even more to the idea, tossing out an unprovoked sum of $12 an hour. “Wanna rent it?”

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)


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