Arthur Frommer

August 14, 2011

Arthur Frommer: Websites help you rent your car to tourists

How big a leap is it from renting a spare room in your apartment to tourists, to renting use of your car to tourists when you don't need it?

How big a leap is it from renting a spare room in your apartment to tourists, to renting use of your car to tourists when you don't need it?

Airbnb (, iStopOver ( and others deal with those spare rooms. Now, amazingly enough, Getaround (, RelayRides ( and London's WhipCar ( permit you to earn extra money by renting your car out to others. In turn, they enable the renters to save big bucks on car rentals at a time when auto rental charges by the traditional companies are skyrocketing.

The average cost of renting a car through these unusual Internet services? Most companies claim that their charges average $45 a day, or $8 an hour on shorter rentals (but some older cars a reoffered for as little as $4 and $5 an hour). The owner of the car, who submits the car for rental, makes the final determination of how much he or she wishes to receive for various periods of use. And presumably, that hoped-for amount is subject to negotiation between the car owner and the would-be car renter.

And how, exactly, is the rental arranged? People with cars to rent post photographs and vital statistics of their cars on the websites listed above. People seeking a car rental peruse the websites and make the choice.

Cars must be fully insured, but the renter does not need to have car insurance; that's because the websites claim to have obtained a $1 million insurance policy per car on all the car rentals made through them.

Some of the above companies use the term "collaborative consumption" for the services they provide. One of them claims it is like "Airbnb for cars."

Others use such slogans as "neighbor-to-neighbor" car rentals or "carsharing." They certainly offer a means whereby owners of cars can earn an income — sometimes a considerable annual sum — from an underutilized car. But equally important (and at the risk of repetition), they enable renters to pay far less than they would to Hertz, Avis or Enterprise (or to ZipCar, in the case of hourly rentals).

They also help keep down the number of cars currently on the streets and highways.

Each such service, incidentally, also claims to vet the safety record of the people who seek to rent cars through them; they are able, they claim, to search public records to eliminate people who have a history of irresponsible driving.

A final point: Although each such service seems to emphasize hourly rentals on its websites, they all also offer rentals by the day, the week or the month, and in a large number of major American cities (or throughout the British Isles, in the case of WhipCar).

Although I was initially reluctant to discuss these unusual car-rental services (because of the insurance question, which concerns me despite the fact that each of the auto-rental websites claims to have solved it with its million-dollar policy), I have been encouraged by the fact that each of the companies is the subject of an increasing number of newspaper and magazine articles by journalists who have studied the records and the growth of these companies.

Nevertheless, I can't yet speak confidently about them, and must urge you to undertake your own investigation.

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