Car expenses are found down every road—the gas pump sucks away 50 bucks in minutes, the air conditioning breaks every time there's a heat wave, the meter maid has it out for you, and as luck will have it, stray nails just gravitate to your tires. Car ownership is no mere drop in the oil bucket—according to AAA, it costs $8,000 a year to own and operate a mid-sized vehicle.

While it's not feasible for everyone to give up their car, transportation alternatives such as car-sharing are making it easier than ever. Car-sharing programs are an innovative alternative to car ownership and traditional car rental. Here’s what you need to know about using the two most popular car-sharing companies, Zipcar and Hertz on Demand:

Zipcar

The largest car sharing company in America is Zipcar. Zipcar owns about 10,000 cars in urban areas throughout 28 states and also has cars on over 230 university campuses. For a list of locations, click here. Here's how it works:

  1. Become a member here.  Most new members purchase the Occasional Driver Plan which has a one-time $25.00 application fee and a $60.00 annual fee. With the Occasional Driver Plan, you pay as you go.
  2. If you want to use one of Zipcar's vehicles conveniently located at central areas in your city such as airports, malls, and bus stations, then just make a reservation for hourly or daily use of the car. You can make your reservation days or just minutes ahead of time—you choose.
  3. Once you become a member, Zipcar will send you a Zipcard. Your Zipcard will allow you to unlock a Zipcar that you have made a reservation for. There is also an iPhone application that allows Zipcar members to remotely unlock Zipcars that they have rented.
  4. Depending on your city, a Zipcar will cost you about $7.00 an hour or $70.00 a day. This price include parking, gas, insurance, and up to 180 miles of use.

Hertz on Demand

Hertz, one of the most recognizable names in the car rental industry, is giving Zipcar some competition with their car-sharing service Hertz on Demand (formerly, Connect by Hertz). Hertz on Demand is a self-service car rental program which offers members 24/7 vehicle access to a variety of cars when and where they need them. Hertz on Demand has 10,000 vehicles available in major cities and at some universities. For a list of locations, click here. Here's how it works:

  1. Apply for membership here. Unlike Zipcar, Hertz on Demand has no membership fee, free enrollment, and no annual dues. Once you become a member, Hertz on Demand will send you a key fob/card.
  2. When you want to use a Hertz on Demand car, reserve your vehicle online. Then swipe your key fob/card over the reader on the windshield of your reserved vehicle to unlock the doors.
  3. Start the car and go! To return it, park the car at your designated drop off location. Unlike Zipcar, you don't have to return your car to the same location where you picked it up. This makes Hertz on Demand a good option for driving to the airport.
  4. Depending on your city, Hertz on Demand will cost you about $8.00 an hour. This price includes parking, gas, insurance, and up to 180 miles of use.
  5. If you currently have a membership to Zipcar or another car-sharing company and want to switch to Hertz on Demand, mail Hertz on Demand your membership card from any US car share competitor and Hertz on Demand will give you $75.00 in driving credits so you can try out their system. For more information on this promotion, click here.

Alternatives to Car-Sharing

Some states allow a car owner to rent out their car to another person not on their car insurance policy in a process commonly referred as peer-to-peer car rentals. Companies that facilitate this service include Spride, JustShareIt, RelayRides, and GetAround, just to name a few.

The New Transportation Alternative: Car-Sharing