“Today, I’m going to Home Depot. I need to get some mulch for my garden. And that’s just a bit too heavy for me to carry on the bus.”

If you’re like me, it’s likely that you’re struck by the obviousness of Jolynn Regen’s statement. She’s the lady who doesn’t want to carry her mulch on the bus. What you may not realize is that she, like many thousands of people across the U.S., Canada and even the rest of the world, is one of a growing number of people who don’t own cars. But she’s also part of a growing group of people who participate in car sharing.

What exactly is car sharing?

If you’re all about saving money, and you don’t know about car sharing services, you should. This borrow-a-car as you need it car rental concept has been around, at least in principle, since the late 40s. In simplest terms, like Regen, if you only need a car for a couple of hours, you only rent a car for a couple of hours. If you need a car for the whole day, you have that option too, although for the sake of saving money, you may just want to look into a regular rent-a-car for that. But I digress.

Here’s how most car sharing programs work. Once you locate the car sharing company that has auto rentals in your city, you go to the company’s online website and sign up for a membership. Membership rates vary, but typically you pay a fee up front—say $50 or so plus a yearly fee. You give the company your driver’s license number, fill out the application and wait. If you’re approved, the rental car company sends you a magnetic card a couple of days later. This acts as your key into the car every time you rent, although some rental companies issue keys to their members.

What to do if you want to rent

To rent the car, you log onto the company’s website, look for a car near you and book it. Typically, you’ll have a choice of a couple of different cars, both big and small. At Boise State University, where I rent the cars from Enterprise Car Share, I can choose between a Ford Focus or a Kia Soul.

Also coming along for your ride is a credit card. That’s right. You don’t pay for gas. It, along with at least basic insurance for the car, is included in the hourly fee for the car (at least in most cases). Per-hour fees vary between the different car companies, but generally speaking, you can expect to pay anywhere from $8.00 to $9.50 per hour, depending upon your geographic location.

An article appearing in USA Today in 2013 stated that the average amount that Americans spend on their cars each year is $9,000, breaking down to a monthly average of $750.00. When I owned my car, I paid about $6,000 per year between car payments, cost of gas, insurance and upkeep. That's $500.00 a month. Now I average less than $200.00 per month for car expenses.

Saving car costs in the city

According to TransDev, over half the world’s population lived in cities in the year 2010, and by 2030, that number will jump to every three-out-of-four people. If you're in a position to rent as a family, some of the rental car companies actually have family or business plans. This works out well if more than one member of your household drives or if you'd like to get a multi-driver membership for your business. However, as I found out from speaking to an Enterprise Car Share representative about this, I learned that car share memberships can vary from place to place.

While for me specifically this means that my campus membership won't travel to say, Seattle. In light of this, if you become a member of a car sharing company, always check for both amenities and limitations the membership offers.

Saving money on car rentals

For the month of September, people with memberships in the Boise area can get nearly half off on the price of your car. This means the normal car share rate of $9.00 an hour (and change on the weekend) is $5.00 an hour. Anne at Enterprise Car Share told me that the universities who set up the memberships on campus partner with Enterprise to create special deals. This is a big advantage if you're renting a car from a college campus.

Anne also said that the company does run specials from time to time. The savvy car sharer can keep tabs on her car company to plan ahead for additional car savings throughout the year. Specials change quarterly and can range from getting a driving credit to discounted memberships.

 

This is a guest post by Buffy from Boise, ID.

 

How Car Sharing Services Can Save You Serious Cash