Lending Your Car to Strangers (for Cash)

"Fill Those Empty Seats." Car Sharin...
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SUPPOSE you don’t need your car today.

And suppose, as it happens, that a stranger in your area does need a car. Would you be willing to rent yours out?

Several car-sharing start-ups, including Getaround, RelayRides and JustShareIt, are eager to connect car owners with renters this way. The companies use different formulas, but participating owners receive, generally speaking, about two-thirds of the rental proceeds. RelayRides says an owner of a midsize, late-model sedan who rents out a car for 10 hours a week could expect to clear about $3,000 a year.

The hourly fee to rent a car, including insurance, averages $6 to $8. Older cars can run as little as $3 an hour. Fancier models can run much higher — Getaround says it has Tesla Roadsters that go for $50 to $75 an hour.

Peer-to-peer car sharing remains in the trial stage; it can be found in San Francisco and a few other places. It has a long way to go before it becomes the auto equivalent of Airbnb, the surprise success story for peer-to-peer sharing of space in apartments and houses.

Shelby Clark, founder of RelayRides, based in San Francisco, says prospective investors in his company have been concerned that owners will be afraid to hand their car over to strangers. To address that, he points to Airbnb, saying, “Letting people sleep in your living room is much more of an intrusion into your personal space than letting someone use your car.”

All of these companies offer their own insurance coverage for their renters, which is supposed to put owners’ minds at ease. But only two states — California and Oregon — have passed laws to clarify that an owner will not suffer any repercussions should a car-sharing renter have an accident, says Robert C. Passmore, senior director of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“In all the other states, legal ambiguity remains,” he says. “If a renter should be involved in a serious accident in those states, the victim can be expected to go after every party possible, including the car’s owner.”

Also to allay the worries of car owners, the driving records of renters are checked for recent serious violations.

Getaround makes it easy to start: participants use their Facebook log-ins, and owners can control who rents their cars.

“We have seen many owners get up right to the point of that first rental and hesitate, as if standing at the edge of a cliff,” says Sam Zaid, the company’s C.E.O. “We want people to be able to start gently, perhaps renting just to friends of friends and not requiring any technology.” The owner personally hands over the keys to the renter — a big inconvenience if the owner doesn’t care to meet every renter, every time — and renters pay for the gas.

RelayRides installs hardware in each car to control the door locks. A smartcard reader is mounted behind the windshield, and the renter presses the card against the glass to gain entry. The ignition keys are hanging by the ignition, so the car can be rented many times without troubling the owner. Gasoline is currently included in the rental fee, but the company says renters will pay for it in the future.

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The RelayRides hardware also includes a GPS receiver and a cellular connection, so the company always knows the car’s location, as well as a remote off switch that prevents car theft.

The hardware costs RelayRides about $500, and the company installs it free. Mr. Clark looks forward to not having to install it in the future. RelayRides has announced a partnership with the OnStar division of General Motors, allowing renters to find, reserve and unlock G.M. cars with their cellphones via a factory-installed OnStar system.

JustShareIt, which started in January, requires most cars to have hardware like that of RelayRides, and offers a few other features for security monitoring of renters, like a sensor to detect sudden braking or signs of towing.

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