Gasoline-fueled cars are (one of) the banes of our collective carbon-spewing existence—and the guilty pleasure of many a conscious consumer.
We've got one here at Wallet Mouth H.Q., albeit a small one... which presents us with a problem. Now that Mini Mouth has a little sister (happy six weeks, Micro Mouth!), an aura of inevitability has been gathering around the idea of either trading in our Mini Cooper for something bigger or getting a second car. Neither of which thrills me.
But wait! Maybe there's another way! Thanks to a recent law, it's now legal in California to rent cars from (and to) fellow citizens. With peer-to-peer car sharing, as it's known, car owners determine when their vehicles can be used and how much borrowers must pay per hour (usually between $6 and $9). Companies like Getaround, RelayRides, and Spride Share do all the coordinating, letting owners earn money and making it easy for borrowers to use a car near them.
A website tells you where the closest vehicle is. You get into the car via a swipable card, a fob, or your iPhone. With RelayRides and Spride, gas is included in the hourly rate; GetAround expects you to keep track of and replace the gas you use with each rental.
Insurance is covered by the car-sharing company—and this is where problems could crop up for loaner-outers. The state law that legalized car sharing (AB 1871) holds owners harmless if a borrower gets into an accident with their car. But what if the accident is due to some non-obvious problem lurking within the car? The law says nothing about vehicle inspections to ensure that cars are safe and well maintained.
The blog RentMyCar (which appears to have no actual car-sharing business associated with it, despite its name) states, "Once a vehicle owner starts to rent their vehicle to the public, they will be subjected to State and Federal car rental laws. One such law requires a vehicle owner to REGULARLY inspect their vehicle." It goes on to say that "an accident due to a defect in the vehicle may establish a negligence per se claim against the Vehicle owner, or even gross negligence to establish criminal charges."
I don't share the same degree of worry—after all, AB 1871 says "the personal vehicle sharing program shall assume all liability of the owner and shall be considered the owner of the vehicle for all purposes" in the event of an accident.
But it did make me curious, so I contacted the companies. Haven't heard back from Spride yet, but Matt Willard of GetAround told me his company requires owners "to maintain their regularly scheduled maintenance—roughly every 3,000 miles, or what would be your car's life for an oil change—to ensure the car is safe to drive for all our users." He added that if a car "has not adhered to that schedule and gets into an accident, Getaround would be liable for that accident."
And RelayRides' Ashley Denzen told me cars must be inspected upon entry to the system and on a yearly basis thereafter.
So to me, on balance, it sounds pretty safe. Mind you, I still wouldn't want to be the first loaner-outer whose car, god forbid, hits a pedestrian and gets sued.
But all of this is secondary to the coolness that is peer-to-peer car sharing. Many car owners are only occasional drivers. They own because they want wheels when they want them, and they're turned off by the vagaries of public transit. By making cars a little more public-transity (in that they're a shared service), car sharing has the potential to make more people choose not to own vehicles, as well as to make vehicle ownership less costly. Not a bad thing!