5 Ways to Drive a Car Without Owning One

With these services, you can ditch the car and still access the driver's seat.

Philip ReedJan 19, 2018
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When the parking lot for Margie Schustack’s Bronx apartment was changed to one several blocks away, she noticed it was near where car-sharing company Zipcar parked its vehicles.

“If I was going to walk over there to park my car, I could just use a Zipcar instead,” she says. Since insuring, parking and maintaining her own Hyundai costs at least $2,000 a year, she’s considering going car-less.

This decision is one many urbanites are contemplating — ditching their cars and using a patchwork of transportation methods. Of course there are always Uber, Lyft and taxis. But there are still times when you want to drive a car yourself — and now a hodgepodge of car-sharing, rental and subscription services let you do just that.

Ways to go car-less and still get wheels

While car-sharing and the like might be the wave of the future, for now these services are primarily in urban areas, since a “critical mass” of users is needed before sharing is practical, says Michael Coates, editor and publisher of Clean Fleet Report.

For city dwellers looking for access to a car without having to actually own one, here are some of the many options to get wheels.

1. Hourly rentals. Usually, a membership is required and users pick up and return the cars to a designated location. Zipcar, for example, positions cars on college campuses or well-trafficked parking lots throughout the U.S. The company charges a $25 application fee, a low monthly membership fee, starting at $7, plus a rental fee — around $7 to $10 per hour and $75 to $80 per day, depending on location. Insurance and gas are included.

Traditional automotive players, such as General Motors and Enterprise, offer short-term rental services.

Traditional automotive players, such as General Motors and Enterprise, are also offering short-term rental services. GM’s Maven City, available in 12 U.S. cities, is one of several new rental programs from the automaker. Rates start at $8 per hour and $80 per day. With Enterprise CarShare, drivers pay an application fee (around $20), an annual membership fee (about $50) and hourly or daily rental fees similar to Zipcar's.

2. Point-to-point car rentals. With these programs, you find an available car parked nearby, drive it to your destination and leave it for someone else to use. Car2go is currently available in seven U.S. cities and requires a $5 sign-up fee but no monthly charges. Rates vary depending on the type of car and start at $0.41 per minute, $15 per hour and $59 per day. Similarly, ReachNow, operated by BMW, offers short or longer rentals (up to five days) — or you can hire a driver to pick you up. It’s available in only three cities so far. The pricing structure is similar to car2go, but drivers also pay a $39 registration fee.

3. Peer-to-peer car rentals. Curious about what it would be like to drive a Tesla? Maybe you can rent one for a day from the owner on Turo. You can even ask some of the “hosts” to bring the car to you. Turo’s website says it’s available in 4,700 cities in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Prices are set by the car owners and vary greatly, from $10 to hundreds of dollars per day. Getaround, a similar service, is in eight cities so far. Rental rates are set by owners and start at $5 per hour.

4. Monthly car rentals. For people needing a car for a month or more, several companies offer longer-term rental services. Sixt, Hertz Multi-Month Program and Enterprise Month-or-More Program all promise to save you money with monthly discounts off regular rates. Prices vary by location, car and duration, but rates for a two-month rental of an economy car ranged from $1,500 to $2,500, including taxes and fees. That's not cheap, but unlike hard-to-break lease contracts, a long-term rental provides flexibility.

5. Vehicle subscription services. A new, pricey twist on car ownership is monthly membership services. With “BOOK by Cadillac,” after being approved, you get your choice of Cadillacs and can switch between models 18 times a year. Subscribers pay $1,800 per month, plus an initial payment of $500. Concierge service, insurance, maintenance, repairs and fees are included. Launched in New York City, the service is expanding to Los Angeles and Dallas.

For some people, owning a car is more pain than pleasure — or it simply doesn’t interest them.

Ford offers a less expensive subscription service, Canvas, which began in San Francisco and recently launched in congested West Los Angeles. Monthly subscription fees for pre-owned Ford vehicles start at around $400, depending on how much and which vehicle you drive. Insurance and maintenance costs are included.

New attitudes toward ownership

Of course, many drivers won’t want to give up their beloved cars. But for some people, owning a car is more pain than pleasure — or it simply doesn’t interest them.

Coates believes that the car-sharing trend is driven by new attitudes toward ownership. “The younger generation looks at cars more like their (smartphone)," he says, "more of a functional device than a personal possession."

And those changing attitudes mean we’ll likely see more services popping up to meet the demand. “This is a pretty volatile space, but lots of fun and innovative things are going on,” Coates says. “You turn around and things change in a heartbeat.”