Saying no to a car-sharing service

My family has one car.

The main reason for this is that a car is expensive. You've got to buy it, fuel it, store it, insure it, register it, park it and fix it.

A car is also a depreciating asset, so there's no point in having more than you need, unless cars are a hobby you can afford to indulge. For us, they're not.

We're nearly 14 years into this arrangement, and having one car has worked out well.

Even so, there are times — perhaps once or twice a month — when our family of three wishes we had a second car.

Buses, light rail and taxis help, but they don't always go where we need them to go.

In a perfect world, we would have one-and-an-eighth cars or thereabouts. Unless we can find seven friends who would like to go in with us on a car — not likely — the best way to accomplish this is through a car-sharing service.

This is the story of how we looked into car-sharing and ultimately concluded it wasn't for us.

First, I went online to check out what's available. The Twin Cities, where I live, boasts four car-share services: Car2Go, ZipCar, HourCar and Enterprise CarShare, a division of the rental car company.

They each have their own fee quirks, which I share below.

Navigating the costs of car-sharing

Fees and hourly rates differ, which can make figuring the true price difficult.

Company Fees Daily cost Options
Car2Go $35 sign-up fee $72.99 One-way trips allowed
ZipCar $60 annual fee; $25 application fee $72; $77 Friday-Sunday $50 monthly plan for six hours of driving
HourCar $5 monthly fee $65 weekday; $75 weekend $15 monthly plan cuts daily rate by $10
CarShare $40 annual fee; waived the first year $65 to $70 for a Kia Soul Prices vary based on car model

Car2Go offers the same prices in each of the nine U.S. markets in which it operates. Prices differ at ZipCar (21 cities) and CarShare (metro areas in 15 states and at dozens of universities). HourCar operates only in Minnesota.

Car2Go offers two-seat Smart Cars and has cars in our neighborhood. You can also get an hourly rate of $13.99, but the per-minute charge increases after 150 miles in a single trip.

ZipCar's monthly plan is a bit cheaper than the plan with the annual fee. It works out to $64.80 a day during the week and $69.30 a day from Friday to Sunday. The company offers various sedans, but we'd need to take the bus to get the car.

Like ZipCar, HourCar has two plans that charge different rates based on up-front fees. Use the car late at night and pay $3 per mile. There are no hubs in our neighborhood.

CarShare offers various types of cars and charges prices that vary accordingly. It's the only one of the four companies I looked at that has tiered rates based on the vehicle.

A Ford Escape is the most expensive option, at $10 an hour or $80 a day during the week and $11 an hour or $88 a day from Friday to Sunday. The price drops to $7 an hour from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Those prices include 200 miles; additional miles cost 45 cents each. Again, there are no CarShare hubs in our neighborhood, so using this service would involve a bike ride, bus ride or drop-off.

For comparison, I also looked up the price for Enterprise car rentals: $58 a day. And Home Depot rents trucks for $69 a day, or $19 for the first 75 minutes.

My conclusion: It probably doesn't make a lot of sense for us to invest in a car-share membership. The hourly prices are reasonable and the daily prices are competitive, particularly considering that car-share services pick up the tab for insurance and gas.

But we don't really need a second car for the errands that take an hour or less, or for a day at a time. It's the errands that take three or four hours apiece where we could use an additional vehicle.

That quickly adds up to a trip that costs $40 or more, or about $325 a month if we used the service twice a week.

I'm willing to be a little inconvenienced for $325, particularly when we could also use the bus, our bikes or light rail for part of a trip, have one group drop off another or reschedule our activities for more convenient times.

How much car can you afford?How much car can you afford? Americans spend more than $30,000 on average when they purchase a new car and light truck. But our study found that the median-income family in 24 of the nation's 25 largest cities can't afford to spend this much on a vehicle. On the high end, car buyers in the Washington, D.C., area could afford to spend $31,940. But those in Tampa could afford to spend less than half that much.

Would a car-share program work for you? Maybe.

A rental company is as good as a car share if you need a vehicle for a full day, and Home Depot's truck rentals are an economical way to spend an hour moving something big. (Similar stores also have truck rentals.)

A car share is worth checking out if you don't already have a vehicle, need the car for its carrying capacity or on short trips that aren't accessible in cheaper ways, and find it convenient to reach the car locations.

Otherwise, you might be better off with a bike and a bus pass.

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