RelayRides Puts You In The Rental Car Business

May 12, 2011

How often do you use your car each day? Even if you commute in it, chances are good that it’s idle for more hours than it’s in use. If you live in a big city, you may use your car on weekends only, so wouldn’t it be nice to earn income from your car when it’s not in use?

That’s the idea behind RelayRides, a car sharing service started by Shelby Clark. Like ZipCar, RelayRides is membership based and charges users an hourly rate. Unlike ZipCar, vehicles used by RelayRides are privately owned, which opens up a whole new set of potential problems. Do you really think that a total stranger will take care of your car the way you do? Do you trust them to operate a vehicle they don’t own in a safe and responsible manner? What happens in the event of an accident, and who’s responsible for maintaining cars in the RelayRides fleet?

As you’d expect, the company has considered those variables and more. RelayRides carries a $1 million insurance policy on each borrower, who must be over 21 with a spotless driving record. RelayRides inspects and certifies each vehicle submitted for use, but puts the responsibility of maintenance back on the vehicle owner. Owners are even responsible for fuel costs, although renters are asked to fill the tank (with a supplied gas card) when the level drops below a quarter tank.

So what do vehicle owners get from this service? If the RelayRides website is to be believed, car owners can earn up to $7,400 annually by renting a “specialty” vehicle like a luxury car, SUV or van for 20 hours during the week. On the low side, if you own an economy car and rent it out for 10 hours per week, that’s still an additional $2,300 per year. You need to deduct gas and upkeep from these amounts, but that’s still decent supplemental income if you’re not particular about who drives your car.

For now, RelayRides is available in Boston and San Francisco only, although the website welcomes suggestions for new cities. There are currently some 2,000 RelayRides borrowers and 100 car owners enrolled in the program, and Clark sees the appeal as going beyond car sharing. He’s working on a cooperative relationship with automakers and car dealerships, as RelayRides may be the best way to sample a new vehicle prior to purchase.

If investors can be used to measure success, then RelayRides is well on their way; to date, Clark has netted some $5.1 million in investments from companies like Google Ventures and August Capital.

[Cartech, All Car Tech]

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