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How Car Sharing Works

Car-Share Reservations
A quick tap of the card and you're in.
A quick tap of the card and you're in.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

So, how does the whole thing go down? Are there clandestine meetings in parking lots -- someone tosses you a set of keys and you jump into the car and speed away?

Not quite, but the process of car-share reservations is rather ingenious. First, a member decides to reserve a car. Depending on the company, you might be able to do this online, by phone or by text message. The reservation will usually include prompts for you to answer like:

  • What time do you want to use the car?
  • How long will you need the car?
  • Where would you like to pick up the car?
  • What type of car do you prefer?

Reservations can be made on the spot or far in advance, and the minimum time for car use is generally one hour. The earlier you book your reservation, the more likely you'll get the car you want. Last-minute reservations are not as reliable as early reservations. Maximum time for car use varies, as does the cost to become a member. Keep in mind that if you cancel a reservation at the last minute, you still may be charged.

When you arrive at the designated parking spot where the reserved vehicle is waiting, all you need to do is wave your member card near a special card reader that's generally located inside the car, near the windshield. The card reader works like the credit card machines that use blink technology instead of swiping. The cards usually won't work at any given time; they will only unlock the proper car within the reservation slot. To understand how these card readers work, read How Blink Technology Works.

When using a card reader, the keys are waiting for you somewhere inside the car, like in a glove compartment or storage console. Some companies use other methods for entry. For example, they might provide keys that work on lockboxes, which store the ignition key for each particular car.

It's important to give the car a thorough check before you drive off to make sure there's no prior damage -- after all, you don't want to be charged for someone else's fender bender. If there is damage, you should report it to the company before setting out.

Learn about the details and policies of car sharing by reading the next page.