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Is car-sharing really cheaper than owning or renting?

I want to try car-sharing, but I'm overwhelmed trying to figure out the differences between the different companies. And, is it really cheaper than owning or renting? – Kerri-Anne, Vancouver

Share and share, not quite alike.

As of January, Canada had 20 car sharing services with more than 336,000 members and more than 5,200 vehicles. That's a lot of car sharing – and it can be tough to figure out which ones work best. Or, how they work at all.

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"It is important that people fully understand the pricing and how to use the service – how to access the vehicle, how to use apps," says Susan Shaheen, with the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TRSC) at the University of California, Berkeley. Shaheen says if you drive 9,700 kilometres or less a year, it's probably cheaper to share than to own. Research showed that households saved between $154-435 (U.S.) a month after joining car sharing. If you don't own a car, car sharing sometimes might make more sense than alternatives.

"In some cases, car sharing may be cheaper than taxis – not everyone has friends willing to loan a vehicle," says Shaheen in an e-mail. "Car sharing meets trip needs longer than cycling. It also offers cargo capacity for certain trips, such as grocery purchases."

We checked with the major services to see how they differ and what to look out for.

One-way, or another: There are two types of car sharing: one-way and two-way.

"One-way would be the likes of Car2Go, where you take the car from A to B and you drop it off wherever," says Selena McLachlan, director of marketing for Modo, a Vancouver-based car co-op. "They're typically referred to as self-serve taxis and they're typically used for very short trips."

With Car2Go, for example, you pick up the nearest car and, when you're done, you leave it anywhere in the service area. You don't have to take it back to where you got it.

With a two-way car, you book by the hour and you pick it up and drop it off in the same place. When you're done, you have to put it back where you found it.

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"They're basically neighbourhood cars – so you may have 10 cars that permanently live in your immediate area," McLachlan says. "With a two-way car, it doesn't make sense to take (it) for work because you wouldn't want to be paying for it for 8 hours."

You can usually book one-way for longer trips, for example, by the hour or overnight, but you can still leave them anywhere.

What is – and isn't – included: Most services include fuel and insurance. Most companies have staff filling cars with gas in between customers. Some car sharers include gas cards in the car in case you run low.

Others, including Car2Go, require you to put in your own gas if the tank is low. They then reimburse you in minutes.

"The fuel cards have been removed from all Car2Go vehicles in North America," says Dacyl Armendariz, Car2Go external communication manager. "While we did have some members that fuelled Car2Go vehicles, our fleet team has always done the vast majority of the work to keep our vehicles fuelled."

Watch for mileage charges: Some places charge you if you drive over a set number of kilometres. Ask how far you're allowed to go. Some companies won't let you leave a set area – or cross the border into the United States.

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Vehicles: Want to drive a convertible Mini Cooper to the beach? Need a minivan to get your in-laws at the airport? Curious to try an electric vehicle? Or, do you need a cargo van for a move? Some car sharing services have more variety than others. For example, until this week, Car2Go only offered two-seaters. It was handy for couples jetting off to a movie – but not great for Costco trips or family outings.

It's adding 75 Mercedes-Benz B-class four-doors in Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto.

Here the are some of the main players in Canada. There are a lot more than these, including small, local, non-profit co-operatives.

Car2Go

  • Launched: 2010 in Austin, Texas, by Daimler.
  • Type: One-way
  • Where: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal; 30 other cities worldwide. Canadian members can use cars in any North American city.
  • Membership fees: Initial fee of $35. No annual fee.
  • Rates: 41 cents per minute up to $14.99; $14.99 per hour; $84.99 per day.
  • Includes: Fuel, insurance, free parking at all permit and residential-only areas. Car2Go had gas cards in all cars until recently, but now staff fill the vehicles. If users have to add gas, they are reimbursed in minutes.
  • Cars available: More than 2,680 two-person Smart fortwos in Canada. Starting this week, the company is adding 75 four-door Mercedes-Benz B-class cars in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.
  • Electric vehicles: In the United States but not Canada.

Autoshare/Enterprise CarShare

  • Launched: Autoshare started in Toronto in 1998. Enterprise Rent-a-Car started hourly car-rentals in 2005 and bought Autoshare in 2014.
  • Type: Two-way
  • Where: Regina, Sackville, N.B., Saskatoon and Toronto. Also in 35 American states and Britain.
  • Membership fees: $45 annually; $15 or $25 a month for reduced hourly rates.
  • Rates: Vary by city, location and time. Rates from $8.25 an hour and $65 a day.
  • Includes: Fuel and insurance. Cars come with a gas card.
  • Cars available: A bunch, including the Audi A4, BMWX1, Chevy Volt, Chevy Express, Ford Focus Hatchback, Mini Countryman and Subaru Outback.

Zipcar

  • Launched: In 2000 in Cambridge, Ma. Bought by Avis Budget Group in 2013.
  • Type: Two-way.
  • Where: Victoria, Vancouver, London, Ont., Kitchener/Waterloo, Ont., Toronto, Ottawa. Members have access to all 10,000 vehicles in more than 470 cities worldwide.
  • Membership fees: $70 per year or $7 per month.
  • Rates: They start at $7.50 an hour.
  • Includes: Fuel and insurance. Cars come with a gas card.
  • Cars available: “Over 50 makes and models ranging from small compact cars to luxury vehicles, to even large vans for moving,” said spokesperson Lindsay Wester in an e-mail.

Communauto

  • Launched: In 1994, in Quebec City.
  • Type: One-way and two-way.
  • Where: Montreal, Ottawa (partnered with Vrtucar) Gatineau, Que., Montreal, Sherbrooke, Que., Quebec City, Halifax, Paris, Ont. Members can access cars in all locations.
  • Membership fees: None for one-way. Two-way starts at $40 per year.
  • Rates: One-way is 38 cents per minute and $12 per hour. Two-way starts at $1.70 per hour plus 23 cents per kilometre.
  • Includes: Insurance and fuel. Users fill tanks themselves and are credited.
  • Cars available: More than 1,880 vehicles, mostly Toyotas (Yaris and Prius C) and electric cars, including the the Nissan Leaf.

Modo

  • Launched: North-America’s first car sharing co-operative started as a thesis project in 1997.
  • Type: Two-way.
  • Where: Vancouver, Lower Mainland of B.C., Victoria.
  • Membership fees: Monthly $5 fee. No fee for member/owners.
  • Rates: $8 an hour. $5 an hour if you buy a $500 share. Same rates for all vehicles – except cargo vehicles.
  • Includes: Insurance and fuel. Cars come with a gas card.
  • Cars available: Hatchbacks, convertibles, CUVs, trucks, hybrids, electric vehicles, minivans and cargo vans.

Evo

  • Launched: 2015 by BCAA.
  • Type: One-way.
  • Where: Vancouver.
  • Membership fees: One-time $35 registration fee. $2 annual fee.
  • Rates: 41 cents per minute, $14.99 per hour or $89.99 per day.
  • Includes: Fuel, insurance, free parking all permit and residential only areas. Cars come with a gas card.
  • Cars available: 350 Toyota Prius C Hybrids with ski and bike racks.

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