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Is Car Sharing Better than Owning a Car? We Compare the Two

  • Car ownership has its advantages but the cost of having a vehicle is rising.
  • By contrast, car sharing has become a popular and affordable alternative.
  • We examine the differences to help you decide which option is right for you.

Last year, AAA found that the average annual cost of vehicle ownership jumped to $9,282, or $773.50 per month. Depreciation, maintenance costs, and fuel prices remain the top expenses for car owners today. These rising costs have helped new business models for personal mobility take hold, where things like depreciation and maintenance are not a concern. Different than “ride hailing,” car sharing services position themselves as an affordable alternative to ownership.

Before you decide on whether to own or “share” your cars, here are some things to keep in mind.    

What is Car Sharing?

Car sharing consists of a fleet of cars shared among a variety of patrons, similar to a car rental service. However, car sharing differs in that you can rent by the hour, instead of by the day or week.

Car sharing services are often “free-floating,” meaning instead of visiting a rental office to get a car, they are “floating” around the city. They are located via the company’s mobile app. You simply select the car on the app, walk up, and open the vehicle to “rent” it.

Car sharing is sometimes confused with ride sharing or ride hailing, but it is a little different. With ride sharing and hailing, you rely on someone else to drive. With car sharing, you drive the vehicle yourself.

There are a number of car sharing services, each with their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Some services are more widely available, some offer longer-term sharing programs, while others offer a more extensive selection of vehicles.

Although not specific to one provider, the pros and cons list below gives a general overview of car sharing so you can determine if it is right for you. 

Car Sharing Pros:

  • More Economical: In an overarching sense, car sharing could save you a substantial amount of money. According to Cox Automotive, the average payment on a new vehicle exceeded $530 in 2018 or about 10 percent of the median household income. In addition, average fuel costs rose to 11.6 cents per mile last year, five percent higher than 2018 according to AAA. If your routine consists of more infrequent trips, or you can rely on public transportation most of the time, car sharing is a much more affordable option versus ownership. There is no sense in taking on the expenses of a car if it will sit most of the time.  
  • No Maintenance & Repair Costs: Along the lines of what we said above, maintenance costs are taken care of by the car sharing service. You don’t need to worry about oil changes, tire rotations, and other regular maintenance items that come with car ownership. You won’t have to try and anticipate or budget for more expensive repairs, like a transmission replacement.
  • Flexible: Car sharing charges by the minute or hour, so you only pay for how long you drive the vehicle.
  • Drive a Different Car Each Time: There’s a fun factor here. You get to drive a new car each time you get behind the wheel, and that can be exciting.

While car sharing has its benefits, it might not be feasible for everybody. Here are some things to consider:

Car Sharing Cons:

  • Trips Must Be Planned: It always takes longer than we anticipate when we are running errands, going to meetings, and making appointments. Always consider beforehand how long you think you will be gone, especially if you are driving during peak traffic hours. To be safe, you might want to plan for extra time with car sharing. For example, you might only want the car for an hour, but due to congestion and rush hour, that hour can turn into several. Luckily, most car sharing companies have a maximum daily rate if you go over your planned time.
  • You Might Lose Your Car: Leave the meter running if you have multiple stops. You might save money by turning off the meter at each stop, but if the meter is off the car is “on the market.” As we discussed before, car sharing services are free-floating. You risk losing your car to another driver if you don’t leave the meter running the entire time.
  • Emergency Situations: Car sharing does not always do well for emergency situations, since there might not be a vehicle around you when an urgent need arises.
  • Never Having the Same Car: While we listed this as a pro, it can also be a con. There’s comfort in having your own car and keeping your things in there. With car sharing, you have to take your belongings out each time, plus you have to get used to how a different car drives each time.
Car Ownership vs. Car Sharing: Which Option is Best for You?
While car sharing has its benefits, it might not be feasible for everybody.

Car Ownership

Vehicle ownership is still a necessity for most families, even though car sharing does have its advantages. Driving is also a rite of passage for America’s youth, and younger generations are still passionate about driving and owning their own cars.

Car Ownership Pros:

  • Always Available: There is something to be said about the freedom your own vehicle brings. If things come up last minute in your schedule, if there is a family emergency, or if you want to take a vacation, having your own set of wheels gives you the ability to get where you need.
  • Personalization: For some, their car is an extension of their personality. People personalize vehicles in a variety of ways from custom paint and rims, to engine and suspension modifications. With car sharing, there are no personalization options. Not even a decal that tells other drivers who you voted for.
  • Ideal for Rural Living: Living in a city has its advantages, but not everybody lives in an urban environment. In rural or suburban areas, car sharing can get expensive if it’s even available.

Car Ownership Cons:

  • Insurance Costs: Insurance and registration costs vary by make and model, your driving history, and location. Monthly insurance costs can be expensive, and if you don’t drive your vehicle daily, it can seem like a waste of money. According to The Zebra, the average cost of car insurance is $1,548 annually ($774 per six-month policy or $129 per month).
  • Maintenance & Upkeep: This is not taking into account unexpected breakdowns and the cost of towing your vehicle somewhere, if you don’t have roadside assistance or an extended warranty (which can also have their own monthly fees). If the repair is serious, you may need to rent a vehicle for a few days and shell out more money. 
  • Gas Prices: Those who drive a large SUV may feel this pain more, but if you commute long distances, gas can be a huge expense. As of late January, the average cost of gasoline in the U.S. was $2.50 per gallon.  

Car Ownership or Sharing: What to Choose?

The easiest way is to look at your daily routine. If you live within walking distance of the things you need, or can take public transportation to work, you may be able to save the money you would spend on a vehicle and use a car sharing service as needed. However, if the things you need are farther away, and public transportation isn’t readily available, traditional car ownership is still the best option.  

The Automoblog staff covers automotive industry news, trends, and technology along with new vehicle releases. Automoblog is owned and operated by Gearhead Media LLC., based in Detroit, Michigan and Berlin, Germany.