FlightCar Makes Peer-To-Peer Rentals More Convenient

If you can get comfortable with the idea of a stranger driving your car – or if you have the capacity to not think about it while the vehicle is out of your sight – it might make sense to rent your wheels while you’re out of town.

But the leading peer-to-peer rental agencies leave a lot of the logistics to the car owner. List your car with a service like Relay Rides, Getaround or Jolly Wheels (available in several major cities), and if you get a taker, you have to arrange to meet the renter somewhere to hand over your keys. That’s inconvenient if you’re heading to the airport. It’s one more thing to do before leaving town and when you return.

FlightCar, a new service in San Francisco, tailors the peer-to-peer thing to air travelers by meeting both listers and renters at the airport. Drive to its lot at the Millbrae BART station, leave your car and a rep will give you a free lift to the terminal (and back, upon your return). The same goes for renters.

Since launching on February 5, some 200 travelers have offered up their chariots to rent, and 80 percent have been rented, according to co-founder Shri Ganeshram. The average rental period is five days. FlightCar, like the other peer-to-peer companies, provides $1 million in free insurance and checks each renter’s driving record.

But is FlightCar’s compensation to car owners worth the worry and the wear and tear?FlightCar pays car owners in gas cards, and only if it rents the vehicle. It also washes every vehicle, whether it rents or not. Compensation ranges from $10 for the entire duration of the rental (for the oldest cars) to $10 per day of rental (for the nicer, newer rides, a rate that Ganeshram says might go up to $20 soon). If the car doesn’t rent, well, you don’t get a gas card, but you’ve scored free parking and a car wash while away. Long-term parking at SFO costs $18 per day, while independent park-and-fly services can save you a few dollars. So at most, you can come away $28 per day to the good.

Owners need to remember that the compensation isn’t all profit because wear and tear on the vehicle carries a cost. Renters can drive the car 90 miles per day. Ganeshram says rental-car companies value wear and tear as high as 15 cents per mile (“I got that number from a rental lease for a 2012 BMW X5”), in which case 90 driven miles would amount to $13.50. Subtract such cost from the value of the gas cards and parking you’d expect to receive each day. (In fairness, Ganeshram points out that many renters don’t reach the 90-mile max, and if they exceed it, FlightCar pays car owners 35 cents per extra mile.)

Ganeshram, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, provided an example to show that the value of the wear and tear doesn’t eat up all of the owner’s profit. It’s too complicated to repeat, but he arrived at the conclusion that the owner of a new $40,000 car should value mileage at 27 cents per mile. (Cheaper and/or older cars would have a lower per-mile valuation.) Say said owner makes the car available for a week and it rents for five days. That person would gain seven days of free parking, valued at $126; $50 in gas; and let’s say $20 for the value of the valet service and the car wash. That comes to $196. If the car is driven 80 miles per day at a wear-and-tear value of 27 cents per mile, that’s $108. Difference: $88.

Enough to hand over your keys?

[Photo credit: bottom, Flickr user Stig Nygaard]