Would You Rent Out Your Car for $15 an Hour?

Car owners are driving down expenses by renting to strangers.

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Renters like Sue Yerou, a personal stylist in San Francisco, appreciate not having the expenses of owning and maintaining a car. "It's like having my own car but without all the added costs," she says. Clark says even customers with cars find RelayRides handy when they need a bigger vehicle to transport large loads.

However, the company's payment policy doesn't sit well with some car owners, as RelayRides takes a 40 percent cut from all rentals. One New-York based car owner wrote on the company's website, "It is not worth my time and effort to do all this to give away 40 percent of the proceeds," calling the fee "exorbitant." "I will have to raise the price of my car to a point where no one will rent it. Your pricing is wrong and you need to rethink it."

There's also hesitation on the renter side. Shannon Myricks, a federal government employee in Washington, D.C., says before she rented through RelayRides, she asked herself, "What if I get stopped by police and they don't know I'm using a car-sharing program?" RelayRides addresses that concern by keeping in the car an insurance card, which explains to police officers the renter is using a car-sharing company. She also worries about renting a car that turns out to have mechanical problems. That's a possibility, since RelayRides doesn't send someone to inspect the cars. If there are any problems reported during the rental, the company conveys those to the car owner, but there's no guarantee the car will be fixed, says Clark.

Untrustworthy renters present another issue. Although the company requires renters to be 21 years or older and runs a check on their driving history to rule out those with major violations on their record, renters can still try to falsify their driving credentials. Consequently, part of the process for vetting renters is left up to the owner, with RelayRides suggesting that car owners verify a driver's license at the time of the key exchange.

Despite these concerns, RelayRides and other peer-to-peer car-sharing companies have paved a fresh approach for car owners and car renters to trim their costs. "If you have a car that's just burning a hole in your wallet, here is a way to offset some of those costs—and maybe make some money on top of it," Clark says.

Would you rent your car to a total stranger?

Twitter: @danielbortz

Clarified on 11/14/2012: A previous version of this article did not indicate that RelayRides keeps in the car an insurance card, which explains to police officers the renter is using a car-sharing company.