Whether you own a car that sits idle most of the day or simply need a ride, but not all the time, the sharing economy can help.

Growing in popularity as a result of the Great Recession, the sharing economy is an ecosystem built around the sharing of resources, whether it’s an empty summer house or a car that stays parked during the week.

Websites acts as middlemen, connecting people who have a service with those who need it. That’s the basis of car sharing.

Passenger in car talking on her mobile phone © iStock

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Car renters save money, owners make money

The sharing economy is particularly popular in the vehicle arena, with car owners around the country making money off vehicles that would otherwise sit idle. At the same time, it lowers the cost for renters who need a car for just a day.

“Demand is driven for car owners by the fact that they make an average of $500 per month from their idle cars,” says Steve Webb, a spokesman for Turo, the San Francisco car-sharing company formerly called RelayRides. On average, renters save 30% over a traditional car rental company.

Car sharing isn’t only in major cities

Although car sharing is popular in major cities such as New York and San Francisco, city dwellers and travelers elsewhere can take advantage of these services. Webb says members are using cars in over 2,500 cities and 300 airports across the country.

GetAround, another car-sharing site in San Francisco, boasts 200,000 users and is available in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Users of these services find them appealing because they get to rent a car for cheaper and there is a wide array of vehicles to choose from. Members can select a car for their specific needs at that moment, whether it’s for a weekend drive in a convertible or a pickup truck for a trip to the furniture store, says Meg Murray, head of community at GetAround.

Most of the services allow users to search through an online database of cars in their area. Users can choose a vehicle, and the date and time to pick it up. Then, they make arrangements to get the car, whether that means meeting the owner or entering a code on a keyless fob.

Sharing economy isn’t void of risks

Because the sharing economy relies on the community, there are risks associated with these services, on the owner’s side as well as the renter’s.

For the renter, it’s more about the inconvenience if the car breaks down or isn’t where it’s supposed to be. For car owners, it could mean the end to their money-making ride if something goes wrong.

To alleviate some of the risk, most car-sharing services throw in car insurance, while some have free roadside assistance and screen their renters.

For example, every renter at GetAround must be at least 19 years old, must have had no major violations for 3 years, and no alcohol- or drug-related incidents in the past 7 years. It also requires that the renter have no more than 2 lesser violations or accidents in the past 3 years, and the driver must have been licensed for at least 2 years.

Lastly, it also imposes a $150 security deposit for all first-time renters.

“GetAround renters come from all walks of life — from car-free city dwellers to car owners who are looking for the right car for a specific trip,” Murray says.