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What to do when renting a car

The world used to be such a simple place. Everyone had cars, gas was cheap and no-one thought twice about driving everywhere. Suburbs became exurbs and journey lengths expanded. Public transport wilted, and people added extra pounds of body weight as walking dropped out of favor. Now, the world has changed. Gas prices peaked at more than $4 a gallon and, although they dropped down again, the recession has taken money out of household budgets. People no longer spend freely on driving. There's no public transport in the exurbs so people are cut off from their work and the local amenities without a car. Even if people do start walking again, they live too far out of the nearest towns and cities. The choice has become simple. Life without a car for most is impossible so people keep their old car going longer or they get into rental cars.


The strategies break down as follows. Sharing cars as a way of getting children to school and parents to work has been around for a while. All it requires is some give and take about when people are going to make their journeys and travel suddenly becomes cheaper with shared costs. Except, whoever is doing the driving needs to be sure their policy covers paying passengers. Some insurers take a narrow view that paying passengers turn the deal into a business like a taxi. This is a trap to force car sharers to pay more to insure. Always shop around to get the best cover to ensure that everyone in the car is covered for their medical costs should there be a traffic accident. The more interesting developments are coming in the car rental business. Instead of the classic temporary holiday or full-time business uses, there is now a new car pooling system. Cars are stored in garages around cities. When you want to use a car, you go online and make a booking. The system tells you where the nearest car is to be found. You pick it up and drop it off at the nominated garage, paying only for the hours you have the car in your possession. The guys who work out statistics reckon that the average person spends about $8,000 a year on car ownership. That's the purchase price, any sales tax and loan interest, the loss of value as the car ages, the cost of insurance, maintenance and repair, and so on. Most car pooling schemes charge around $15 an hour with the cost of gas and insurance included (with you paying the cost of getting to and from the nominated garage).

Except you need to be careful about the terms of the auto insurance included in the package. The rental company is interested in protecting the capital value in the cars so, before you sign up, check the cover for personal injuries. It may be worth paying an extra few dollars to top up the cover for medical expenses and loss of earnings. That said, if you give up your own car, there are big cash savings so long as the auto insurance cover is adequate. And, no desk agents giving you a hard sell every time you pick up the car!

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