Zipcar Helps College Students Rent Their Cars for Cash

Luke Vandezande
by Luke Vandezande

There were probably a few times in college when you and your friends really wished someone had a car you could use for a little while.

Maybe you needed to get groceries, or beer, or just a healthy distance from dorm rooms and campus nonsense. Whatever the need, California-based company Wheelz Inc. is trying to address it by linking students who have cars, and don’t always need them, with campus members who need short-term wheels.

Wheelz Inc., uses the idea of peer-to-peer car sharing to offer students a specifically-targeted platform for getting a car when they need one. The company received a major boost when Zipcar, the industry leader in car sharing, invested $13.7 million in their project.

“One of the reasons we’re excited to partner with Zipcar is that they bring a decade of operational experience,” Wheelz CEO Jeff Miller said.

That operational experience, according to Miller, will play a key role in helping Wheelz grow as a business in the future. Currently, anyone associated with Stanford, UC Berkeley, USC and UCLA are able to participate in the program. Students, administrators, teachers and anyone with a “.edu” email address from a participating campus may participate.

Screening is an important part of how Wheelz runs. They take a unique approach to preventing the wrong people from getting into their cars. That starts with a driver’s license check, done at the DMV, but it doesn’t stop there. Participants also submit Facebook information that’s made available to the user community. Miller says it adds to the social element and also enforces a sense of responsibility because “you’re renting your friend’s car, or dorm mates car.”

“Based on our analysis and primary research, we believe P2P could expand the total addressable market for car sharing,” said Zipcar Chairman and CEO Scott Griffith. “We chose to make this investment because we believe that Wheelz has the right leadership, technology and business model to succeed in the emerging P2P space.”

P2P car sharing isn’t new. You may remember a story about another California-based company called HiGear that used a similar idea to rent luxury cars. They went out of business recently on a bitter note after criminals started recruiting first-time car thieves to slip past screening and scoot off in expensive cars.

Theft won’t be a problem here, or at least Miller doesn’t think so. He firmly believes in the social aspect behind Wheelz and that it will keep people honest. “We’ve had zero incidents to date,” he said before jovially admitting the company only started last September.

You’re not alone if faith in mankind fails to squelch your fear. Don’t worry, they also install something called a drive box which is similar to Zipcar’s system. It functions like a LoJack to unlock, and locate the car as well as keep it safe from thieves.

Partnering with Zipcar is probably the best catalyst for Wheelz to expand, something Miller is well aware of. The two companies have a lot in common, but also there are key differences. Miller was quick to point out that Wheelz is very similar on the renter’s end, but that Zipcar doesn’t even address half their market: students offering their cars.

That’s where Wheelz shines apart from the pack. Parents who might otherwise worry about their children lending a car get the assurance that they aren’t liable if someone is using their, or their child’s car. In fact, the insurance policy associated with renting is robust to the tune of $1 million, with a minuscule $200 deductible — less than most fender benders.

It’s also an easy way for students to drum up some extra spending money, something few FAFSA serfs won’t be able to resist. Most cars sit unused 75 percent of the time, according to Miller. This gives owners a chance to monetize that wasted potential.

Given a parent’s express consent, even students driving a family-owned vehicle may join in the lucrative fun. Perhaps most intriguing of all, the owner sets their own hourly rate and collects a check every month. You want to make fast cash with your embarrassing jalopy? No problem, just don’t expect much of a royalty. On the other hand, if you’re already cruising like a king, that Bimmer could score some decent pay.

“We’ve got some pretty nice cars on Stanford campus,” Miller said, including BMWs and an Audi TT.

Lastly, if signing that baby Benz of yours up for rent sounds good but it’s too hard to bear the thought if having her torn apart with one of their “drive boxes,” you’ve got nothing to fear. The system is non-invasive and easy to remove if renter’s remorse kicks in.

Luke Vandezande
Luke Vandezande

Luke is an energetic automotive journalist who spends his time covering industry news and crawling the internet for the latest breaking story. When he isn't in the office, Luke can be found obsessively browsing used car listings, drinking scotch at his favorite bar and dreaming of what to drive next, though the list grows a lot faster than his bank account. He's always on <A title="@lukevandezande on Twitter" href="">Twitter</A> looking for a good car conversation. Find Luke on <A title="@lukevandezande on Twitter" href="">Twitter</A> and <A title="Luke on Google+" href="">Google+</A>.

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