Obviously, we Americans love our cars. We've made movies about cars (think Cannonball Run or The Fast and the Furious). We've built drive-thrus and drive-ins so we don't have to get out of them. Some people install their computers and TVs in their automobiles, making them almost indistinguishable from their houses. So not everyone is going to warm up to the idea of sharing a car.

But don't count it out--car sharing is a valid way of minimizing your business costs. While it's generally a practice and service aimed at the general public, it's an idea that can make sense for the penny-pinching entrepreneur or the executive who can make it work. Take Tim Bennett. The 27-year-old owns a startup, Bennett Compost , which removes composting material in the Philadelphia area and instead of buying a pickup truck, he drives one twice a week through a car-sharing service. Bennett has become a big fan of car sharing: "It's lowered our costs of getting the business started and reduced our overhead, allowing us to put money into marketing the business." He figures he saves at least $250 a month in gas, not to mention what he would pay to buy a truck and insure it.

And Dan Nainan , a professional standup comedian based in New York City who constantly performs around the country and world, loves and swears by car sharing. Nainan uses a service called Zipcar, sharing cars to drive to comedy gigs throughout New York and New Jersey.

David Fisher, 27, is also carless in Boston, except when he uses car sharing for work-related reasons. Fisher is director of marketing and strategy at a startup, imVOX , which provides voice over internet protocol services to PC gamers.

Fisher has been car sharing--again with Zipcar--since 2003. "Boston is a city with decent public transportation," says Fisher, "but it certainly doesn't go everywhere and sometimes you really need a car. Yet the cost of leasing, insuring, parking and fueling a car is significant if the car is only occasionally used."

Not only has car sharing let imVox spend less on transportation, the practice has "also added flexibility to give us a larger virtual fleet of vehicles," says Fisher. "Sometimes you need an SUV or pickup truck to move around equipment or furniture for a conference, but other times you need a slicker car like a BMW to drive to meet a client. Even for small 'company retreats' to Maine, they are exceedingly useful. Having access to all these is really wonderful, even moreso with the variable Boston weather."

If you're puzzled but intrigued, here's how you can start car sharing.

How it works: You reserve a car for a few hours or even a few days or a week. This isn't Enterprise, so you have to pick up the car, which may be parked at the headquarters or, just as often as not, throughout the town. You then drive the car during your allotted time and return it where you found it. Another plus: You're automatically insured when you share a car.

What it costs: Expect a modest annual membership fee ranging for anywhere from $35 to $85 a year. Most of these car sharing companies will give you free miles--say, 150 free miles--and then you'll pay maybe $3 to $8 an hour and 25 to 45 cents a mile, more or less. And with most of these services, your membership includes the gas, so if you need to fill up, you use the gas card provided with the car, instead of your own debit card.

In any case, there seems little doubt that car sharing is less expensive. Fisher has calculated what he would spend if he leased a new BMW 328: "It would be at least $400 a month and then there's another $100 per month of insurance, $100 a month for parking and $100 a month for gas and oil. The only downside is that you can't do one-way trips to places where you won't need a car for a while--like driving to New York City for a week--without incurring fairly heavy usage fees."

So what organizations share cars, anyway? Zipcar.com, as you've no doubt already surmised, is one of the bigger car-sharing organizations, with locations throughout America (not all states, but they're getting there), London and two Canadian cities: Vancouver and Toronto. Another big player is Hertz--their website is ConnectbyHertz.com and they have cars with the NeverLost GPS system and you can connect your iPod through their vehicles as well. And Enterprise has a well-regarded car sharing service called WeCar , which was recently profiled in The New York Times (along with Zipcar.com and Connect By Hertz), if you want to learn even more.

Car sharing doesn't work very well if you live or work out in the middle of nowhere, but these sites can be found in cities and towns throughout America--it's not just an East Coast or California thing.

Some other car sharing sites include:

  • PhillyCarShare.com; for the Philadelphia area
  • CommunityCar.com; Madison, Wisconsin
  • BioCarShare.org; bio-diesel fueled cars in Eugene, Oregon
  • HourCar.org; the Twin Cities answer to car sharing
  • TheDailyCommute.com.au; don't let the Australia web address fool you--they're a worldwide organization, spread out through 27 countries, including the U.S. and Canada, aimed at people who want to carpool to work together
  • Carsharing.net; not a site where you register to share a car, but a good site that may help you find a car sharing organization in your area

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