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Frequently Asked Questions

General questions about HOURCAR

What is HOURCAR? What is car sharing?

HOURCAR is a nonprofit program that provides members with hourly access to a fleet of fuel-efficient vehicles. Once you become a member, you reserve any car you like in advance and drive it for as long as your reservation. HOURCAR is reservations-based, so you know that your car will be waiting for you when you want it (kinda nice when your arms are full of groceries and it’s 5 below zero!) It is not like car pooling—you generally will not commute from far-flung suburbs in an HOURCAR and you don’t have to shuttle passengers. It is not like car rental because you pick up and drop off the vehicle at the same designated HOURCAR parking space in your neighborhood, it’s available 24/7, and after your initial new member processing there’s no paperwork involved. You can reserve a vehicle for as little as 30 minutes or as long as three days.

Car sharing is a key part of a less expensive, low-polluting, healthy transportation lifestyle. It complements other forms of transportation such as walking, biking, transit and taxicabs.

How does HOURCAR benefit the environment?

HOURCAR is good for the environment because our fleet is tops in fuel efficiency (comprising mostly hybrids, high mpg compacts, and even two solar-powered plug-in hybrids). HOURCAR members also drive less—because they plan their errands efficiently and avoid making unnecessary car trips. Most HOURCAR members don’t even own a car, and thanks to HOURCAR, they’re not complaining.

You guys are non-profit. What does that mean?

HOURCAR is part of the Saint Paul-based nonprofit Neighborhood Energy Connection. The mission of the NEC is to make energy conservation easy. HOURCAR gives people in the Twin Cities region a great tool to minimize car travel, resulting in cleaner air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and healthier, more attractive physiques.

As part of a nonprofit, HOURCAR intends to serve as many people as possible for the least cost. You are our shareholders—and your HOURCAR dividend is a cleaner environment and more livable community.

How is HOURCAR different from car rental?

HOURCAR is very different from car rental. First of all, it’s a lifestyle—we want you to drive less overall.

HOURCAR is generally meant to be used for shorter periods, since we charge by the hour. The cars aren’t kept in one central location, instead they’re available 24 hours a day in your neighborhood. There’s no paperwork to fill out each time you rent them. We don’t make you top off the tank each time (please fill it up if it is under ¼ full and remember, we pay for the gas) or charge draconian fees if you forget to do so. Car sharing is friendlier, faster, easier, more convenient, and, for shorter periods of time, a lot cheaper too.

Can I have a household account with multiple drivers?

Yes, you can. If you would like to add drivers to an existing account, please see our join page and click on the appropriate link based on which type of account you hold.

What happens if I decide car sharing isn't for me? Is it a long-term commitment?

HOURCAR’s Individual and Business/Nonprofit membership plans are simple month-to-month commitments and you can cancel your membership at any time. To cancel, please mail us your key fob in a padded envelope with your member number.

HOURCAR’s Student and University of Minnesota membership plans have annual dues (instead of monthly dues). You can cancel these memberships at any time but the annual dues are not refunded.

(Do note that if you plan to use the car in the future there is a reactivation fee, so it’s best not to cancel your membership unless you are moving away or intend not to use the service in the future.)

How does HOURCAR work?

Using HOURCAR is simple. Once you are a member, you can make a reservation for any car in the fleet online or by phone, 24/7, on a first-come, first-served basis. You can make reservations up to three months in advance or just minutes before you need the car. Once you have a reservation, you use your “key fob” to open the car door, and then start the engine and drive away. When your trip is complete, you return the car to the same parking spot, use the key fob to end your reservation, and walk off. There’s no paperwork involved and the whole process—making a reservation and accessing the car—takes less than a minute.

What is the availability at a specific location? Will I be able to reserve cars?

The availability at most locations varies, but, in general, HOURCARs are only in use about six hours per day, meaning that they are available 75% of the time. In addition, some of our more popular locations have multiple cars or are within easy walking distance of another car. So if your first choice isn’t available, a nearby car may well be.

Questions about signing up

How do I become a member, and do I qualify?

To join HOURCAR, simply fill out an application, go through the orientation process immediately afterward, and we’ll approve you within three business days (it may take slightly longer for some out-of-state licenses). To see our member criteria, see member qualifications.

I need a car soon. How long does it take to sign up?

The HOURCAR sign-up process is generally rather quick—we can often have you driving within a week of signing up. This is especially true if you have a Minnesota drivers license, although we can process applicants with licenses from most other states within a day or two. If you need a car right away, we can sometimes expedite the process, especially if you choose to pick up your membership materials at our office, or have them shipped overnight (for which there is an extra charge).

Once you’ve received your membership materials, of course, you can reserve and use HOURCARs whenever you please.

I'm under 25—can I be an HOURCAR member?

Yes, and there are no extra fees, either! You just have to meet our membership qualifications and you’re good to go. Do note that if you are under 21 there are more stringent criteria (basically, you need a clean driving record) and that we can not accept applications from drivers younger than 18 at this time.

Can other members of my household join my account?

Yes they can. You can add as many drivers in a household as you’d like. There is a one-time $25 fee for each additional driver; they should fill out an additional driver application and join an existing individual or household account and make sure to indicate which account they wish to join. You’ll then receive one monthly bill (and share one monthly membership fee) listing each driver’s trips.

N.B.: Unless a driver has been approved by HOURCAR, they may not drive an HOURCAR

What happens if I refer a friend?

Refer friends to HOURCAR and receive a $25 driving credit when they are approved. Your friends also receive a $25 driving credit. Share the love and get some love from HOURCAR.

To receive your credit, make sure that your friends put your name in the Referral field when they sign up. Cannot be combined with any other offer.

Questions about HOURCAR policies

Do you offer one-way rentals?

No, we don’t. You have to bring the HOURCAR back to the same spot where you picked it up. However, round-trip, reservation based car sharing guarantees the car will always be there for you when you need it (and always in the same spot!).

When you reserve an HOURCAR, it is yours for the entire time. Other members cannot access the car until their reservation starts.

Can I take my pet in the car?

Yes — But you must follow these guidelines when doing so:

First, your pet must be in a pet carrier when it is in an HOURCAR. Some of our members are allergic to pet hair, so we ask that you leave the cars as clean as you found them.

Second, please use the provided cargo blanket underneath your pet carrier. That way, at the end of the reservation, you can shake out the blanket outside the car, and leave the car as clean as when you found it.

If you let your animal roam free in an HOURCAR, we reserve the right to charge you for the cost of cleaning the car.

Can I smoke in an HOURCAR?

No.

It is very costly to remove the smell of smoke from a car. If you smoke in a car, we will charge you a fee for cleaning the car of at least $100. Smoking in a car is also grounds for revocation of your HOURCAR membership.

Am I responsible for cleaning the cars?

Nope. HOURCAR cleans the cars on a regular basis. We can’t get to every car every day, so they might not always be spotless, and we do ask that our members take responsibility for keeping the cars tidy and for removing their trash from the vehicles. Please let us know if a car is in need of a wash. Or, if you’d like, feel free to take it to a car wash, and send, email or fax us a copy of the receipt so that we can credit your account.

Who pays for the gas?

Gas is included in the hourly rates for HOURCAR. However, we do ask that you leave the HOURCAR with enough gas for the next driver. If the tank is under ¼ full, you are required to fill it. For most of our cars, this means you must return them with at least three bars displayed on the gas gauge. There are gas cards in the cars, and you’ll receive instructions on how to use them when you become a member. In addition, there are instructions provided in the cars.

If you leave a car with less than ¼ tank of gas, there is a $10 fee. However, to compensate you for the extra time it takes to fill up a car during your reservation, you’ll receive a $2 credit when you fill the tank!

How long or short can my reservation be? Does it have to be exactly one hour?

Your reservation can be as short as 30 minutes, after which it is made in 15 minute increments. Despite our name, you can drive a half-HOURCAR, an HOURCAR or a six-and-a-quarter-HOURCAR. In addition, some of our locations have cars with daily rates, for which the total cost is capped for longer trips. (Daily rates need not be exactly 24 hours; reserve the car for when you need it and we’ll automatically bill you by the day or by the hour, whichever is cheaper.)

Do you have daily rates?

Yes, we do. HOURCARs in six locations are available to use by the day, as well as by the hour. Simply reserve one of these cars for a longer period of time and we’ll automatically charge you the hourly rate or the daily rate, whichever is cheaper. You don’t need to reserve a car for exactly 24 hours to take advantage of the daily rate; often an eight or more hour reservation will qualify for the daily rate.

What happens if I am running late?

If you realize that you are running late and may not be back by the end of your reservation, please call our 24-hour call center number (the number is in all of the cars and on your HOURCAR membership card). Most of the time, you’ll be able to extend your reservation as necessary. If there is another member with a reservation, letting us know before your reservation ends allows us to arrange for alternative plans for the next member, and helps you to avoid steep late fees ($10 per 15 minutes).

Can I cancel my reservation?

Yes, you can cancel your reservation at any time. However, in order to keep the availability of the cars as high as possible, there may be fees for canceling your reservation. If you cancel:

  • More than 8 hours before your reservation’s start: no charge
  • Between 1 and 8 hours before your reservation’s start: $5 cancellation fee
  • Less than 1 hour before your reservation: $10 cancellation fee
  • Shortening your reservation once it has started: $10 canceled time fee

These fees are not meant to be punitive, they are simply to assure that members don’t reserve cars when they don’t intend to use them, decreasing availability for others. And remember, if you cancel at least 8 hours in advance, you’re in the clear!

How do I shorten or extend my reservation?

You may shorten or extend your reservation at any time online or by phone. Do note that you may not be able to extend your reservation if another member has the car reserved, and that there is a $10 canceled time fee for shortening your reservation once it has begun. See our policies and rules for more information.

How do I cancel my membership?

Please visit our Membership Cancellation page to learn about canceling your membership.

Can my friends/flatmates/significant other drive the HOURCAR

No. Anyone can ride in the HOURCAR all they want, but unless they are a member of HOURCAR themselves, they can not drive. However, if you do have a reservation and you have a passenger along who is a current HOURCAR member, they’re more than welcome to drive.

You can also add a driver to an existing individual or household account.

Questions about money

What does HOURCAR cost? Is it really cheaper than owning a car?

Yes, it really is cheaper! Access to HOURCAR is one of the huge benefits of living in the Twin Cities. Think about it: unless you’re the designated traveling soccer team chauffeur and you live 30 miles from your workplace, you probably don’t drive your vehicle very much. You are still paying hundreds of dollars a month in maintenance, depreciation and insurance for a car that mostly sits in a parking lot or garage. These fixed costs are even worse than gasoline!

HOURCAR spreads these costs across many members, saving you thousands of dollars a year. HOURCAR costs $6 or $8 per hour, and 25¢ per mile, which includes gas and insurance. If you use HOURCAR judiciously, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than owning a car.

How does insurance work?

When you’re driving in an HOURCAR, you’re covered by our insurance policy. And don’t worry, we won’t try to “upsell” you an extra policy when you sign up. The only thing you are liable for is up to a $500 deductible if you are at-fault in an accident.

How am I billed?

When you reserve an HOURCAR, you will be given an estimated cost for your trip. This cost includes the reserved time plus a mileage charge of 6 miles per hour reserved. At the end of the day on which your reservation is completed your credit card will be charged the estimated cost of your trip.

At the beginning of each month, HOURCAR will create an invoice for the previous month. The difference between the estimated and actual costs of all reservations, as well as the monthly membership fee and any other accumulated fees and credits will be reflected on this invoice. The invoice balance will be collected approximately 2 weeks later.

Can I switch rate plans?

Yes, you can switch between our rate plans as often as you wish. Please let us know before the first day of the month in which you wish to have the change take effect (by calling or emailing us) and we’ll make the change.

Someone else is paying for my driving. Can they drive too?

No. Unless they are a current HOURCAR member themselves, only drivers who have been approved by HOURCAR may drive the HOURCARs. If you wish to add an additional driver to an account, you can do so, but unless a driver is a member (meaning they’ve received a fob and login from HOURCAR) they may not drive the HOURCARs, even if they’re the one cutting the check.

Questions about the cars

What kind of cars do you have?

HOURCAR has a fuel-efficient fleet of more than 30 vehicles. About half of them are hybrids, most of which are Toyota Priuses. To find out more about our fuel-efficient fleet, see a list of our cars.

How do I use the cars?

Once you’ve fobbed in to a car, the ignition is enabled and you can start the car. In the Toyota Prius, simply take the key and slide it into the slot to the lower-right of the steering wheel. Then depress the brake with your foot and push the “POWER” button to start the car. It may not make any noise, but if you see “READY” on the dashboard, you’re good to go.

Can I take my bike in/on the car?

Yes you can! Most of our cars are hatchbacks, and getting a bike or two inside is easy (you might not even have to remove a wheel!). Please use the cargo blanket in the car to keep the greasy parts of the bike from marking up the inside of the car, and take care when loading your bike not to scratch the car.

If you wish to use a bike rack, you are free to do so as long as the rack does not scratch the paint on the outside of the car. The same goes for other racks (canoes, kayaks, etc.). Remember to treat your HOURCAR nicely.

What's in the car?

Each car has a CD player (and, sometimes, a CD that members leave for others to enjoy), a member handbook with information about the car and the program as well as emergency information, and a cargo blanket in the back to keep messy items from mucking up the car. In addition, during the winter (approximately October to May, this is Minnesota, after all) there’s a snow shovel and ice scraper in the car. We’ll shovel out the cars after big storms, but if there’s an inch or two of snow, please clear off the windows. Thanks!

What kind of transmissions do your cars have?

All of our cars have automatic transmissions (*). So you don’t need to know how to drive stick to drive an HOURCAR.

( * For all intents and purposes. On the Prius, Toyota uses a form of a “continually variable transmission” which is operated as it it were an automatic—you put the vehicle in drive and it goes—but is a rather complex system of planetary gears which transfers power from the electric motor and/or gas engine to the drivetrain. Here are a couple of geeky sites if you want to find out more.)

Other "What if …?" questions

What happens if a car is not available when I need one?

HOURCARs are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you can plan ahead, generally more than 24 hours, your chance of getting the car you want, when you want it is quite good. For instance, if you know you need to get to a doctor’s appointment in three weeks on Thursday, reserve the car in advance to assure it is available. If you need a car at the last minute, cars are still generally available (most cars are around about 75% of the time). If the nearest car is in use, chances are that another car nearby is available, and our online reservation interface automatically shows you the other nearest cars.

How do I know if the car I reserved is there? And what if it isn't?

It is very rare for a car you’ve reserved not to be at its hub. Once in a while, usually due to another member being late returning the car, the car may not be at the hub when you arrive for your reservation. If this happens, please give us a call as soon as possible, and we’ll do whatever we can to get you where you are going. Sometimes, we can confirm that the next member is nearly back and give you peace of mind that the car will be there soon. But we’ll be more than happy to let you take another nearby HOURCAR or to arrange alternative transportation if necessary. In any event, we’ll get you where you need to go, and we’ll also give you an inconvenience credit for your trouble.

What if it snows? Do I get charged if I don't feel safe driving?

If there is a snow storm, ice storm or other weather that makes driving unsafe (like the tornado that tracked between car #4 and #5 in August 2009), call or email us when you cancel your reservation and we’ll waive any cancellation fees. Our first priority is your safety.

What happens if I am in an accident?

If you are in an accident, remember: safety first. Then call HOURCAR. If there are any injuries or major damage, call 911 first. Then, please call our 24-hour call center at 866.892.4364 and our on-call staff will assist you. Please fill out an accident report and get insurance information from other drivers involved, as well as any other pertinent information (such as names of responding police officers and police report information).

If the car is drivable, you may continue with your reservation. If not, HOURCAR staff will make arrangements to get you where you need to go.

What if I notice minor damage but the vehicle is still drivable?

Before you drive an HOURCAR, please inspect the car for damage and make note of any scratches or dings. If you don’t and they are reported at a later time, we may hold you liable for them. Please report the damage in the driver’s notebook in the car (unless it has already been reported). If necessary, please also contact us to ensure we know about the damage.

What if I get a ticket?

If you get a ticket, you are responsible for paying it. If it is necessary for us to pay a ticket for you, the cost of the ticket, any late payment penalties and an additional fee will be charged to your HOURCAR account.

What if I forgot something in the car?

If you forget something in the car, you may be able to access the vehicle (especially if it is not long after your reservation) with your key fob. It’s a good idea to let us know that you’ve let yourself into a car to retrieve something if you do so after your reservation has ended.

What happens if I lose my fob?

Please notify us immediately. If there is unauthorized use of your fob, you may be charged for it. There is a $20 fee to replace your key fob, so keep good track of it (the best place is on your keychain—that’s why there’s a hole in it—or in a zipper pocket in your wallet). If you later find your old key fob, please return it to us.

What happens if I lose my log-in or password?

If you can’t remember your password, go to the log-in page and click the link to send you a new password. If you don’t remember your four-digit member log-in number, check your HOURCAR membership card; if you can’t find that, call or email us.