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Car sharers save money - but can they agree about furry dice?
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in The Observer, 25 February 1996
As it's the weekend, Christopher and Melanie Mackintosh have first call on the Mitsubishi Space Wagon parked in the street outside their house in the St Andrew's area of Bristol. Come tomorrow, use of the car will pass to their neighbour Rachel Ayres and her husband Matthew Barber.
For the last eighteen months, the two families have run an informal car- sharing scheme which they estimate has saved them altogether about £1,600. Rachel and Matthew have paid the Mackintoshes 3/7th of the vehicle's value, in exchange for first use of the car on three days a week. The families share running costs on a similar 3/7th, 4/7th split, and also pay a notional 18p (just put up from 13p) into a car account for each mile they drive.
"We keep a log book in the car, and square up about every three or four months," says Rachel Ayres. "In the first year, we saved about £900 and they saved about £700."
The arrangement enables the families to juggle work and family commitments (both have three children each), and has the added advantage that one less parking place is needed in the severely congested streets in their part of Bristol. Both families have a second car, used during weekdays for work journeys, but say that the car-sharing has saved them the need to each run two cars.
The families have drawn up and signed their own one-page document setting out the terms of the agreement. For example, both households can cancel the arrangement at two weeks' notice, and Christopher undertakes if necessary to buy back the share of the car he has 'sold' to Rachel. The car's value is calculated at 90% of the figure given in a widely available used car guide. Christopher, who remains registered as the legal owner, organises regular servicing and breakdown repairs, the costs of which are shared proportionately. Both families also agree to share any costs arising from theft.
Christopher Mackintosh says that the arrangement works well partly because the two families are friends and trust each other. His comments are echoed almost word for word by Jane Dale of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, who for the past few months has been using the Volkswagen belonging to neighbour Stephen Lax on an informal car-share basis. "I think it's important that you trust one another," she says. For Jane, the arrangement makes both financial and practical sense. Her husband uses their own car for work, so she was previously dependent on public transport to get to and from the local college where she is undertaking an art and design course. "I have lots of equipment and art portfolios to carry, and it was very awkward getting on and off the local buses," she says.
In her case, the arrangement to use Stephen's car has been agreed verbally. She uses the car during weekdays whilst Stephen, a lecturer at the University of Leeds, commutes to work by train. Stephen, who lives in the same street, has use of the car at weekends. As Stephen points out, their use of the car meshes together ideally: "Our needs coincide, in the sense of being completely opposite," he says.
He and Jane Dale each put in petrol when necessary, and share the road tax between them. Jane pays a further £30 a month, calculated as her share of the costs of maintenance and the RAC breakdown cover. Finally, Jane has also paid the £20 additional driver premium charged by Stephen's insurer.
According to the Environmental Transport Association, the British have been slow to consider ways of sharing their cars. As ETA's Chair Chris Bowers points out, research findings from Germany suggest that a typical car is parked and not in use for 23 out of every 24 hours. He accepts, however, that drivers may be discouraged by the need to sort out the technical and legal issues which arise. The ETA is about to begin work on an information pack for car sharers, taking advantage of the practical experience of its sister organisation in Germany, VCD.
Insurance is one issue to consider. Whilst some insurers will offer cover for car pools, the cheapest option is usually to do as Stephen Lax did and simply extend an existing policy to cover additional named drivers. Insurers should be told of the existence of the car-share arrangement.
Clearly, the possibility of accidents must also be thought through. Christopher Mackintosh says that their agreement makes the person who is driving the Mitsubishi at the time of an accident responsible for meeting the £100 insurance policy excess and for organising repairs. Fortunately, the issue has not so far arisen. "I think that an accident would be quite testing," he says.
It is also sensible to discuss in advance how a car-share arrangement is to be terminated, and what is to happen if the car needs to be replaced. Breaking up a some car-share scheme, like breaking up a marriage, can be a messy business.
Finally, there are a few other matters which may need discussing. For example, the agreement signed between the Mackintoshes and Rachel Ayres and her husband quickly gets down to the real nitty-gritty. Both parties solemnly agree: "No Neil Diamond tapes to be left in the car, no fluffy dice to be hung from the mirror".
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