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Getaround, the app that lets you rent a stranger’s car, launches in Washington

Renting a car in Washington is becoming even more accessible. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
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It’s about to get even easier to live in Washington without owning a car. Getaround, a peer-to-peer car rental service, is officially launching in the nation’s capital Monday. The business is similar to Airbnb, but for cars.

A car owner can sign his or her vehicle up to be rented, and pocket some extra income. Those who want a car for an hour or even a whole weekend can use the app to find available vehicles, reserve one and unlock it.

Getaround installs a device in the rented cars so that customers can unlock them via its app. Then they’ll find the car’s key hidden in a pouch. Getaround says it offers a feature that lets users start the vehicle only if they’ve opened it with the app. This is intended to prevent against someone smashing a window, grabbing the key and driving away.

Vehicles are rented for at least an hour. After that, a renter is charged in 15-minute increments. Rates range from $5 to $9 an hour. Getaround takes a 40 percent cut. If you want to rent out your car, there is a $99 installation fee, and then a $20 monthly fee to be connected to the Getaround network.

For D.C. residents concerned that they won’t make enough income, GetAround is guaranteeing income of $1,000 in the first three months. Cars must have fewer than 125,000 miles and can’t be more than 10 years old. GetAround provides insurance for drivers during the rental period.

District resident Tara Boyle, 29, began renting her Mazda3 for $8 an hour a couple of weeks ago. Getaround recommended $7.50, but she wanted to charge more. (The $1,000 guarantee requires that you don’t raise your rate more than 20 percent above what Getaround recommends.)

Boyle can walk to work but didn’t want to sell her car, so she jumped at the chance for extra income. She hopes her car will be especially popular with other residents of the high-rise building she lives in. Boyle said she isn’t worried about a renter potentially scuffing up her bumpers during city driving, saying that comes with the territory.

“My dad said, ‘Why do you want to do this? There’s going to be weird people that are sweating in your car,’ ” Boyle said with a laugh. “I said, ‘Dad, a parking spot down here is, like, $200 a month, I want my car to pay for itself.’ ”

So far, she said, she hasn’t had any problems with the service.

Getaround is launching with only 30 cars on its platform in the District. Its team is quick to point out that cars are parked the overwhelming majority of the time. This has been estimated at up to 96.5 percent. Why have such an expensive possession that’s used so rarely? GetAround hopes to persuade car owners to sign up, given the chance to make extra money.

A challenge will be finding a way to differentiate from other car services such as Uber, Lyft and Car2Go. Getaround requires users to return the vehicle to roughly the same place they found it, and they’re supposed to top the tank off with gas. This adds more responsibilities than some users may be interested in.

Getaround is also available in San Francisco and Portland, Ore. It raised $24 million from investors in November to expand its business.

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