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Instead of airport parking, some fliers now rent out their cars

Ben Bergman Nov 26, 2013

Instead of airport parking, some fliers now rent out their cars

Ben Bergman Nov 26, 2013

There are few more dreaded phrases than this: “Can I borrow your car?”

But just as people increasingly rent out their houses to strangers on Airbnb, a new company is betting that we’ll be willing to hand over our car keys when we go out of town. 

The co-founders of FlightCar look like college freshman, and that’s because they would be if they hadn’t decided to start this company, putting their Ivy League educations on an indefinite hiatus. Nineteen-year-old Kevin Petrovic was accepted at Princeton University and 18-year-old Rujul Zaparde was on his way to Harvard University. Instead, they decided, along with co-founder Shri Ganeshram — who was accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — to try to change the way we rent cars and take on the $11 billion airport car rental industry. That’s even though they’re too young to rent a car themselves.

“At any moment, there’s something like 360,000 cars in long-term parking lots in the top thirty U.S. airports,” said Zaparde. “That’s very inefficient.”

FlightCar will let you park for free and pay you if someone rents your car — up to $20 a day. It picks you up and drop you off in a black sedan and washes your car. And, perhaps most importantly, it offers all of the peace of mind that a $1 million policy can buy.

“Everything is insured up to a million dollars,” said Zaparde. “We’ll cover liabilities, any collision, theft, and damage. Even if there’s a small scratch on the car it’s fully covered.”

The first location opened in San Francisco in February, followed by Boston in May, and L.A. last week.

So, who is actually brave enough to loan their car to a complete stranger? We all know how people treat rental cars, right? It tends to be those in their late 20’s or early 30’s. But not everyone is so youthful.

Walt French is a 65-year-old San Francisco portfolio manager who’s rented his Acura more than 10 times.

“To me, the great value of this is that before I learned about FlightCar, I was paying to park at the airport $15-$18 a day,” said French. Now, he collects money when he gets home, as he did recently following a weeklong trip to Shanghai.

“I got a check a couple hours ago for $111,” said French.

French is hooked. So is Joe Rosenberg, who now rents his BMW twice a month when he has to travel for work. His car has always been returned spic and span.

“I mean there’s obviously little things, like the mirror or the seat is in a different spot,” said Rosenberg. “But that’s no different than if you valet parked your car somewhere or went to carwash.”

Other customers haven’t been so positive, sharing horror stories on the the online review site Yelp about finding decomposing fried chicken wings stuffed in the side door pocket.  Or worse, not getting fully reimbursed when their car was in an accident.

So far, investors haven’t been scared away, even though the company is a long way from profitability. The teenage founders have raised around $6 million in funding. Among their investors are celebrities Ryan Seacrest and Ashton Kutcher.

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