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Google invests in RelayRides to turn your car into a Zipcar

It seems Google is willing to wait a little longer to fulfill CEO Eric Schmidt’s dream of cars that drive themselves.

Google Ventures has instead invested an undisclosed sum into RelayRides, a car-sharing service similar to Zipcar, to help it launch in San Francisco today. August Capital also took part in the company’s first round of fundraising.

It’s a service that lets anyone list their car on the web site for rental like other city-based car-sharing services. The car owner sets the price, which is usually around 10 percent less than other car sharing services, and what time of the week the car will be available for rental, said RelayRides CEO Shelby Clark. The owner then gets 65 percent of the total rental fee, and RelayRides takes a 15 percent cut. The other 20 percent goes toward a pretty sizable insurance policy — just in case someone crashes your car into a wall.

Borrowers will still have to pass through a verification process to ensure they have a clean driving record before they get rolling. Once that’s done, the RelayRides experience is basically identical to other car-sharing services. After an owner lists his or her car on the site, RelayRides will come out and install a device on the car to detect cards that activate the service.

The owner is still responsible for maintaining, cleaning and taking care of the car. So it does beg the question of whether there’s a hidden cost in the service here. Clark said car owners get around $250 each month from renting out their car to RelayRides members, with some users getting as much as $600 to $700. He said the owner would be paying for maintenance anyway, but that doesn’t factor in wear and tear from the additional usage the car might see as a result of other RelayRides users borrowing the car.

RelayRides has been active in Boston for about six months now, and the company was founded in November 2008. It’s competing with Zipcar, which has been around for some time now and has a few hundred cars strewn across San Francisco.

Photos: Center for Neighborhood Technology, Felix Kramer

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