It seems that car-sharing users in Japan are renting cars to do a range other things other than driving them, such as taking a nap, practice singing, or even do facial stretches to reduce the size of their face. Following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, rental cars were also used to recharge cellphones.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that Times24, a leading car-sharing service provider with over 1.2 million registered users, discovered that customers utilise its rental cars to nap or use as a workspace. Another person used the car to store bags and other personal belongings when nearby coin lockers were full.

Orix Auto, a car-sharing operator with 230,000 registered users, is also facing difficulties to figure out what some customers were actually doing with its rental cars. When asked to examine mileage records, Orix said several percent of its rented vehicles “travelled no distance.”

A company public relations official said: “We have no clear idea how they actually used our vehicles. The only thing we can say is that data show a number of people who rent cars without driving them.” Other car-sharing operators similarly reported that some rented cars logged unusually low mileage after they were returned.

Survey results by other firms reveal the number of customers who rent cars for reasons besides driving is steadily rising. A 31-year-old employee who lives near Tokyo said: “I rented a car to eat a boxed meal that I bought at a convenience store because I couldn’t find anywhere else to have lunch.”

“Usually the only place I can take a nap while visiting my clients is a cybercafe in front of the station, but renting a car to sleep in is just a few hundred yen (below RM50), almost the same as staying in the cybercafe.”

In 2018, another service provider NTT Docomo found that one of eight users (sample size of 400 individuals) rented a car for purposes other than transportation. A large number of respondents said they slept or rested in vehicles, followed by those who said they used cars to converse with friends, family, and business clients on the phone.

NTT Docomo said “cars can be used for private space. People used our vehicles in more ways than we expected.” Currently, the bulk of car-sharing users do use the cars for transportation purposes, but the number of those who rent it for other purposes is rising.

While this may sound good for business, operators actually lose money because customers pay more if they rack up more mileage. Also, those who spend time sitting in an idling car could adversely affect the environment.

“Motorists should shut off their engines when they’re not driving, and we do not recommend our customers rent vehicles for purposes other than travelling. We believe it’s best for our cars to be used for driving,” an Orix PR official said.

In terms of cost, customers are only required to pay 400 yen (RM15) for a rental duration of 30 minutes. It’s very easily accessible as well – users can reserve the vehicles at any given time, even for immediate use. Once booked, they only need to pick up the car at one of the firm’s 12,000 parking places across Japan.