If you’ve found your way to this Zipcar Review, then you likely want to know all about this company, how it works, and if it can save you money on your car costs. Never fear, we’re going to explain what car sharing is, give you the lowdown on the car-sharing company Zipcar, and help you decide if it’s right for you.
Owning a car is expensive, with gas, insurance, parking, and services all adding up throughout a year. If you need to use your car a lot (i.e., to get to work), then you can probably justify the cost. However, if you rarely use your car, then you might find your cost-per-use is astronomical.
This might encourage you to give up the car altogether, particularly if you can rely on public transit for the majority of your day-to-day tasks, and that’s a great cost-saver. But what about the times when you have to go to the out-of-town big box store, or you need to take an emergency trip to the vets with Fido?
If you’ve ever tried to get on a crowded bus with a bulky purchase or tried to get a taxi that will accept your dog, then we feel for you. These sorts of experiences can make a routine experience difficult and make you long for your own four wheels, but there is a better way: car sharing.
How Does Car Sharing Work?
Car sharing companies help drivers without cars find vehicles for short-term use. The company typically act as the facilitator between the car owner (who wants to make money when they aren’t using their car) and the car renter.
This can help you save money by not owning a car, but also means that you aren’t solely reliant on public transit, which can be a hassle if you want to go somewhere other than their pre-designated stops. It can be a good way for hourly workers, college students, retirees, and anyone with a valid driver’s licence on a tight budget to save money on driving.
This is especially important in places with good public transit links because you probably don’t need a car every day, but unless you declare it as off-road, you still have to have in-date insurance and servicing.
But don’t think this is solely about helping you complete errands more comfortably. You can also book a vehicle for a few days if you’re planning a trip away or you have family visiting as an alternative to renting a car.
How Does this Differ from Car Rental Companies?
There are several differences between car sharing and car rental companies.
- Car sharing companies usually don’t own the cars.
- You often need to pay a membership fee to the car sharing company.
- Cars can be rented at various rates:
- You can opt to pay an hourly rate for short trips, which isn’t possible when renting a car.
- You can work outside of the typical car rental service office hours, which is great for those who need to pick up the car after 5 pm.
- Carshare companies typically cover the cost for fuel, insurance, etc, which means that the fee you’re quoted is the fee you pay.
What is Zipcar?
Zipcar is a carshare company, giving those with a membership card access to renting a car by the minute, hour, or day. (Although, we really want to know who’s hiring a car for just a minute.) Members have to pay a monthly or yearly membership fee to access a car rental.
Zipcar, a subsidiary of Avis Budget Group, has been in operation since 2000. It has over 1 million members in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Austria, and Turkey. This is important because it proves that this isn’t some unreliable flash-in-the-pan company.
Unlike most car sharing program companies, Zipcar actually owns the cars themselves. These cars are not held at some office downtown, which would result in you having to get the bus to your car, but are parked in residential streets, parking lots, and airports in your city, meaning you’re closer to one than you might think.
Note: This article is focused on using Zipcar in the US, so if you’re using it in any other country, please check their website for information on pricing, membership, etc, before joining.
How do You Join?
Joining Zipcar is easy. All you have to be is 21 or over – unless you’re a college student in which case you can join at age 18 – and have a driver’s license. In addition to your driver’s license, your driving record will be reviewed. In connection with your valid driver’s license, you must have had:
- No more than two moving violations and accidents within the past three years, with no more than one moving violation or accident on your driving record within the past 18 months
- Zero major violations (i.e. reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident, speeding 20+ miles per hour over the limit, or speeding in a school zone) within the past three years
- No alcohol or drug-related driving offenses within the past seven years
All you do is pick the membership plan that suits you best, provide Zipcar with the standard details (i.e. driver’s license number, bank account info, address), wait for them to approve your application, pay any necessary application fee, and then wait for your membership card (Zipcard) to arrive. All of this should take no more than 10 business days.
How do You Reserve a Vehicle?
You can reserve via their Android app, iPhone app, online, or by phone. You can do this either when you need to rent a car or up to a year in advance. The ability to drive on-demand means that in an emergency (i.e. Fido getting into the Easter egg stash), you won’t have to wait around. Just book and drive.
How do You Access the Vehicle?
Members are given an access card with a wireless chip that will unlock the car via a reader on the windshield. (The keys will be in the car and should be left there.) They can also use the mobile app to locate and unlock the car.
How Far Can I Go?
Well, it depends how far you can drive in the rental period, but if you rented the car for 24 hours, you would be able to drive up to 180 miles during that period with no additional charges on top of the hourly rate or daily rate. If you drive above that, you will be charged between 0.45 and 0.55 cents per mile depending on the vehicle.
Depending on the car, you may even be able to return it in a different location than where you picked it up. These one-way rentals are perfect for those of you wanting to see where the road takes you or those of you who won’t need the car in your destination.
Where can I use Zipcar?
Zipcar is available in 500 cities across nine countries, including over 50 cities in North America and over 100 college towns, and new locations are being added regularly, so it’s always important to check their website. However, we’ve included a list of some of the most popular cities for the service:
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- Washington D.C.
How Much Does it Cost?
That all depends on how long you want to rent the car for. Prices are as low as $9 per hour or $75 for a daily rate rental. The membership fee currently set at $7 per month or $70 per year. You can even get a higher-volume plan that gives you a prepaid driving allowance up to $250 and a discounted hourly rate afterward.
As you can see, you’ll save money on the longer-term hire and membership, but only if you need it.
There is also a one-time $25 application fee when you join to cover administrative costs and you can add additional drivers (i.e. partners or kids) to your account for $25 per person.
The hire and membership cost includes fuel, parking, insurance, and maintenance. To clarify, Zipcar provides a gas card for the car and reimburses you for any charges at fuel stations that do not accept the card. They also will reimburse you for typical car maintenance items. i.e. car washes and window wiper fluid refills, up to $15 per time.
To avoid any unexpected costs (i.e. late fee):
- Report any damage upon getting to the car
- Keep pets in carriers
- Top up the car upon returning
- Return the car on time or use the mobile app to increase your rental time
- Park the car in a designated Zipcar space or no one will be able to find it
- Don’t get a traffic ticket
- Don’t pass through toll zones
Advantages to Using Zipcar
When you need a car, you don’t want to spend ages talking to a rental agent or the car owner and you certainly don’t want to be filling out short-term insurance forms or signing a rental agreement. With Zipcar, you can reserve a car as easily as you can order a takeaway. Then, you just walk to the location and get in the car.
Better for the planet
There’s no debating that using our cars less means less pollution, which gives us cleaner air to breathe and a world that’s habitable for longer. If you use public transit, cycle, or walk for the majority of your activities, then you’ll be helping to save the planet, but it’s all too easy to drive short distances if we have a car in our garage.
The biggest plus of driving is that it’s convenient. You don’t have to walk a long distance to the closest bus stop or, worse, hire a cab to the train station. So if you’re looking to rent a car, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend a long time getting to a rental car company downtown.
Range of cars
Different vehicles are great for different activities. If you’re taking a day trip with your family or friends, then a bigger can might be better for you. Whereas those looking for something to do errands in can probably use a two-seater smart car. Business owners who need to pick up a client can even opt for a premium car as a status symbol.
Financial advantages to using Zipcar
Save money on car ownership
With Zipcar, you can save hundreds of dollars every year on things like insurance, parking fees, car maintenance, and fuel. If you do have a car, you might consider selling it. That way you can make some money and be done with the car-related expenses.
Save money on taxi rides
It can also save you from getting multiple expensive rides from taxi or rideshare companies, particularly if you’ve got several short errands that you’re trying to knock out in one day. Have you ever tried to get a cab from your house to the salon and then another cab to the pharmacy to pick up your medication and then another to the superstore to pick up your groceries? You end up needing to take another trip to the bank to withdraw your life savings.
Drawbacks to Using Zipcar
Have to plan
While it’s super easy compared with a traditional rental car company, Zipcar does require some planning. The latest you can book is 30 minutes prior to departure and if you leave it too late to book, there may not be a suitable vehicle within easy walking distance. This might mean having to pay for a bigger or premium vehicle or it might mean having to catch a bus to your car.
Lack of locations
Unlike a traditional rental car company, Zipcar is not in as many cities and rural areas are much less likely to be served. This means you need to check whether your area is catered to and how many Zipcar parking spots are available. If there’s only one spot in your town, then you might find that its constantly in use.
Charged even if you return the vehicle early
While the chances that you get all your errands done early is a long shot – we’ve all stood in behind the person who wants to talk the cashier’s ear off – you’ll still be charged for the full rental time even if you return it early. Here’s hoping you can find another thing to tick off your to-do list.
Alternatives to Zipcar
Please note: I used a test case – renting for a four-day weekend, not over a holiday – to compare prices for these companies.
In my test, Easycar was the cheapest. This is probably because you interact with the private car owner rather than a mediating company. There’s also no mileage limit, which is awesome. However, you do have to pay for fuel and it might be a little nerve-wracking to liaise with the owner.
This site was slightly more expensive than Zipcar in my test case, despite claiming to be 35% cheaper on average than traditional sites. On top of that, you’re also paying for fuel and have a mileage limit of 100 miles per day, with an additional charge levied for each additional mile.
Hertz on Demand
In my test, Hertz on Demand was unavailable, but the price quoted was the most expensive. However, this is because the company specializes in trucks. You will also need to pay for parking and insurance, but fuel is covered under the cost of the rental.
Car sharing with a person you know
If these options still look a bit too pricey, then consider asking car sharing with a friend or family member who lives with you. This can take a bit of negotiation, but you can split the bills so you’ll save money and still have access to a car. If you only need the car occasionally, consider just asking a friend or relative if you can borrow their car for the day. (If they’re not using it, of course.) Providing you cover your own gas and buy short-term car insurance, they’ll probably agree to it in order to do you a good turn.
Should You use Zipcar?
This is a complicated decision because it depends almost entirely on your own driving habits. If you need a car to get to work on a daily basis, then Zipcar will likely work out far too expensive and you might be best off getting a cheap car of your own. If you need to hire a specific vehicle (i.e. a small truck to help you move home), then you’ll do better hiring from a rental firm who have a wider range of vehicles available.
Here are some questions to help you decide whether to use Zipcar:
- How much do I drive at the moment?
- Could any of these trips be done via public transit, cycling, or walking instead?
- How much do I spend on insurance, gas, parking, etc, per month?
This should help you work out how much your outlay would be via Zipcar. All you need to do is add together application fee, subscription cost, and hours driven, then compare it to your current car costs.
In the end, your decision about Zipcar should be determined by your personal circumstances. We hope that thanks to our Zipcar review you have all the information to help you make the choice. Now, we’re interested in hearing from you. Have you used Zipcar or any of the other options? How did you find them? Let us know all that and more in the comments.